Almost every day on public radio or public television, I hear reports about how fake news is undermining our democracy.
These high-minded reporters and anchors seem truly to believe that a feverish menace is overwhelming the minds of once-sensible people.
This story is itself fake news for several obvious reasons.
We’ve never had more good information than we have now; people are as well-informed as they want to be. There will always be outlets purveying lies; that is the nature of communication. And the insistence on the “fake news” issue is an effort to assign Trump’s victory not to those who brought it to us (the electorate, and the incompetence of the Clinton campaign) but on some nefarious agents.
The fact that we have more and better information today than ever almost goes without saying. When I started in the news business more than 40 years ago, few reporters carried tape recorders, largely because they worked for a guild and were never subject to correction. Today there are countless outlets, thanks to the internet, and important events are almost always recorded. The amount of data we have on public figures is vast compared to even ten years ago.
We can all argue about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing; but we are today awash in information. That information is more reliable than it has ever been before. My own work on Palestine and the Israel lobby has shown me that global consumers can get more accurate information about that conflict than they’ve ever had. Yes, as we assert here all the time, the mainstream US media is in the tank for Israel; but it’s not as if better information is not available at your fingertips, much of it from Europe and Palestine, often citizen video.
Before the internet, alternative sources were much harder to obtain. You had to subscribe to journals, or go to Hotaling’s newsstand in Times Square for out-of-town papers. The best example is sports. I had to hope the newsstand had the late edition of the Times, or that the Times carried the box score for my hometown team. Today I can find out any score and see videos of my team’s performance in an instant. And the destruction of the guilds by the internet has brought us sharp commentators who would never had access to the media traditionally (like this tweeter I turn to every morning to get the score).
“Do you trust everything you read on social media?” an ad for WNYC radio asks. They used to say the same thing about newspapers when I was a kid! The idea that information used to be a clean pool before all the clever internet liars arrived is a delusion on the part of entitled reporters of the fake news storyline. Storytelling is...