There’s Nothing New About Fake News

The topic of “Fake News” is getting a lot of attention these days. The funny thing is, there is nothing new about fake news. Our major media, both TV and print, have long since mastered the art.

The reality is that reality has been absent from many news stories and many news sources for a very long time. With the advent of easily-searchable video files, more and more talking heads have been caught in outrageous fabrications, easily-disproved misstatements, shameless editing that completely distorts the true story and so on. Dan Rather, Katie Couric, Brian Williams and other former icons of the information media have been caught in lies and thoroughly disgraced. Only Congress is less trusted than the media at this point.

Why would we be surprised to discover that media manipulation not only exists, but has been honed to a fine art? There are highly-paid consulting firms hired to create and promote fake news, just as there are firms that can provide fake crowds, fake demonstrators, fake union picketers, etc. There are organizations that, for a price, supply an entire fake grass-roots organization of phony supporters, complete with phony websites, phony letter writers and phony subjects for interviews. If your movement can’t attract real grass-roots support, these consulting firms offer you Astroturf so that you at least appear to have it.

These are not even secret organizations. They openly compete for business from those that profit from fake news and they are ruthlessly professional and proud of their abilities in this field. There are dozens of ‘news’ websites that are totally dedicated to fake news other than for purposes of satire (search “top fake news sites” and you’ll see). It would not surprise me at all to discover that they were getting their own televised award show, complete with a skulking little Oscar in a turned-up gabardine coat and a fedora.

The history of fake news goes back a long ways.

Decades ago, it was revealed that the CIA owned literally hundreds of journals and newspapers all over the world and was flooding those markets with fake news and propaganda. Sometimes it was to counter the fake news of propagandists on the other side of the Iron Curtain. But, often, it was to prop up vicious third world dictators or to further American business interests at the expense of the free exercise of democracy, journalism or freedom of speech in that particular location.

At other times, it was used to malign and discredit groups or individuals who sought to shine a light on injustice and oppression or who sought to expose the crimes of powerful individuals who were allied with those on the darker side of our government. By all appearances, this activity has become even more widespread and its practitioners have only become more audacious and more adept.

Witness the sleazy disinformation campaign that attempted to discredit Scientology in Europe (traced back to CIA black propaganda forwarded through Interpol) and in current news, the intelligence briefing that led to the rather tawdry publication in Buzzfeed of the unsubstantiated and wildly sensational allegations regarding President Donald Trump. This was neither news nor “intelligence,” but simply the promotion and forwarding of unsupportable and damaging assertions without a shred of proof.

But who is the audience for all of this fake news? There is a segment of any society that is extremely susceptible to false and alarming ”information” and can be counted upon to seek it out and forward it to others.

The purveyors of fake news are fully aware of this segment of the population and deliberately target them with complete assurance that any bad news they provide to them will be believed and promoted.

Thus, too many journalists make a living by creating and disseminating the most outrageous, alarming, controversial and damaging stories that they can get on air or in print (anyone remember the knowingly false reports Dan Rather used in his attack story on President George W. Bush’s military service? Or the never-ending stream of salacious stories about the Clinton’s?). They hide among more honest journalists and seek the protections offered to the fourth estate so that they can ply their trade unmolested.

But as a free press is a cornerstone of a free society, the rights of the press must not be infringed upon as they have the responsibility to alert the governed to the misdeeds of those that govern us. When the media is no longer trusted, it has lost its power to inform and to warn the public that evil is afoot. In other words, it has forsaken the awesome power it was given.

The honest journalist and newsman must insist on the highest of ethical standards in their field and must call out and condemn utterly any instances of fabricated news, unsubstantiated and libelous rumors and innuendo. They cannot continue to protect those who cloak themselves as "fellow journalists." The future of their profession is at stake. They must clean up the rotten spots so that they, as a group, can be trusted.

This task has been neglected for so long it almost seems hopeless, and the media is so full of garbage, it is hard to discern any truth. But when hit by the light of truth, the cockroaches scurry back into the cracks and crevices.

It is way past time to get a fresh set of batteries in our collective flashlight, and to start shining it into the dark corners of journalism.

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