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Finding ‘fake news’ not that easy

Critical thinking is the cornerstone of education. That is axiomatic. Enshrining this principle of critical thinking in teaching is the theme of Patrick Sprinkle’s Teacher to Teacher article headlined “Is it fake news?” [Dec. 6]. It is a noble goal and worthy effort; and it is doomed to fail. The seed of that failure is endemic in the theme of the article itself: Fake news versus real news, and teaching students to perceive the difference.

Sprinkle never defines the terminology he uses. “Fake news” has become a cliché. It seems to achieve clarity in meaning when juxtaposed with “real news.” But that is deceptive. And, what really is “real news”?

We might say real news coheres or corresponds with facts about the world, and fake news doesn’t.

Does a bright line exist between fact and fiction? In blatant cases, yes. Take two statements: “The U.S. invaded Iraq,” and “The U.S. never invaded Iraq.” One is true and the other false. How do we determine truth or falsity here? Through corroboration. Simple. But is Sprinkle talking about that? No. The matter he addresses goes beyond this. It has to do with the distinction between news accounts and opinions. This distinction, though, has become increasingly nebulous.

Matter-of-fact news reporting doesn’t exist because news accounts are slanted. News organizations now attempt to persuade, not merely inform. Narratives are created, but these narratives reflect bias, and bias is predicated on value judgments which are neither true nor false — hence, the conundrum teachers face when attempting to alert students to the purported hazard of “fake news.”

Stephen L. D’Andrilli, retired

 

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