Leadership, politics, Reflection, reporting

FAKE NEWS AND POST TRUTH

 

image1The press is fond of buzzwords and buzzfeeds. In a Twitter age, fast is quicker than deep. Like millions I have a personal Twitter account but my idea of its use is so 1990s. I make it a place to post a link a longer piece of writing that I hope contains some substance.  But I am clearly not part of the Twitteratti.

The idea of a president whose chief method of communication is Tweets ought to be so bizarre that we should burst out laughing and go away.  But the press – which should be at the head of the line on this exit – has turned these ramblings into news and has become its main conduit for those of us who have not become a certain leader’s Twitter “followers”.

In the game of “follow the leader”, there are options.  I remember my mother trying to persuade my son who was four years old at the time to eat something he didn’t like.  She cited several people she thought he would be impressed by saying. Mr. X eats broccoli.  Mrs. Y. eats broccoli.  His response was “I’m not playing”.  We do have choices here.

It’s a problem.  How do you stop bullying or exposure to lies?  You can walk away and ignore it, which many of us seem to be doing – saying we simply want to get on with our own life and focus on whatever grabs us – food, fitness, fun perhaps.  We can blame change.  What happened to the role of religion, or the strength of the family, or the economy before the rise of technology caused the loss of manufacturing?  Or we can invent new buzzwords and think we’re done.

Fake news – as Tabitha Southey notes in this morning’s Globe and Mail needs clarification

  • It’s not sloppy news that lacks validation by thorough research of reliable sources
  • It’s not news we would rather not hear or that we don’t like
  • It’s not news that contains simple mistakes that are improperly fact checked and can be corrected. While someone’s name is misspelled, the person named is rightly upset, but this can be set right.

What Southey goes on to identify is the use of stories that are totally false.  An example is a reprint from a newspaper that doesn’t exist, a location that does not exist, a headline and a story that is totally false.  It’s fake in every way.  These are the pieces currently attributed to Russian Intelligence.  If other publications or social media platforms present them or reprint them, what they are spreading is lies.  As I said in the previous post, the news creates reality for us by choosing what we will see.

The news I read every day is something I care deeply about.  I want its sources to be reliable and valid.  That doesn’t mean I like or agree with everything I read. But I want every reporter or commentator to aim for the truth.  Let’s get real.   What fake news contains is lies.  When public figures or the press dismiss lies as fake news or post truth and suggest we’ve dealt with it, they are saying that lies and truth are interchangeable. What is truth?  Does it matter?

I watched the press conference of the incoming president this week.   The bunch of reporters waving their hands to try to get attention reminded me of a primary classroom. Where was the West Wing’s Allison Janney when we needed her?  It was every man and woman for himself/herself to try to get the scoop.

But do the press have any sense of corporation social responsibility when one of their number is not chosen to ask a question – that might be valid – but openly bullied.  Remember the strategy of S.I. Hayakawa who cut the wires in a student protest to change the dynamic. Whether he was right or wrong, it was an immediate response.  Suppose the reporters with one accord had simply stood up and quietly left the room? Now that would have been a story.  What such an action requires of course is a united commitment to finding the truth –  that treating others in ways that one would want to be treated matters – and standing together as the fourth estate matters for us all.

 

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