As President Donald Trump is inclined to do, he frequently comments and tweets about “fake news.” This most often upsets the news media, which maintains they do not indulge in fake news.
That, of course, is sharply debated by a large faction, those who are the targets of, or suffer from, those news stories. Some events are more useful than others in demonstrating how crazy some of these tales really are. For this noble purpose the fates have provided the celebrity bright light Jussie Smollett, who is called the “star” of a less-than-well-known TV show called “Empire.”
For those who may not know the gory details, when the story first broke, Smollett had reported that he was attacked about 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 in a Chicago neighborhood by two people who yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him, tied a rope around his neck, and poured a chemical substance on him, which he believed was bleach. Smollett said at least one assailant told him “this is MAGA country” during the alleged attack, as reported by The Washington Post.
He then appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to further expound upon the racial and homophobic nature of the attack, to assert that the seriousness of the event was not being fully acknowledged by the public, and then proceeded to insult everyone who did not immediately rise to his cause.
However, Chicago police have discovered a substantial amount of evidence supporting the position that the reported hate crime was really a hoax. This evidence is sufficient to have caused the police to charge Smollett with a crime. The “Empire” bright light now looks like a dim bulb.
Even some of the left’s more dependable critics of all things not-liberal condemned Smollett, and others have moved from their previous joyous and unbounded support to a neutral “let’s wait and see’” position.
In the coming days, weeks and months, this story will play out, hopefully getting as much attention as the initial media-friendly story of racist Trumpsters attacking a gay black man in a troubled Chicago neighborhood in the middle of a 20-degree February night.
If there is anything good to come from this, it’s that is it is no longer a tale of horrible racism committed by Trump supporters. Given that a neutral body, the Chicago PD, has put the charge of racism to rest, and put a truthful perspective on this event, it opens the door to demonstrating other false narratives promoted by supposed victims of discrimination.
Many “fake news” stories are automatically accepted as fact without adequate vetting, or because they fit a particular narrative, or both. A few examples are:
** At Drake University, several students were targeted in racist notes this past December. The notes were, in fact, written by one of the students targeted in the notes.
** In the now infamous incident, Covington Catholic High School students in Washington, DC for a pro-life rally were blamed for hassling Native American Nathan Phillips. The disruption turned out to be caused by Phillips, a known troublemaker.
** A liberal journalist for Mic.com was fed a story about a Native American being harassed by a Trump supporter, but it was never confirmed … because it was a hoax.
** Reported hate crimes directed at Muslims, blacks and a bisexual student in different states recently were all later revealed to be hoaxes.
All of these examples were taken as truth and reported before their lack of credibility came to light. Real journalists practicing real journalism could have saved everyone affected by these false stories a lot of grief, had they done their jobs in the required way.
Much of – perhaps most of – the news media reveals itself to be biased toward certain topics – like racism, homophobia, anti-Islamism – and biased against other topics – like Donald Trump, conservatives, and white people, particularly men.
Among way too much of the news media new standards have replaced the traditions of truth, objectivity, fairness, due diligence and balance. The new standards seem to be: Getting it out fast is better than getting it out right; assuming truth is better than finding truth; and inches and minutes of ad sales, and mouse clicks, are foremost.
News should be news and opinion should be opinion and never the twain shall meet. That is a rule that is these days routinely broken. This represents a true crisis that has rendered news journalism a profoundly tattered and broken profession.
When President Trump calls bad news “fake news,” and when he says that purveyors of dishonest news are the “enemy of the people,” he is reacting to what the purveyors of these stories have created for themselves.
When the American people are deliberately misinformed by the very voice upon which they depend for essential information, how is that different from the work of propagandists?
Rather than reacting to the revealing of their corruption as a wake-up call, many of them merely issue denials, and keep traveling the same road.
Few things in life ever match their ideals, but news journalism has fallen to an historic low. The question now is: Can news journalism ever re-earn the trust of the American people?