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Fake News

Web posted on March 02, 2017

A Curmudgeon's View

By Les Enekes

There has been a lot of discussion down south about so called fake news and the news media in general. The situation seems to be getting worse all the time. The job of reporters should be to report the facts. It is up the editorial board to analyse the news and present their opinion. Those opinions become the editorials in a separate section of the publication. Those lines seem to get blurred these days with some media outlets.

Unfortunately these days news reporting has become like the Wild West. There are multitudes of "news sites" on the internet. Anyone with enough computer knowledge can set up a so called news web site. Once set up, they can put whatever they want on their web site and claim it is news. No fact checking required.

Then there are all the anti-social web sites out there. People can post whatever they want and call it news. We all know that everything that appears on the internet is absolute 100% true. Hello out there, it's time for a reality check. The amount of news we can access is amazing. The reliability is another story.

I find it hard to understand how anyone can be taken in by so called fake news if they take the time to check the story. Every morning I check the local news web sites. Next I go to several weather sites to see what it might be like outside. Then I check several aviation specific web sites. For world news I check four sites, CBC, Fox News, BBC, and NHK in Japan. They cover the political spectrum quite nicely, and have been around for a long time. It is interesting to note the differences in coverage. If a story is remarkable enough I will go to other sites for a look. I only check news media that existed before anti-social media oozed out of some dark corner of the internet.

I have never gone to any anti-social media web site to check for news. I have never gone to the place that sounds like a bunch of birds squawking. I get that outside my window almost every morning and their discussions show much more intelligence, and careful thought. I refuse to "follow" any site. That implies that I am a mindless sheep following the rear end of another mindless sheep. Perhaps a better example might be comparing it to lemmings heading for the precipice.

Unfortunately these days even the so called legitimate media can get caught by information circulating on the internet. They also seem to be able to take things out of context far too often. The news media in their collective haste to get breaking news to us have become lazy. It seems to be far more important to get something on the air, than it is to be accurate. Then all the media try to get as many "experts" as possible to analyse the event. In many cases there are far more "experts" on the air than actual reporters covering the story. All the news media then throw in their own political bias (real or imagined) leaving the facts and the truth to be lost in the noise of the coverage. Ever get the feeling that it's a race with the media to see who can get the most "experts" to talk, than it is to get the facts right. There have been many times that I have watched the coverage of news unfolding on different outlets and wondered if they were covering the same event.

Public figures in general and politicians in particular have to be careful what they say at all times. They should not assume that the microphones are turned off. They should not assume that things can be said off the record. Some politicians have raised the art of talking all day without saying anything meaningful to an art form, while others suffer from foot in mouth disease. Some politicians are lost without a script, others don't know what a script is.

In some ways I can understand why some politicians refer to the news media as the enemy. On the other hand, the battle between the news media and politicians has been around forever. Who has more credibility? Who do you trust more?

The stories about the boy who kept having alleged encounters with a wolf, and certain small barnyard fowl getting upset over something that fell from the sky, are more relevant than ever. The boy lost all credibility, and when the wolf came, well we all know the end of that story. We also know that it did not end well for the chicken and friends. Perhaps there are politicians out there who need some bedtime reading material.

It is very rare for me to comment immediately after an event. When I do, I only use the barest facts from the news media. I like to wait at least a week for the dust to settle. It's like reading the "black boxes" after a crash. It takes time, but you get the facts. It is my job to comment on the events, not to report on them.

Eye witness accounts can be least reliable source of information. Everyone sees what they want to see or expect to see. Police always take eye witness accounts with a grain of salt unless there is overwhelming agreement in witness statements.

Photos and videos can be doctored. It is just too easy to do in a digital age. Even in the analog age a skilled editor could change what was on an audio tape, but it took time. The same could be said for darkroom technicians, but only to a certain point. About the only thing that could not be doctored was original slide film.

The Millennial generation in particular and some others are willing to take anything they see on their digital communication device at face value. An overwhelming majority of those people will accept whatever they see without checking for a second or third source.

My grade 13 history teacher had an excellent way of making sure that we checked our facts and could back them up. No matter what topic we were discussing, he would tell us that he "wasn't there, and didn't see it" and that we had to prove it in as many ways as possible.

It is more important than ever for the news media to be able to prove what they are saying. It is also important for us not to accept what we are being presented without doing some of our research. If it sounds too good to be true, check the source, then look around to see what others are reporting.

One more thing, fake news has been around for a long time. It just had a different format. We all saw it every time we stood in line at the grocery check out. The big difference is we knew where to find it, and we knew what it was. The people screaming the loudest about fake news probably never had to stand in line at the supermarket.


Les Enekes can be reached directly by owl. For those not owl equipped, he can be reached at news@thefountainpen.com

The views of columnists in The Fountain Pen do not necessarily represent the views of the principals of the publication.


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