Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

In previous articles, I wrote about the difference between Fake News and fake journalism. The two, I showed, are inseparable in practice. However, they are indeed separate concepts.

Fake News is the final product, the end or outcome produced by fake journalists. The latter derive their identity as fake journalists from the considerations that motivate them to produce Fake News.

That a story contains assertions that are false does not suffice to render it Fake News.  Honest mistakes, after all, are a part of life.  Those false statements that constitute Fake News are those whose falsity could have been discerned had their producers and disseminators performed their due diligence.  These are false statements that the manufacturers of Fake News either wanted to believe themselves or wanted for others to belief.

Nor, for that matter, does Fake News necessarily preclude the inclusion of assertions that are true.  However, for deceptive purposes, the proverbial “half-truth” is far more effective than the blatant lie.  When, for instance, those in the media reported that a “white-Hispanic” man by the name of George Zimmerman shot and killed an “unarmed” black “youth” named Trayvon Martin while the latter was on his way to buy Skittles, they told the truth—sort of.

Zimmerman’s father is white, his mother Hispanic.  He certainly looks more like a Hispanic than anything else.  But the descriptor “white Hispanic” was designed to fit into the media’s favorite template, the narrative of White-on-Black Oppression.

That this is true is borne out easily enough by the consideration that Zimmerman was no more, and no less, white than Barack Obama, yet the media never characterized Obama as a “white-black.”  The reason for this should be clear. Beside the fact that no one describes or self-identifies as a “white-black” (or a “black-white”), in stressing Obama’s Caucasian background, in reminding people that “the first black President” is no more black than he is white, Obama’s fans in the media feared that they would potentially detract from what they wanted for everyone to regard as the “historic” nature of his presidency.

Martin was a “youth,” yes, but he was 17 years-old; he wasn’t the 12 year-old smiley-faced boy whose picture the media circulated in the days immediately following the breaking of this story. Zimmerman was 11 years older and several inches shorter than Martin.  As both physical appearances and subsequent events showed, Zimmerman was not nearly in as good as shape as the latter.

Martin was “unarmed,” true. But as anyone who has ever been in a street fight knows all too well—and one shouldn’t need to have been in a fight to know this—punches and kicks can be lethal.

And Martin aggressed against Zimmerman.  He proceeded to pound his head into the pavement until Zimmerman shot him dead in self-defense.

Martin, it’s supposedly true, purchased a bag of Skittles.  It was eventually said that he did so along with some other products that he could use to get high.  But whether this is true or not, it is irrelevant to the fact that he physically attacked a man who posed no imminent danger to him.

Examples of this kind are without limit.  It’s probably the case that more often than not Fake News contains truth.  This, though, is exactly what has made it as effective as it’s been. The truth in Fake News is distorted for the purposes of advancing the political agenda of the fake journalists that produce it.

Now, commentators are not, and can never be, guilty of producing Fake News—even though commentators frequently espouse bogus ideas, make false and unwarranted assertions, and even tell outright lies in order to promote their own partisan purposes. Yet commentators, everyone recognizes, do not exist to convey the news.  Commentators fulfill a distinct social function fundamentally different than that assigned to “journalists.”

Journalists are expected to report the news.  Journalists render themselves fake journalists and produce Fake News when they betray their vocation, betray the very citizenry from which they derive the whole point and purpose of their being when they indulge the all too human impulse to inject their own biases and prejudices into their construction of “the news.”

It is again worth repeating: Even when it consists of true claims, which is usually the case, “news” that has been edited in such a way as to promote the partisan political and economic machinations of its distributors is, necessarily, Fake News.  And it is produced and disseminated by fake journalists.

In stark contrast, however wrong and even dishonest they may be, commentators who place their biases on the table, so to speak, can never be guilty of fake journalism or Fake News.  Since only journalists are expected to produce—or “cover”—the news, it is a serious category error to say of commentators like, say, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh that they are guilty of promoting Fake News.

Fake journalists had conniptions when the Trump administration characterized them, collectively, as “the Enemy of the People.”  The President’s intentions in selecting this description for them aside, there is a very real sense in which the purveyors of Fake News are indeed enemies of the citizenry.

The rights that journalists enjoy are not timeless abstractions. They are culturally and historically-specific liberties that, as such, derive their meaning from the whole system of rights and obligations to which they belong.  In a self-governing Republic like the United States—what leftists call “Democracy”—the media, more specifically, the press, exists solely for the sake of supplying citizens with the knowledge that they need in order to make informed decisions regarding the fate of society.  This raison d’etre of journalists presupposes their obligation to aspire to an ideal of “objectivity,” a trans-partisan stance.

To the extent that journalists have betrayed their reason for being, they have betrayed “the People.” To the extent that, for the sake of their own profits and fellow political partisans, they have gone so far as to create a Big Lie regarding “collusion” between a duly elected president and the second most heavily nuclear-armed country on the planet, they have not only betrayed the citizens and the Republic whose interests they are expected to serve.

They have, in effect, declared themselves an Enemy of the People.    

 

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