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George Coleman: Let’s talk about fake news

George Coleman • Updated Jan 28, 2017 at 2:30 PM

In The Democrat’s Jan. 19 editorial, we discussed fake news. We pledged to be part of the solution. We asked all of you to be part of the solution, as well.

So on Jan. 21, we published a story with the headline “Poll shows majority of Tennesseans oppose Affordable Care Act repeal.” The reaction on Facebook was highly negative, with some folks posting “Fake News!”

Hoo boy. 

For those who read the article, it actually said Tennesseans opposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement plan. It detailed the ACA components that we may wish to consider keeping – provisions for routine screening, not allowing insurance companies to charge higher premiums for those 50 and older, etc. The article went on with quotes from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker regarding his support for repeal and replace as opposed to just repeal.

So what we had here was a poorly written headline. This will happen from time to time, as long as we hire people in the newsroom. We don’t like it, it makes us look bad and we apologize for doing so.

But the headline aside, this was a legitimate news story. And since this type of thing is likely to come up again, I felt it was worth discussing.

When we write a story on a topic that involves setting legislative policy, we will talk with people who have an agenda. They will do their best to tell a story in a way to persuade us to their point of view. In this case, it was the Alliance for Healthcare Security that presented us with this survey. A Google search will show that this group has been in favor of keeping the ACA, and once Trump was elected, shifted gears to a repeal and replace position.

“Ah ha, fake news,” someone may be thinking at this point. But let’s go back to what I said earlier. I think we can agree that whoever is making quotes about policy is doing so in a way to get others to go along with their point of view. If we only quoted people with neutral positions on policy proposals, we’d be running a lot of blank pages.

So here’s what we do. We identify the source. In this case, the last paragraph of the story identified the survey as being done by the AHS and detailed it is a national coalition of nurses, caregivers, patients and health care advocates that works to educate consumers on the importance of the ACA.

We believe we need to get information out to our readers. We understand that in some cases, the view will attempt to persuade. 

What separates us from fake news is that we will identify the source and provide you with background about their preferences. This allows you to hear what they have to say, but also to understand that they have an agenda, and you need to take that into consideration.

Hopefully you will agree this approach makes sense. And if you have better ideas as to how we should handle items like this, please share them with me. I love finding new ways to do things better.

George Coleman is publisher of The Lebanon Democrat. Email him at gcoleman@lebanonpublishing.com.

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