Top 5 most controversial figures in American history

Who were the most divisive Americans?

Richard Nixon on a television screen. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
  • Many of the most polarizing Americans were presidents.
  • Being controversial created complicated legacies.
  • Pop culture can also cause strong division.
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Hannah Arendt on why some people are immune to fact-checking

Why do people buy into stories that are clearly lies? Hannah Arendt can help us understand.

(Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
  • People who don't believe facts or news that disagree with their worldviews can be impossible to deal with, and boy there are a lot of them lately.
  • Hannah Arendt tells us this isn't all new; it happened before around 1936.
  • It isn't easy to convince a person who has given up on facts that they really should face reality again, but it can be done.
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I reported the news in print and online. Here’s the difference.

Former NYTimes executive editor Jill Abramson dissects the big problem with internet news.

  • Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, describes what life was like for a journalist in the 1980s – a "stone age" when news was governed by the printing press schedule.
  • Today, many journalists will break stories on Twitter before writing it, eliminating nuance and increasing the chance of error.
  • Social media in particular has added a fatal speed to journalism. Errors erode public trust in the media, and allow those in power to undermine the free press.
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“It’s all going down.” Why journalism is up in flames.

News doesn't sell. That's lethal to journalism – and democracy.

  • Apart from media giants like The New York Times and The Washington Post, nearly every news outlet is laying off journalists or collapsing completely.
  • The reason? No advertiser wants to put their ad next to serious, hard-edged news. Sensational content is favored by algorithms, and that isn't just annoying. It has terrifying consequences.
  • Journalists are the watchdogs of democracy. The more local news outlets and independent media disappear, the more those in power can do as they wish. Unreported scandals will fester and damage citizens. Corruption will go unchecked.
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Fake news is everywhere. Even in places that were once legitimate.

Consider the decline and fall of the South China Morning Post.

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  • The South China Morning Post is a respected paper with a long and noble history that has recently made more than a few missteps.
  • Critics of the paper allege that it has fallen into the hands of Beijing and is now little more than a propaganda outlet.
  • The use of a legitimate news source to peddle propaganda is nothing new, but it may be the shape of things to come.
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