Fake News and the art of doubt

I’ll start this the way that most of these types of posts start. I normally don’t write about politics, mostly because I don’t want to add to the noise and I’d rather spread joy. But, also because having an outward political opinion and keeping a job usually don’t go hand-in-hand, and today happens to Amazon Prime Day, so…yeah…(I needed those makeup brushes y’all, all 32 of them). However, what I will speak on is a conversation that I have been having with journalists since the phrases “fake news” and “alternative facts” entered our vernacular.

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article called “Trump Jr. Was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign.” The article alleged that Donald Trump Jr. exchanged emails with Russia before agreeing to meet with a representative of the Russian government to discuss ways to sabotage the 2016 Presidential Election. And today, Trump Jr. tweeted screenshots of those emails for the world to read. However, I am not interested in discussing these emails, their relevance, impeachment, or collusion. I want to talk about not being able to believe what you see.

The Trump campaign, and subsequently the Democratic and Republican parties, has done a masterful job of disseminating doubt. From the moment Trump questioned Obama’s country of birth to today, he has leveraged the power of the media, on every airwave and every screen, to cast doubt in people’s minds about the messages that are being pushed in their faces in our 24-hour news cycle world. Other politicians, in both parties, have followed suit in order to win recent mid-term elections. As a freelance journalist who primarily writes about arts & culture, I’m used to people not believing what they see, but when we’re talking about domestic and world news it becomes a different story.

When I heard about the Times article and read it, honestly I thought, ‘what difference does it make?’ The reason why is because we have so allowed people’s perceptions to become their realities that nothing that does not align with that perception matters anymore. If you are a person who despises Trump, you will say “Finally! Proof for impeachment! They colluded with Russia. Clinton should have won,” and if you are someone who supports his presidency, you will say “The New York Times is an anti-democratic liberal propaganda machine that has it out for the President because they are mad that the former senator from their state lost!” And there it is. There are only alternative facts on both sides and no one cares about the truth, only what is true to them. Even with Trump Jr. tweeting photos of the emails, there’s a way to spin that. Those emails don’t really prove anything, his Twitter account was hacked, someone who hates Trump leaked them. He was smart to tweet them because he got ahead of the story. The ways to raise doubt are innumerable and so is the frequency.

Now, I’m not letting the media off the hook here. They helped create distrust in themselves, especially in the early 2000s when there were a handful of high-profile cases where journalists at reputable newspapers fabricated stories. Cable news (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc) is also a huge part of the problem as they have done another masterful job of conflating the words “news magazine” and “talk show” with actual news. Most of the time, these networks are obliged to advertisers, and the news they tell is the news they sell. Lack of diversity in newsrooms didn’t help, because people in marginalized communities couldn’t believe the stories they were reading about their own communities, and no one ever interviewed them. In addition, in all aspects of the news, the notions of objectivity and fair and balanced reporting are somewhere with the baby and the bathwater. As newsrooms began to shrink by the thousands 10 years ago, journalists did a piss poor job of advocating for, and helping the public to realize the importance of, journalism. They assumed that because they had always been there, they were entitled to be there, which is why they are now drawing pictures of Sean Spicer giving press conferences.

This brings me to the conversations I have been having with some journalist friends. As much as I give journalists a hard time, I also moonlight as one, and let me tell you that it is clearer than ever that people don’t understand what journalists do and how they do it. There seems to be this impression that journalists sit at their desks and create tales in the same way as novelists. This is fake news. Generally speaking, a reported story for a reputable news outlet has a minimum of three credible sources who have exchanged emails, had phone conversations with, and/or met in-person with the reporter. Sometimes, those people refuse to go on the record. At that point, most reporters try to find someone who will, but if they can’t, they use that anonymous source. Anonymous sources are only used when the information they have to offer is so essential that it cannot be attained elsewhere. An article can take anywhere from 12 hours to 12 months to write, depending on its scope, and in the end, the paper trail of spreadsheets, documents, emails, audio recordings, and notebooks is long and windy. For a publication such as the Times, the fact-checking process for an article like the one published yesterday, is probably grueling.

I’ll give you two examples from the world of fluff that I write in, and not to sound arrogant, but I’m a good reporter. I wrote an article for a local magazine about the National Museum of African American History & Culture. After reading it, my editor highlighted all of the sections where he either had questions, or thought we needed to cite the source. I then had to go back and answer his questions, add in a couple more sources, and even had to go back and do some extra reporting to answer one of his questions. From there, the article went to a copyeditor and a fact checker.

Another example is an article I wrote for a national publication about artist and arts administrator salaries in regional theatres across the country. I started off by asking actors in different cities which theatres paid the most and which theaters paid the least. None would go on the record, because they were afraid of losing work in the future, but they all gave me leads and tips (mostly through Facebook message conversations). I then interviewed artistic and managing directors of theatres across the country about the wages they pay actors. I checked figures to the best of my ability against their Form 990s, which are the financial forms that all 501c3 organizations must complete. Once I turned in the article, we went through three rounds of intense edits to ensure accuracy.

Those are just two examples, and journalists who work on politics, local government, education, and science articles can offer a whole lot more insight about how reporting works. That said, I also am sure that this pandemic distrust in the media is more rampant than ever, it’s not new, and it’s not going away. After all, how do you know I’m being forthcoming about my process if I haven’t published the notes from my interviews? There’s that doubt creeping in…

But, here’s the truth: Hillary’s emails, Trump Jr.’s emails, and who met with Russia or emailed Russia matters, but it is also a distraction. Americans will spend so much time outraged (4-8 years, maybe), that they won’t notice that healthcare, agricultural, environmental, education, and economic reforms are not happening. Who helped you when you needed time off to heal from a health crisis or care for a loved one? Where was your elected official when you lost your house and job and had to file for bankruptcy? What jobs that pay $15 or more per hour and don’t require a college education have come to your community? When did it become acceptable for the people who make between $65,000-$250,000 per year to have to shoulder the debt for everyone, with no reprieve? What laws have been passed to help your family in the past 15 years? Name them. The issue is not fake news, the issue is fake people making fake promises.

So, where do we go from here? To the polls in 2018 is a good idea, but it’s not where we start. We start with a recommitment to the truth, no matter how much it disturbs our perceptions. We start by bringing back humanistic value and truly believing that every human life matters. We start by seeking out information on our own and not believing only what we are fed. We commit ourselves to questioning why someone else’s perception disturbs our own. And most of all, we commit to valuing discernment (which is a measure of trust) over doubt (which is a measure of distrust). If we become a discerning public, instead of a doubtful public, we hold the power. Then, we can start a fruitful discussion about policy, instead of a flailing discussion about perception.

Recapture your dynamism

I recently finished listening to the book Abundance Now by Lisa Nichols on Audible and I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes from the book below.

  1. The universe does not recognize someday on the calendar.
  2. Don’t engage in wishful thinking. Set believable goals for the state you are in.
  3. Treat your present career as an investor in your future.
  4. I am the first example of how the world is supposed to love me.
  5. It’s never crowded along the extra mile. -Wayne Dwyer
  6. It is easier to dream from a place of abundance than from a place of lack.
  7. Get comfortable with playing big.
  8. Abundant thinkers avoid spending their dollar time on penny tasks.
  9. Be willing to fall forward. Parachutists have to fall before they pull the parachute to soar.
  10. The universe celebrates what is already being celebrated.
  11. Be grateful for the small things and the spectacular things will show up.

Sundance Film Festival recap and reflections

One of the most satisfying things in life is to dream of doing something and actually getting to do it. I am still on a high from such an experience, since I just came back from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. When I was 16 years old I decided that I wanted to go to the Sundance Film Festival, and a little over a decade later I made it as credentialed media. The experience was enchanted and the setting of picturesque, ice sickle covered buildings nestled in the snow-capped Rocky Mountains didn’t hurt. Here’s a day-by-day play-by-play.

Day 1: We landed in Salt Lake City am checked into the hotel. Then, we headed up to Park City for dinner in Deer Valley at the Royal Street Cafe. The grilled ciabatta bread was tasty. After dinner, I went to a screening of a new documentary called Whose Streets, which follows the conflict in St. Louis and Ferguson after the shooting of Mike Brown. The cinematographer was incredibly brave and never put the camera down, even as grenades flew and tear gas covered the crowds.

Day 2: The day started with a visit to the festival headquarters to pick up my media credentials and then a shuttle ride into Main Street. After exploring Main Street, we ate lunch at The Eating Establishment (the BLT with garlic aioli was delicious). Then, we stopped by the AT&T lounge and took photos of an Acura model made from ice before heading to a Diversity Reception at The Blackhouse Foundation. We ended the night at the Waldorf-Astoria at a party hosted by BET and sponsored by Patron. The hot chocolate and brownie pops were divine.

Day 3: On Saturday morning, we headed to Midway, Utah to the Homestead Resort to experience the ice castles. They are giant formations made from ice sickles, complete with a slide made from ice. An unexpected treat was the sight of white horses galloping in the snow. Then, we had lunch at Bandits Grill & Bar before checking out the ASCAP Cafe and attending a talk with the cast of Underground hosted by The Blackhouse Foundation. The day didn’t stop there. We continued on to a screening of a docuseries called Rise about modern day injustices against Native American communities in the United States, including the recent Dakota Access Pipeline. This was by far my favorite screening and the men and women who are fighting for Native American rights are truly admirable.

Day 4: For the final day of the festival, we did some souvenir shopping and explored Salt Lake City. What an awesome city! It is easily navigable, with sidewalks, bike lanes, and public transit. I also loved that there are so many locally-owned boutiques and restaurants, and not a ton of chains.

More than the parties, celebrity sightings, and movies, I walked away rejuvenated and with a renewed commitment to my creativity. I met so many kind and generous people and had enriching conversations with them. Seeing so many up-and-coming actors and budding filmmakers made me commit to stepping up my game and living bigger. Forget shoes and clothes– I’m investing all of my resources into becoming the woman and author that has always inside of me to be. I ordered new business cards, re-did my website, and locked in some new stories all within 24 hours of coming back to town. I once heard life coach Lisa Nichols say “Energy grows where energy goes,” and she was definitely right. At the top of the mountains I started to believe that I too could reach my peak.

Ten quotes to inspire your 2017

In no particular order of importance, I hope this list inspires someone to be the person that they were born to be.

  1. Do not confuse readiness with accomplishment. – A Course in Miracles
  2. You can’t Instagram comment on a soul. – Pastor Carl Lentz
  3. Challenges should activate latent potential. – Michael Bernard Beckwith
  4. Your conviction and your convenience don’t live on the same block. -Lisa Nichols
  5. It’s not about being brave all the time. It’s about finding quiet moments of courage and taking risks in service of your something bigger. You have to be willing to take a deep breath and do the brave thing. And then, after a while, you have to be willing to do it again. -Tiffany Han
  6. Charity is seeing someone on a higher level than what they have accomplished. – A Course in Miracles
  7. Do the right thing when you know it’s right and not when it’s convenient and you can wrap your head around it. – Tony Robbins
  8. Your gifts are resilient and patient. They don’t dim with time. – Lauretta Hanon
  9. As I laid at fear’s foot stool mercy lifted me up and placed me on grace’s shoulders. What had been would never be again and what will be is more than my imagination can grasp, so what is now is all that I need.
  10. The joy of my choices has made other people’s life better. – Beth Hermes
  11. BONUS: What’s gone may be gone, but I won’t go on playing dead. It’s time to start living the life I’ve never led! – Sister Act the Musical

For every holiday

When the clock strikes 12, my new year’s wish for you is peace and prosperity.

On Valentine’s Day I hope that the love you feel for that 24 hours lasts throughout the year.

May your soul experience an Easter, where everything physical has rolled away and all that is left is redemption and freedom.

I pray that the spirit of Thanksgiving fills your heart, and most importantly your mind, everyday and that you never see yourself as lacking anything.

And, just as Joseph and Mary walked boldly by faith to bring joy to the world, my prayer is that you give yourself the opportunity to experience new life.

For every holiday on the calendar I hope that there is a celebration in your heart.

10 blessings of 2016

As I look back on this year I have to be grateful for all of the wonderful experiences that have come along. I’ve seen great art, formed new friendships, grown closer to my family, and perhaps most importantly, learned the true meaning of the scripture “In all thy getting, get understanding.” As I get closer to 30 years old I have let go of resolutions and I simply just pray that the new year will be better than the last one, and so far life has not let me down. So, in no particular order, here are 10 moments that rocked my 2016:

  1. I got a new job making more money in a nurturing work environment.
  2. A steady stream of freelance opportunities have continued to come my way and I met some really wonderful artists when I wrote an article about southern women playwrights.
  3. I was accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association.
  4. I got to visit three new cities this year: Detroit, Asheville, and Houston.
  5. I took a creative writing class that has become a wonderfully supportive writing community for me and I am working on a book.
  6. I have not had to worry about food, shelter, clothing , and transportation– it may seem common, but it matters .
  7. My friends rocked this year! We celebrated, laughed, showed up, and encouraged each other .
  8. The universe showed me the ways my bad habits keep me from living my best life. What a blessing to be able to know and change in my 20’s!
  9. I volunteered for the National Poetry Slam and got to see this inspirational event live.
  10. I have had the opportunity to mentor and train college students which has been very rewarding. The future is scary, but we’ll be fine.
  11. BONUS 1: Blue Apron made me a better cook and now I know the proper amount of time it really takes to boil pasta and pan sear chicken.
  12. BONUS 2: I started meditating and I sleep better because of it.

I have been reading “A Course in Miracles” and I love this quote

Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love. They are performed by those who temporarily have more for those who temporarily have less.

Some miracles may seem to be of greater magnitude than others. But remember the first principle of the course; there is no order of difficulty in miracles. In reality you are perfectly unaffected by all expressions of lack of love. These can be from yourself and others, from yourself to others, or from others to you. Peace is an attribute in you. You cannot find it outside.