Fake News stories aren’t accurate. Usually the inaccuracy is intentional, agenda driven distortion. No shit, I can imagine someone murmuring. How long did it take for you to figure that out?
Interestingly enough, these distortions have been with us for many years, varying primarily in the sophistication of their distortion. Fin de siecle (end of the 19th century) newspapers published in New York City by Hearst and Pulitzer were noted both for their extravagant claims and the bright yellow ink splashed across the front page. Yellow ink in a day of black ink, white paper, drew attention to the stories so effectively that the technique was eventually known as Yellow Journalism.
Examples of the genre: news coverage of the sinking of the USS Maine when it was anchored in Havana harbor back in 1898. Blatant charges of Spanish complicity in the explosions of the ship soon resulted in a war between the United States and Spain even though the US Navy itself believed the battleship fell prey to coal dust ignition in the hold. Of course those claims of Spaniards planting a mine of the outside of the ship’s hull had been preceded by many stories concerning mistreatment of the Cubans rising to the level of human rights atrocities.
The US won this little fight, and as a settlement claimed control over both Cuba and the Philippines. Well, our guys won…so no harm, no foul. Right?
Skip forward a few years. WWI-era US newspapers were rife with vilification of people of Germanic descent, folks who thought socialism might have its merits, delusional union workers who thought the common guy had inalienable rights…the list goes on and on.
Two more modern examples of Yellow Journalism or…Fake News…occurred in Vietnam and Iraq. Lyndon Johnson wanted…really wanted…a war to be waged against the Communists in North Vietnam. Troops, supposedly unarmed and there for humanitarian purposes, had been crossing the Pacific to assist the South Vietnamese government since the time of President Dwight Eisenhower. Under President John Kennedy the flow of men and materiel had increased. A bit of manipulation by Johnson resulted in the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, unfettered flood of soldiers guns, planes and all the other delightful accoutrements of war and…as we know…the collapse of the South Vietnamese nation, loss of more than 50,000 American lives and so on.
Then, we have President George W. Bush and his fixation with Iraq, massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and, of course, another war. The US media was complicit by adding its own weapons of mass distraction so that we were mired in the mess before most people realized that once again we, the people of the US, had been bamboozled.
All of this Fake News, this Yellow Journalism, is old news. Men with an agenda, especially men with power and money, win out over the best intentions of honest legislators and forthright journalism every fucking time.
Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s1984–the guidebook of the twenty-first century–is alive and in deep shit. Big Brother, antagonist of Orwell’s book, has just been elected President of the United States and Breitbart News, now reborn as the Ministry of Truth, has provided a slovenly advisor to the about to be crowned fat man in the White House.
In Fake News Part III we’ll examine the state of truth and honesty in journalism and why the paradigm of words meaning whatever people of power say they mean at the moment has arrived. Bigly…