Thanks to President Trump, “fake news” has become a familiar watchword in American society. Critics whose megaphone has been amplified by the internet often aim their guns at the “news media.” That is a catch-all phrase that tars too many with too broad a brush.
I no longer report regularly on breaking news events. Still, over the years I’ve covered numerous stories, including such catastrophes as school shootings in Paducah, Ky. and Littleton, Colo., and the Oklahoma City bombing.
While reporters who cover current events are often lambasted for getting it wrong, here are several things I have learned about such claims:
* It isn’t the news media’s fault when the authorities issuing reports amend their figures, theories or allegations.
* What those who scream about slanted reporting often mean is the reporter doesn’t line up with their preconceived notions or (especially in this day and age) political views.
* Folks can throw stones at a convenient target all day, but at least journalists are trained to dig into all sides of a story and verify details before they write. Granted, plenty of mistakes get made along the way, but I’ll trust in a New York Times report long before the latest social media-fed rumor.
There are plenty of illustrations of the completely-unreliable nature of those who generate controversy via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, et. al.
Take the headlines that surrounded the phony allegations that Lakewood Church had closed its doors to Hurricane Harvey victims in late August.
Not quite what happened, as this report showed, but why let facts get in the way of a good rumor?
More recently, a member of a professional editors group I belong to posted a lament in an email about losing out on several bids on a job site because someone had posted a note there saying, “She’s gay.”
That would be news to her husband of 27 years, but apparently the anonymous and ill-informed critic confused the editor with her lesbian daughter.
One responder asked what difference that would have made anyway; didn’t the potential client want the most-qualified editor, regardless?
Without lurching into the quagmire of sexual orientation, that really isn’t the point anyway. An otherwise-qualified bidder on a freelance job site lost possible work because someone sniped at her with a baseless (and is there any other kind?) rumor.
This is the kind of rumor that now runs around the internet on a daily basis, spread by the gullible eager to pass on the latest gossip or speculation without taking a few minutes to bother checking the source.
Not that things are any different today than they were 50 years ago. It’s just that misinformation can now go hurtling across the world in the same amount of time it used to take to cross the back fence.
The saddest thing is that, as the case of the freelance editor shows, one can be a victim of high-tech rumor mongers without much hope of defending one’s self or dispelling the phony information.
I’m under no illusions that I can stem the tide of hysteria and spreading of rumors that goes on, thanks to modern technology.
Yet I feel it’s worth pointing that—as the old adage goes—you can’t believe everything you read. Especially on social media.