Guidelines for Identifying “Alternative Facts”

It may be a post-truth world, but WC still believes facts and the truth matter. Wickersham’s Conscience tries not to repeat fake news – except to expose it – and makes an effort to source the new, quotes and analysis reported here. WC freely admits those efforts are not always successful. But WC does make a serious effort.

WC’s toolbox for getting facts may help you deal with the lies, distortions and half-truths of the new Administration and its spokespersons, and the other purveyors of the fog of deceit.

Tip #1: Consider the source.

Blogger Votero, at All Generalizations Are False, produced a helpful chart that rates various media on truthfulness, inclination and depth of analysis.

Credit: Votero

Credit: Votero

The chart is a generalization, of course, but a useful one, and largely consistent with WC’s own experience across the various media described in it. It’s simplistic in several ways. Some writers for the New York Times, for example, are pretty conservative, and some are pretty liberal. And a lot of very good newspapers get lumped into two categories. If nothing else, Votero’s chart offers guidance in how to approach a particular piece of news reported in a particular place.

Tip #2: Try to Rely on Original Sources.

In the vast echo chamber of the world wide web, things get repeated, shared, posted and re-posted without a thought to their origin. Look how much trouble the President got into by tweeting  bogus story form Briebart. Sometimes they turn out to be fake. In this quasi-Orwellian world, the writings of George Orwell have taken on new urgency. Presidential Advisor Kellyanne Conway seems to epitomize Orwell’s “Newspeak,” the “doublethink” language in Orwell’s novel 1984. But a lot of stuff gets attributed to Orwell that he never actually said. Example: Orwell never actually said, “We sleep peaceably in our beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf.” Instead of assuming the quotation is right, check for yourself. Instead of relying on secondary sources, try to find the original source. Track down where the claim originated before taking it seriously.

Tip #3: Fact Check.

The fact-checking sites can be very helpful. Snopes,1 Politifact, and Factcheck, to name three. The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker is good but is paywalled. At a minimum, you should check any remarkable claim against one or all of those sites before repeating it.

Tip #4: Try to Decide if It’s a Distraction.

The Trump Administration, and the Republican-controlled Congress, use shocking statements and claims to distract the public from other issues. You can make the case that Trump’s claim President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower was an attempt to distract people from the increasingly serious Russian scandal. Try not to react like the bull in the arena, focused on the red cape when there’s a guy with a sword behind you.


  1. There’s a nice backstory on Snopes at CNN.