Real thoughts on “fake news”

“Fake news”, like “Russian aggression”, is one of those terms I hear thrown around often but never adequately defined.

One particular argument says that the definition of “fake news” is determined by intent; that a journalist who publishes false information unintentionally cannot be accused of spreading fake news. The implication is that “intent” is always honorable at “real” news agencies. But even assuming it is, is good intent really enough?

How does one address, within this framework, instances of pure irresponsibility and lazy journalism, such as what eventually led WaPo to retract its “bombshell” (but entirely false) Dec. 30 story about Russians hacking into a VT electricity grid, or led to the resignation of three CNN journalists on June 26th? What about the curious trend of major U.S. media outlets publishing claims about the Russia Threat that turn out to be false – always in the direction of exaggerating the Threat or inventing incriminating links between Trump and Russia; often treating evidence-free assertions from anonymous sources as the Gospel Truth?

Of course journalists make mistakes, but this type of Russia reporting happens a little too often nowadays for it to be entirely coincidental. Under the intent-based definition of “fake news”, sensational and misleading reporting from mainstream U.S. media would sooner be dismissed as “newsroom economics” than charged with any political incentive or ideology. You see, because we, The Good American Traditional Media™ don’t do those type of things. That’s what They™ do.

Doesn’t this sound at least somewhat odd?

A “fake news” definition that cannot include mainstream media only serves to shield those organizations from scrutiny. It encourages readers and viewers to simply trust some organizations (and they’ll be sure to tell you which ones) rather than examine all reports with a critical eye.

And at the end of the day, whether the piece is from The New York Times or a teen killing time on his laptop, the result is the same: a lot of people come away believing false information to be true. That’s the underlying issue at hand – and one that is not solved by self-righteousness or making excuses.

So there must be another definition.

The debate over what does and does not constitute fake news rages on. In the meantime, you won’t hear me using the term “fake news” anywhere on my site – except in this very post.

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5 comments

  1. ” The implication is that “intent” is always honorable at “real” news agencies. But even assuming it is, is good intent really enough?..

    …What about the curious trend of major U.S. media outlets publishing claims about the Russia Threat that turn out to be false – always in the direction of exaggerating the Threat or inventing incriminating links between Trump and Russia; often treating evidence-free assertions from anonymous sources as the Gospel Truth?”

    From the “Overton bubble”:

    “Now, the question of motive. Why does the thinking class in America embrace ideas that are not necessarily, and surely not self-evidently, truthful, and even self-destructive? Because this class is dangerously insecure and perversely needs to insist on being right about its guiding dogmas and shibboleths at all costs. That is why so much of the behavior emanating from the thinking class amounts to virtue signaling — we are the good people on the side of what’s right, really we are! Of course, virtue signaling is just the new term for self-righteousness. There is also the issue of careerism. So many individuals are making a living at trafficking in, supporting, or executing policy based on these dogmas and shibboleths that they don’t dare depart from the Overton Bubble of permissible, received thought lest they sacrifice their status and incomes.”

    I gonna say only one thing. People, who see the face of Jesus on their pancakes are likely to believe in other “supernatural” things as well. If there is a belief (or if you don’t like the term – “a personal collection of the world-defining memes”), then it colours all perceptions and expectations of the person posessing it. And, most importanly, it seeks self-confirmation in the material world.

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  2. For the sake of clarity and briefness I would define ‘Fake news” as all the news published by any MSM. No matter what nation or political orientation =)

    Getting news from MSM is like studying history by watching History channel.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d like to thank the “Kultura” TV channel, in their today’s morning talk show they were talking about the genre of anti-utopia, and mentioned both Sorokin and Pelevin. Turns out (although they don’t say it out loud – that’s my deduction), Pelevin came up with the idea of our modern feeding frenzy of the fake/fabricated news in his Special Newsreel/Universal Feature Film aka SNUFF novel. AFAIK, you didn’t do a review on it, but have you read the book?

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