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.