I’ve been seeing, encountering, reading more articles about…Fake News. Fake News? Yeah, the shit stories spread by minions of Donald Strumpet’s BFF Vlad Putin. Lies written by guys and girls working in alt.right dark environs like bugs under piles of feces and comments posted at the end of legitimate stories by paid shills for the creeps who are destroying our nation.
Note: Fake news as I understand the term excludes errors, misconceptions and poor research so endemic to newspapers and magazines. I should probably exclude radio, television and Internet writings from consideration as sources of fake news as these three categories predominently consist of erroneous material. Remove the fake news from radio, TV and the Internet and there would be no news at all.
The fake news so decried recently is merely our current iteration of fake news. In reality–if there is such a condition as reality–fake news might well have begun before there was real news.
David Brinkley–he of Huntly and Brinkley on NBC TV for those who aren’t old enough to remember the guy–was the speaker at an RTNDA convention (Radio Television News Directors’ Association). Brinkley noted, “The problem with TV News is it presents no news with the same emphasis that it presents news,” or words to that effect. I’m not quoting from an archive story, this is what I remember him saying, more or less.
He was right. I was a television journalist back in the 70s and when our small operation (WDTB-TV, Channel 13, an NBC affiliate at the time) in the panhandle of Florida had no real news stories, we presented whatever we could find. After all, we had to fill thirty minutes with something. OK, not really 30 minutes, since we had 6 minutes of commercials, 4 minutes of weather presentation, between 6 minutes of sports, another minute involved in intros, outros and segues, leaving us with between 12 and 14 minutes to shovel full of news or something that purported to be new. This sometimes included a local lede that was not really a lede (or lead, if that’s how you prefer the spelling). “City fathers announce funding for a new stop light at the corner of main and 7th…” uttered with urgency and backed by a chromakey slide of a stop light.
Part of a small market operation (larger markets, too) involved keeping a few video segments on hand that could be used to keep from having one of our female staff performing a strip on camera (thanks, Donald, for the suggestion…Megyn…que up David Rose…) while we searched for something to read. Where did those fillers come from? They magically appeared in the mail, sent to us from politicians, corporations, public relations companies, and so on, who knew the need for a well-produced segment to keep the system from toppling into the sounds of silence or a moment of the ever ready “We’re currently encountering technical difficulties” slide.
Did we vet the mail-in material? Sometimes. Maybe. Reels of two inch video were usually accompanied by a print read of the script. Maybe someone in news would read the shit. Other over-the-transom submissions were 16mm film, often with an optical sound track, sometimes with a magnetic track of single-system sound, occasionally with a separate script we could read.
Fake news, people.
All this nonsense with filler was worse when considering print journalism. Thousands of trees, maybe even millions, lost the lives to be pulped into pages of crap that appeared in newspapers without a cavaet concerning the source. If there was sufficient time available, the shit might have been rewritten or at least edited. Often it appeared with no more than a cursory jab with a pencil, a line or three deleted as too blatent to print…or maybe not even that. Images–yeah, black and white glossy prints which could be sized and tossed in to fill two or three, maybe even four columns wide by a proportionate number of inches deep with screened nothingness. Wonderful stuff to have when the advertising department came in with several inches of classifieds causing the paper to expand by two or four pages.
Some of this filler was submitted by political groups, people with an agenda other than just selling a product. Some–maybe even much–of it was ugly, material that shouldn’t have appeared in print because it was never vetted, questionable in value or occasionally even blatantly false.
Sounds much like what we encounter today, doesn’t it? Where did the term Yellow Journalism originate? Sure, with the color of the paper…but the moniker really referred to the content, the agenda-driven material that sucked readers into an emotional maelstorm of nonsense. Example: Remember the Maine? I don’t and I’m relatively old so I doubt you do either. Stories about the USS Maine’s destruction in Havana harbor led directly to a confrontation with Spain and the ensuing war. The perfidious Spaniards planted a fucking bomb in the innards of the ship and caused it to explode, destroying not just the ship but several hundred lives…at least according to the stories printed in newspapers from coast to coast of the United States.
False news, as it turned out to be. Likely culprit for the explosion was coal dust in the bin in the heart of the USS Maine. Oh, well. Tooo late.
In Part II of False News, we’ll look at stories which incited wars, destroyed nations and cost vast amounts of money and human lives. Part III of False News will move into the modern day lies of the Internet.