“If you don’t read the newspapers, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspapers, you are misinformed.”
Attributed to Mark Twain
It seems serendipitous that in researching for this essay on the bogus nature of internet gossip and its close cousin, mainstream news reporting, that the quote I chose, almost universally attributed to Mark Twain, may never have been said or written by him at all. It sounds like something he would say. A superficial search appears to indicate that he said it; but dig a little deeper, and it seems to be in doubt. After killing about a half hour researching, I came up with no definitive answer. That is the dilemma of the journalist, which I am not. To do their job right takes a lot of time and hard work, and so, like many in other professions, the typical journalist takes the path more easily travelled, and does their job wrong.
Like so much of the Left, journalist Christiane Anampour seemed to double down on the mistakes that created the lane for the most unlikely of presidential candidates to cruise to victory. At a recent awards banquet organized by the Committee to Protect Journalists her remarks (link here) began with a call for the Press to recommit to fact based reporting, but immediately devolved into the same bias, fear mongering, innuendo and guilt by association insinuations that have caused millions of Americans to rightly distrust what used to be their most trusted source of information, mainstream media. She mourned the ability of Trump to bypass the media, going straight to the people, and the development of the new progressive bogeyman, “fake news”. She finished with the predictable allusions to the stupidity of the American public, and the importance of using the media to impose values, the values determined to be universal by these elite journalists, on the rest of us.
There is certainly a need, I suppose, to protect journalists from the undo intimidation of government, and as such the inevitable “committee” to organize that protection. Yet, in assuming the role of victim, protectors like the police, military, even parents, and yes, the media, can lose sight of their primary role… to protect. What is it that the media is supposed to protect us from? Misinformation, ignorance, biased filtering of the news. We expect them to be able to set aside their own opinions to uncover the actual facts. Like a judge or a referee, we expect neutrality as a professional and ethical imperative. Unfortunately, as in so many other areas of academia, ethics have taken a backseat to ideology in the education of our journalists.
When a child is raised in the absence of a parent, or in the presence of an abusive one, they look for surrogates to fill that void. Young men join gangs, young women become infatuated with older men, and predators find easy prey in the unprotected. Likewise, the corruption of the fourth estate, coupled with the proliferation of technology, made the ascension of the fifth estate inevitable. And so the rise of “fake news” had it’s fertile field. What Anampour and her ilk are oblivious to, is that “fake news” has to a great extent found its success due to the failure of “real news” to be the neutral arbiter of information. We have always had “fake news”, but people were for the most part savvy enough to recognize that tabloid headlines such as “Man Born Without Body”, with the accompanying doctored photo of a man’s head connected to just a foot, were in a word, bogus. Back then, we depended on “reputable” news sources for accurate information… but it seems that the election has shown a light on an uncomfortable truth, reputable news sources are an endangered species.
IMHO: The word “bogus” is relatively new in common parlance, it finds its origin in the early 1800’s as the name used to describe counterfeit coins prevalent at that time. More recently it was incorporated into the slang of the surfer culture, and only commonly used as a term by the rest of us since the 80’s. Returning to the counterfeit overtones of the original definition, today’s fake news sites have moved beyond parody to propaganda, and are bogus imitations of real news sites. In what can only be described as a tragedy of poor timing, the real news sites have themselves diverged into bogus territory leaving the public without a gold standard. It is as though counterfeit bills were disseminated at the same time the US Treasury lowered its standards and starts producing hundred dollar bills on photocopiers. It’s one thing for us to be fooled, by our own biases, by liars and counterfeits, it’s quite another for the supposed truth experts to be fooled, and in turn to fool us. A combination of the decline of journalistic ethics regarding neutrality, with the more generalized rise in incompetence in the performance of trades and professions, has greatly transformed a once noble resource into a suspect and undependable source. Until there arises a new faithful media, or a resurgence in integrity of the old, we the public are orphans without faithful advocates, urchins on the streets who must look to ourselves for what we should believe. To those who were once reliable guardians of objective truth, I adjure you! Dig deeper, set aside your own opinions, put in the time it takes to get to the bottom of a story. Don’t just regurgitate the talking points force fed to you in press releases, but do the work it takes to find the real truth, not just the truth as you assume it to be. It is not your place to instill values, not your place to shape society, not your place to be our elite conscience. Your job is to give us information, facts… the truth untainted by opinion or bias. Here’s a thought, do your job!