Saturday, June 10, 2017
Fake news is nothing new. It has ever been with us. Probably those first distant folks who started writing/carving symbols on stone and papyrus were careful to write down only those things that favored themselves--and their "kind." And that disparaged their opponents.
Scholars today who write about ancient history are always careful to note that their ancient primary sources are--let's be kind--not always reliable. As we all know, the ancient historians who wrote accounts of battles and leaders were generally writing from the side of the winners.
For various of my own writing projects, I've had occasion to read newspapers from early in American history, a time when political factions published their own accounts and views of what was going on. Exaggerating their own positions; lying about their opponents'. These accounts could be (often were) vicious, personal, fake.
There really was no time in our history when we had a disinterested media--though in the earlier years of my life there were some noble attempts among the mainstream press and, later, among the broadcast media, to be, well, fair and balanced. Newscasters like Walter Cronkite and Huntley & Brinkley sought impartiality--and were greatly respected across the country. But we know now, looking back on their reporting, that they didn't always manage to keep their political biases out of their coverage.
Those days are long gone, though--those days of that attempt to be reasonable.* And I can't see how they will ever return. For one thing, there's far too much corporate profit in keeping us polarized. Far too much profit in keeping people afraid of one another--disdainful of one another. Far too much benefit to the powerful for them to declare that anything critical of them is "fake"--a term that far too many of us are far too willing to apply to anything with which we do not agree.
It's frightening to me, this attack on the press. My older brother was a career journalist (Boston Globe). Our son was a reporter for ten years for the Akron Beacon-Journal--until he saw the dire fate of the print media and headed off to law school. I know how they did their jobs. Thorough. Determined to get things correct.
I have been a freelancer for many years and have always tried to be, well, fair and balanced in the reviews and op-ed pieces I've done. But I know that savage reviews get more ... hits. (Check out the reviews on Amazon--some of those folks are downright saurian!)
Not many people are happy to read something unpleasant about themselves in a newspaper or magazine, in a Tweet or blog or posting of some sort. I remember some years ago when a reviewer of my annotated edition of The Call of the Wild gave me a hard time about a couple of things I'd said. I raged, raged against the dying of the right and envisioned many pleasant scenes of sweet evisceration. (Which, of course, I never enacted: I'm far too ... pacific, you know? But I still wish I could have sicced Buck on him!)
But this current climate alarms me--this idea that news we don't like is, ipso facto, "fake." The willingness--the eagerness--I see on Facebook to share posts and memes that are clearly deeply biased, if not patently false. I remember one clearly from a year or so ago: an image of the Obamas saluting the flag by holding their left hands to their hearts. Oh, the umbrage of the person who posted! (The person who just did not want to see that someone had obviously reversed the image.)
Now, I'm no saint: There are all kinds of "news" stories that I want to believe. As my friends and some followers know, I am a lifelong Democrat--not some wild-eyed cliche of a Lefty but a person who believes in human rights, in equality, in labor unions, in health care for all, in paying taxes to help those who need it, etc. (However, I don't like lattes, and I don't wear tasseled loafers.)
So when I see some anti-Trump or anti-Right "news," part of me wants to believe it. But my mommy and daddy (and many others) have taught me to be more ... judicious. To employ that ability we all have (but too often choose not to employ)--critical thinking. It's often the case, isn't it, that when we see something that seems too good to be true (for our political "team"), we are quick to believe it? And slow to check it out? (If we even bother to do so.)
And these days, confirmation and refutation are so easy to seek. A click or so away. So when I see something on a news site, something that seems distorted (even in my favor--especially in my favor), I check it out. There are all sorts of Internet sites to hasten the process. It's really inexcusable not to use them. (Of course, there are those who claim those sites are "fake," too--especially if they fail to confirm that the Obamas, say, were honoring the flag with their left hands.)
But you can also just ask yourself: "Who benefits from a story like this? Who is hurt? Who has published or posted the information?" Etc.
I saw a story on Facebook the other day that said that Nancy Pelosi had been taken from her office in handcuffs. Search on it: the story was all over the Internet. And it's also demonstrably false.
And I think it's our duty--on both sides--to make sure something is factually so before we begin condemning and Tweeting and ripping new ones for folks. I'm willing to wait to see about all this Russia stuff and the Trump campaign/transition team. What's the evidence? Is it credible? What did he know and when did he know it? Etc.?
Meanwhile, I know I'm trying to counter a ferocious wind with a bicycle tire pump. But I refuse to cry "Fake!" until I have checked, until I am certain. Then, I guarantee you, my bicycle pump and I will be out there battling the tempest.
*I often check NPR ... they do well in this regard. I have friends who swear by PBS, as well.