News your head
I’ve discussed this a few times on the YouTube channel supporting this column ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsEFbjapoK23Gjukt4hdfrA ), and after giving it some consideration I’ve decided to go ahead and talk about it in print as well.
For the last few months, there’s been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth concerning “fake news”. Since I’m the only person in the mainstream media on some of the social networks and discussion forums I go to, it’s fallen on me to keep discussing matters with everyone. And trust me when I say that I’ve seen a lot of things that need to be discussed.
Now, when most people hear about so-called “fake news”, it’s understandable that the mental image is of a situation in which one or more media outlets end up reporting on something that just isn’t true. A classic example of this is Memogate, more formally known as the Killian Documents Controversy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killian_documents_controversy ). I’ve mentioned this before, but for the sake of argument I’ll explain again.
A hot issue during the 2004 Presidential election was the comparative military service records of then-President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry. Just months before the election, Mary Mapes, the producer of CBS’ “60 Minutes II” news program, received copies of documents from Bush’s former Air National Guard commander that alleged Bush’s military service had been unsatisfactory but that higher authorities were pressuring him to cover it up. Mapes was in such a hurry to get her little “October Surprise” to air that she failed to properly ensure the validity of the material. Sure enough, the documents were such obvious forgeries that various experts were on social media while the broadcast was airing noting the issues with the documents that they were suspicious of. (The revelation of her failure to investigate the documents *and* the decision of several involved parties to keep defending the story long after it had been blown apart led to several firings and forced resignations.)
An incident like this is, yes, justifiably called “fake news”; it wasn’t a real story, but a politically-motivated hoax. But many of the various definitions I’m seeing go well beyond that. Yes, a lot of them included parody and satire pieces, which are indeed “fake” even if they don’t really count as “news”. Unfortunately, that’s not where things stop.
I’ve seen people who define “fake news” as “anything from a specific category of outlets”. I’ve also seen “anything from news sources I’m not familiar with”. A few have even gone so far as to declare, although not in these words, “anything that disagrees with my world view”.
Yes folks, we’ve had issues with fakes being passed off as real. But such definitions don’t help matters. “Good” outlets can get things wrong. CBS and Memogate. The New York Times and Jayson Blair. And oh gosh but CNN… Likewise, “bad” outlets can get things right. Drudge Report and Monica Lewinsky. Breitbart and Game Journo Pros. National Enquirer and John Edwards. Et cetra.
So what is a person to do? How does someone combat this?
By using your brain. You know, your noggin. What’s in your head.
If something doesn’t sound right, ask questions. Check around. See what other people are saying. Take exclusives with a dose of skepticism. If needs be, look at another news source, even if it’s one that you might not otherwise check.
Yes folks, you can feel free to question me about anything I write. It’s part of being honest and professional.