Fak­ing the news

Stick­ing to the facts is a dis­carded recipe in an era when bias is en­cour­aged

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Cal Thomas Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist. His lat­est book is “What Works: Com­mon Sense So­lu­tions for a Stronger Amer­ica” (Zon­der­van, 2014).

Main­stream me­dia are sud­denly con­cerned about “fake news.” It used to be that phony sto­ries were easy to spot. They usu­ally fo­cused on space aliens or mys­te­ri­ous crea­tures found wan­der­ing deep in the woods. My per­sonal fa­vorite in this genre was a 1992 “story” in the su­per­mar­ket tabloid Weekly World News that claimed the bones of Adam and Eve had been dis­cov­ered in Colorado. A “lead­ing ar­chae­ol­o­gist” was quoted, pre­sum­ably to add cre­dence to the fake story.

In the In­ter­net age, things once thought in­cred­i­ble have taken on cred­i­bil­ity. From spam email that claims some­one in Nige­ria wants to send you money, if you send them some first, to politi­cians en­gag­ing in be­hav­ior that only sounds true if you hap­pen to hate the politi­cian and be­lieve he (or she) is ca­pa­ble of any­thing. It has be­come a lot eas­ier to fool some of the peo­ple all of the time.

A re­cent fake news story claimed Hil­lary Clin­ton was in­volved in a child sex ring run out of a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., pizza restau­rant. It prompted a de­ranged man with a gun to fire shots in­side the place in hopes of lib­er­at­ing the “enslaved” chil­dren.

A def­i­ni­tion might help sort out what is fake and what is real. Fake is “any­thing made to ap­pear oth­er­wise than it ac­tu­ally is.” If that is the stan­dard by which false­hoods are dis­cerned, the main­stream me­dia have been fak­ing news for decades.

Re­call the re­port­ing on Oba­macare and claims by the pres­i­dent that “if you like your doc­tor, you can keep your doc­tor,” and if you like your health in­sur­ance plan you can keep that, too. Oba­macare will save money, the pres­i­dent said. The me­dia re­ported it all as fact and blamed him not at all when his mis­state­ments proved un­true.

Now there’s the story that the Rus­sians in­ter­fered with the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, some­thing FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey re­fused to say in an Oc­to­ber press ap­pear­ance. Con­sid­er­ing the me­dia’s his­tory of anti-Repub­li­can bi­ases, does this sound fake to you? Space does not al­low a chron­i­cling of the nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of false, mis­lead­ing and bi­ased sto­ries fa­vor­ing lib­eral Democrats and their pre­ferred is­sues. A Google search will re­veal many more.

In a post-elec­tion col­umn, The New York Times’ pub­lic edi­tor, Liz Spayd, re­ferred to a memo from the news­pa­per’s ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor and pub­lisher promis­ing to “reded­i­cate our­selves to the fun­da­men­tal mis­sion of Times jour­nal­ism. That is to re­port Amer­ica and the world hon­estly, with­out fear or fa­vor, striv­ing al­ways to un­der­stand and re­flect all po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tives and life ex­pe­ri­ences … .”

What were they do­ing pre-elec­tion? As Ms. Spayd noted, “They also used the oc­ca­sion to con­grat­u­late them­selves on their swift, ag­ile and cre­ative cov­er­age on elec­tion night, and they praised their jour­nal­ism as fair to both can­di­dates and un­flinch­ing in its scru­tiny.”

Never mind that so much of their cov­er­age — and the TV sto­ries that fol­low The Times’ lead on what’s news — la­beled sup­port­ers of Don­ald Trump as un­e­d­u­cated, racist, sex­ist and ho­mo­pho­bic, among other smears. There was no apol­ogy for any of this. Prais­ing it­self for jour­nal­is­tic in­tegrity is like an ad­min­is­tra­tion in­ves­ti­gat­ing it­self for wrong­do­ing. The New York Times would never ap­prove of that, nor should it.

Pick­ing up on this self-con­grat­u­la­tory theme, the co-edi­tor-in-chief of Va­ri­ety, Clau­dia Eller, wrote that the show busi­ness pub­li­ca­tion, which leaned heav­ily in fa­vor of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy and reg­u­larly trashed Don­ald Trump, pledged to “[con­tinue] our tra­di­tion of pre­sent­ing bal­anced re­port­ing that re­flects mul­ti­ple points of view ... . ” If only.

In the end, it mat­ters less what the main­stream me­dia think of them­selves than what news con­sumers think. A Septem­ber 2016 Gallup poll found that pub­lic trust in jour­nal­ists had hit a new low. In other in­dus­tries, that would prompt se­ri­ous self-ex­am­i­na­tion and con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple who aren’t buy­ing what the com­pany is sell­ing. Only jour­nal­ists sit on such a high moun­tain of self-re­gard that any chal­lenge to their hon­esty and fair­ness is dis­missed as the pub­lic’s prob­lem.

Such an at­ti­tude can only pro­duce more fake news that serves nei­ther jour­nal­ism, nor the pub­lic.

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