There Is No Fake News – It’s Either News Or Not

When you are discussing something as vital as information then the exactness of words is an important thing to consider, and fake news, while it may be a trending term, and the favorite buzzword of a few very loud demagogues, is a phrase that is so flabby that it allows it to be misapplied all over the place. Fake news is the ALL CAPS slogan that gets slapped on news stories that promote a viewpoint that you don’t agree with. It is hard to have a conversation when the other party has a loudhailer.

It is odd that Facebook is worried about tackling Infowars on the grounds that they have promoted fake news, whilst calling a conference to promote Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news. Is it merely because Alex Jones and his site are popular with a number of people? Does being popular over-rule your obligation to spread accurate news if you claim to be a news service? Obviously the narrative at the moment is that you can’t trust anyone in the mainstream media, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should start taking for gospel the angry and strained voices of those on the fringes.

Propaganda is defined as information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. So it is intentionally misleading with a desire to create a certain effect. In no way is it being claimed that every single news story out there escapes this definition, but it changes category as soon as it does. Fake news is a weird hybird category that blurs the boundaries between the two in a way that alternative facts does.

The problem with which journalism is currently dealing really stems from the fact that there has been a drastic shift in the way that stories are constructed and are reported on, where talking heads and opinions hold reign, and objective reporting has fallen by the wayside. Everyone can have an opinion, and no matter how wrong-headed the thinking is behind it, it can still be argued that someone has the right to hold it. Facts are not as pliable – opinions about how facts may be interpreted are not facts, and theories that seek to use data in a certain way aren’t facts. If the data set upon which you are relying is so elastic that it can basically be used to prove anything you want to prove, then the data set is really not definitive, and might more accurately be called information, but doesn’t really qualify as facts, which are incontrovertible.

To Uncover Propaganda We Need To Be More Rigorous In Defending Good Journalism

Reports based on sample data are not perfect, because the data has to be interpreted. If the facts speak for themselves then why is there disagreement what they mean? That suggests you are looking at something else – data gathered by asking a certain set of questions, designed to garner a certain response, in order that a certain stance may be adopted and legitimized by exit polls or some such, but they are not on the order of, if I throw this ball up in the air it will come back down because of the effect of gravity. It is not of the order that one carbon molecule and two oxygen molecules combined together make carbon dioxide.

Opinion Journalism became the mirror image of the political system it was designed to provide checks and balances on. When it was struggling to present the facts, before most news divisions were brought under the umbrella of ratings-driven entertainment departments, back before every preening news presenter interposed themselves as being the more important focus than the facts of the story – back then journalism was something that could be celebrated. Nixon was exposed – and scandals that had far reaching consequences were handled. Three sources, an unbiased and impersonal voice, differing viewpoints presented, and reliance on facts versus opinions – these were the recipe for good journalism.

Politicians have never been noted for their reliance on facts. Politicians are orators. Campaign promises are pipe dreams that no one accepts as any real indication of anything that is going to happen. Facts, if they were the basis of CNN and Fox, might elide the difference between the two – and then we might be looking at just how well they present the truth. But what both these major news outlets are, is reinforcement of the echo chamber that has buried people under their Facebook walls and drowned them with their Twitter Streams, and stop them from going anywhere near a challenging conversation at the water cooler. If you have an opinion that is not open to challenge then you do not have a solid fighting stance and you will be wooden against any debating opponent is even the slightest bit more adaptable and willing to learn than you are.

When opinions rule the roost and reliance on facts is reduced to a minimal role, politicians and journalists are on the same level playing field, and there is no checking and balancing taking place. Journalists are down in the trench with politicians fighting, where, if they had struggled to maintain their objectivity they would be up above the fighting, and able to see the bigger picture.

If a journalist were merely to report what someone had said, and to not interject a single opinion into the piece, and believed that his audience were intelligent enough to make their own judgment he would be doing a lot to restore journalism to its proper purpose.

Opinion columnists used to be filed in a different box in the magazine, and their role was clearly defined. If I research a story and give it to you in such a way that you can read it and decide which viewpoint is more valid I have done my job. If I tell you what to think and never really reveal why thinking that way makes more sense then I do you a disservice, and I fail to report; I am not a reporter.

Opinion edges closer to propaganda, and more often than not seeks to persuade by force. Journalism seeks to persuade by facts.

No facts = no journalism

No facts = no news

No news = propaganda or opinion

Opinion = no news

News informs and educates.

Propaganda seeks to steer an audience to a particular conclusion.