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December 13, 2016

Who's Responsible for "Fake News"? The Press Which Has Made America Distrustful of Their Allegedly "Real News"

At the Washington Post, allowing a slight bit of light to shine in beneath the door.

Fake news is real, yes, but the anxiety it has occasioned in the news media often seems motivated by something other than mere concern for the truth. By agonizing over "fake" news, journalists often appear to blame nameless others for the failings of the widely distrusted news industry. It's not our fault, some in the media seem to be saying, it's the fault of some teenage hoaxers in Romania. That modifier "fake," to put the point slightly differently, suggests that non-"fake" news must be conversely genuine, truthful, factual.

But of course it isn't...

Let's get at the problem by asking this question: Which is more dangerous -- the entirely fabricated story your ornery uncle links to on Facebook, or the story we read in a respectable news source containing an important and substantially false claim?

The false or inaccurate story published in a mainstream venue [is worse]. Maybe the story consists of mostly true statements, but it's built on an egregiously false premise. Or maybe it includes a key line that infers far more than the facts allow. Or it presents a tendentious interpretation of the facts....

[T]he ever-present danger of allowing our likes and dislikes to dictate our interpretations of facts... may be what mainstream journalists preoccupied with "fake news" haven't yet appreciated. The facile and stark distinction between real and fake, fact and invention, truth and lie suggests a failure on the part of mainstream American journalists to grasp the importance of interpretation. There is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact, and journalists are just as much interpreters as reporters of facts. Indeed I suspect one of the chief reasons so many Americans prefer harrowing Internet rumors to mainstream news is that they've grown impatient with journalists' pretense that their assertions involve only truth, only facts unmediated by opinion or partiality. These Americans may have their gullible moments, but they know better than that.

The rise of fake news, if it's anything, is an indictment of America's newsrooms. Yet somehow I doubt the newsrooms will interpret it that way.


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posted by Ace at 06:40 PM

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