The an­swer to fake news? News­pa­pers

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - Leonard Pitts Jr. The Mi­ami Her­ald Leonard Pitts is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices.

Leonard Pitts says that the good news is that any­one who wishes to avoid fake news can do so eas­ily.

“If a na­tion ex­pects to be ig­no­rant and free ... it ex­pects what never was and never will be.” — Thomas Jef­fer­son

There is good news on fake news.

As you doubt­less know, the pro­lif­er­a­tion thereof has peo­ple fret­ting. Pres­i­dent Obama has dubbed it a threat to democ­racy. And there is a ris­ing de­mand for so­cial me­dia out­lets like Face­book and Twit­ter, of­ten used as plat­forms for these vi­ral un­truths, to take cor­rec­tive ac­tion.

But the good news is that any­one who wishes to avoid fake news can do so eas­ily. There is, in fact, a news plat­form that spe­cial­izes in gath­er­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing non-fake news. So com­mit­ted are its peo­ple to this mis­sion that some have been known to risk, and even to lose, their lives in the process.

Granted, this plat­form is im­per­fect — some­times it is guilty of er­ror or even bias. But hardly ever will you find it traf­fick­ing in in­ten­tional falsehoods. So what, you ask, is this mir­a­cle medium? Well, it’s called a “news­pa­per.” Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Yes, there is a point here, and it is this: The facts are know­able — and eas­ily so. So the pro­lif­er­a­tion of fake news should tell you some­thing.

Be­fore we go fur­ther, though, a def­i­ni­tion of terms. Fake news is not to be con­fused with satir­i­cal news as seen on shows like “Satur­day Night Live” and “Last Week Tonight.” Fake news is not a hu­mor­ous com­ment on the news. Rather, fake news seeks to sup­plant the news, to sway its au­di­ence into be­liev­ing all sorts of un­truths and con­spir­acy the­o­ries, the more bizarre, the bet­ter.

There is, for in­stance, the “story” that op­po­nents of Don­ald Trump beat a home­less vet­eran to death. Didn’t hap­pen.

There is also the “story” that Hil­lary Clin­ton mo­lested chil­dren in the back­room of a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., pizze­ria. Also didn’t hap­pen. The New York Times re­cently did a case study of a fake news story. It orig­i­nated with Eric Tucker, a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive in Austin, who posted pic­tures of buses he claimed had been used to trans­port paid pro­test­ers to an anti-Trump rally. This blew up on Face­book and Twit­ter. By the next day, Trump him­self was tweet­ing about “pro­fes­sional pro­test­ers, in­cited by me­dia.”

But this, too, didn’t hap­pen. The buses had, in fact, been hired by a soft­ware com­pany for a con­fer­ence. Asked why he didn’t check this, Tucker told the Times, “I’m also a very busy busi­ness­man, and I don’t have time to fact-check ev­ery­thing that I put out there.”

Can we get a Bronx cheer right here for “ci­ti­zen jour­nal­ism?”

As noted above, real jour­nal­ists reg­u­larly pro­duce real news that is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. So the rise of fake news speaks not to the un­avail­abil­ity of the real thing, but, rather to a pref­er­ence for the phony one. It is no co­in­ci­dence fake news al­most al­ways seems to find great­est pur­chase among con­ser­va­tives, or that the sto­ries it tells al­most al­ways seem to val­i­date their sense of their own vic­tim­hood.

But the pres­i­dent is right — these lies are eat­ing like ter­mites through the foun­da­tions of democ­racy, a process likely to ac­cel­er­ate as Obama is suc­ceeded by one of the chief na­tional dis­trib­u­tors of this po­lit­i­cal ma­nure. The right wing has led us so far down the rab­bit hole of its alt-right al­tre­al­ity that we now face the very real prospect of mil­i­tary and pol­icy choices hinged on things “peo­ple are say­ing” or tweets from those who are too “busy” to check facts.

One re­calls what Jef­fer­son said about the in­com­pat­i­bil­ity of ig­no­rance and free­dom — and one won­ders how long we have. Fake news drives a fake world­view. But the de­ci­sions made from that will be real.

And the con­se­quences, too.

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