Isherwood Column: Fake news
By Justin Isherwood
Fake News has become a political football. To no wonder, in the age of internet and millions of blog sites, that we might get confused of what is real and what is fake.
The classics of fake news are well-known. Media sources utilized fake news as their bread and butter for generations to sell copy. The checkout lanes of every grocery and merchandise are yet equipped with these delicious and lurid of headlines: “Hillary delivers alien child,”
“President Trump related to (take your pick – Jesus, Neanderthal, Caesar.”) At the soul of every writer resides the secret job of copy writing for National Enquirer, to write fiction as if it mattered. Saturday Night Live works on the same principle as National Enquirer, if generally the parody is understood. Fake News and war making have long been necessary and fundamental allies. Making enemies of ordinary people requires a generous and deft treatment of propaganda.
Humanity has often been poured into conflicts whose combatants had no real grudge, instead aroused to commit generous murder by the persuasive power of fake news. Fake news fueled the Inquisition, filled the slave ships, established the concentration camps, committed Indian resettlement, fired the witch trials. Pick any war, it came equipped with the exquisite and deliberate power of fake news.
Fake news is designed to corrupt, its version of reality is the pure joy of fiction. Literature is of course the exact same thing as fake news, except literature has a conscience. Moby Dick didn’t happen, neither did Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Huckleberry Finn, but they aroused a moral perspective fake news never attempts.
Journalism has metrics and accountability; fake news skips these ingredients.
Headlines sell newspapers. Historically newspapers have often sensationalized the facts to sell copy. The term yellow journalism was coined to reflect the jaundice of such reporting. When it comes to fake news a certain amount of forgiveness is required. Artistic license at stake. Who after all gets their facts right all the time? Digital media has diametrically expanded our publishing world; it seems that everyone can be an author and/or journalist – some more credible than others.
As any author knows, a certain amount of gamesmanship is involved in getting read; perhaps mischief is an analogous word. Maybe we need to think of fake news as the First Amendment to the Nth degree. Unfortunately the result is up to the individual citizen to sort out, which requires a specialized sense of reasonableness.
As citizens, we too often don’t take the time and effort to be well-informed, well-read, which is the essential mechanism how fake news gets threshed and winnowed as to its truth, by citizens doing their job of being literate.
Fake news can be funny, culturally exciting, it can be SNL, the Onion, the National Enquirer. Fake news can even be literature. Fake news at the wrong time and the wrong reason can cripple a nation, worse, it can cripple a conscience.