How critical are you of the news?

Where you get your news from matters

Critical thinking is important and it doesn’t take much effort. Failure to verify whether what you think you know is so can lead to bad decisions and even worse public policy.

Critical thinking. It's not just for debunking religion

Forbes has an excellent article – on the anatomy of a lie. Specifically it is about how a lie about how minimum wage will cause employers, specifically restaurants to shut down propagated and what that tells us about how we get our news.

Here is the article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2015/03/22/minimum-wage-increase-killing-seattle-restaurants-anatomy-of-a-lie-from-inside-the-bubble/

For those of you who aren’t interested in clicking through, here is what happened.  A local magazine published an article on why so many Seattle restaurants are closing. (see: http://www.seattlemag.com/article/why-are-so-many-seattle-restaurants-closing-lately)   In this article an assertion is made.  Here it is: “Though none of our local departing/transitioning restaurateurs who announced their plans last month have mentioned this as an issue, another major factor affecting restaurant futures in our city is the impending minimum wage hike to $15 per hour.”

Basically, none of the restaurants shutting down are shutting down because of the increase in the minimum wage, but an anti-minimum wage activist says the minimum wage is a major factor (but doesn’t say how he knows this), so the writer included that as a cause even though they had no evidence it is a cause of the closings.

What happened next is a media echo chamber that seized on an unsupported statement made by an anti-minimum wage activist and used this statement as proof that an increase in the minimum wage will hurt businesses. Several prominent conservative think tanks started citing this article to show that restaurants were shutting down in advance of the minimum wage hike in Seattle. Rush Limbaugh got in on the act. And soon every conservative news outlet was citing the minimum wage causes restaurants to close as gospel.

The only problem is that it wasn’t even true. Anyone who reads the article can see that. This isn’t hard.  Several restauranteurs give their reasons for closing. They all have good reasons, but the minimum wage increase isn’t among their reasons. Then some guy says, well – one of the major reasons is the minimum wage increase and despite no restauranteur agreeing with that statement, it’s considered to be true.

Look, Critical thinking isn’t hard to do. It doesn’t take a lot of time. When someone cites a source, go to the source and see what it says. In this case, you have an anti-minimum wage activist making a statement that isn’t supported by any facts in the article. The next step is to find out WHY this person made this statement and do they have any evidence to back it up. Apparently they don’t. That’s all that is required.

So how do we know that the – restaurants are closing because of the minimum wage is false even though formerly reputable think tanks declare the opposite? Because the Seattle Times, which is a reputable news outlet did the research that other news outlets didn’t bother doing. And they could not find a single restauranteur who was closing down because of the increase in the minimum wage. In fact, most were actually expanding, or moving locations to expand.

Why does any of this matter?  Well, it matters if you are investing in restaurant businesses. It matters if you are involved in making or advocating for public policy. It matters if you are voting for or against something. After all if you base your opinions and decisions on a lie, you aren’t making very good decisions.  It is best to base your opinions on facts, not fantasy.  

I love the conclusion of the Forbes piece, so I’ll end with that here.

“The bottom line here is that if your ‘thing’ is to enjoy signing on to any panic that conveniently and comfortable mirrors your particular ideology, then have a ball. … However, if you have an actual interest in seeing whether or not the rise, over the next seven years, in the minimum wage in Seattle will have a profound, insignificant or non-existent effect on the city’s restaurant industry, you might consider waiting until the increases actually take hold so that you can track the legitimate, empirical evidence.”

It really doesn’t take much effort to review the actual facts. Where you get your news from matters. And misinformation being spread on behalf of political ideology is rampant. And all of this misinformation (lies) negatively impacts people’s decision making. It’s called propaganda for a reason. If your news outlet keeps getting the facts wrong, they are part of the problem. Make an effort to get your news from an outlet that actually cares to get their facts right.