Deciphering the Truth: How to Tell Real News From ‘Fake News’

A conversation with Epoch Times investigative reporter Joshua Philipp
October 27, 2020 Updated: November 4, 2020

Remember when you could turn on the evening news with little doubt that the journalists were, to the best of their knowledge, delivering the truth? Whether we were living in ignorant bliss or a more virtuous world, it sure made consuming news less stressful.

Today, of course, deciphering truth from fiction seems ever more important and challenging. World events hit closer to home than ever before, and it’s a challenge to make good decisions for the health and well-being of our families—not to mention the future of our country—if we can’t determine with confidence whether the information we’re being given is accurate.

So, how can we tell whether or not the news we’re consuming is reliable? I asked Joshua Philipp, an Epoch Times award-winning investigative reporter and the host of the show “Crossroads With Joshua Philipp,” for advice on navigating these muddy waters. Here’s what he said.

The Epoch Times: What has changed in the past few years that has so eroded our trust in the news?

Joshua Philipp: I think news began changing around the time that it became advocacy rather than the original mission of telling people what happened and why you should care about it. A lot of journalists these days are engaged in “new journalism.” It’s not journalism meant to tell you what happened. It’s journalism meant to achieve a specific political goal.

So when people go to write stories, they’re not thinking of informing the public—they’re thinking of informing the public based on a political agenda.

The Epoch Times: Are some of the news truly “fake”?

Mr. Philipp: A lot of news is “fake.” Although, I would say most of the time it’s half-truths. But half-truths can sometimes be a lot more deceiving than complete lies because there is a grain of truth in them.

What you find a lot of journalists doing these days is omission—where they’ll leave out key, factual points and then they’ll draw a broader analysis on top of it. The analysis then becomes the angle. So they can make really bold statements based on incomplete information.

Or they might make a statement like that in the headline and the first few paragraphs of the article. But, further down, maybe 10 paragraphs down, then you have the refuting evidence that actually debunks everything they just told you.

The Epoch Times: What fundamental characteristics of journalism should be found in a trustworthy news report?

Mr. Philipp: I think the reason people read news is because they want to have an accurate understanding of what is taking place in the world and they want to have a bit of basic information on how to understand it. So, the things that journalists should provide are the factual details relevant to the main points people should know. And that should not be a biased statement. Journalists should give the complete picture within reasonable length.

Then, on top of that, they should provide the context of the information so as to relay the proper understanding of what was meant by it or what was the context of an incident so people know why it happened.

The Epoch Times: When reading an article or watching a television news report, what clues might indicate that it’s an unreliable report?

Mr. Philipp: If you’re watching TV, if you’re reading the news, there are a few things you should look for. Look for, No. 1, the sources. Are they citing, for example, unnamed sources from a publication that has shown to have, in the past, gotten things wrong or that has demonstrated previously that their unnamed sources are unreliable?

You should also pay attention to the level to which the journalist editorializes, unless it’s in the editorial section. How much are they splicing in their own opinion? That indicates that they’re so biased, oftentimes, that they’re not even able to relay basic information without putting their own opinion into it, which does indicate that they may be interested in concealing information or changing the context of information to give you a different understanding.

No. 3—you should make an effort, especially these days, to read a few different publications. At least, initially, have a look at a few different ways that journalists report on topics and see if you can even look at some of the original sources. Not all the time, but every now and then, to make sure the journalists are giving you the proper reports and showing the correct context of information.

The Epoch Times: What advice would you give busy individuals who don’t have time to research every detail or angle of an issue, but wish to stay informed of current events?

Mr. Philipp: Well, not to sound like an advertisement, but, really, at The Epoch Times—we make an effort to do that. It’s one of the foundations of our journalistic approach. We do make a serious effort to provide the full picture of what took place, in terms of what’s necessary for the story and in terms of providing the proper context. For people who may doubt that, have a look at what we write and have a look at how other media present those same stories. I think you’ll see a real difference.

The Epoch Times: How can parents teach their children to tell the real news from the “fake” news?

Mr. Philipp: I think the biggest point parents should teach their kids when it comes to learning real from fake is to teach them independent thinking—to judge things according to their own systems of values. Often people get led along by narratives based on emotional agitation or based on the fact that they get fed these false historical views, which then reshape the kids’ entire perception of reality. Their perception of history, their perception of values—if these things become fundamentally altered then there is no way they can interpret surface-level information without having those things as context.

So for kids, I would recommend giving your kids good books to read—from history and literature—that present good values that can form a basis through which they can understand the world through a moral or traditional lens. Doing that gives them an anchor when dealing with all the problems the world has today.

The Epoch Times: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Mr. Philipp: To the extent that everyone has a very advanced computer in their pocket, every time you’re sitting in the subway, every time you’re waiting for a friend, every time you’re sitting in a restaurant, you’re probably reading some type of information. You’re being bombarded constantly with information. In this current environment, it’s very easy to let yourself become emotionally agitated, be bothered, be worried, and so on. This is one of the products of news that oftentimes markets to you based on how they can impact you emotionally.

I’d recommend to people: Try to find your own place of peace. Try to take a step back. Try to absorb positive things every now and then—things that can quell the chaos of the world around you. Because, otherwise, the current of the surface culture of this world is something that is both unpleasant and possibly damaging to a person’s soul. I think people feel this these days, that it’s hard to feel at peace with the world with people attacking each other in the news all the time, with all the conflicts, and all the terrible imagery we see.

Try to find a place of peace. For that, look to history, look to tradition, look to family.

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza