There is no such thing as “fake news.” There’s “news,” and there’s “hoax.” Do not demean news by calling it fake, and do not dignify hoax by calling it news. The challenge for all of us in these days of cybermania is to distinguish between news and hoax.
The challenge becomes more difficult when we have a fake president, a fake Congress, and a fake Cabinet. (And we’re working on a fake Supreme Court, a court that leans more toward emotion and tradition than toward intellect and analysis.)
You can tell that the current version of a government institution is “fake” when it does not accomplish what the Constitution says it is supposed to accomplish. The president makes a lot of noise, but he doesn’t accomplish much – at least little of what he is supposed to accomplish. Most of his acts are fake. He meets privately with the dictator of North Korea and claims he accomplished something, but a few weeks later North Korea is still testing long-range missiles. He makes a big deal of imposing tariffs on our friends, then quietly backs down when the threatened tariffs prove negative for both this nation and friendly nations.
Congress has not accomplished much of significance for years. They talk endlessly about immigration laws, but nothing happens. The Constitution charges Congress with passing an annual budget, but Congress has not passed a real budget in decades, and Congress hasn’t passed a balanced budget for more than 50 years (with one exception during the Clinton years). Like so many other congressional responsibilities, budget-making is illusionary, fake.
Hundreds of positions in the executive branch remain unfilled, including important ambassadorships. It’s like fielding a baseball team with six players instead of nine. Today’s shortage of team members means our nation is bound to lose more than we win. America’s half empty government is make-believe, fake.
These important institutions generate much of the news. But because the institutions are dysfunctional, the news often appears unusual, inappropriate, outrageous. Reality is so bizarre that it becomes hard to believe. The truth seems so weird that it tempts careless citizens to doubt the messenger.
News is, by definition, the unusual. We don’t report on the daily routine. But when elected leaders act in ways no leaders have acted before, those actions become newsworthy. When a president governs by tweet, it becomes newsworthy. When a Congress refuses to deal with critical issues, it become newsworthy. When Cabinet officers shift into reverse instead of moving the nation forward, it becomes newsworthy. Such actions are not hoaxes; they’re real
The best way to distinguish news from hoax is to look at the source. News is gathered and disseminated by professionals. Hoax is manufactured by liars and disseminated by fools. News is sometimes uncomfortable; it does not always fit one’s biases and prejudices. Hoax, by design, appeals to bias and stokes prejudice. Good journalists believe the motto of journalism’s honor society – truth will prevail. Perpetrators of hoax believe repeated lies overwhelm truth.
Journalists are committed to the search for truth. Do they always succeed? Of course not. But that does not diminish the importance of the search.
Some misguided people say: “No news is good news.” Not true! No news leaves a vacuum too often filled by hoax. And as we are learning in these troubled times, that may be the worst news of all.
Don Gale’s comments are not news; they’re opinion. His thoughts are based on a lifetime of listening to news, reading news, studying news and searching for truth.