John Rebus contemplates the accuracy of news in the virtual world

I could modify this excerpt from Ian Rankin’s In A House of Lies (2018) for my book, How I Learned The Facts of Life. It’s more cynical than I am but then, unlike Rebus, I’m not a retired Edinburgh cop. And there’s a lot of truth here.

Rebus guessed that [police] HQ had tipped the media off, or maybe it had been one of the [police investigators]. It had always been a game played between the cops and the journos. Yes, reporters could be a pain in the arse, but they were also immensely useful conduits. It saddened him that so much these days happened online, with every keyboard warrior suddenly a ‘commentator’ or ‘pundit’ or ‘news-gatherer’. There was a lack of quality control. Anyone and everyone felt they had something to say and they weren’t about to hold back. The public probably reckoned they were¬† better informed than ever. They were, but not always by the truth.

Then again, had it been so different in Rebus’s heyday? He’d tipped off journalists, fed them lies and half-truths when hoping to agitate a particular wasps’ nest or unsettle a suspect or a witness. Stories had been planted and others suppressed. With the ear of as few as half a dozen reporters, you could control the story, or at least have a bloody good go at shaping it. When lied to, the media might snarl and spit, but they always came back for more. Nowadays, commentators lied to your face, feeding you pap from a spoon as if you were an infant. Twenty-four-hour news meant everyone wanted to be first with a story, even if it turned out to be wonky. A few of Rebus’s old musical heroes had been reported online as having died, only for an apology to be issued later. He took nothing at face value now and required corroboration. Two sources, maybe even three before he believed anything the virtual world told him.

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