Here we are. About four weeks after our national election. In that time, I’ve not written about the “winner” nor the tragic outcome. I won’t start now.
But, there’s an important issue related to the event that does need to be widely talked about, thoroughly examined and brought to the attention of every American: fake “news.”
The immense danger of phony news has been building in this country for a long, long time. It’s not really new. Much of hate radio is filled with it daily. Absolutely baseless, absurd, totally fabricated “stories” and commentaries meant to defame, humiliate and destroy public figures - sometimes of both political parties - or institutions like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU or the PTA.
One of the best warnings of just how ingrained this destructive B.S. has become, and how dangerous it is, comes from - of all people - Glenn Beck. Beck - one of the chief purveyors of false “facts.” A guy who’s become immensely rich from a broadcast and publishing empire built on his often lunatic participation in media lying. Now, he’s apologizing.
His point? For more than 30 years, the right wing has bashed all forms of news media coverage. Over and over and over and over. Limbaugh, Coulter, Ingraham, Jones, Medved and hundreds of local “wannabees” have excoriated legitimate media of all types. They’ve sown distrust, hate and fear for any media not favorable to their questionable - or outright fact-less - pronouncements.
Faced, as we are, with a real political threat to our national survival, Beck asks, “Is it any wonder millions of Americans don’t believe the facts of the dangerous conditions we’re experiencing?” Admitting his own guilt as a longtime participant in falsifying information and condemning legitimate national media, Beck expresses doubt millions of us will ever again really trust “The Fourth Estate.” He’s right, of course, though awfully late coming to the table.
Now, another of our technological marvels is adding endlessly to the problem. Daily. Hourly. The Internet. Specifically, “social” media. I hate that term because often its anything but “social.” Pages I scan too often contain lies each day. Call it “false information,” if you insist. But lies are lies no matter the verbiage.
Some nutcase, living in a garage in Cleveland, can pass himself and his demented thinking off on “social” media looking like The New York Times, Washington Post, Time or Newsweek. With no editor - no fact checker - no filter to catch and destroy his lies - his trash flows right into the “information river” and to our computer screens. It’s been proven repeatedly too many Americans have little to no understanding of how our system of government works and have little interest in learning. They read, watch and, too often, believe.
The spread of fake “news” is worse since the presidential election. Much worse. Coming even from the apparent winner. Outright lying tweets about “three million voting fraud cases,” or “illegal immigrants voting” and other complete B.S. without fact. No elections official has confirmed any major wrongdoing. Just more lies. But some major media pick it up and repeat it.
To anyone who doesn’t know how elections are run, what safeguards there are, how the ballots are screened or voters qualified, those lies are “truth.” And that’s just one instance.
Sometimes, it’s subtle. Here’s a headline. “Trump charges three million illegal immigrants voted.” Wrong! Here’s how it should read. “Trump falsely charges.....” See the difference? Or, “Breitbart Reports Massive voter fraud.” No. The correct headline would be “Breitbart makes unsubstantiated charge of voter fraud.”
We’ve become a divided nation largely because many, many people believe “facts” supporting previously held beliefs rather than searching for truth. If truth differs, it’s rejected. Unfortunately, the Internet has become a two-edged sword. Its ability to inform is as great as the ability to misinform. Without fact checking, confirming sources, finding and weeding out the junk, lies can look very real.
There doesn’t seem to be any solid solution to this media cancer to change the pattern. But, if you want to deal in reality, there are some Internet sites that can be trusted. “Snopes.com,” of course. But also “TruthorFiction.com,” “FactCheck.org” or “WhoWhatWhen.com.” And there are others you’ll find to cross-check articles or postings just to be safe.
The unchecked, unedited Internet too often makes us victims of our own technology. National media fall prey to the lies at times. So do the locals. Me, too. Facebook and Twitter are full of baseless charges and fact-less “stories.”
Fake “news” is likely with us to stay. It’s up to each of us to “check it out” before passing it on. Or, simply believing something that just doesn’t add up. It’s crazy out there. It’s only going to get worse.