Tuesday, March 3, 2009

IN Touch: Check the Facts First

My fifth post on The Indianapolis Star's IN Touch blog is now online. As an experiment, I've decided to go ahead and re-post that entry here (but go ahead and visit the Star so that their advertisers can try to sell you something; newspapers are having a tough enough time these days).

The debate over the economic stimulus package highlighted a problem in our political discourse that has been exacerbated by 24-hour news programs, talk radio and the Internet, but which, thanks to the Internet, can be readily addressed. Obviously, the need for public education about important national issues is critical; a well-informed electorate is essential to the proper functioning of our government. So, too, is an open and honest debate, not just among our elected leaders but among citizens as well.

However, we as a society need to be careful when engaging in those discussions to do so based on accurate information. All too often during the discussion of the economic stimulus package, people would rely upon certain talking points that made for very effective rhetoric but were devoid of accuracy. Some legislators made unsupportable claims or allegations that were then parroted by members of the media, who either did not fact check or crossed the line from news to opinion.

It is easy to just assume that anything we hear or read is true. But it is also easy to take a few extra minutes and fact check a claim before relying on it to make a decision or form an opinion. How many people took the time to go online and read the stimulus bill or seek out what the other side had to say to be sure they were able to weigh both sides of the argument before forming that opinion? To be an informed and intelligent electorate, we each have the responsibility to exercise some independent thought rather than just accepting and regurgitating talking points, especially without being sure that those talking points are, in fact, accurate.

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