The Truth Matters:
A Citizen’s Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks
by Bruce Bartlett
Distinguish fake news from reliable journalism with this clear and concise handbook by New York Times best-selling author Bruce Bartlett.
Today’s media and political landscapes are littered with untrustworthy sources and the dangerous concept of “fake news.” This accessible guide helps you fight this deeply troubling trend and ensure that truth is not a permanent casualty. Written by Capitol Hill veteran and author Bruce Bartlett, The Truth Matters presents actionable tips and tricks for reading critically, judging sources, using fact-checking sites, avoiding confirmation bias, identifying trustworthy experts, and more.
- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: Ten Speed Press (October 24, 2017)
“What is truth? That ancient question looms large in our era, full of accusations of fake news. Bruce Bartlett’s clear and concise guide reveals how to distinguish reliable journalism from reports riddled with errors, lies, and nonsense. Best of all, Bartlett’s manual is so accessible and direct that anyone will benefit from reading it, from high school students to casual news consumers to professional journalists.”
—David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
“Bartlett’s latest book, The Truth Matters, is a concise and essential primer filled with information on how best to use and understand the media. It offers techniques and resources that will help anyone who ever wanted to dig deeper into a story or make an educated decision about its accuracy and possible bias.”
About the Author
BRUCE BARTLETT’s experience ranges from serving as Senior Policy Analyst in the Reagan administration to holding the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy at the Treasury Department in the Bush 41 White House. He has also authored a column for Forbes and written for the Economix blog of the New York Times. A New York Times best-selling author, he’s published more than 2,100 articles in major national publications.
The author of this little book that you can put into your pocket (it does have 136 pages) is an experienced journalist and researcher who has spent his life in pursuit of the facts – for the Economist, Forbes, The New York Times. He’s covered events in Washing ton for decades. He writes to us knowing how difficult it is to sort through all the information that floods us every day. And he reminds us that the buck stops with us: we have to be more discerning about the information we take in and pass around. Nobody can do it for us.
Bartlett tells us throughout that it is possible to ensure that the information you take in and use is high quality – that you can rely on it. People who study journalism and research methods learn these methods. It’s time for the general public to use some of them, too
Among the insights you may want to pay attention to:
• Bias is everywhere. We can predict some of it by knowing the leanings of our information sources. But the democratization of information – where anybody can send any information around, combined with many people’s equating their opinions with verifiable facts – has created a new kind of problem.
• When possible, go to the actual source (the primary source) of information – the person or even the reporter who was there; the original research study or article or report. Distrust hearsay and secondary sources. However, be careful about eye witness recollections and perspectives. They are often unreliable – especially as time passes. Look for other tangible evidence and verifications when you are dealing with information that matters to you and that you want to share.
• When people cite research (e.g., “according to a 2017 study…), try to go a bit deeper. What research? Was it done by someone or an organization with a special interest or is it objective? Was it based on a few opinions or a study across a large population (just because one person has an experience doesn’t mean it is the norm!)
• Some sources of information ARE more reliable than others. If they publish something that later proves untrue, they correct it. Some sources (like academic journals) require knowledgeable peers to review information before it is published. And the mainstream media may be vilified, but they do fact-check information and look behind the surface for original sources and reliable research. Librarians (the 21st century kind) know how to find reliable information (maybe it’s time to make a quick visit the NEW library!). Many blogs, opinion-based news channels, and talk-shows don’t have the same (or even, ANY) standards.
• Watch pseudo-facts – attaching numbers to something doesn’t make it more truthful. Saying that a conclusion is the result of a “poll” doesn’t mean it is valid (there are lots of ways to weight polls to get the information the poll’s client wants!)
• Watch what is listed first, given most space on TV, in print, in briefings. Watch the emotional tones of the language. These all bias information and your view of what is true and important.
Bartlett also helps us define terms that are used a lot, but often misunderstood: “on the record,” “off the record,” “leak,” “reliable source,” And he warns that labels can mean anything, depending on your own biases (“left,“ “non-partisan,” “right,” “expert.”). Look beyond the surface.
And he spends time talking about “Fake News” and how easy it is for lies and untruths to spread, appeal to our own biases and opinions. And how difficult it is to reverse the damages to reputations and trust from spreading untruths, lies, and propaganda.
There are important lessons, very important lessons here. Don’t be duped. Be aware of your own biases. Don’t pollute the information environment with half-truths and manipulated information (watch your conversations, what you spread on social media, what you write) Be careful about the information you put into your brain’s 100 billion brain cells.
And, do read The Truth. The insights in this book will become even more important as more powerful forces enter the information market and become more sophisticated in their abilities to channel our attention and intentions toward their ends.