“The lyin’ liberal media!”
“You can’t trust that liberal media!”
“It’s the media’s fault!”
You hear this all the time, right? I can’t even begin to count how often I hear, read, and have people look me in the eye and say this. It’s just become a mantra.
And what the mind does with a mantra is make it true.
But my question always is: Which media? What sources are you reading/listening to/watching? The “media” is not a homogenous group.
Leading up to this election, the amount of lies shared on social media was startling. Shocking would be more apropos. Just after the election, the Today show aired a segment about misinformation shared on FB, and how it allowed fake news to reach millions of people.
Traditional news sources followed suit with similar stories all over the place.
Couple that with all the fake news on social media, and the implication is more than a bit scary.
Doesn’t it frighten you?
Stories that went viral (and have been repeated to me ad nauseum) about issues as diverse as gay wedding vans, Obama invalidating the election (which then even morphed into his intention to become dictator), and the ban of the national anthem were, guess what? All made up—and by the same man.
Paul Horner, the genius behind a Facebook fake-news empire, makes his living off viral news hoaxes. He convinced the Internet that he’s British graffiti artist Banksy. He also published the fake news of a Yelp vs. “South Park” lawsuit last year, which went viral.
And he makes a ton of money doing so.
But that was then, and of course, this is now. Through this election, Horner found a huge audience for his fake news. And found it far broader reaching.
“Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.”
Did you get that? The person who duped millions of people with fake news just called those citizens dumb.
Often I ask folks where they get their news. Especially when they quote to me such stories (which happens quite a bit).
“I do my research,” is the most repeated answer.
And almost every time, I get in return a blank stare.
I was talking with a friend a while back, who literally said, “I don’t have time to research. I get my information from FB, and from (insert whichever slanted cable news channel here).” And then she railed about the “media.”
Do you see the irony?
Blame the “media” for one’s own lack of information?
Couple that with half of the country mistrusting government and institutions in general, and no wonder the major news organizations have been caught square in the crosshairs.
But does that make them lying cheats?
This maligning of the media has always been with us, to some extent. A century ago, writers penned exposes of corruption in business and government, arousing public opinion and helping spur Progressive-Era reforms. Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 called them muckrakers, after the Man with the Muck-rake in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.
The point being, when reputable sources publish stories that don’t reflect well on one side, or harm their agendas, that side calls them liars.
Newspapers came to prominence in the first place in order to be the watchdogs of business and government. You know—to keep them from running roughshod over the citizens’ interest.
Now, full disclosure here—I was once a journalist. I was a reporter and then editor of my university newspaper. I worked for the local city paper as well.
I cut my teeth in the era of Woodward and Bernstein. Don’t you shudder to think where we would be without them?
So when the “liberal media” label gets slapped onto traditional news sources, well, even that gets murky when you look inside them.
Reporters, by their very natures, are idealists. Out for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. That just comes with the territory as to even do the job, you have to be motivated by “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say. Otherwise, no one would work those insane hours for such little pay.
And I can promise that the vast majority of reporters (and all the ones I knew), were out for the truth. It was drilled into us that truth was the only thing of importance. And our jobs depended on getting it right.
Editors at traditional news sources aren’t quite as starry eyed. They’re older, more seasoned, somewhat jaded. And guess what? They make sure all facts are checked. And not only that, but that sources are vetted and curated and cross-checked as well. That they can prove what they print. Their jobs depend upon it.
And publishers themselves? Well, they’re quite conservative (almost all are, anyway). Because their concern is the bottom line—dollars and cents. You aren’t a publisher in the traditional sense unless you have big bucks to begin with. And if what they publish isn’t provably true, the cost can be in the millions.
So, it’s tough to even slap one label on any individual news outlet.
For each rung on the above ladder, however, the truth matters. Libel is very real. And the funny thing about folks saying a newspaper is lying about them? I’m not seeing libel lawsuits filed . . . Because libel actually has to be proven.
Do some outlets have a leaning bias? Yes. But then, if you read them often, you keep that in mind. This plays out in which stories are run, however, not in how those stories are written. The truth and facts and threat of libel keep all reputable news outlets in line.
Cable news networks are often entirely biased (and have their share of made-up stuff). But you know that, right? You know if you watch Fox News, you’re going to get a conservative bias. On MSNBC, a liberal slant.
But you know that when you turn them on, right?
Does that mean all reporting is biased?
That’s a big fat no.
Wonderful, legitimate media is out there. In-depth investigative reporting—you know the old-fashioned kind, where vetting facts actually matters.
The thing is, in today’s climate of blaming all institutions (throw the bastards out!), huge numbers of people have gotten confused by what’s real, fact-checked news and what’s fake.
With the Internet and social media, that’s really easy to do.
In September, Newsweek published an in-depth, investigative, lengthy, well-researched article entitled: “How the Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security”
The story was written by Kurt Eichenwald, a New York Times bestselling author of three books. He previously worked for twenty years at the Times as an investigative reporter, columnist and senior writer. He is a two-time winner of the George Polk Award for excellence in journalism and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2000 and 2002.
In other words, this isn’t some guy writing fake news from his basement, slapping it on his own website, and posting it on FB.
This is a long-time respected journalist, for whom the truth is paramount. His story is footnoted, his facts are checked.
Now, my point in this is not anything about Trump or the election. But rather, the reaction on social media to it.
A FB friend posted this story, and I’m still shocked by the responses. Many of which circled right back to my opening of this post:
“You can’t trust the liberal lying media!”
Newsweek. The liberal lying media.
Can you see where we might have gotten a hair off track here?
Yes, fake news abounds these days.
And there are tons of television and radio shows making up stuff all the time. I mean, Rush Limbaugh even calls himself an entertainer. I listen to him now and then, chiefly to hear what spin I’m then going to then be hearing from people wide and far.
Suffice to say, Limbaugh never lets a fact get in his way.
And he’s by no means alone.
The main point here being, the standard: It’s the media’s fault! is only true if you let it be. Good, hard-hitting, fact-filled journalism is out there. It’s all of our responsibilities to find it, rather than listening to the talking head of our choice . . .
And yep, real news isn’t as sexy as sensationalized, made-up stuff. People are far less likely to click on a story about their local city council dealing with waste-water issues as opposed to the latest celebrity scandal.
But what’s more worthy of your time?
That old adage holds true—perhaps even more so today with the lightning speed of social media:
“A lie circles the globe 3 times before the truth has a chance to get started.”
Don’t be a victim of those lies. Don’t be a victim of someone telling you what to think.
Don’t let someone else’s mantra teach you that a lie is true.
The world won’t change unless we do. An informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
Be informed. Do your own research, via reputable sources. Think for yourself. Make up your own mind.
Be the solution.
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.