What Exactly is Fake News? Maybe Not What You Think
NBC news wrote a piece (linked below) about how Webster’s Dictionary had to correct Kellyanne Conway’s definition of feminism. They actually wrote a story about that. That was news. That’s what they chose to cover.
That’s one main reason why people don’t trust the media anymore.
“It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in a classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male, and it certainly is very pro-abortion, and I’m neither anti-male or pro-abortion…”- Kellyanne Conway
This is the kind of tripe that passes for news and which has people so distrusting of the media. I have trouble believing that the author of the below story is totally unaware of what was intended by this statement and totally blind to the changes that have taken place in feminism. Of course I will defend the author on one point, Conway did use the word “classic” which implies an earlier version of feminism when clearly she meant a more modern kind.
But this should have been evident to the author by the context of the remainder of her statement which made clear what within feminism she objected to. Rather than use his mind to actually understand he used it to make a political point. Score one for him! So he thinks.
When we talk about “fake news” we aren’t meaning news that is totally 100% made up, though that exists too, we are talking about news that creates the story to make a political point. If you read the headlines of many articles they give an impression about facts that the body of the story often does not support.
The Age of Headlines
I can say with as much certainty as the New York Times that doctors agree that Hillary Clinton is going to die. How can I be so certain? Have you heard this news anywhere else? No! It’s a scoop…you read it here first.
That’s the kind of headline we get from our mainstream media. They design them to make you think something that may or may not be true. In the case of my made up headline I can say with all certainty that you can ask any doctor in the land and he will tell you that someday, Hillary Clinton is going to die. We all are of course. But when it comes to the mainstream media they will stick a sentence with that piece of information someplace down in the body of the text where you may, or may not get to it. Often they will write it in such a way as to make its meaning obscure so that even after telling you the truth you aren’t quite sure still what it all means.
Take for example a real headline from a recent CNN story, “FBI refused White House request to knock down recent Trump-Russia stories”. That headline makes it sound as if the FBI was asked to support Trump and they said no. But the real story, and this is important, is that the FBI first contacted the White House to let them know they did not believe the reporting on the Russia hacking story was accurate. That’s right, the truth is that the FBI told the White House there wasn’t a Trump-Russia connection.
This is all based on a New York Times article (with no named sources) that made it sound like the FBI thought there was a connection to Trump and Russia and refused to say there wasn’t. Again, nothing could be farther from the truth.
The truth is that the Andrew McCabe the deputy director of the FBI reached out to tell them there was no connection. That should be the story shouldn’t it? The headline should read:
FBI Confirms there is no Trump/Russia Connection
But that wasn’t what we got and the AP, Wall Street Journal and others followed the same story line. What we got was a fake story that supported the narrative that Russia hacked the election and Trump lead the secret deal like a puppet master behind the scenes.
Fake News is Politics and Nothing More
Fake news is creating a narrative, passing it around like a bottle of booze for everyone to drink out of, or maybe better yet a joint because – let’s be honest – What have they been smoking?! Each outlet picks up the story and runs with it. They are even prone to using the exact same words to tell the story. This has been going on a long time.
That clip is from over a dozen different media outlets. Did they all have the same pun at the same time? Maybe, but this is only one example. Remember when the narrative was that Bush was just a weakling with no force to his personality?
They do the same with the people they support saying good things about them. Story after story about how Hillary was wonderful, how she did nothing wrong, how she was going to win. We heard it over and over again. When people think of the news they think about being informed of something that happened and being given the facts about that something. Instead we’re treated to a fairy tale complete with the moral of the story which is based on the political slant of the newsman.
Having opinions and sharing them, even hoping that they persuade someone, is absolutely fine. However, altering facts, telling half-truths, and whole lies in order to paint a picture of an event that didn’t happen or to make it sound like people said something they didn’t or to create fear and crisis for personal and political gain is wicked.
I could go on with examples
These are just a few examples but there are many more. We’ve been hearing how the Trump administration is purging all the data supporting global warming. This was part of a New York Times story (big surprise there) and was based on the fact that the White House web site was altered. Of course once again the headline was the main event “With Trump in Charge, Climate Change References Purged From Website” shouted the NY Times! What actually happened was just a normal event that occurs with the change of administrations. The story goes on to say that it wasn’t just climate change but also pages devoted to LGBTQ subjects as well. The story made it sound like a digital book burning had taken place. Even though the story acknowledges, “The purge was not unexpected. It came as part of the full digital turnover of whitehouse.gov, including taking down and archiving all the Obama administration’s personal and policy pages.” it goes on to continue with the narrative set by the headline by saying completely unsupported things like, “Scientists fear the online deletions will extend far beyond changes to introductory websites and into the realm of government data.” What scientists? Where do they derive that fear from?
How about this for a headline, “More Infants Die During Republican Administrations”? It’s a story over on Vice. The story itself gives data about poverty and infant mortality and then postulates that because Republicans don’t support raising the minimum wage or increasing welfare that there is more poverty during their administrations and therefore greater infant mortality.
The article actually concludes like this:
As we move into a time with a Republican-majority senate and congress and a Trump-selected cabinet, there are likely to be more cuts to the types of social programs that support the most vulnerable, and more laws, like the proposed Muslim registry, that create great stress. Already there are promises to defund Planned Parenthood, cut Medicaid, repeal the Affordable Care Act (which, among other things, funded a trial of visiting-nurse programs in all 50 states but is contingent on a funding renewal in 2017), as well as threats of cuts to other safety-net programs and new challenges to abortion access. The impact of removing a social safety net on infant mortality, and child health is likely to be dire. As Geronimus puts it, looking into the future, “it does not look like it will be the best time for babies.”
A bad time for babies? Give me a break.
Here’s another you may have read the headline for. “Mysterious radioactive cloud moves towards UK as plane which tackled Chernobyl called in to find source.”
Doesn’t that make it sound like a visible and radioactive cloud is menacing the continent? They make it sound like something from a disaster movie. But we read on, “…detected the presence of Iodine-131 at low levels…” Low, not a terrible horrible disaster but low levels.
There were stories we were going to invade Mexico, that the executive order on immigration was a Muslim ban, and so many more. Some false, some with sprinkles of truth, some, like a Hollywood move were “inspired by actual events” but clearly took creative license.
Be on the look out for facts that aren’t facts and for headlines that seem too good to be true in terms of supporting a narrative one way or the other. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.
I think a Ronald Reagan quote puts it in perspective well, “It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.” Well, nowadays they aren’t just ignoring facts or preaching their faith-based economic plans, now they are just making up things that aren’t so and the scary part is, they may just believe their own lies.
Which reminds me of another Reagan quote,
“The ultimate determinate in the struggle now going on for the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas – a trial of spiritual resolve; the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish and the ideas to which we are dedicated.”
It will take all the resolve and effort we have in this struggle of ideas. The other side is willing to break their minds with lies and subjectivity to convince themselves of the superiority of their position and the inferiority of liberty and we cannot let them get inside our heads through repeated falsehoods. The big lie as it were. This is it folks, the test, of wills and ideas.
Everyone in political life encounters criticism, especially on Twitter. But when you get publicly corrected by the dictionary, that’s unusual.