I am not usually into commenting on “breaking news” which today is the almost breathless, artificially exciting, constant stream of news bits and bites to titillate, entertain, and presumably inform the listeners of all the major news channels, at all times of the day or night since most are 24 hour news channels.
We can’t seem to get enough, as each, equally breathless, stunning blonde, especially on the Fox channel, tells us about the latest suicide bomber who blew herself up in Somalia, or that wildfires took out another dozen homes in southern California, or what the about-to-be ex-president or about-to-be new president opined in a sound bite on the election re-count now underway, or perhaps suspended, because Russian cyber specialists somehow got into the computers of Sheboygan County in Wisconsin and may have planted a worm. My day is usually complicated enough without “breaking news.”
And now we have to add fake news to the items that shower us like bombs in the blitzkrieg. You can look that up in Wikipedia. The difference is that blitzkriegs only lasted for so long. There is no respite, no rest, no “time out” from the constant stream of news. If you don’t get it on t.v., it hits your browser with equal intensity, or your cell phone, or, if you are a Millennial or Generation Xer or Yer, or a savvy Boomer, you can’t escape it in any of the social media either.
What is “fake” news? It simply is manufactured out of whole cloth, fabricated in the minds of people with access to channels of news information which can be anything from your blog to MSN news which seems to explode on my browsers every time I open them.
A week or two ago I saw where Donald Trump’s current wife Ivana had filed for divorce. Filed for divorce!? I thought. Must be breaking news. It was not. Of course she wasn’t filing for divorce. It was the first kind of direct experience I’ve had with blatant fake news, a fiction and a lie, but it got my attention.
How do people get away with this? Fake news is as near as I can tell like writing fiction. You create the plot and characters—speaking of books here—and entertain your readers with a great story. John Grisham, Pat Conroy, Winston Groom, and other favorites of mine like Tom Clancy all write great stories, some of them weaving in real characters and events occasionally, but all decidedly disclaiming that what they are writing is fiction.
Not so your modern spinners of “breaking news” with “fake news.” I thought we had libel laws in place, BTW, which made you susceptible to legal action if you spread lies about someone.
But we have even become almost impervious to lies. Witness the presidential election campaign which just ended, or which doesn’t seem to have ended for some yet.
I am not so obtuse and inflexible as not to realize that there can be many interpretations and takes on any given situation.
The truth can be a slippery rascal. Jesus lived. Or, conversely, he didn’t; like all gods he was invented by man (the atheist view).
Or you can refine the question a bit. Jesus Christ was the son of God, the Christian truth. No, he was just a prophet in a long line of prophets, the Muslim view.
Take your pick and line up as a believer that Jesus was the son of God, or as a non-believer. Which is true? Christians? Or everyone else in the world?
Jesus spoke directly to the issue: “know the truth and the truth will set you free.” He was speaking of a higher, spiritual truth, but the axiom easily crosses from the spiritual to the natural world we inhabit.
And we can interpret his words a bit. He, and his disciples like James, not only admonished us to know the truth, but also to act on the truth, and to speak the truth. There is power in words. We have the power to build up and edify with the truth; or to destroy with lies.
At stake in news, “breaking” or not broken, is the integrity of the journalist delivering the message. It is a bond of trust between the writer or the talking heads and their readers and listeners. You lie to me once, twice, thrice or more, and your word becomes a worthless commodity.
Behind every piece of fake news is a fake person.
For better or worse, however, we like to be titillated and entertained by the notorious, the infamous, the vain glorious and the world is filled with charlatans and liars all looking for attention.
My prejudice is that the real is much more fascinating and informative than the lie, or even great fiction. Go see Saving Private Ryan or the newer movie Sully. But don’t pass up The Wizard of Oz or The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. There are lessons in them all, fact or fiction. Mix them up if you like, but don’t pass off your one for the other.
Published as “Fake News Threatens Integrity of Journalism,” Sunday December 18, 2016 in The Tuscaloosa News