Since the 1950s, right wing groups and foundations laid the groundwork to defund public schools and push everyone into for-profit private schools or charters, because poorly educated students become easily-manipulated voters. Look at the results:
Veteran journalist Alan Miller tells the story of the high school students who, years after the fact, didn’t know that Osama bin Laden had been killed. These were seniors, no less — in a journalism class at a well-regarded New York City charter school.
“Their reaction was ‘Wait, what? He’s dead?’ ” said Miller, who won a Pulitzer Prize as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
His story, though, has a happy ending. After immersion in the News Literacy Project, a Bethesda-based nonprofit organization that Miller founded to give teenagers the tools to know what to believe in the digital age, the students became news junkies. They were seriously annoyed if their classroom copies of the New York Times didn’t show up on time.
Every bit as dead as bin Laden, it sometimes seems, is many American citizens’ basic knowledge of news. Young people, especially, get their news in isolated bursts on their phones (the experts call this disaggregation). That makes it harder than ever to tell established truth from opinion, propaganda or pure fiction.
I always thought this is where people like me would find a niche. People so immersed in news, readers would pay for someone to filter out the rest. That happened for a while, but not enough to make a living.
You could see that last week when, during NBC’s commander-in-chief forum, moderator Matt Lauer didn’t even raise a skeptical eyebrow as Donald Trump claimed — again, and falsely — to have opposed the war in Iraq from the start. Although, as a broadcast pro, Lauer should have been far better prepared to parry this and other politically expedient flights of fancy, his ailment — apparent ignorance — is a common one. (Consider Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson’s query in an MSNBC interview: “What is Aleppo?”)
“There’s a cacophony of untrue information out there,” and it’s drowning out what’s dependable and accurate, said Leonard Downie Jr., former Washington Post executive editor, whose new book, “The News Media: What Everyone Needs to Know,” provides some help in question-and-answer form. (For example: “How dependent is journalism on leaks?” and “How are private interests trying to manage news now?”)