By Simon Gonzalez
The objective of the Lumina News is to report the news in and around Wrightsville Beach. We hold ourselves to a high standard to earn and keep the trust of our readers.
We make phone calls, we attend events. We are impartial. If there is a controversial issue, we seek to present all sides. If an individual is too close to an issue, we remove ourselves and have someone else cover it. If there’s something rotten at town hall, we don’t keep it to ourselves.
When we offer an opinion, it’s on a page marked “Editorial/Opinion” with a heading that makes it clear the thoughts are those of the writer.
It’s not always easy and as hard as we try we don’t always get it right, but it’s a fairly simple formula. It’s called journalism.
And any journalist worthy of the name should be troubled by the proliferation of “fake news.”
The Internet has created new avenues for information, and with it new challenges. Anyone with a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection can troll news sources, put a slanted spin on a story that’s designed to outrage readers of a particular political persuasion, publish it to a website, and post on social media with a salacious clickbait headline. Or just make something up.
Usually it’s harmless, but there were frightening real-world consequences when a man, motivated by an insane conspiracy theory about a supposed pedophilia ring involving Hillary Clinton and campaign chair John Podesta, entered a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., with a gun.
And yet, there’s something very troubling about calls from government officials at the highest levels — or those who nearly reached the highest levels — to do something about it.
President Barack Obama addressed the issue in an interview with a national magazine and during a press conference in Germany: “If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not … then we have problems. … We have to come up with new models.”
Clinton also called for action in public remarks last week. Fake news, she said, is “a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly.”
So far the calls to act seem restricted to some kind of self-censorship of social media — even though our constitution’s First Amendment guarantees of free speech and press make governmental attempts to stifle content on what is essentially a public forum problematic — but it doesn’t require a conspiratorial mindset or a tinfoil hat to imagine a future when the American government decides what is and isn’t a reputable news source. That should frighten everyone on both sides of the political spectrum.
Liberals delight in applying the pejorative “faux news” — quite literally “fake news” — to the Fox News Channel, even though it is a reputable organization with real reporters doing real journalism, albeit with a conservative bent. Would it fall under any guidelines to ban or censor? Obama hinted as much when he blamed Clinton’s loss on bars and restaurants with TVs tuned to Fox.
There’s currently a plethora of stories about Russia hacking the election. Does it become fake news if the reports neglect any analysis or evidence that the Dems leaked emails that persuaded enough people to switch from Clinton to Trump to tilt the election?
Fake news is all around us, not just on shadowy websites shared on social media. It’s at the supermarket checkout stand. It’s in the celebrity gossip many delight in sharing. Tons of millennials consider comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert reputable sources.
It will proliferate as long as there are naive people.
There are people we know who believe the moon landing was faked, that Bill Clinton was going to use Y2K as cover to declare martial law and stay in office, that George W. Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks, that Mike Pence advocates shock therapy to “convert” gays, that Obama is planning to round up Christians and/or gun owners and put them in FEMA camps.
But the existence of naive people does not give license for the government to get into the suppression business. The would-be censors are basically saying the American people are too stupid to determine for themselves what is real and what isn’t.
It’s incumbent on the consumer to decide what is real and fake, but the responsibility lies with the reader. The solution is not more government control.