At least I’m pretty sure it does.
If you have even loosely followed the news over the past few weeks, you probably noticed a trend – lying has been front page news. From Gruber and Obamacare stories, to the Rolling Stone’s sketchy reportage of an alleged on-campus rape, to the high school kid who made $72 million trading stocks from the school cafeteria, there’s a good case to be made for taking anything you see in print with a shaker of salt.
Normally conservatives don’t have any problem with this concept. It’s very clear the mainstream media has an agenda. It’s apparent that progressives embrace ‘useful lies’. As Victor Davis Hanson put it: ‘“Truth” is what is deemed socially useful.’
We often talk about how many people blindly accept the narratives of the left. They swallow talking points uncritically, and parrot them back as though they had considered the issues and come to that conclusion on their own, rather than understand that they have been programmed by a relentless progressive media initiative. On the rightward end of the spectrum, we try to examine issues more deeply, and work through them thoughtfully. We try to ask the right questions.
Still, occasionally we get taken in ourselves by clickbait revenue machines, or forget to go beyond the headline and just viscerally react to things that come across our feeds. So in the interest of encouraging people to become better at separating the wheat from the chaff, I offer my list of questions I try to ask each time I approach an article I consider sharing.
What is the author’s goal or purpose in writing this piece?
I always try to figure out what the author intends me to do once I’ve read his piece. Is he motivating me toward taking a particular action? Is he educating me on an issue I need to be able to speak to? Does his piece teach me something tactically I can use? Is he attempting to encourage me in my efforts at activism? Those sorts of pieces I find highly valuable and I usually share them.
But I do notice that motives can get murky with some authors. Some may be trying to get me angry, without offering an outlet or destination for it. Some may merely be reciting the Outrage of the Day, or adding to the catalog of Stuff Liberals Say. And some, I’m afraid, are more interested in site traffic – getting the hits and clicks – than in actually imparting useful information. I don’t have much use for an endless recitation of the latest Horrible Thing someone in Washington or Hollywood did. I’m much more focused on how to beat them.
Is this author honest?
Can I verify what the author is saying? Does he cite proper sources, or just fall back on the words ‘rumored’ and ‘reportedly’ and ‘everyone knows’ and such? If he’s speculating, does he clearly say so, or does he try to offer his speculation as fact?
I have to ask, because we’ve all seen how an agenda can get in the way of the truth. It doesn’t just happen on the left. And it can be pretty profitable to cut corners, make insinuations, offer unsupported accusations, especially if it’s to an audience looking to have their own prejudices confirmed. I don’t want to be someone who first has an uninformed opinion and then looks for facts to support it. And I don’t want to be someone with so little confidence in my views that I shy away from other factors and sources that don’t line up with them. The Right questions (or should question) everything to see whether it’s true, even people on our own side.
Who is his audience?
Political writers and bloggers have a number of audiences to choose from. I try to figure out which people the author is addressing. Is he writing to The Active Right, hoping to get them involved in an issue and motivated to action? Or is he talking to The Right in General, to all the folks on the rightward end of the spectrum? Or might he be addressing The Vast Middle, or the Apolitical General Public? Or maybe he’s going directly after The Left?
If an author is crafting something like an Internal Memo to the Right, I would expect his tone and word choice to be different from the way he writes to, say, the Vast Middle. He might use language that folks in the Middle haven’t encountered, and take shortcuts through certain concepts that the Apolitical might need a glossary to understand.
I always try to figure out the audience for precisely that reason. It doesn’t do me any good to share an internal memo full of jargon to my politically unengaged neighbors. They won’t understand, and I might even be making them feel less confident in discussing things with me because we speak different languages.
Does what this author says advance my goals?
I’m an activist. I’m in the business of trying to advance MY agenda, and move this country towards ever greater liberty and freedom. I want the things I share to further that agenda, not make it more difficult to achieve. So I try to examine the goals of the author.
Does he say he shares my goals? Do his actions and his writings bear that out? If not, might he be riding the wave of a popular movement in order to make a name for himself?
There are plenty of people on The Right whose involvement doesn’t extend beyond raising their fists and yelling. And talking about practical solutions is hard – everyone is gunning for you when you offer a course of action. It’s far easier to be a megaphone for outrage and complaining, stirring up frustration and sometimes despair.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I challenge you to look at the next few articles you read with these questions in mind. Develop the habit of skepticism.
And a final note: Think about the Rolling Stone/UVA rape story. The feminists are vilifying people who dared to ask any questions at all about the account. I don’t want to see that habit develop on the right. So when a piece seems to challenge or criticize a Hero on the Right, take a moment to remember the UVA case. Don’t automatically assume that someone asking questions or offering constructive criticism is out to destroy him. They just might be on your side.