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cockswain's avatar

How do you know if your news sources are credible?

Asked by cockswain (15271points) March 5th, 2010

With all the contradictory politics out there, how do you know if what you hear in the media is true? What do you do to verify facts? For example, I recently dug beneath the surface of “climategate” and found the damning “hide the decline” statement to amount to a lack of understanding of their data analysis methods. These days I tend to believe NPR, PBS, and the BBC. It has been with tremendous disdain I have watched the development of the Tea Party movement with so many ridiculous “facts” put forth about czars, socialists, facists, Nazis, and the like. How do you combat this mental pollution and remain truthfully informed?

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18 Answers

lilikoi's avatar

I think after you’ve watched mainstream “news” for a while, you can kind of read between the lines. I like NPR, PBS, and BBC, too, but even NPR is sometimes not totally clean. If it is an issue I am particularly passionate about, I will do independent background research. This can mean digging up things around the internet, talking with knowledgeable local experts, finding scientific journal articles….basically getting to the source of the story, which usually yields several other leads. I have even had email conversations with journalists/reporters before about their stories. The fact is though no one knows all the details of everything that’s happening. I suggest reading It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong. I think you’ll find it interesting.

ninjacolin's avatar

do your own research.
at least every now and then.

marinelife's avatar

I like the three you named too. There are some other sites I also use: Politico, Talking Points Memo among them.

laureth's avatar

The short answer? Practice, long-term paying attention to the news and seeing if what the source in question says has been true before, and awareness of events in general so I can tell if something sticks out like a fake, sore thumb.

The long answer? There are a few ways, I guess. The most obvious is to pay attention to several news outlets, all across the political spectrum and even from other countries (like the BBC). This helps discern what really happened in the same way that having two eyes helps determine depth and how far away something is, because you get it from several angles. If they all have some news in common, and you can account for known slant, it’s probably true.

Another way is to do the research. Sometimes the Left or the Right get all riled up about a bill that’s being debated in Congress, over-reacting and telling you that we’ll lose our access to herbal medicine, say, or that we’ll have “death panels.” However, if you go to the bill itself and read the actual text (the definitive site is you can see for yourself if they are posturing, or how much they’re mucking up the truth.

Also, it helps to know what sites are authoritative sources to find information. Joe Blow’s Blog probably isn’t the best place to find out anything but Joe Blow’s opinion (although you can also fact-check Joe Blow and see if he’s generally a good source of opinion), but if I wanted actual information on the national debt, say, I’d go to If I want to know unemployment or inflation statistics, I go to, which is the site of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. posts the official start and end dates of the recessions in the US. A good source for abortion info, if you want to get involved in that brawl with someone someday, is the Alan Guttmacher Institute – They seem to be the only group in the entire fray that is trying to compile reliable statistics. Primary sources are great. Have a question about the Constitution? Read the Constitution! :)

Finally, sometimes you might not know the slant or opinion of a purported news site. Sometimes you have to watch their stories for a while and compare them to other sites (especially definitive ones) to know what’s going on with them. For instance, if you’re like my Mother in Law and all you watch is basically Glenn Beck, you might begin to think that he’s a definitive source for news – but if you take what he says and evaluate it based on observed reality (taking a statement like “There’s no such thing as climate change, because the climate isn’t changing” and comparing it to statistics, news about the Solomon Islands and Florida losing ground to rising water, and how the diseases that one might expect to spread when the climate changes are spreading in the predictable way), you might realize that the news source you’re evaluating is or is not reliable. This just takes time and observation.

Another way of determining slant might be to look at who owns the news outlet in question. Who profits from their reporting? Who pays them their wages? Can you discern an agenda? That sort of thing.

Sussing out reliable news takes work – sometimes, I think most people are unwilling to put in the work and just believe everything they hear, or everything their political party tells them. However, I think the work is worth it, when trying to be a good citizen. :)

Seek's avatar


I like my local radio stations, and they play NPR. It works for me. I think they’re credible enough, as I haven’t heard any outright lies on the network, and I’m not a hardcore anything-activist, so it doesn’t really matter if they have some of the details a little off. To be honest, I listen more for the movie reviews and the interesting “every day people” stories than anything else. The political world is screwing itself up just fine without my intervention.

Cruiser's avatar

If Walter Cronkite didn’t say it, it is probably false inflammatory dribble….cover your eyes and ears.

gasman's avatar

I agree with @lilikoi about “mainstream” media, though that word can be deceiving, especially when it comes to major television networks. Okay, nobody has cited Fox News, which White House Communications Director Anita Dunn said was a “wing of the Republican Party” & whose “fair and balanced” slogan was famously challenged by Al Franken. Meanwhile, MSNBC tends to have a liberal bias, but you won’t see the degree of frothing-at-the-mouth rants that emanate from Fox’s big-name commentators. That news media generally & collectively have a liberal bias is largely a myth promulgated by conservatives.

I think most other major news organizations on tv & internet (including a few of the largest remaining print newspapers like NY Times or Wall St Journal) tend to be reliable sources of info. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (Comedy Central) hits just the political highlights, though in a rather entertaining way.

Despite ubiquitous cynicism regarding journalism these days, I have the sense that professionalism and accuracy in reporting are still prized traits in what is a highly competitive industry.

And I wouldn’t leave out Wikipedia articles as a ‘neutral viewpoint’ source of information—usually up to date & usually flagged for suspected bias, lack of external references, or obvious vandalism.

For scientific questions I would look to big secular publications like Scientific American or National Geographic or New Scientist magazines. They’ll give it to you straight along with some sense of degree of uncertainty. The same is usually true of internet articles at .edu sites. With .org and .com sources, all bets are off—some are excellent at informing and some are excellent at misinforming!

On purely political or social questions, all you can do is try to judge the merits of all articulated points of view & decide for yourself.

laureth's avatar

The fact that Fox has gone to court to defend their first amendment right to lie (and won) would seem to eliminate them from the list of “credible” sources.

lloydbird's avatar

This is one source that might be of interest.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Experiential education,that which you’ve learned through out your lifetime.

babaji's avatar

Abc News, nbc news, Chronicle, radio….
if i hear the same thing at each place, i usually accept it as being credible.

davidbetterman's avatar

Generally, if the newscaster’s lips are moving, it is false or slanted.

phillis's avatar

Honestly, I have completely given up on news from anywhere the US dominates. Fair and balanced? Oh, please. I get my US news from other countries when I want the truth.

YARNLADY's avatar

Don’t expect a single source to be reliable 100% of the time. They all make mistakes once in awhile. Try to follow at least three if not more, and research the questionable reports.

laureth's avatar

@YARNLADY – I think sometimes the key is knowing what reports are questionable. There are lots of people who don’t at all question the stuff Glenn Beck says, because he “is plausible” and “sounds credible.” The fact that he is (1) taken as factual news instead of entertainment and (2) is believable to some people suggests that there needs to be more paying-attention and education that helps people decide what is even questionable.

cockswain's avatar

On a related note, there’s this story from yesterday:,0,2830806.story

@YARNLADY I agree. I’ve seen two documentaries about Walmart That’s exactly what I did when I heard about climategate and was stunned at the way the media handled it. The liberal ones downplayed the report, the conservative ones used simply the headline as proof, but my opinion as a guy with a decent scientific background is there was nothing damning there.

@laureth It has occurred to me at times that a reasonable case could be made for Glenn Beck’s actions as treasonous. He’s fairly crazy too. This video is a great example:

cockswain's avatar

I really like this quote from the inside cover of a logic textbook:

“It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”—W.K. Clifford

flo's avatar

If it comes from a news outlet whose “journalists” do promos not for the next program, but for the media outlet. As well, one that has female anchors/reporters who wear suggestive clothes and makeup, whether it is occcasionaly or always. That source not only cannot be trusted, but belongs in a banana republic.

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