Opinion / Portfolio

Always take things with a grain of salt

As a joke, someone once listed movie titles that were supposedly butchered in translation. The list said Pretty Woman was shown in China with a title that, translated back into English, would read, I Will Marry a Prostitute to Save Money. Field of Dreams supposedly became Imaginary Dead Players Live in My Cornfield. My personal favorite: Babe was The Happy Dumpling-to-be Who Talks and Solves Agricultural Problems.

The thing of it is that the New York Times ran a story that treated the movie titles as the truth, not a joke.

You’d think people would learn their lesson, that not everything they read is true, especially online. That’s a lesson that Gazette advisor Karl Grubaugh reinforces all the time and that my dad, who spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal, has been teaching me since I was a little girl.

Instead, people seem to be heading in the other direction, feeling free to treat as truth anything they read or hear. In fact, the Internet gives people cover for their stupidity. They can say they’re not vouching for the truth of something they’ve read, then repeat it as though it’s true.

As an experiment, freelance writer Jason Schreier tweeted an anonymous rumor that quarterback Pat Devlin was joining the Arizona Cardinals. Within 30 seconds, NFLDraftInsider posted the rumor.

CBSSportsNFL quickly picked up the rumor up. So did the Cardinals’ website.

No one checked the facts.

At least the Devlin rumor was just sports. My biggest problem is that our politicians use Devlin-like “facts” all the time.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann recently said a woman came up to her crying after Bachmann debated Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the merits of a government-mandated vaccine.

“Her daughter was given that vaccine,” Bachmann told Fox News. “She told me her daughter suffered from mental retardation as a result.”

If Bachmann had bothered to check her facts, she’d have learned that extensive testing on the vaccine has shown no link to mental disabilities.

When she got beaten up for her baseless claims, she said in another interview on Fox News, “I am not a scientist. I am not a physician. All I was doing was reporting what a woman told me last night at the debate.”

That’s simply not good enough. If you want the responsibility of being president, Rep. Bachmann, then you need to take responsibility for what you say. If you want to argue that Perry shouldn’t have mandated a vaccine for 12-year-old girls, fine. But don’t use hearsay.

As a reporter, I take offense at the Bachmanns of the world — and there are many. I do not just repeat what others tell me. I do my best to make sure that everything printed is true.

I don’t just trust the word of my friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s best friend’s aunt. And if I can check my facts, then our nation’s politicians can, too. They have whole staffs of people. I’m just one 17-year-old high school student.

Riddle me that.

***

Originally appeared in The Granite Bay Gazette.

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