Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Fake News Tag

Fake news, as a term perhaps unique to me (and a popular tag on this website), is perhaps ambiguous. To some, it may mean that a story is wholly untrue or dishonest. However, there exists a more powerful definition. In a day and age when "news" is considered the latest gossip on TomKat's relationship, whether or not they share a bedroom or conceived little Suri with a Turkey Baster, it's time to create some sort of label that correctly identifies these stories as what they are - not real news, but fake. Not even soft news - a term long used - can properly describe what's going on here when suddenly we're devoting editorial space on such subjects as the lives of faraway football players and whether or not they should remain employed. Heck, I even like soft news - but most of the stuff that's being reported today doesn't even qualify as that. More importantly, fake news extends way beyond the annals of the celebrity. It can also come to describe anything from the impolitic politics to even addressing what could be newsworthy, without any of the important caveats that turn it into something remotely like real news.

For more on what I mean by turning the noteworthy into news, let's take a look at two different animal rights pieces that have made their way onto the news scene as of late. The first is former Governor Romney's doggy day care and the second being Michael Vick's blatant case of animal torture. As most readers know by now, Mitt Romney went on a family trip to Canada carrying his dog on the top of his station wagon. While the Romneys claim the dog loved the kennel atop the car, the dog shat itself inside its kennel, which any dog lover would know dogs almost never do. Only under extreme duress will a dog relieve itself in a kennel. Then, after hosing down the victim and the kennel, the Romneys again put the dog atop the car and drove off at high speeds toward their destination. Vick, on the other hand, lead a dog-fighting ring and routinely tortured the underperforming canines, on top of the equally gross act of actually pitting dog against dog as a means of entertaining the masses.

While what Vick did is far worse, the Globe editorial itself is a far less worthy piece than most of the criticism Mitt Romney received. For starters, while Michael Vick is a private citizen playing the game of Football, Mitt Romney is running for President. Sure, as a professional athlete who's voluntarily posed for press and pushed his brand name as much as possible, Vick is entitled to be publicly ridiculed and is in fact somewhat newsworthy - but we're not talking about a soft news story here, we're talking about editorial content. Furthermore, the rhetoric on Romney typically permeated beyond the man and tackled larger questions surrounding the story: people in large were making the point that someone who could be so cruel to animals may not be the best person to be the leader of the free world. The Vick editorial, on the other hand, focused on the man himself and not any of the greater issues, such as animal rights or what Vick represented to sports and those who idolized him. Consider what Joe said in my blog that immediately preceded this one:
He's a cultural icon. Thousands of little kids look up to him, and are finding out that the guy they wanted to be is a dog torturer. The implications of this disgusting individual returning to Football is the equivalent to Mark Foley going back to Congress.

If the Globe had came to the story with that angle, it wouldn't be "fake news," as I tag it on this website. Instead, since the content doesn't extend to any larger issues, it isn't real news, at least in the context of what makes for appropriate editorial content. Just because something may actually be true - such as Vick being an animal torturer - doesn't mean that in and of itself is worthy of an editorial. As Joe eloquently describes in the quote above, Vick's case certainly could make for a good editorial - even beyond the cameras of ESPN - but those important issues aren't the ones the Globe tackled. Instead, it focused on an issue that isn't ever likely to actually be an issue (whether or not Vick should play again) and certainly won't be an issue that arises for years to come (he won't play for at least this year, as well as the time he's in prison and time after that) - an odd choice for the editorial section of a large newspaper, especially one that is so far removed from where Vick either lived or played.

As a society, if we want a strong willed and critical Forth Estate, we have to demand it. Calling something fake, even if there's a glimmer of truth in it, is a direct and highly critical attack which may just be enough to wake up the Lulled Estate. It immediately rejects the premises of these lazy articles and, hopefully (if enough people catch on), forces the powers that be to actually address the issue. Obviously, my definition of fake news extends way beyond the story I've written about today - and even beyond the mainstream media. Just like we need to reject fake news, demanding instead pieces that are both thoughtful and critical (even in our soft news), we need to object to the fake rationals of corrupt politicians, weak opposition and any other number of issues. However, to even think about doing any of that, we need to accept the pretense that what is real can also be fake if it serves no other purpose than to confuse, subjugate, perfectly placate or otherwise do no good for those who's attention such pieces reach.

1 comment:

joe said...

Excellent response, and I get why you had tagged it in the fashion you did.

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