I Feel a Social Commentary Coming On.

And now, fake news.

An article claims that, when asked “How often do you think news sources report news they know to be fake, false or purposely misleading?”, 72% of respondents said A lot/sometimes.

The article about the survey is headlined:

92 Percent of Republicans Think Media Intentionally Reports Fake News.

It’s become a joke. You’re riding in a packed elevator, when the air is filled with a truly gag-worthy stink cloud. The likely culprit? The smart-ass who quips “Okay, who farted?”

The irony may be reaching toxic levels, but it makes me smile.

The thing is that, despite its own spin, the Axios article did a service by talking about it. What did the survey results actually say? That when asked the above question, 72%, nearly three in four Americans surveyed, answered A lot/sometimes. Yes, 92% of Republicans, but also 53% of Democrats and 79% of Independents.

But Axios spun even this: the actual question asked was “How often do you think that traditional major news sources report news they know to be fake, false or purposely misleading?” (Italics mine). The spin may have been accidental. Traditional major news sources implicates FOX, CNN, MSNBC, etc, but leaves direct-to-internet and other newer sources like Axios off the hook, but further into the article Axios uses the correct wording.

Something else pointed out from the survey; just about half of all respondents who answered A lot/sometimes use Google Search to verify facts they think are questionable.

This is good. It says we’re becoming smarter about using all of the information resources we now have at our fingertips (literally). It’s a habit I’ve been cultivating myself, although it mostly comes up in the context of Facebook. Ah, Facebook, the ultimate purveyor of fake quotes, fake memes, fake news, true head-banging stuff. If I come across something I think is stinky on my Facebook feed, and have a few minutes, I do a search about it. If it turns out to be true, well awesome, my world is expanded and my assumptions checked. If it turns out to be faked, I may drop a corrective link in the comments while leaving this:

Bullshit Is Bad

I think of it as the Bullshit Award. I don’t award it to entries I think are “spun” wrong or biased; I give it to entries that are wrong on the facts. It mostly goes to viral memes.

This hardly makes me an infallible diviner of Truth, of course. I’m sure there are Facebook posts I just see and nod at because they confirm my biases without obviously insulting my intelligence; they don’t trigger my skepticism. I think this is why fewer Democrats than Republicans said A lot/sometimes on the survey question.

So, what should be done about this?

Trick question. The correct question is, should anything be done about this? The answer is no. Not just no, but Oh Hell no. at least not politically. We already have libel laws and the absolute last thing we need is a Ministry of Truth. We do need to continue on with the solutions we’ve been developing; fact-checkers and a personal willingness to question what we read and even see. As a society we are beginning to develop pretty effective BS-meters. Yes we’re often hypocritical, calling out the other guy’s farts while ignoring our own, but we usually fess up when called out on our own. And although lies can spread pretty fast on the internet, they also leave a record; you can learn pretty fast which news sources are reliable or reliably stinky. You learn who to ride the elevator with.

Marion G. Harmon






5 thoughts on “I Feel a Social Commentary Coming On.

  1. Very good points on your essay. I am not in the news business anymore because most of the people who are reporting aren’t careful enough to fact-check. Back in the 1980s, the ones who worked with me were not aware of the workings of the Constitution. They did not know who the local legislators were or who the aldermen or judges were. I was one out of 88 people in my college class who took political science classes, political ideology classes and international studies. I am glad i am out of the news business. I would rather write books!

  2. Well, liberals/democrats/whatever you want to label them have known that conservative media (Primarily Fox News but also all the other stuff like Info Wars) lie nonstop because the Daily Show has been calling them on it for 20 years. I assume conservatives assumed all non-conservative media lies, not because they have well researched sources to constantly prove it, but because the right seems skilled in dismissing anything ideologically inconvenient, be it political or scientific.

    So yeah it’s no surprise everyone thinks the media lies, but a far more useful poll would be to see how many people think the other side’s media lies, and how reliable they think their own sides’ media is.

    1. That’s a little biased, don’t you think? The left know right-wing news sources lie because the Daily Show calls them on it, while the right thinks left-wing news sources lie because . . . they don’t fact-check? Personally, I’ve seen plenty of “fake, false or purposely misleading” news stories from both sides over the years. There are sites you can go to that try and impartially rate different news sources for their objectivity. They all pretty much agree that every news source gets it wrong sometimes but some are better at maintaining objectivity than others (and some don’t advertise themselves as objective at all).

      Here’s one shot at it: http://www.allgeneralizationsarefalse.com/the-chart-version-3-0-what-exactly-are-we-reading/

      Punditfact has a system where it rates news sources (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN) for accuracy based on aggregates of their fact-checked stories. While Punditfact gives FOX the lowest rating (only 41% of stories true, mostly true, or half-true), CBS scores a mere 54%. CNN scores highest, but still with only 3/4ths of its stories falling into the true, mostly true, or half-true category. Note: Punditfact is Politifact, and Politifact is rated as doing much of its fact-checking through media sources (81%) rather than outside sources, with about 15% of fact-check verdicts rated as “opinion over facts” by realclearpolitics. It’s still one of the better sources.

      1. Hah, I didn’t realize this actually posted. Couldn’t remember my wordpress password. Went through a whole thing.

        I suppose it probably is biased because I’ve spent the last 20 years watching the Daily Show take apart Fox News and more recently other hyper conservative garbage dumps like Info Wars. That sort of coverage has left me with little interest in checking out any of their content.

        Also it seems like conservative news sources have a lot more to lie about. I mean, when 99+% of scientists say that anthropogenic climate change is a thing, Democrats go “Ohh, hey we should probably do something about that.” whereas conservative politicians say that all scientists are wrong and try and dismantle the EPA and remove the words “climate change” from government websites.

        Now I don’t doubt for a moment that most of the big news sources care far more about ratings and getting a story first than they do about two independent sources and accuracy. I’m not suggesting that CNN or MSNBC are paragons of responsible reporting, just that places like Fox News, in addition to doing the ratings cha cha like all the others, have an ideological agenda to push, which is why their accuracy is predictably lower than all the others.

      2. Infowars is certainly an easy target, and of course The Blaze, The Daily Caller, etc. (and we won’t even talk about Breitbart). But so is the Daily Show, Occupy Democrats, etc. CNN skews liberal, and MSNBC skews hyper-liberal (although not quite as hyper-liberal as FOX is hyper-conservative). But I never listen to news-shows anymore, anyway. Instead I like to get my primary information from AP, Reuters, BBC, PBS, The Economist, etc, and my commentary from a mixed bag of right to left sites like The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, National Review, Reason.com, and the Washington Times. I find that realclearpolitics.com is a great news/commentary aggregating site for bringing it all together.

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