Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis on which to do so." Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny
It's been hard to watch Trump and his surrogates dissing the mainstream media as "fake news," with abandon and without discernment, while touting Bannon's Breitbart, FOX, and other right-wing extremist media outlets that support whatever he says and does as "real" news.
It's a false dichotomy. It's a form of tyranny. Trump and his surrogates take glee in presenting "alternative facts" as "real" news. But facts matter. Truth matters. And it's as dangerous for a president of the US to alienate a free press as it is to alienate the intel community and its 17 powerful security agencies.
It started early, during Trump's campaign, when he accused CNN of being "fake" news and surrogates like Kelly Ann Conway intentionally spouted lies as "alternative facts." These "alternative facts," now put forward in frustrating press conferences, have been fact-checked, and most all of them found wanting. Lies, mostly lies. As historian Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands and an expert on tyranny, has warned, "to abandon facts is to abandon freedom."
We, the public, need to be smarter. We need media literacy. I learned through a little google research that there is a common definition among educators and journalism scholars:
"Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media. Media literate youth and adults are better able to understand the complex messages we receive from television, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, video games, music, and all other forms of media."
Educators and scholars on college campuses have been teaching media literacy courses for many years. It has long been a stable of journalism studies. But has this knowledge reached the general public. I think not.
We need to bring these studies and media literacy scholars out of academe and into the public domain, similar to what the State Programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities do for history, literature, and cultural studies. We need community forums and free public humanities-type programs that teach us how to apply critical thinking skills to reading and viewing media messages, how to discern fact from fiction, lies from truth. We need continuing education to learn how to become media and social media detectives, thoughtful and discerning.
A great example is a new program offered in Ukraine by IREX, an international education and funding NGO (non-government organization) that teaches people in public forums how to analyze the Russian disinformation campaign that led to Putin's invasion of eastern Ukraine and his illegal occupation of Crimea. IREX "has broken new ground in stepping outside the education system to promote media literary," says a report by Edward Lucas and Peter Pomerantsev in"Winning the Information War." We need this here in the USA, too.
We also need media literacy courses in our schools, beginning in Kindergarden and continuing into high school, technical training programs, and college. In this area a good example is Finland, which has been resistant to Russian influence in part, many experts believe, because of its media education program that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood.
Nina Jankowicz, in an excellent New York Times article ("The Only Way To Defend Against Russia's Information War," 25 Sept. 2017), argues that the fight against "fake news" and the kind of disinformation campaigns we witnessed during the last election, "starts in people’s minds, and the molding of them." She suggests that states in their K-12 curriculums "should encourage a widespread refocusing on critical reading and analysis skills for the digital age. Introductory seminars at universities should include a crash course in sourcing and emotional manipulation in the media. Similar courses could be created as professional development for adults, beginning with state employees. Large corporations could be offered government incentives to participate, too."
These are all good suggestions. Maybe they will become the wave of the future. I hope so. Media literacy programs are needed now more than ever. The preservation of our democracy depends on it.
Some good sources for Media Literacy education: