The term Fake News has confused what’s fake and what isn’t, what’s news and what’s advocacy, and what’s fact and what’s opinion.
So let’s try to clear the air a little bit.
Fake News is now being used as a term by people who don’t like or agree with a news story. Report about government corruption? Nah, Fake News. Report about an ongoing probe? Nothing to see here, it’s Fake News.
In reality, there’s nothing fake about these stories; there’s nothing wrong with the stories. It’s just that someone doesn’t like it – and it’s OK not to like what’s written.
But it’s not OK to weaken a critical component of society by attacking its credibility. That’s simply wrong.
It also isn’t Fake News when a publisher makes a mistake. Mistakes have happened, daily, since the advent of print. When mistakes happen, reputable news organizations immediately fix them. The New York Times is a perfect example. If the Times makes an error, it publishes a correction that lives at the bottom of a story in perpetuity. They don’t hide it. They own it. The mistake is not proof of Fake News; it’s proof that we’re human.
Opinion isn’t Fake News, though it is something worse – it blurs the lines between what is news and what isn’t. All the cable news networks are guilty of this.
Let’s take the much-maligned Fox News as an example of this. Fox has some outstanding journalists who report the news without bias, journalists like Sheppard Smith, Brent Baier and Chris Wallace (who is one of the best in the business).
But the problem occurs when Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow and the like come on with programs that clearly have a slant (Hannity shills for Donald Trump, Maddow can’t stand him). The cable news networks don’t try to differentiate between news and opinion, and that confuses viewers.
Hannity’s viewers (and Maddows) believe them to be impartial journalists, and they are not. There’s nothing wrong with them having an opinion and playing to an audience that tunes it to hear their version of the truth.
It’s dead wrong for the cable networks not to label these programs as opinion.
Remember, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but they’re not entitled to their own facts. So what happens? We hear these talking heads spout their version of the truth, and everything else becomes Fake News.
There are too many of us forgetting how important a free and impartial press is to our society. The press uncovers abuses, sheds lights on important societal problems and acts as a government watchdog. Communities that no longer have a newspaper are weaker for it, because citizens don’t know the actions their local school boards, city councils, planning commissions and the like are taking.
We should be fighting for the press, not tearing it down, with unfounded cries of Fake News. We should be supporting the press through whatever subscription fees they’re now forced to charge, not encouraging confusion with these Fake News sentiments.
Most importantly, anytime anyone uses the term Fake News we should cast a suspicious eye toward that person, because, in all likelihood, they are the ones who are really Fake.