Thirty-three years past 1984, we’re living in an Orwellian world of “fake news.”
In November, the Washington Post informed readers that a “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during [the] election,” proclaiming a conclusion reached by “independent researchers.” The Post story noted, “There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump . . .”
In his review for the New Yorker entitled, “The Propaganda About Russian Propaganda,” Adrian Chen skewered the Post. An obvious problem? One group of researchers cited in the Post article, ProporNot.com, compiled a list of so-called fake news websites so broad that, “Simply exhibiting a pattern of beliefs outside the political mainstream is enough to risk being labelled a Russian propagandist.”
At The Intercept, Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald also slammed the Post exposé. Fretting about the enormous and uncritical reach of the article,* they noted that it was “rife with obviously reckless and unproven allegations, and fundamentally shaped by shoddy, slothful journalistic tactics.”
The problem with “respected” mainstream media outlets performing drive-by journalism is the same as with the fake news they decry: real people might believe things that aren’t true.
For instance, a recent poll found most Democrats think “Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected president.” That’s a position devoid of any evidence. Likewise, 72 percent of Republicans still tell pollsters they remain unconvinced President Obama was born in the U.S.
What to do? Back to the basics: let’s gather and analyze the news with healthy amounts of skepticism and a mega-dose of Common Sense.
I’ll help. I’m Paul Jacob.
* In a follow-up piece taking the Washington Post to task for what proved to be a false report on Russian hacking into the nation’s electric grid, Glenn Greenwald argues that, “[W]hile these debacles are embarrassing for the paper, they are also richly rewarding. That’s because journalists — including those at the Post — aggressively hype and promote the original, sensationalistic false stories, ensuring that they go viral, generating massive traffic for the Post . . .”