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One Small Voice: ’Fake News’ phrase is an oxymoron

I first learned about journalism and newspapers in the fifth grade.  Mr. Dynan drilled us on the “five Ws” plus “how” as the important questions to be answered by a good reporter in presenting a story for the public.

As a combined class exercise of history and language arts, we 10-year-olds “published” a newspaper about the landing of Columbus in the New World. (Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, with financial backing from the King and Queen of Spain, landed in the New World with three ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria in 1492 to establish new trade routes to India.)

We learned to distinguish hard news — objective reportage without bias — from analysis and editorials. (What impact did Columbus have on indiginous peoples? How did they feel about it?)  We learned about leads, by-lines, photo credits, front page news as opposed to news that would appear inside. I remember being amazed at how detailed the requirements were to make a newspaper.

During the Watergate Affair, I learned about investigative reporting. There were guidelines and protocols to be followed for that, such as having at least two sources on an item of information to confirmation its veracity. There was also the protection of those sources to assure that whistle-blowers and insiders could reveal information without risk of danger to life, limb, employment or reputation. It spawned the film “All The President’s Men,” which educated us all in the journalistic standards of the Washington Post as well as the events of the Watergate Affair.

Over the course of my lifetime so far, I have seen the generally recognized definition of news evolve from stories covering local, national, and world government, politics, and affairs, to extensive coverage of local, national and world sports and entertainment figures and their industries. Even tabloid reporting has been lumped into journalism to a degree, blurring what, to me, used to be clear boundaries between responsible and fringe journalism.What used to apply solely to print journalism and reporting was transferred to its radio and television counterparts.

The Merriam-Webster definition of news says that it is the report of recent events, something having specified influence or effect. Further, the definition of newsworthiness says that the subject has sufficient relevance to the public or a special audience to warrant attention or coverage, sometimes to form or sway public opinion.

Thus, Fox News, Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood have the same relevance as PBS News Hour, Meet the Press and Face the Nation. The New York Daily News is as valid a news source as the New York Times.

Personally, I take issue with some of that. For example, I would not equate Lawrence O’Donnell with Rachel Maddow, both on MSNBC and covering the same topics, for hard news or comment.  Nor would I call the National Enquirer a newspaper. But I digress.

Now that I’ve covered the definition of news, let’s talk about the definition of fake. That’s very straightforward. Fake is defined as that which is not genuine; counterfeit; forgery; sham.

So how is it that our current administration can get away with labeling actual, certifiable events as fake? How is it possible that the events of Charlottesville as recorded on video, and recorded comments made on the subject by various actors, can be called not genuine, or forgeries, or counterfeit? Even by definition those facts being reported to form or sway public opinion are not fakes.  They are genuine, real, provable occurances. Therefore, Fox News’ coverage of the same event as, say, CNN, cannot be considered real, and CNN’s fake.

Setting aside our personal biases, our political leanings, and our emotional entanglements, news cannot be fake. News is true.  Lies are fake.

To attribute an adjective like “fake” to news is to undermine the inherent value to a democracy of a free press. Rather, one must prove news to be a lie for “fake-ness” to apply. And the revelation of that said news as a lie then becomes the news. To be clearer, when a person falsely claims truth is lie, and then that person is discovered to be the actual liar, that lie and the liar become the news, because its happening is an actual event.

In America’s democratic context, we need to protect news from muddying modifiers like “fake.” Regardless of personal leanings, facts are facts, even when the facts are used to form or sway public opinion.

News is fact. Facts are truth.

3 Comments

  • And you can add at the last line; If you say a big enough lie over and over it will become accepted as truth. Look at the Democrat party – any time a Republican idea takes hold and becomes a bill to be voted upon watch them trot out the old war horses – Schumer, Pelosi, Biden, maybe even the king of Democrats, Lying Willie; they are out to kill old people, children, cut your welfare and social security, blah, blah, blah. And the media just sucks it up and goes to the nearest Republican they can find and ask them if it is true.
    When you have media stalwarts (read that supporters of the Democrats) like Brian Williams, Dan Rather, and now Brian Ross – Ms. Mandeville, you are naïve and have bought into the Trump media hate group.

    Get over it, Trump won, the deplorable and irredeemable voted, and the Wicked Witch and destroyer of classified information and cleans (like with a cloth!) server, computer, and hand held devices to destroy information leading to her. She is the real perpetrator of crime, not Trump.

    Anytime President Obama had poor performing economic information, which was often, it was because of Bush, throughout all 8 years of his presidency. Now that the stock market has risen, the fools on the Left say it is because of President Obama. No, he is the food stamp president, expander of welfare, race divider, and doubling the debt in 8 years that took us over 200 years to accumulate. The worst performing economy president ever – not one year over 3% growth.

    Russia, Russia, Russia isn’t going anywhere. Trump keeps tweeting so the media can’t print lies or misquotes and convey untruths about him. President Trump, keep up the great work. And Democrats, get over it already!

    • Free market man,

      You sure do have the Rush Limbaugh narrative down. Have you been living in a cave for the last decade? You must have been to not remember the through the roof unemployment when Obama took office. Or the foreclosures at near record levels.

      Our country was in a downward spiral when Obama took office and a person would have had to be living in a cave to not see it. But when Obama left office, you seldom heard of foreclosures and for the most part anyone who was willing and able to work had jobs.

      Now about Trump. Did you miss the “grab them by the pussy” tape of Trump bragging to Billie Bush about molesting women? Or the fact that Trump said many times that he would release his tax returns? It has been over a year since he “won” the election. Where are his tax returns? I suppose that if most people had been avoiding paying taxes while becoming rich we probably wouldn’t want to make it public either.

      The latest tax bill is another good example of how the Republicons shit on the little people while lining the pockets of the very rich. They gave huge tax breaks to the rich and now are talking about having to cut Medicare and Social Security to pay for those tax cuts.

      I could go on and on about the crooks in the Republicon Party but it would be lost on someone like you.

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