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The Truth Will Set You Free

“Fake News” from an 1894 illustration by Frederick Burr Opper

PBS Newshour reports that only “11% of Republicans and 37% of Democrats say they trust National media organizations.” In 2017 the term “fake news” was used 174 times in tweets by President Trump. Perhaps that’s why?

Wikipedia defines fake news as “a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership, online sharing, and Internet click revenue.”

By such a definition, many think that much of Fox “News” should qualify as fake, but instead, last week President Trump had his own list of “fake news” awards¬†for the New York Times, ABC News, CNN, Washington Post and Newsweek. Some inaccurate reports by these media have been acknowledged as a mistake, which is different than fake.

Now the Pope is warning the world against “fake news’ and likens it to the “crafty serpent” in Genesis in his 2108 World Communications Day Message: Fake news “has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests… It appeals to the insatiable greed so easily aroused in human beings. The economic and manipulative aims that feed disinformation are rooted in a thirst for power, a desire to possess and enjoy, which ultimately makes us victims of something much more tragic: the deceptive power of evil that moves from one lie to another in order to rob us of our interior freedom.”

On the one hand, there clearly are some malicious deceptions intended to increase online advertisement revenue and foreign attempts to influence political elections. Facebook and other social media have been implicated in spreading fake news and are changing their focus in response to such criticism.

On the other hand, there are “alternative facts” and other untruths coming from politicians and political-opinion-personalities on cable TV who masquerade as purveyors of objective, unbiased news.¬†Those who regularly watch Fox News “live inside an entirely different worldview bubble” than those who get their news from the PBS Newshour and NPR! And how does one label the deliberate attempt by some members of Congress and the White House to discredit the integrity of our Justice Department and Special Counsel investigating possible Russian collusion? It’s an orchestrated “cycle of distraction.” Shouldn’t we just call this all yellow journalism or propaganda?

The Pope is imploring a “rediscovering the dignity of journalism and the personal responsibility of journalists to communicate the truth.” Unfortunately, I expect the dignity of journalism will not be rediscovered until the Oval Office is occupied by someone with more respect, restraint, decorum and humanity, appropriate to the high office of President of the United States, instead of someone who cries “fake news” as a counter-punch to divert attention. In the opinion of most people I know, journalists are not the problem!

Thank you, to the majority of professional journalists who have the courage to speak truth to power, in spite of continued insults from those currently in power who attempt to distort truth. And thank you Snopes and Poynter.

Neiman Labs publishes weekly Real News About Fake News.

RAND Corporation just released a 300-page report entitled Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life.

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts” – Patrick Moinahan


The Truth Will Set You Free – John 8:32