Op-Ed

Doctor, doctor, I’ve got a bad case of fake news

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My doctor asked me some questions and issued his diagnosis: “High blood pressure brought on by technology and exacerbated by whiplash.”

“I see it a lot these days,” he said.

“Huh?” I said, “Can you prescribe something to make the pain go away?”

“Quit watching, listening and reading the fake news,” He said. “You’ll stop jerking your head around like you were slapped in the face by a WWF villain, and your problem will go away.”

He offered zero help separating fake from real news. He simply told me to figure it out.

So I did, and I feel much better now, except for the fact my mind wanders much more than before.

My recovery involved a trip down the internet vortex searching for a definition. It turned out there were a lot of websites that have been involved with researching a cure for my malady, and it took a while to overcome my skepticism.

However, I settled on one that produced a graphic representation of where the various “news’ sources lie on a spectrum ranging from original fact reporting to falsehood. Find it yourself at www.Mediabiaschart.com2018.

The realization has set in that there are several levels of news reporting. On the truthful level, the real news is factual, documenting for posterity the words uttered and/or actions that actually happen.

Then at the next level, the facts are analyzed, where they can be subjected to thoughtful, but usually biased handling; opinion pages, news magazines, and some radio and TV shows fit in this category.

Then, the bottom feeder, fake news, is fabricated nonsense.

The most reliable factual reporting seems to come from the wire services (Associated Press, Reuters) and the old-time TV networks, the ones you used to have to get up from your chair to turn the knob to switch among the three of them.

The BBC, USA Today, NPR and PBS are also at the top level of factual news journalism. Readers of this column will not be surprised to learn that the Herald-Leader is rated by one independent media watchdog to reside center-left with slight to moderate liberal bias in regards to opinions, local and state reporting.

Significantly, the factual information reporting is rated as high, and trustworthy. Louisville’s Courier-Journal is similarly rated.

Fake news, or yellow journalism — using selective or incomplete treatment of the facts that are damaging to public discourse — is found on cable TV outlets, including CNN and FOX News, with FOX the more skewed of the two.

Liberal radio talk shows have had little luck drawing listeners away from NPR and other mainstream sources. Radio shows spewing fake news are dominated by the conservative side, like Rush Limbaugh,with a convoluted business model telling his audience that the mainstream media is corrupt and biased. He pockets a lot of money with this deception.

The most damaging fake news sources have followed the exponential curve of technology growth. They lie lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut on the internet where their sputum is easily shared via social media, and given the cognitive biases that make us receptive to fake news, it is spread widely.

There is nasty stuff at this level: propaganda and alternate facts: misleading, inaccurate or fabricated information serving the hyper-partisan extremes. Twitter anyone?

I hope Doc reads this; it may help him help others. He could advise patients to stay with the mainstream news and use protection if they get drawn away from it with an inviting click-bait.

Protection is in the form of fact-checking websites that alert you to the lies, innuendo and distorted reality that create fake news.

Reach Jim Brutsman of Cynthiana at jbrutsman@gmail.com.

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