Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Teaching Our Students to Review the News with a Critical Eye

There is one other resource that I would recommend.  As additional protest groups spring up around the country, including the Stop the Machine and Occupy DC groups that have been protesting in Washington DC since Thursday, one can not assume that all these groups share the same goals, including the consensus-based decision making of Occupy Wall Street.  However, they mostly share a commitment to non-violent protests.  So when there was a confrontation with guards at the Smithsonian's  National Air and Space Museum on Saturday that ended with the museum being closed, I was surprised, because that didn't seem to be in keeping with the group's typical mode of operation.

However, the often-insightful Wonkbook blog in the Washington Post reported this interesting fact:  one of the leaders in the charge through the guards into the museum was, in fact, an assistant editor of the conservative magazine, American Spectator.  In his original story on this event, the journalist, Patrick Howley, wrote that he had represented himself as being in favor of the protests, saying “As far as anyone knew I was part of this cause — a cause that I had infiltrated the day before in order to mock and undermine in the pages of The American Spectator.”  

I added the bold to emphasize that Howley had no intention to be honest, to represent himself as a journalist, to learn, or to report objectively, or even subjectively from his conservative viewpoint.   Apparently even The American Spectator disapproves of such a blatant admission of bias, since it has since edited that part out of the story, which you can read on their website.  However, you can read the unedited version of Howley's story here.  Howley concludes his article dismissing the entire movement as being wimps, because he was the only one who evaded the guards after being pepper sprayed and entered the building.  He doesn't seem to consider the fact that he was the only one who was breaking...I don't know if it is the law?  but at least the power and the authority of the national government, and that maybe others didn't follow not because they lacked the courage, but because of their commitment to lawful and peaceful protests.

So I am not saying that this assault upon the museum can be blamed on Howley.  I have no idea what happened, not having been there, and there hasn't been much coverage of the episode.  But this is a great teaching point for students to not just accept everything they read or they hear.  When something seems a little strange, like the attack upon the museum seemed to me, dig a little deeper.  And it is a great reminder that we need to research our sources as we make up our minds about things.  

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