"A primer on how to navigate the news"

Most of an Opinion piece by Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post, Sep 2018

Consider actually reading that story before you share it on social media. It's astonishingly common to see a story hit Twitter and see it retweeted with outraged commentary even before it could possibly be digested. Headlines are only a hint, after all, and the fine print in the 19th paragraph may change your mind about what you think, or what you say to your Facebook friends in your next blistering post. 

Know your source. When you see the names June Mayer and Ronan Farrow -- two of the most careful, disciplined reporters in America -- it's reasonable to take them seriously. (Although even with reporters of this caliber, it's important not to overstate what their New Yorker story really says and to pay close attention to what it doesn't say.) When you see declarations by Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney, about representing a third Kavanaugh accuser -- without naming names or providing details -- doubtful hesitation is in order. 

Trust the stories you like less than those you want to believe. At the very least, it's a good exercise in critical thinking to employ extreme skepticism to fight the confirmation bias we're all guilty of. Seek out reaction and commentary from the other side of the situation; you don't have to believe it, but you ought to consider it. 

Wait and see. Know that cable news anchors -- and all who deliver breaking news -- may be scrambling in the first hours of a development. On Sunday night, CNN's Ana Cabrera -- grappling with the just-dropped New Yorker story, seemed never to have heard of the estimable Mayer, whom she referred to as Farrow's co-author before consulting her notes and mispronouncing her name. CNN's Brian Stelter took pains in his Sunday-night newsletter to backtrack on something he had said spontaneously on air earlier: That "frat boy" behavior is forgivable. (He clarified to say that's not true when it allegedly involves sexual assault.)

Know who is paid to say what on cable. Remember that cable commentators -- particularly Trump surrogates -- are paid to bring a particular point of view to the table. They may be legally constrained by nondisclosure agreements from doing anything other than gushing positively. Take this, therefore, with a few extra pounds of salt. 

Compare and contrast. Those who were quick to disparage the Time's Rod Rosenstein story when it first appeared had to recalibrate their angry disbelief as other news organizations, including the Washingon Post, were able to match the story with their own sources. In some cases, the follow-up reporting from other places had a different tone or emphasis, making more, for example, of the possibility that Rosenstein had been speaking sarcastically.

Take a break. The news never stops, so put down your phone, turn off your TV, and do something else for a few hours. Cook a meal, take a walk, go to yoga class, read a 19th Century novel. 

Of course, there's a downside.

Chances are that when you come back, some fresh hell will have hit the fan. But at least your heart rate will be lower -- for a minute -- while you catch up.