How to Spot Fake News

Here’s a start: know something.

I must say that I’m galled. I’ve been working my tail off on this blog, and if I can get a dozen shares on any given post, that’s a banner day. I must have the wrong business model, because some schmuck who wrote the headline, “BREAKING: Trump Removes Muslim Federal Judge For Allowing Sharia In America,” got 160,000 people to share that story, apparently believing it to be true.

The bad guys always win, the old saying goes.

dumbassIt’s a blistering indictment of our society that 160,000 people even exist who, although high-functioning enough to operate electronic gadgetry linking them to the internet, couldn’t identify that headline as senseless prattle three to five words into it. This onslaught of ignorance — of our institutions, of our Constitution, of how things work — is a bigger threat to the continuing existence of the United States as a First-World power than ISIS, Russia, or China will ever be.

Here are just a few of the tells that the headline was horseshit:

  • The President is restrained by the Establishment Clause.

As Donald Trump has now learned the hard way, a president doesn’t get to target people just because they’re Muslim. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, whether Trump and his ilk like it or not, requires that the president, like any other government official or body, act with a secular (non-religious) purpose in the execution of his governmental duties. Whoever believed that a president may do anything, let alone remove a judge, on the basis of religious animus has missed a damn good show these last few months: federal courts smacking Trump around on this very issue like the hapless buffoon he is.

  • Federal judges serve for life.

Maybe in Somalia or North Korea, heads of state “remove” judges. That was just a little too Third-World for our founders before Third-World was even a thing. In the United States, judges exist to check the other two branches (the executive and the legislative), not to play along with them. That’s why, in Article III of the Constitution, it says that judges serve during “good behavior” (meaning for life) and can’t even have their pay cut. Federal judges can only be removed by being impeached in the House of Representatives and tried and convicted in the Senate.

  • We have this thing called judicial review.

A presidential decision of this sort would surely result in litigation, and guess who has the final say in our system. That’s right: judges (not the president). At least 160,000 people need to acquaint themselves with a trifling development along our national journey called Marbury v Madison.

  • A judge has no choice but to “allow” Sharia in America.

Oh, and one more thing about the aforementioned Establishment Clause: no federal judge has any choice but to “allow” Sharia in America. The government — and that includes federal courts — is not allowed to pick and choose among faiths or beliefs, holding up religion, one sect of religion, or non-religion as the favored species of belief in this country.


ReminderBy three words into the headline, an Establishment Clause problem was glaring. By five words in, Article III had been violated six ways from Sunday. If 160,000 people shared this tripe, how many more thought it was plausible?

Back to the title of this post: how to spot fake news. It might help, as a scientist friend of mine started telling strangers when he was four years old, to “read a book.”