Dealing with ‘alternative facts’ in today’s world

The news clip shown on the screen inside Charter Hall room 217 on Monday brought me down memory lane to the now famous confrontation between the press and the Trump administration.

“You did not answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood? Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office on day one,” Meet the Press host Chuck Todd told President Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. The confrontation was over the now controversy over crowd size during the Trump inauguration.

“No it doesn’t,” Conway said. “Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What … You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.”

On that January day, Americans learned a new term — alternative facts.

To help people understand that new term, a faculty symposium was held at Southwest Minnesota State University called “SMSU in the Age of Doubt.”

The speakers included Thomas Dilley with environmental science department, Jeff Kolnick from the history department, Jose Losado Montero with Spanish literature, Julie Walker with communication studies and Mara Wiggins from the McFarland Library.

“When I first heard that (news clip) what first occurred in my mind was “lie.” They are just talking about lies,” Dilley said. “But when I started thinking about it a little longer, you know what, in science you can have two conflicting sets which will be slightly different thinking.”

Dilley said he was trying to set the stage for the symposium by explaining how scientists collect data and try to explain that data.

Walker talked about spin.

“Spin will get you in trouble,” she said. “Like alternative facts.”

“As we are talking about fake news, as we talk about alternative facts, we are no longer talking about the essence of the point we are trying to get across. Instead we are talking about something completely different, which is problematic.”

Both Walker and Wiggins talked about the amount of information that is bombarding us.

“We have to think about as an audience member, who is credible and why we consider them to be credible. Are they the expert source of information or not?” Walker asked.

“We are just inundated with things that are going on,” Wiggins said.

She suggested using the CRAAP test. It takes into account currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose.

As journalists, we use that same criteria to report the news. But the flood of information is now confusing the message. For every credible source of information picked up on television, on newspapers and on the Internet, there are hundreds more alternative sources.

Are you conservative in nature? Well, there are outlets that will cater to your beliefs. You are Liberal? You can get your alternative news as well.

Walker gave the example of the difference of opinion involving autism. The idea of vaccines causing autism has been disproven. But even our present White House administration is supporting the alternatives.

One man in attendance commented that faith and self-interest is pretty hard to crack.

“I appreciate all the methods, methodology, processes. My next door neighbor still believes the earth is flat,” he said.

“That’s why people who are currently at work in Washington use it (alternative facts) all the time. Use it effectively. How do you oppose that. Where is the resistance. Any suggestions?”

Well, this is the world we live in right now. More and more people are getting their news on Facebook. There are no longer just NBC news, ABC news and CBS to pick from. We now have Fox, CNN, MSNBC and hundreds of Internet outlets.

But there are journalists out there who work hard every day to check facts and interview credible sources. They work at your hometown newspaper. They work at big city newspapers as well. Not only do they follow the CRAAP test, but journalistic ethics as well.

You can follow Mike Lamb at Twitter@indymlamb