Journalists once encouraged the free pursuit of information — but those days are officially over. The New York Times recently took things one step further by urging Americans to forget about “critical thinking” altogether and instead automatically embrace whatever point of view “mainstream” news outlets and websites are pushing at the moment.
“Critical thinking, as we’re taught to do it, isn’t helping in the fight against misinformation,” the article begins. “Misinformation rides the greased algorithmic rails of powerful social media platforms and travels at velocities and in volumes that make it nearly impossible to stop. That alone makes information warfare an unfair fight for the average internet user.”
To make its point clear, the NYT gave a number of examples. In one instance, readers were urged to look up the names of people on Wikipedia to see if certain individuals could be trusted. The problem with this statement is that Wikipedia itself states that it is not a reliable source. Wikipedia’s writers aren’t even allowed to use other Wikipedia articles for reference because, as the site itself admits, “information… could be vandalism, a work in progress, or just plain wrong. Biographies of living persons, subjects that happen to be in the news, and politically or culturally contentious topics are especially vulnerable to these issues.”
The newspaper’s calls to trust “mainstream media outlets” above alternative news sources is also laughable. The New York Times itself, along with other supposedly reputable news outlets, have a history of deliberately employing “journalists” who also worked as CIA agents.
Vox, itself a left-wing outlet, recently admitted that mainstream news stations got it wrong when covering COVID-19 in January and February 2020. Many of these news sites not only piled on former President Donald Trump for imposing a travel ban on China, but also urged readers to not wear masks. To make matters worse, an analysis of these news outlets shows that they got their misinformation from the CDC, WHO, and other “experts” that the NYT is urging readers to trust without question.
There is certainly a great deal of misinformation on the internet. However, it’s not all coming from “alternative news sources”. In many instances, it’s the mainstream news outlets and so-called experts who are getting it wrong. Sometimes mistakes are made and individuals and news stations backtrack. In other cases, the misinformation is deliberate and continually repeated in the hopes that Americans will embrace certain points of view.
In any case, the fact that the New York Times is urging readers to ditch critical thinking should alarm anyone who cares about facts and impartial journalism. The truth is that critical thinking is needed now more than ever. Instead of automatically assuming official news sources and government experts are right, individuals need to question what they read, look up information from a wide range of sources, and form opinions based on factual evidence rather than mainstream media talking points.
Journalists should not demand that people accept spoon-fed information from them without question.