A Way to Combat Fake News



By Jim Sullivan

As Thomas Jefferson once noted, a successful Democracy depends upon an informed electorate.  The specter of fake news and claims of fake news threaten to undermine our Democracy by polluting the information our electorate depends on to make sound political decisions.  Fortunately for us and our Democracy, there is a simple method we can all use to separate fake news from real news.  It’s called the SMELL test.

The SMELL test is taught at the Columbia School of Journalism and is also taught, as I understand it, to all Columbia students.  The Word SMELL is an acronym standing for the following:

S = SOURCE:  what or who is the Source of the information in the media piece?

M = MOTIVATION:  What is the Motivation of the author of the  media piece?

E =  EVIDENCE:  what Evidence does the author of the media. Piece offer to support his or her argument or point of view?

L = LOGIC:  is the piece written or presented Logically?

L = LEFT OUT:  What obvious and important things does the author Leave Out of the piece he or she has created?  I cannot tell you the number of opinion pieces I have read or seen in top tier media in which the author has left out important information that would undermine his or her argument.

If this simple method for evaluating news were taught to freshmen in high school or community college,  the United States would not have as many problems with fake news as it does today.

Jim Sullivan is a Citizen Journalist and retired  businessman with graduate degrees in political science and business.  He lives in Ventura with his wife Juliette and two family cats.

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