Following on the heels of Donald Trump's election as President of the United States, the intelligentsia is up in arms about "fake news." It was "fake news," apparently, that cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 presidential election, depriving her of her divine right to lead the people of the United States. It was her turn, after all. Dammit!
Now, there is very real concern that real people can't tell the difference between "real news" and "fake news."
It's a valid concern. Not because there is so much "fake news" out there, but because there is no "real news" anywhere.
The real problem is that pretty much all news these days is fake.
I'm not saying it's always fabricated in a room somewhere with the blatant and malicious intent to deceive -- but it is, nonetheless, very often misleading, prejudiced, intentionally or inadvertently deceptive and agenda-driven.
Take, for example, these bits of evidence gathered with nary an iota of effort:
- The Washington Post slams Trump for "bogus claims" that millions of Americans voted illegally. The Post's appointed "honest broker" and "fact checker" Glenn Kessler asserts "this is a bogus claim with no documented proof." When asked where their information came from, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller said: The Washington Post. The Post had published a 2014 piece called "Could non-citizens decide the November election?" Their conclusion? Yes, they could. In fact "6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008," reported the Post.
- A very long, but very interesting commentary in Current Affairs lists these and a number of other occasions the Post has fallen short of differentiating between "real" and "fake" news. And, in an opinion piece published in Post itself, columnist Barton Swain argues that it's the "real news" media, itself, that has spawned the most damning examples of "fake news."
- img_6917It's not just about Donald Trump, nor is it just in the United States. John Lancaster, a highly respected investigative journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation regularly covers the political goings-on at Toronto's City Hall. In fact, he revealed two very damning stories about city councillors Giorgio Mammoliti and David Shiner in 2013. Stories, that I've repeatedly pointed to and asked why no one at City Hall requested the Integrity Commissioner investigate. Perhaps, because people at City Hall have their own skeletons to hide. Perhaps, because they believe Lancaster's reportage is "fake news." My own opinion softened Tuesday when Lancaster let slip his own prejudices in a Tweet. Lancaster is entitled to his opinion. But, by expressing it publicly, he loses credibility as a purveyor of fact. "Only their constituents should pay the3.6 Billion to fix the highway" is his biased interpretation of the meaning behind those who oppose road tolls. It is NOT something they said. He's expressing his opinion, informed by his biases, and prejudging their intent. That is my job as a columnist, a commentator and a general muckraker - but I'm not a journalist. It's not supposed to be Lancaster's job as a reporter of fact. He's supposed to be part of the "real news" industry - not a manufacturer of "fake news." In a Twitter conversation that followed, Lancaster demonstrated he clearly doesn't understand the difference.
- The Toronto Star and many media outlets have been running "shocking" stories about the rampant increase in pedestrian deaths on the streets of Toronto. This focus has spurred the city's leaders, including Mayor John Tory, to vow rapid and decisive action to fix the problem. City Council has approved an80 million program to eliminate pedestrian fatalities - a program that, according the Star, may not do nearly enough to stem the carnage. The biggest problem with this public safety disaster, however, is that it isn't real. Actual numbers of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents are down - not up. And, when population growth and the increase in walking due to community design are factored in, data from Toronto Public Health shows the rate of pedestrian injuries and death have been steadily declining for a decade. The "real news" media, intentionally or inadvertently, are faking the news.
"Now, we have news organizations such as CBC -- and every other -- relying more and more on commentary because it's cheaper. And, frankly, it's much more interesting and certainly more entertaining."
The problem, of course, is that the "real news" industry hasn't been about "real news" for a long time.
Not since the early days of CNN and the very first "Gulf War" when anchors were pressed to fill 24 hours of live coverage of events where few facts were available. So, "commentary," "analysis" and "opinion" were used to fill in the gaps.
And, after two or three 10-minute news cycles, what started as "conjecture" became accepted as "likely" and formed the basis for new "analysis."
Every snowfall is a "blizzard" these days. Every rainfall demands a "special weather statement" from the government weather service and "Storm Team Coverage" of a "Rain Storm Warning."
Every hot day is evidence of impending global disaster due to global warming -- because, it's the "hottest day in 60 years!" Which, when you think about it for just a second, means the weather was hotter 60 years ago. So, no big apocalyptic change. But, who has time to think for a second when the Perfect. Storm. Is. Coming!!!
Now, we have news organizations such as CBC -- and every other -- relying more and more on commentary because it's cheaper. And, frankly, it's much more interesting and certainly more entertaining.
Yet, it is increasingly presented with little or no separation from what is supposed to be "fact." CBC's marquee news product The National relies heavily on the analysis of talking heads on its "At Issue" panel. They're insightful and entertaining, but they're not delivering facts. They're presenting entertaining opinion. And yet, they'll eat up 1/4 of the hour long "real news" broadcast.
It's no wonder, then, that average consumers of information no longer distinguish between 60 Minutes and The Daily Show. They're both delivering the same thing: Opinion and entertainment thinly disguised as news.
There is no real news anymore.
Also on HuffPost:
Follow Mark Towhey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/towhey