I was teaching English during the 1st Bush War against Iraq. It was called the Gulf War, and it was 1991. By then, I’d been teaching 16 years. I retired and left teaching in 2005 after 30 years. In 1991, a few of my students had brothers in the military over there, and I asked my students to write letters and send gifts to him and others in his unit. That became our link to a war.
At the time, the country was very supportive of that war, and it didn’t occur to any teachers I knew to discuss and question what was happening because it wasn’t an unpopular controversial issue. There were those that spoke out but there’s always someone that’s against all wars even if the U.S. were attacked without warning like Pearl Harbor during World War II.
The New York Times reported on January 22, 1991, “The American public’s initial soaring optimism about the war against Iraq has flattened a little, but support for the war remains broad and President Bush’s approval rating continues to stand at a record level, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll shows.”
It also helped that the Gulf War was over before it had time to lose support. It only lasted 1 month, 1 week and 4 days. That New York Times story mentioned in the previous paragraph came out a little over month before the war ended on February 28.
Compare that to the War in Afghanistan that started in 2001 and is still raging, or the Vietnam War that started in 1955 and went to April 1975, almost 20 years that saw millions killed and maimed in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos before the United States finally left. By 1970 only a third of American’s believed that the U.S. had not made a mistake by sending troops to fight in Vietnam.
Back then we didn’t have the Alt Right lying, conspiracy theory generating media machine that exists today. The worst we had back then was Rush Limbaugh and a few other rising stars in conservative talk radio. Let’s not forget that Fox Broadcast Television Network didn’t have its primetime launch until April 5, 1987. It was almost as if Rupert Murdock knew that the Fairness Doctrine was already doomed, and that a few months later in June of 1987, President Reagan would veto the Fairness Doctrine legislation that would have guaranteed more balance and honesty in the media, and this paved the way for the endless lies and conspiracy theories we have to live with today from the Alt-Right.
What is wrong with honest, equitable, and balanced coverage of controversial public issues?
The Washington Post reported in 2014, “About half (16) of the 32 outlets have an audience that pretty clearly leans to the left, while seven have audiences that lean conservative. The rest (including all the broadcast networks) are somewhere near the middle.”
Back in 1991 during the 1st Gulf War, we didn’t have Vote Smart (launched 1992), or Snopes (launched 1995), or FactCheck.org (launched in December 2003), or PolitiFact.com (launched 2007). These sites have become America’s antibodies fighting the Alt-Right media machine virus that’s infecting any chance at balance and truth in the news. There is a big difference between bias and lies.
Bias is prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
But a lie is an untruth. It is deceit. It is deception. It is dishonesty. It is trickery. It is worse than bias. Lies can be revealed by facts, but bias is harder to dig out and varies from a simple bias that cherry picks facts to an extreme bias that ignores facts that does not support that bias. Most traditional media bias is not extreme and is not easy to measure. Lies are easier to discover by a little digging using the Fact Check sites listed above.
With news supported by facts based on actual events, it’s not easy to generate conspiracy theory propaganda that is worse than vomit and diarrhea in your mouth at the same time.
The need for fact checking started soon after the 1st Bush War (ended February 1991) and then grew after the 2nd Bush War that was justified by lies of WMDs (2003 – 2010, a war that lasted 8 years, 8 months, and 28 days).
As the Alt-Right conspiracy-theory generating media machine grew and the GOP continued to move further to the right into unchartered extremist territory, the need to question everything has become necessary.
So, today, before an event or movement can become an issue, teachers must teach their students to question everything they hear and read in the traditional media and especially from the Alt-Right media machine, and teach them how to use all those fact and fact check sites listed above with links. That includes government sites that gather data and information: U.S. Census, the CDC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, NASA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, The CIA’s World Factbook, etc.
Of course, if Fake President Trump, who obviously only learns from Fox, and the Alt-Right Media machine, has his way, those fact-gathering government agencies that employs both registered Democrats and Republicans might not exist in a few months or years since Trump has made it clear he doesn’t trust any information that isn’t what he wants to hear or can’t control.
Contrary to the false opinions of the extreme, deplorable followers of Trump and the Alt-Right, every teacher and every government worker isn’t a liberal or a progressive, but most of them are probably not racists either. In fact, I’ve read that almost 30-percent of public school teachers are registered Republicans while the rest are independent voters and registered Democrats.
There are other terms children should learn about. For instance, confirmation bias, a perfect term to describe Fake President Donald Trump’s choices for where he tunes in to hear the news that is often wrong in so many ways.
To discover more about bias, read The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational.
And then there’s lies. Yes, there are different levels of lying too from bad to horrible. For instance Politifact.com divides its fact checking into: true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false, and pants on fire, and on that note, here’s a list of all the Pants on Fire lies from Donald Trump.
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and disabled Vietnam Veteran, with a BA in journalism and an MFA in writing, who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).
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