Throughout the summer of 2012, the Obama and Romney campaigns issued numerous public statements that were picked up by the national news media.
But were those statements accurate?
That was the job for a group of students from Decorah, Iowa to determine.
It was part of the News Know-how project, sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and supported by the Open Society Foundations to involve high school students in news literacy education.
Using public libraries as their “newsroom,” students learn to distinguish facts from opinions; how to check the source and validity of news and information and how to identify propaganda and misinformation.
The Decorah students – Rebecka Green and Michael Foster, worked with Lorraine Borowski of the Decorah Public Library. They attended News Know-how training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In the process, they learned Camtasia video editing software.
“It appealed to me, because of some of the controversial subjects that were going on,” as well as the challenge of verifying whether the information provided on those subjects on the Internet or on television was factual, said Borowski, who heard of the program through the State Library of Iowa.
The students, who are now sophomores, were found by consulting a government teacher at the high school, she said.
The result was a presentation called “Campaign News Bias,” which they delivered at the Decorah Public Library, the Decorah Rotary Club and eight classes at the Decorah High School.
The students received class credit for the project, which involved approximately 80 hours of work.
As Foster explained in the dual presentation, which is available on video, the methodology involved finding the controversy in the campaigns, locating the bias, analyzing the information they uncovered and reaching a conclusion.
The duo tackled some tough issues, such as the Affordable Care Act and gun rights, learning valuable lessons about the importance of checking their facts in evaluating the information they were given.
Splitting up their tasks, Green handled such topics as the controversy surrounding President Obama’s birth certificate, while Foster delved into such issues as the labor and investment practices of Romney’s investment firm Bain Capital.
In researching the birth certificate issue, Green was able to debunk the claims made by dentist/lawyer Orly Taitz and Donald Trump, finding that the birth certificate was released on April 27, 2011, with Hawaii officials witnessing the copying of the original certificate and certifying its authenticity. She also looked into a chain email that claimed Obama was a Muslim. The email included claims that the president had attended a madrassa in Indonesia and had been sworn in as president on the Koran. The truth, she found was that the president had attended elementary school for a time in Indonesia, but at a secular school. CNN, she said, had interviewed the headmaster, who confirmed the information. She also found that reports about Obama swearing on the Koran had mixed him up with Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison.
In digging into the history of Bain Capital, Foster examined the content of ads by the Obama campaign claiming Romney destroyed companies and made a fortune from them. Those ads spotlighted one company in particular, GSIndustries. Looking into articles by the Kansas City Star and Reuters, he found that certain aspects of the ads regarding GS Industries were accurate. He also examined claims by the Romney campaign that Romney had left the firm after the GS Industries bankruptcy occurred, finding that recently released documents indicated Romney exerted influence over Bain longer than previously indicated.
Borowski praised the materials provided through the News Know-how program.
“The materials that they had were excellent, and they also gave listings of different websites to go to,” such as Real Clear Politics, as well as other fact checking websites and links.
“It was a great experience,” Borowski said of the News Know how project. “I was amazed at how well (the students) grabbed onto the concepts.
The maturity of their presentation reflected the seriousness with which they pursued their project. In the end, they summed up their experience at the conclusion of their presentation, declaring in unison, “We approve this message.”