When did fake news begin?
Some would say it began with the Bible. I wouldn’t say that as I believe that much of the Bible is truth. I don’t know that it’s all God’s Word, but I think that a lot of what I read in the Bible is phenomenal prophecy and poetry.
In our modern era, we can document instances of fakes news that have resulted in grave consequences. One of the greatest examples of fake news would be the sinking of the USS Maine in 1898 which led to war. Unfortunately, it was a work of fiction. February 15, 1898, the warship USS Maine sinks in Havana Harbor all while 266 men died. William Randolph Hearst the head of the US press, owner of the New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer, another yellow journalists of the New York Herald, claimed that the explosion aboard the ship was the work of the enemy caused by bomber torpedo to sell newspapers.
In response, the U.S. declared war on Spain two months later. You may recall the propagandist rallying cry “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain.” In 1976 a commission investigated the sinking of the Maine and discovered that the explosion was likely self-inflicted, possibly due to a coal bunker fire.
Besides the USS Maine, there are many other examples of fake news and the aftermath it wrought on society and individuals. Another example is The Dreyfus Affair. There was a newspaper in France La Libre Parole which claimed that Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French military, was guilty of selling military secrets to Germans. The French sent Dreyfus to Devil’s Island and the French military intelligence fabricated a document which implicated Dreyfus. Dreyfus would not be exonerated of this injustice until 1995 when the French army publicly declared Dreyfus was innocent.
Fake news is not a trivial buzzword, but rather a malicious distortion of facts. There are dire consequences of fake news. We have witnessed these so-called journalists on their high horse saying that ‘We’re a free and fearless press and that’s it. We are the champions of the people and we speak the truth, and you should never attack us.’ We know this is not true.
Whether you’re a digital journalist, analog journalist, mainstream journalist, midstream journalist, talk radio host or TV presenter, it’s just a myth that you are a free and fearless person that all of us our a champion of the people, that you are honor and duty-bound to speak truth to power. Those are noble falsehoods, but most people don’t believe any of it. They are truly in the business to sell newspapers, or today, get clicks.The media is a mixture of unreality, public affairs mixed up with gossip.
This leads to a great quote from Dorothy Sayers as mentioned in this special issue of Lapham’s Quarterly called “The History of Fake News” that I bought at a newsstand by chance. Lapham wrote for a fabulous publication for years from a liberal point of view, but he was a tremendous author and in this write up he illustrates that fake news began a long time ago.
Quoting a 1941 publication by Dorothy Sayers, writing, “What is the news? as a mash-up of fixed opinion and temporary fact, a “smear of unreality…spread over the whole newspaper page, from reports of public affairs down to the most casual items of daily gossip.” She goes on, “The standard operating procedures of people in the news business are the following: sensational headlines, false emphasis, suppression of context, garbling, random and gratuitous invention, flat suppression, and deliberate miracle mongering. The tricks of the trade were as ably deployed in newspapers of the 1790s controlled by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as in newspapers in the 1890s commanded by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.”
You understand that now it only got worse with the advent of the crossover between entertainment and television news. And so now readers of the printed press are lost altogether because you may think that you’re not dealing with loaded dice, but you are. And I don’t care what the printed page is, it’s loaded dice.
Most people knew this when I was growing up. My father read five newspapers a day as an immigrant who didn’t go to college, but he wanted to know what was going on. He had a very analytical mind and he knew he was dealing with loaded dice. He would say, ‘I read the New York Post for the liberal viewpoint at that time. I read the Journal American for the other side and then there were many newspapers in the middle. I would ask, ‘Why do you waste time reading all that stuff, dad?’ He would reply, ‘So I can make up my own mind.’
Then along came television and most people take it for the truth. We can criticize CNN or MSNBC every day because they fabricate and manipulate the headlines. They have a narrative which is ‘White man bad. America bad. Trump the worst thing since Hitler.’ We recognize their tactics, and thus, we laugh it off. We understand that this is a complete invention in order to sell to the gullible fools on the Left. But then you drift to the other side and you must wonder at a certain point what are they selling? How real is their narrative? I’ll let you decide. I think it depends upon a topic and the speaker at that given moment.
No one ever looked to newspapers strictly for history or civics lesson. We look to a newspaper to be entertained not to be given a lecture. We must remember that reality was a little different than what the newspaper was selling us.