Before and especially after the presidential election much ado has been and still is made of the specter of “fake news” being disseminated via the Internet and even the media. One could take this concern seriously were it not for the fact that the most powerful news media have served it up for years.
A typical expression of this media worry appeared in the Daily Press last Friday in a column written by Esther Cepeda. But her piece makes it clear that what she means by “fake news” is pretty much unwelcome news or opposing views.
From a recent Stanford University History Education Group study’s findings for students from middle school to college, she quotes this statement: “By high school, we would hope that students reading about gun laws would notice that a chart came from a gun owners’ political action committee.”
Cepeda blithely ignores the clear implication that those who support the Second Amendment are unable to grasp the truth on this admittedly controversial issue — which marks her and the Stanford “researchers” as closed-minded to opposing views.
But she says that not only are the students lacking in media savvy; so are their teachers. That leaves who? “Unfortunately, the skill of media literacy is a narrow one that is possessed mostly by people in the media.” What? After a century or more of “objective” journalism the people still don’t get it? That smacks more of media arrogance that public illiteracy.
The column also darkly hints that “fake news” may have actually influenced voting this year. The biggest example of this, of course, was the almost universal judgment in the media that Hillary Clinton was cruising to a landslide. Granted, this was at least as much as an honest error as a fudging of the result, but it demonstrates that those “literate” journalists (mostly) are not infallible. Good intentions, assuming there were any among the 90 percent of the media that are Democrats, don’t excuse failure.
But the problem of the mass media’s own “fake news” goes beyond elections. The main political problems of the day are regularly skewed to fit in with journalistic opinions. Regarding Islamic terrorism, the major media — NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, AP — slavishly follow President Obama’s refusal to call the enemy by its right name, the practical result of which is tepid responses to it.
Regarding the state of our commerce and trade, the leading media reliably pass on the misleading Labor Department statistics that report amazingly low rates of unemployment while millions of Americans have given up looking for work. Read the meager number of job openings in the classified section of newspapers. And while part-time jobs are better than nothing, their inclusion in employment statistics obscures the full picture.
Nothing has concentrated the media mind as much as the so-called “social issues.” Only a short time ago, the conviction that men and women should marry each other and not someone of the same sex, and that they shouldn’t go into each other’s rest rooms, was beyond question. But the media’s celebration of the latest phase of the sexual revolution and the trashing of those who oppose it illustrates the profession’s fakery in an unprecedented form. Neither God nor nature will be mocked.
And what about fake news in public education? That profession has been dominated by progressives about as long as they have dominated journalism, yet the Stanford University study group finds massive numbers of students who cannot “judge the credibility of information viewed while on electronic devices.” Seemingly, the whole world is spinning out of control! But according to polling and election data, college graduates voted largely for Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump, whereas high school graduates did the opposite. Apparently, it takes years of “education” for unprogressive ideas to be driven out of young people’s minds.
But, remember, it is “mostly” media professionals who “get it.” This leads Cepeda to a sad conclusion: “Realistically, today’s citizens are on their own in learning how to spot fake news.” Are the American people such simpletons that they are almost certain to be misled? Perhaps that is why her pathetic recommendation for improvement is only to “Study the URL to see if you recognize it, or if it has other letters after the dot-com. Then take a look at some of the headlines. This can tell you a lot.”
So we should check the accuracy of Internet information by comparing it to the day’s headlines. What that really means is that we should trust the left-wing media over other sources. That assumes the point at issue which, in my view, is that the media should be read at least as skeptically as the Internet.
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow Community College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org