SAN DIEGO: Since the early 1990s, complaints about media and political bias have been common. But something has changed in recent years. Now political bias is “fake news.”
On The Price of Business broadcast, the topic of “fake news” is a frequent discussion. As host, the level of concern of fake news is interesting. It is as though people have just woken up to this reality even though it has been an issue for as long as we have had news.
The expression “Yellow Journalism” goes back to the 19th century, and it is interchangeable with “fake news.” It was known for having five traits:
- Terrifying headlines in large print, often of inconsequential news
- The use of pseudoscience and so-called experts, without the credentials to be seen as an authority
- A huge bias towards the underdog of the story, regardless if right or wrong
- The overuse of images or pictures to convey a story
- The use of large supplemental stories to emphasize the “importance” of an often exaggerated story.
The above warnings were common in the 1890s. Little, if anything, has changed.
Censorship of the News
It is common practice for some governments to write or approve the news in their countries. The result is often pure propaganda and goes against the United State’s historic commitment to a free press.
However, because of that freedom, there is a great deal of creative license among publications in this country. Throughout US history there have been many publications with ideological bents. These were considered “fake news” by those with a different worldview.
People being unable to tell legitimate from fake news is leading to the drum being beat loudly to stop such practices. However, that type of rhetoric paves the way for censorship. It is better to have a plethora of inaccurate, and even fake, news than have the government telling us what we can produce or consume when it comes to information.
Editorial vs Opinion
Not that many years ago there was a clear distinction between editorials and the rest of the news in a magazine or newspaper. Most publications had an “Opinion” section, and it was to be clear to the reader that the writers there had an ax to grind or some agenda. Over time there grew a hybrid of news and opinion that became known as “analysis.” These type of articles were biased; they were just more subtle about it. I rarely see this distinction now.
Today, virtually every news site, especially the larger ones like the New York Times, feature articles by individuals with an obvious agenda. The majority of these articles are mostly opinion, and they require a little discernment by the reader to navigate them.
Are we supposed to believe that sites with more traffic are legitimate, while independent news sources are not? Such thinking is the epitome of argumentum ad populum, or “If many believe so, it is so.”
In logic, this is called a “fallacy.”
Big sites, big truths?
The truth is, many news websites have massive traffic. Some news websites also have extreme opinions. Salon.com and the Drudge Report are politically polar opposites, yet each has large readership. A user of either site would find the other to be fake in their reporting because they disagree.
The most dangerous sources of fake news are the ones that are huge in their followings, but still, promote agendas without a disclaimer.
If people are looking for someone to blame for our current news crisis, they can begin by looking at our public schools. Particularly over the last two decades. The vast majority of Americans (approximately 85 to 90 percent, depending on the source) were educated in the government’s school system. That said, how a significant amount of today’s media interprets news is a result of their public school (read: liberal) education.
Coincidently, much of the general population suffers from gullibility. A lack of critical thinking when it comes to the news. If both the creators and consumers of Fake News were able to think outside their box, they would not have these type of problems.
Fake news would disappear if we had a population that could think critically.
The truth is, it should be “buyer beware.” The last thing we should have is the government nannies protecting us from what might be harmful in print. If a media source goes too far, too far, we have libel and slander laws. Covington High School Student Nick Sandmann’s suits against the Washington Post and CNN show that.
We do not need to curtail the First Amendment. Smart consumers of news should be skeptical of what they read, starting with the headlines. They should stop fake news by checking sources before promoting a story, particularly one that is bombastic, before pushing it as truth.
Also, watch the timelines carefully. If the events in the timeline do not add up, the story is very likely fake.
Remember to think critically. If the writer has an agenda and does not have much to back it up, there is a likelihood it is fake.
In the future, it would be excellent to see all news sources require a disclaimer about the approach a writer takes in his or her work. For this writer, it might say, “Kevin is a recovering traditional conservative who has become increasingly libertarian and demonstrates that in his writing.”
Do not expect much thought from the media. That requires too much critical thinking.