“Who’s Really to Blame for Fake News?”

Look in the mirror, America.

From Neal Gabler, on BillMoyers.com: Who’s Really to Blame for Fake News?

I’m a little late in posting this–Gabler published it on November 30–but it isn’t as if the problem has gone away and I’ve stopped worrying about it.

The problem: how on this earth can journalists, reporters, essayists get the facts to the shockingly huge number of people who don’t seek them out, and/or reject them when a fact or two sneaks onto their periphery?

I’ve been fairly irritated at the attacks on the news media–and I don’t mean attacks from irrational people but from writers and commenters who are throwing blame for the election around with abandon.

And I’m troubled at the endless meae culpae and “we’re going to do better” statements from the news media. I realize they’re agonizing over how little their rational coverage of the election–notice I emphasize “rational” because some of it wasn’t–seemed to matter to a large swathe of the country.

As I maintain in “How I Learned The Facts of Life,” it’s not the job of news media–except in their editorial pages–to act as protagonist (or antagonist). Their job is to report the news and give us the facts.

The New York Times can’t force themselves on people who don’t want to read the paper. Who have no interest in digesting actual facts before forming opinions.

Here’s the beginning of Neal Gabler’s powerful essay.

Consider for a moment the oxymoronic concept of “fake news,” which we have been hearing so much about lately. This isn’t your typical disinformation or misinformation — generated by the government, or foreign adversaries, or corporations — to advance an agenda by confusing the public. It isn’t even the familiar dystopian idea of manipulated fact designed to keep people lobotomized and malleable in some post-human autocracy. Those scenarios assume at least an underlying truth against which nefarious forces can take aim.

Fake news is different. It is an assault on the very principle of truth itself: a way to upend the reference points by which mankind has long operated. You could say, without exaggeration, that fake news is actually an attempt to reverse the Enlightenment. And because a democracy relies on truth — which is why dystopian writers have always described how future oligarchs need to undermine it — fake news is an assault on democracy as well.

What is truly horrifying is that fake news is not the manipulation of an unsuspecting public. Quite the opposite. It is willful belief by the public. In effect, the American people are accessories in their own disinformation campaign.

That is our current situation, and it is no sure thing that either truth or democracy survives.

Investigations of fake news have reported that it is a commodity — primarily a way for its perpetrators, many of whom are young people overseas, to earn money by blasting out ludicrous material for which there is an audience, and in that respect it is no different from many of the alt-right sites. Commodity or not, fake news has already played a role, perhaps a substantial one, in Donald Trump’s election, especially since his campaign was aided by Russian hackers and trolls disseminating falsities — everything from Hillary Clinton using a body double to Pope Francis endorsing Trump to ongoing charges of voting irregularities to Clinton heading a child-trafficking ring out of a pizzeria.

There is now a Gresham’s law in news as in money: Phony news pushes out real news.

Feel free to read the entire essay. Warning: It’s full of actual facts and strong opinion based on actual facts.


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