Two sources

This has been one hell of a week, hasn’t it?

But since I’ve been waxing rhapsodic about 30+ year old student newspapers, let me share with you something that was drilled into my head in college journalism: two sources.

Two sources, or go find a second source. Two sources, or it doesn’t see print.

This applied equally to hot-button political topics, or whether or not the school physical plant was planning on repainting the yellow stripes in the parking lots. Two sources. Get two sources, or you don’t actually have a story.

That was in the early ’90s, though, before there was universal usage of the world wide web, before the Drudge Report, before TMZ, before Fox News and Breitbart and leaning-fully-to-the-left MSNBC, and before nut cases like Alex Jones were going on about FEMA death camps and vacant big box stores being set up as concentration camp processing centers.

About a year and a half ago, I worked a brief contract job at Fort Chaffee, taking part as a civilian “prop” in some National Guard exercises. We were given robes (in the dead of summer!), headdresses, bottled water, and maybe a couple of basic phrases in Arabic, and we went to work. Oh, and we had what I called “laser tag harnesses”, sensors that would be pinged by lasers attached to the guardsmen’s weapons. If we were “shot” and injured, the harness would emit a loud, intermittent tone. If we were dead, it was a loud steady tone, as in flatlining. The point of the exercise is that: none of us were supposed to be shot at all. Opposing forces (OpFor in military lingo) were another unit from out of town, dressed more or less like us (or in camouflage), and they were badasses. By mingling with us, they got us “killed” a few times. But by and large…we were props in a shooting gallery. The wrong targets. I could write a whole book about my experiences over the five or six weeks of that exercise, because so help me, it was fun. And I hope the Guardsmen who were trying really hard not to “shoot” us are still with us as a result of that exercise.

When I tried to explain this to a few people, one acquaintance in particular got ridiculously excited about it. “You’re a crisis actor for Jade Helm ’15?” he sputtered excitedly. “That’s awesome! What else can you tell me about it?”

“Um…that’s pretty much it,” I replied. “What’s Jade Helm ’15? If this training exercise has some fancy operational name, no one’s told me.”

He then sent me about four thousand links to InfoWars, each more utterly ridiculous than the last. I then replied that I wasn’t a “crisis actor”; in fact I wouldn’t even describe it as an acting job (and I’ve had one of those before). The response was, “Yeah…well…whatever they tell you to tell people.” As if I was in on…something.

The news is supposed to keep us informed. The internet was supposed to put the sum total of human knowledge and amusingly captioned pictures of cats at our fingertips.

Somewhere at the intersection of the two, the machinery of news distribution has failed us, and we have failed to be skeptical, informed consumers of news.

Gone are the days when the people on the other side of the screen won’t go to air or print or pixel without two sources. That job is left to us.

In the wake of the 2016 election, which has put a repugnant boar of a reality TV “star” next in line to be the leader of the free world, this is more important now than ever.

I don’t doubt that hate crimes are on the rise, committed by those emboldened by the outcome of the election. Do I believe every such story that I read? No.

I don’t doubt that the president-elect is gathering a sort of StuporFriends cabal of people who have no place in public office, either appointed or elected. Do I believe every story that I read about how they’re ready to piss the very concept of freedom down the shower drain? Not without verification.

Two sources. Learn it. Live by it. Because the media has ceased to do so. It’s now up to us to do the legwork.

We will get through this. But we won’t get very far through it by being willfully ignorant and keeping our heads in an echo chamber.

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