I am always stunned when people read something and accept it as fact. If it's written, after all, it must be true. I've seen this phenomena among my students, and unfortunately among my friends and family.
"Where did you hear that?" I ask.
"I read it."
"Did you check it?"
Well no, of course not. That might mean reading other articles, doing a little fact finding, seeing if quotes are taken out of context or if recounting of events are being skewed. I know it takes a lot of time. It's worth it though. There's nothing like reading a story, spreading it around, and then finding out later that you've been the dupe of someone's (left or right) political agenda.
I practice the same caution when reading history books. As I pour through a text, I want to know the sources. I check the footnotes and occasionally try and glean where the information was gathered and whether or not such information may have a bias or be reliable.
What about a book like "John Adams" by McCollough? These non-fiction texts present a challenge. The author will take a series of events and pad them. The intent of the author isn't to change history or influence a reader, but rather to make the narrative flow more easily. To give it life. I have no problem with this if, as in McCollough's case, it is done artfully and scholarly.
What rankles me though is something I call bubblegum history texts or current affair texts. You've seen these. The New York Times bestsellers that are churned out by the likes of Ann Coulter or Bill O Reilly. Or on the left Bill Press or Al Franken. These texts all claim factual integrity. And the facts cited are usually accurate---to a point. It's that point that makes all the difference. Too often what is left out is anything that could be used to counter an argument or which might give a perspective that is different from the one that drives the agenda.
These books are fun sometimes, but worthless from an intellectual perspective.
It always stuns me when this information is then spewed by a reader as fact. Because...let's say it together...they read it somewhere. I tell you, if Mark Twain were around today, he would have made John McCafferty (the crotchety old guy on CNN) look like a naive and funloving cad.