Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Check Your Facts

By Liz Kaminski

True or false? That's the question Rob Garilli, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas College and also SGA President, addressed in a speech on the reliability of the media in his Speech Communications Honors class earlier this month. To relate the problem of uncertainty with the media to his audience, Rob opened his speech with a poll he conducted on the class. Using his sample population, Rob found that “85% of students do not know whether to trust the news they are getting” and displayed the statistic with a pie chart to achieve maximum impact.

Rob explained that not only are students at STAC unsure of news facts, but a survey conducted by PIPA during 2010 congressional elections found that many voters were upset with media for providing false and biased information.

Since there are many news outlets and only a few are reliable, Rob wanted to inform the audience where they can look to find confirmation of stories that the media provided. One very reliable source to check political facts is on a website called PolitiFact. Established by the St. Petersburg Times with editor in chief Bill Adair, PolitiFact won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for its fact checking abilities. Rob then delved into the formatting of the website.

First, he explained the Truth-o-Meter which is what the website uses to rate the truthfulness of an article or story. “There are six levels with which PolitiFact uses to rate a story, True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire” explained Rob. Most of the levels are self-explanatory, but Rob clarified one of the more unclear levels.

“Pants on Fire shows that not only is the story absolutely false, but there is also a sense of ridiculousness to the story. The catchy name was made up to help lighten the mood of the website and draw young people to the site,” Rob said. Each meter is located on the side of the article to show the reader the rating of truthfulness. Rob pulled up the website to show the audience where the Truth-o-Meter was located on the various web pages.

Rob used the two different examples to also show that PolitiFact was extremely unbiased in search for truth out in the media. One article dealt with how it was an untruthful rumor that the congressional Republicans have written up zero bills on job creation. Another article talked about the misconception in the media that Obamacare constitutes a government takeover of the health care system. This showed some support that the website was not biased.

However, at the end of the speech, sophomore Melissa Vander Teems brought up the point again by asking “Are the articles posted about 50/50 – like half of the articles dealing with Republicans are false and half of the article dealing with Democrats are false?”

Rob answered this question by explaining that they do not break it up in that manner. PolitiFact deals with all sorts of articles and posts all findings despite the ratio of false to true on Republicans and Democrats. There job is to find out whether the information the media is feeding the masses is true through reliable sources with high credentials and after amounting research.

This was an informative speech about how the media can put out misinformation which can greatly affect political positions. Rob’s detailed research into the website reassured the audience of its reliability. After this speech, the audience walked away with the tools needed to sort through the information provided by the media to make sure that is truthful and correct.

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