Most people read or watch the news, assuming the information is accurate, and believing whatever they are told. A critical thinker, on the other hand, has a far more complex and difficult task, when faced with the mistakes and dishonesty constantly put out by the mainstream media. We have a fine case study to demonstrate the point.
The average reader, when first faced with a "story," will have no first hand knowledge of the subject of the story. He has a collection of words, written or spoken--which may be truths, partial truths, mistakes, or lies--and he may also have a few images, which may or may not be genuine, and may or may not be relevant. At first, it might seem impossible to determine the truth, if one has nothing but a collection of dubious claims and assertions to work with. But as odd as it may seem, even if you have no idea what the facts really are, or who is telling the truth (or who even knows what the truth is), there are some things that can be learned.
For a study in critical thinking, consider the recent "story" about the supposed "anarchists" who supposedly plotted to kill Obama. While most people start by assuming that if it's on the news, it must be accurate and honest, the critical thinker starts with the exact opposite assumption: everything is in question, every "fact" possibly inaccurate, every opinion possibly misinformed, possibly dishonest. But to build an accurate picture, based solely upon statements of strangers, some or all of whom may be lying or confused, seems like a daunting task. So let's do this meticulously, to see what can be learned WITHOUT accepting anything at face value.
CNN runs a story titled: "'Anarchists' accused of murder; broader plot against government." That, of course, is an assertion, and the average reader would have no first-hand knowledge of any of the relevant facts. The story begins with this line: "This much is clear: Four U.S. Army soldiers based in Georgia are accused of killing two people." Already, without even getting to the accuracy of the alleged facts, a few strange things stand out to the astute observer. First, why isn't the title of the article about "U.S. soldiers" being accused of murder? Second, for those who know what the word "anarchist" means, an obvious question is: How can armed enforcers of the state (soldiers) be anarchists? It's like saying "Today, four atheist priests were accused of..." Huh? Already we start to see hints of an agenda of the writers at CNN.
Then the story admits that there are conflicting explanations from the feds, and a DA in Georgia, who proclaimed that the motive of the four who allegedly murdered two people was the "overthrow of the government." Then there were claims of the four gathering various guns and bombs. However, according to the story, federal agencies involved (the FBI and the ATF) "made scant mention of any alleged assassination plot or government overthrow attempt." A revolution not worth mentioning? A federal official allegedly said it's only a murder case, and no federal charges have been filed. If we accept that CNN was accurately reporting what Georgia and Federal "authorities" said, why don't they match? Then the story gets even more bizarre, saying this:
"On Monday, Pfc. Michael Burnett laid out the elaborate plot, telling a southeast Georgia court that he was part of what prosecutors called 'an anarchist group and militia.'"
Presumably, the job of a "reporter" is to convey facts. This sentence conveys mainly confusion. For example, the soldier said he was what PROSECUTORS called "an anarchist group and militia"? What kind of bizarre statement is that? Presumably, if the guy called himself an anarchist, the story wouldn't have to quote prosecutors calling him that. So he admits the entire plot, but decides to keep quiet about being an anarchist?
Then the soldiers is alleged to have said that another soldier--one of the people murdered--was killed because "he took money from the group and planned to leave." How does that match the Georgia prosecutor saying the purpose of the murders was the "overthrow of the government"? It doesn't, obviously.
Then the soldier talks about one of the others accused introducing the other to "the manuscript," "a book about true patriots." And he described their goal as being "to give the government back to the people." To those who don't know, being an anarchist--by definition--means opposing "government" entirely. Trying to "give the government back to the people" is not what any anarchist wants. The soldier then allegedly stated that the government needed a change, and the four thought they "were the people who would be able to change it." Again, this is obviously not something an anarchist says or thinks.
Yet once again, a Georgia official is quoted as identifying Isaac Aguigui as the leader of the alleged "anarchist group and militia," consisting of active duty and former soldiers. Then the article speaks of the group plotting to do such things as "forcibly taking over the ammo control point of Fort Stewart to take the post, bombing vehicles of local and state judicial and political figureheads and federal representatives to include the local department of homeland security." No mention is made of any assassination plot targeting Obama. In fact, only the title of the story seems to mention anything about that.
The main questions worth asking at this point are: