The Sift: News Goggles: Breaking news | Fake Voltaire quote | Butterfly center falsehoods


Teach news literacy this week
News Goggles: Breaking news | Fake Voltaire quote | Butterfly center falsehoods

classroom-ready icon Dig deeper: Don’t miss this week’s classroom-ready resource.
News Goggles Hannah Covington of the News Literacy Project talks over Zoom with journalist Candice Norwood of The 19th* about her role covering breaking news. A hyperlinked play button on the image leads to a video of their conversation.

Breaking news involves coverage of an event that has just happened or is still happening. Details can change quickly as more information emerges. This week, we talk to journalist Candice Norwood about her role as a breaking news reporter at The 19th*, a nonprofit newsroom that reports on gender, politics and policy.

Norwood sheds light on her recent coverage of President Joe Biden reaffirming his pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, following Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement announcement. We discuss how The 19th* approaches breaking news with its mission in mind and examine how news organizations demonstrate credibility and transparency in their newsgathering for developing stories. Grab your news goggles!

Resources: “Practicing Quality Journalism” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom) and “Tracking developing stories” (NLP’s News Goggles activity with classroom-ready slides).

classroom-ready icon Dig deeper: Use this viewing guide for the featured News Goggles video as students consider how a news organization such as The 19th* approaches breaking news coverage.

Top picks

Capital B — a new nonprofit news organization reporting for Black communities — launched on Jan. 31 with a mission that builds on the historical role played by the Black press and “centers Black voices, audience needs and experiences.” The news organization currently has a national site as well as a local site focused on Atlanta, and expects to add more local newsrooms soon.
  • Discuss: How might news coverage that is intended to serve a specific community’s information needs differ from mainstream news coverage? What role has the Black press historically played in the United States? In what ways is that role the same today, and in what ways might it be different?
  • Idea: Divide students into groups and have them explore news coverage on Capital B’s website. Which stories stood out to them? How did these stories relate to Capital B’s mission and serve its audience?
  • Another idea: Have students use this map to explore media outlets in their area that primarily serve Black communities. Consider connecting with a journalist from one of these publications and discuss how their mission shapes their news coverage.
  • Related: “How a crop of media startups are trying to fill the news gap for underrepresented audiences” (Steven Perlberg, Insider).
Is the vaccination status of people who die of COVID-19 a relevant detail that should be included in news reports? Editors across the country are grappling with this question, according to The Poynter Institute’s Kelly McBride. There are a number of considerations involved in making this decision, including whether the victim publicly disparaged vaccine effectiveness; whether revealing this detail could result in harassment of family members; and whether it’s possible to present this fact in a compassionate, humanizing context.
  • Discuss: When is it relevant and appropriate for the public to know the vaccination status of a COVID-19 victim? How should journalists decide when to include this detail — and when to exclude it — from news reports? Can news reports focused on individual stories of people who have died of COVID-19 help the public make better choices to avoid infection themselves?
  • Related: “How Do You Respond When an Anti-Vaxxer Dies of Covid?” (James Martin, The New York Times).
An inaccurate — and promptly corrected — Reuters headline and story on research into using ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19 highlight how quickly falsehoods can spread and underscore the importance of accurate framing, context and word choice in news reports.
  • Discuss: Why is it important for news organizations to be transparent about — and accountable for — mistakes? How does correcting mistakes make a news source more trustworthy? What challenges do journalists face when covering scientific topics, including the results of studies?
  • Resource: "Corrections and clarifications: Accuracy and correcting the record" (NLP’s News Goggles activity with classroom-ready slides).

Viral rumor rundown

Viral quote is from a neo-Nazi in 1993, not from Voltaire

A tweet from Rep. Thomas Massie that says “You mustn’t question Fauci, for he is science.” The tweet also contains an image of a quote meme that says “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize,“ which the meme attributes to Voltaire. The News Literacy Project added a label that says, “FALSE ATTRIBUTION.”

NO: Voltaire, an 18th century French philosopher and writer, did not say or write the quote in this meme. YES: It paraphrases a statement made by Kevin Alfred Strom, the founder of the neo-Nazi group National Vanguard, who is an avowed white nationalist and Holocaust denier, during an antisemitic radio show in 1993. YES: Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted this meme on Jan. 30. NO: Massie is not the first person to share this fake Voltaire quote.

NewsLit takeaway: Fake quotes are notoriously common online and warrant correcting even if they seem benign. But, as Dan Evon at Snopes points out, this case also highlights a toxic disinformation tactic: An attempt to launder “discredited ideas and hateful rhetoric” through a more trustworthy source (in this case, Voltaire) to make them more acceptable and likely to spread online.


No, it’s not true that more than 65% of Americans believe the 2020 election was fraudulent

A Facebook post that says “With an election for president 3 years away… he drew over 90,000 last night in Texas. Something big is obviously happening!” The post includes an image of a crowd with the text “Over 65% of the country believes that [the] 2020 election was fraudulent. That number was around 35% a year ago.” The News Literacy Project added a label that says, “FALSE.”

NO: More than 65% of Americans do not actually believe that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent. YES: According to 14 public opinion surveys about the election reviewed by PolitiFact, the proportion of Americans who say that they don’t trust the integrity of the election “has hovered around 35% since November 2020.” YES: In at least three of these surveys, the share of Republicans who say they don’t trust the election results was around 65%.

NewsLit takeaway: Purveyors of disinformation often exaggerate public sentiment for or against key political figures and issues to distort political discourse and influence political agendas. This particular rumor also seeks to use fabricated public opinion “data” to create the illusion of substance around baseless allegations of fraud in the 2020 election. Cognitive biases — including our natural tendencies to confirm our existing beliefs and privilege our direct experiences over empirical data — play a major role in the acceptance of this kind of false evidence.

You can find this week's rumor examples to use with students in these slides.
Critics of government policies aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 have seized on what many are inaccurately referring to as a “Johns Hopkins study” — but the paper doesn’t come from Johns Hopkins University itself, and some medical experts are critical of its findings.
Anti-vaccination groups have capitalized on the COVID-19 pandemic to raise their profiles … and a lot of money.
Misinformation reporter Davey Alba explains how she debunks falsehoods in the latest installment of “Annotated by the Author” from The New York Times Learning Network. (Bonus: There’s also an accompanying lesson plan!)
The National Butterfly Center, a butterfly conservatory along the Rio Grande River in Texas, has shut down as a safety precaution after conspiracy theory adherents started showing up to “investigate” baseless claims that it’s a cover for a child trafficking operation. The New York Times noted that the “recent trouble began in 2017” after the center refused to support construction of a new section of border wall through its property.
The ongoing debate over “critical race theory” has been marked by misinformation and a disconnect between what’s actually being taught in the classroom and the political rhetoric surrounding it, according to this ABC News report.
Check out this short video from USA Today for one expert's take on why Sarah Palin's libel case against The New York Times is worth watching and how “it could prove to be a landmark decision.” (The 1964 decision in The New York Times v. Sullivan case set the current standard for defamation claims by public officials.)
Though details of former CNN President Jeff Zucker’s sudden departure from the network are still emerging, at least one thing is clear, argues Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan: His legacy will be tied to “ill-advised decisions” that put ratings over sound news judgment and journalistic ethics — including, Sullivan notes, how he “created and burnished the Trump persona.”

Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) and Pamela Brunskill (@PamelaBrunskill), and edited by Mary Kane (@marykkane).

You’ll find teachable moments from our previous issues in the archives. Send your suggestions and success stories to [email protected].

Sign up to receive NLP Connections (news about our work) or switch your subscription to the non-educator version of The Sift called Get Smart About News here.


Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.