Liberals and conservatives have rightly castigated the fake news that filled social media last year, during and after the election. The Russian campaign to influence voters is well-documented, acknowledged by both Parties, and now a matter of record, from the March 30 Senate hearings. (Fascinating television, btw. You should watch both parts) Macedonian websites did their damage with news that was too obnoxious to believe, yet blindly accepted by fearful voters.
But, not all of it was foreign. Many outlets, from Gateway Pundit to Infowars carved their niche in the digital news world with click-bait headlines, and rhetorical napalm meant to whip up the masses into a frenzy. There was an entire industry with no journalistic method, or integrity. They’ve been negligent for years, predating the election, but it grew noticeably worse the last couple of years. Our conservative media became a wild animal that suffers today.
During the three months leading up to the election, Buzzfeed noted that the top 20 real news stories were out-performed by the top 20 #FakeNews stories. More shares, likes, comments and overall engagement. That is simply astounding. And scary.
However, while pro-trump websites earned the #FakeNews hashtag last Fall, liberals have fallen into the same habits.
It takes effort to separate opinion from fact, and sniff out the difference between presumption and conclusion. And it’s a bipartisan phenomenon. Defending and promoting trump at all costs is no worse than hating him at all costs; telling the truth should be paramount, no matter the source, audience or results of it being told. But, arrogance needs to be fed to stay alive, and we lose our way when we give into it.
Liberal comic and self-endowed news pundit, Samantha Bee, appeared on Jake Tapper’s “The Lead” last week and defended herself, insisting the left doesn’t have a “smug liberal problem.” Oh really? She calls her show “catharsis,” and probably shocked her producers when she said, “I do the show for me and for people like me, and I don’t care how the rest of the world sees it quite frankly. That’s great. We make a show for ourselves. We put it out to the world. We birth it and then the world receives it however they want to receive it.”
If she believes that, she’s stupid. But, I don’t believe she does. She’s there to create ratings, generate revenue, and make a living. The smugness is a necessity. As Tapper pointed out, even a New York Times writer, Ross Douthat sees a danger in this attitude, where in a recent column, he identified Bee as the “embodiment” of “ascendant social liberalism” and described her as a “problem,” for the left, and the Democratic Party in particular. Denying it to Tapper was just playing a part. Perhaps she denies it because of the pretentious nature of the message she sells: “oh, don’t look at us while we have fun mocking people we disagree with.We’re just having the time of our lives, and you don’t have to be a part of it. BTW, we don’t care if you set your DVR’s to record our show.” (Note: sarcasm)
The reality is that both sides have this tendency, and today, that impulse is rapidly turned into clicks, and ad revenue. Our weaknesses are exploited by both sides of the debate, and fake news has proliferated on the left just as much the right. Unfortunately, with a free internet in a democratic society like ours, citizens will not seek out challenging news. Rather, they’ll more often dredge the swamp for news that verifies their biases.
Back in February, Robinson Meyer, of “The Atlantic” noted that if progressives are looking to be shocked, or angry, there’s a lot of options right now. Especially when some of us are out there sharing stories claiming President Obama banned the pledge of allegiance in public schools, that Pope Francis endorsed Donald trump, or that trump had dispatched his personal plane to save 200 starving Marines. Our conservative movement has looked like a clown car with a caboose of degenerate bloggers riding in the back.
While liberals are laughing hysterically about Kellyanne Conway’s #AlternativeFacts, they’re committing the same kind of negligence they’ve been criticizing. As Meyer said,
Now the left has its own panoply of wishful thinking. Twitter accounts purportedly operated by disgruntled government employees—@AltNatParSer, @RogueNASA, and the extra dubious @RoguePOTUSStaff—have swelled in number to become a shadow bureaucracy. Conspiratorially minded Medium posts insist to anyone who will read them that the real story of the Trump administration is even more layered and nefarious than it seems.Queen Elizabeth II didn’t actually say she could kill Donald Trump with a sword. And satirical news of poor quality has gotten passed around as a weird story more than once.
Meyer goes on to describe how the pro-Hillary website DailyNewsBin started out as a relatively harmless blog meant to counter negative stories about Clinton. But, after the election, the site’s proprietor, Bill Palmer renamed it “The Palmer Report,” pushing anti-trump stories. They take something either rumored or nominally true, add a flaming headline to it, and make something innocuous sound like the most scandalous story of the week. Meyer identifies Palmer’s tactic as “harmful.” If you can’t even maintain the respect of your own fellow trump critics in the press, you’ve got a major problem.
This may not play well with some of you as you read this, but… this is why I respect the free press. Yes, even those who are personally liberal. Journalism is a skill. It blends the science of investigation with the art of communication, and given the option of a free, or state-controlled press, I’ll take the former any day, regardless of how they vote. I can even handle a little “bias,” when it happens. What I don’t want is flat out fabrication. Remember that Dan Rather lost his job because of sloppy journalism. There IS some accountability with real journalism.
Believe it or not, it is possible for a liberal to desire truth, just as it is possible for a conservative to do the same. Of course, we’re flawed. But, we all are. And, if we are not careful, when we feed the monster of #FakeNews, on both the left and right, we are killing truth, and leaving democracy in the hands of those who can invent a better way to get us to click “share.”