How is fake news so hard to understand?
Fake news has become the newest political buzzword for casual observers and presidents awake at 3am furiously tweeting rather than doing something productive with their time, such as, say, reading policy briefings (though to be fair, Fox News doesn’t yet have any 3am shows to occupy the simple minds of these presidents). Donald Trump frequently hurls the word; his supporters, not to be outdone by the Monkey-in-Chief, take to Twitter and decry anything they dislike as “#FAKENEWS.” Of course, in doing so, Trump and his cult demonstrate they fundamentally misunderstand the term and risk our Republic’s prosperity and very existence by demeaning and dismissing the writing of their discontent.
What is Fake News
Discerning fake news should be world’s easiest endeavor. Fake news, by its very definition, puts forth demonstrable and obvious lies as facts and then typically uses these fictitious points to ramble into a delusional and often malicious article meant to denigrate a politician’s standing. This is, presumably, a definition agreed to by all – for how could it not be? Determining “demonstrable and obvious lies” is a little more difficult, but should still be so easy and obvious that a sophisticated gorilla could accomplish such a task. A story from an unknown blog or site (an objectively disreputable source) that asserts as fact, for instance, a candidate’s deathly illness or a vast conspiracy about pedophilia and rape without any sources is fake news designed only to prey on ignorance and cognitive bias to slander a leader. That’s fake news.
What isn’t Fake News
Stories from reputable sites that cite “unnamed” sources are not fake news. Those “unnamed sources” are administration officials speaking candidly on the condition of anonymity so their sharing information doesn’t result in their being fired. News organizations – and this means the oft and ignorantly reviled “mainstream media” – have set standards for “unnamed sources”: Journalists, of course, know the name of the source (as do editors) and such stories are corroborated with a second source to prevent misinformation from being given. Even if the sources give incorrect information, the story is not fake. It doesn’t seek to destroy character for pleasure or political aim. It conveys to the public information as given to the organization by a well-placed source(s).
Similarly, opinion pieces that analyze motive, outcome, or make commentary based on accepted facts are not fake news. They couldn’t be because they are opinions built off facts. Opinions can’t be fake and these stories are not portrayed as absolute fact. There’s a clear distinction between a journalistic piece and an opinion piece. One conveys facts and does not delve into subjective speculation; the other does. That people point to opinion pieces as evidence of a source being fake news shows our society is plagued by the morally and intellectually bankrupt.
And to that end, those who either mistakenly or purposefully accept fake news while dismissing actual news as fake for political ends – essentially what the president does on a daily basis – endangers political society. A Republic relies on a well-informed populace to make informed decisions when electing leaders. News organizations, the Fourth Estate, play an integral role in a Republic by supplying the electorate with needed information. Dismissing this information and encouraging others to do so as well means voters will make ill-informed decisions – especially when they satiate their appetite for news with sources that manipulate and lie. Ignorant voters opt for demagogues or other authoritarian inspired strongmen who act for sake of power and self-interest. That’s self-evident and it’s self-evident, too, that electing enemies of a Republic endangers the entire regime. History is our lesson: Democracy dies in darkness and an assault on knowledge and information spearheaded by the President of the United States and carried forth by millions of willing minions does not portend well for the future of our country.