What better way to disseminate misinformation then via an expert at a think tank? Set up a website, pick a hot-button topic, hold yourself out as an expert and—voila!—you are a think tank!
The very words “think tank” impute a mysterious vision of persons huddled around a table, sharing ideas and discoursing. If someone spends all their time thinking, they must be smarter then the rest of us, right? Not necessarily.
As a news consumer, how do we know whether a think tank is genuine and the experts without bias if the news reporters themselves do not inform us? Nowadays, budgets and ratings direct where news reporters spend their energies and efforts. Quite honestly, many news outlets are not given the budgets that would afford the time reporters need to really investigate. And often, that means not thoroughly investigating the alleged “experts” who are quoted. The following is a good example.
In 2016, state Sen. Mike Delph chaired the Indiana Senate Select Committee on Immigration Issues. Delph invited Chris Kobach and Dale Wilcox of the Immigration Reform Law Institute to discuss immigration issues. The IRLI is the legal arm of the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform. FAIR argues for a reduction in current immigration numbers and seeks to advocate for “immigration policies that will serve America.” Sounds good—except it is all code. If you read the research papers, the blog posts, the testimony, etc., FAIR has nothing good to say about immigrants or immigration. FAIR focuses its energies upon scaring Americans (the majority of whom are white) about the loss of their “culture,” their language and the status quo. FAIR was founded by a white nationalist named John Tanton.
Tanton is a known associate of white nativists, a supporter of anti-Semitism and correspondent with Holocaust deniers. He has questioned the “educability” of Latinos and has encouraged concern that whites might be out-bred by others. Tanton remains on the advisory board of FAIR, which has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In fact, after setting up FAIR, Tanton next founded the Center for Immigration Studies (another SPLC-identified hate group), believing that a “think tank” perceived as an “independent” third party would have more people willing to listen to its opinions.
When the anti-immigrant road show opened at the Indiana Legislature, no media outlet questioned the motives or bias of Kobach, Wilcox, FAIR or the IRLI. No one asked Delph why he thought it important to hear the opinions of organizations who clearly do not support immigrants or immigration. No one investigated the background of FAIR and IRLI.
So what is a news consumer to do? If, after disregarding your own bias, you find the opinion is particularly strong or if the story’s primary support is the opinion of the think tank and/or expert, then you will have to do your own research and verification. News consumption is no longer the media feeding us the story, but rather a partnership in which the news consumer must undertake an investigative role if he or she really wants the truth.
In actuality, only a handful of think tanks are recognized as operating without a liberal or conservative bias. When you hear an opinion expressed by a think tank or someone claiming to be an expert, please do not blindly accept it—question that opinion, review the background and, most important, continue to think for yourself.•
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Celestino-Horseman is an attorney and represents the Indiana Latino Democratic Caucus on the Democratic State Central Committee. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.