This Just In: “The Onion” Is Reliable News

Since their recent semi-acquisition by communications giant Univision, “The Onion” has begun putting out some surprisingly reasonable stuff in their Politics section.  The present edition features a useful infographic entitled “How To Stay Politically Active After The Election”, and there’s another interesting piece on Justice Ginsburg’s plans for the winter break.

…OK; I admit it.  My headline is a complete fabrication.  I made it up.  Much like The Onion did this.

This is how clickbait works:  You see something that’s shocking; you say to yourself, “This can’t possibly be true!”  And then you click on it, and someone makes money from their sponsors.

(News alert:  I don’t actually have any sponsors.  Too bad, too; I could use the money.)

As I just said in another article, before the election, each side was flinging mud with mad abandon.  I could debunk anything and everything easily and with a clear conscience.  But now, the fake news seems to be coming mainly from reputable sources.  It’s a bit of a shock.

Two weeks ago, the big news story was how fake news helped get Trump elected, how alt-Right blog sites kept posting utter garbage about Clinton in order to undermine her credibility.  Last Thursday, she spoke at a very public event about the rise of fake news, referencing the PizzaGate shooting as an example of how it can have very real consequences.  And she was right.

Since the election, I’ve spent more time debunking so-called “real news” sources than I have the altRight and the altLeft combined.  The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN — apparently, the media is going insane.

Today, I resolved to ignore newspapers and networks and instead concentrate on news sources.  The Associated Press has long been a high bastion of journalistic integrity; they’re renowned for stories without spin, for not publishing their own editorials, for sticking to the news.  They’re as non-partisan as America gets.

And then I read this:  “Republican Looks To Overhaul Social Security”

On first blush it’s as factual as anything.  A high-ranking Republican introduced a bill that will save Social Security.  His proposal involves a minor cut in benefits for the highest tier of retirees and a gradual increase in the retirement age.  The story goes on to say that, in 2034, the fund will be unable to keep up with the projected retirement income.

Of course it concludes with the immediate opposition statement, that the Democrats are opposed and that they think the Speaker of the House is evil and is coming for your retirement checks.  Which is not necessarily untrue, knowing Ryan; he’s a privatization fan.  But in this case, it certainly is; Ryan, as well as the Ways & Means chairman, each refused to endorse the bill.

Their opposition isn’t surprising.  Thing is, the tail end of lame-duck Congressional sessions is a common place to let members introduce bills that nobody will ever vote on.  They’ll all expire at the end of the session anyway, and no real damage can be done.  So the usual collection of idiots and incompetents will stand up and introduce bills to eliminate this or that thing they find morally offensive, or to build a bridge to nowhere, or to declare war on the Varroa Mite.  (This last is a real thing, and very dangerous.)

But the story doesn’t mention this one vital fact.  Instead, it states that it’s “unclear if his proposal… will move.”  There’s a mention of campaign promises and interviews in which both Speaker Ryan and President-Elect Trump pledge to leave Social Security and Medicare alone, but this mention strongly implies doubt.  And then the article ends with a Pelosi quote on the “greedy” Republicans who are eyeing “devastating” cuts.

The Bottom Line

Journalistic bias has a long tradition.  It’s much of what’s behind the First Amendment, which was ratified in an era when newspaper editors more than anyone else determined the presidential elections.  And, to be fair to the A.P., over the past days when CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all ignored major stories — the fall of Aleppo, the child-porn arrests in Norway, major coordinated terror attacks in three countries — in favor of reprinting an old anti-Trump piece, all these things were reported on the A.P. wire.  In short, if you want unbiased news from an American source, you’d do worse than relying on the Associated Press direct feed.

But even if you do, and especially when hit pieces come out against alternate media sources, always remember that every reporter is biased and every publisher has an agenda.  (And yes, that includes even me.)

So — no, you shouldn’t get your news from BuzzFeed, the HuffPost, the Daily Show, or God help us The Onion.  If you want to be informed, check the A.P. feed, Reuters, the BBC, and all the other public sources of news.  If you want opinions and stories in digest form, do NOT just skim headlines; they’ll always mislead you.  Be cautious; be picky; be skeptical.

And, most important of all, stay in the habit of thinking for yourself.

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