Truth matters more than ever now

By Caitlin Kelly

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It’s hard to express how horrified I was by this NPR interview with a happy and wealthy — and unapologetic — producer of fake news.

He makes shit up and earns $30,000 a month from it.

Here’s more.

Just give that thought a few minutes.

It makes my head spin and turns my stomach with rage and frustration.

You step into an aircraft — and assume that its pilots are well-trained, well-rested and sober, that the maintenance crew has been diligent and attentive.

You consume a meal at a restaurant — confident that your food is free of rodent droppings or chemicals.

How to slow or halt the production line of massively lucrative “fake news” sites?

As someone who chose journalism as her profession at 19, married to a photojournalist who did the same, this is no abstract issue to us.

It is absolutely foundational to my belief system and everyone who studies, teaches and works within fact-based journalism.

Some of its most basic tenets:

You talk to real people — and verify their identities.

You review long, tedious complicated documents, whether court records, committee proceedings, internal reports, and make sense of them for your audience, who need and deserve clear, cogent summaries of what we find. Jargon and obfuscation are efficient ways to hide all kinds of abuse. Our job is to find it and expose it.

You get yelled at, threatened with lawsuits by people with wealth, power and $1,000/hour lawyers at their beck and call…and you keep digging.

You go in person, regardless of comfort, weather or fear, to scenes of natural disaster and political upheaval — whether Venezuelans fleeing a country in meltdown or those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Contrary to all economic logic, your goal is not to rake in huge piles of cash pumping out falsity — but to uncover, analyze and explain a complex and confusing world to those who share it with us, no matter their age, income level or race. At its idealistic best, it is inherently democratic.

Back to fake news for a moment.

Let’s start with the ethical quicksand of lying for living.

Let’s move on to the gullibility/laziness of the people consuming this toxic bullshit and thinking it’s true.

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Then let’s pause to consider that some of the most reliable (yes, they’re biased, I get that) news organizations are cutting back their staff — outlets like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. 

Every passing year means losses in advertising income and a shift to consuming news in digital form.

I’ve written for both papers, (and many others), and easily acknowledge that both have tremendous weaknesses as well as strengths.

But the bottom line of journalism  is this: if what you are telling your audience is untrue, you are not a journalist.

 

You are, moreover, destroying whatever shreds of faith remain in what we do produce.

If you read/watch/listen to “fake news” and take it to be truthful, you’re making economic, social, professional and personal decisions based on lies.

Maybe it affected your vote.

Maybe you didn’t even bother to ask if the source of your “news” is legitimate.

A recent study of 7,800 students, asking them to discern real news from fake, found that 80 to 90 percent could not.

 

Here’s one quick clue…look for the name of the writer. Then Google them. Look for their LinkedIn profile, website, blog, resume.

Dig, dammit!

Real journalists have public, provable, verifiable track records of accuracy. We’re not that difficult to find.

This trend is Orwellian, Huxley-esque.

In an era of stunning, growing income inequality, as utterly unqualified billionaires are soon to make up the Cabinet of the United States, it’s a matter of the deepest urgency that Americans know what is going on.

The rise of “fake news” is coinciding with a sharp drop in pay for writers like myself, pushing the most desperate into 17-hour days and seven day weeks, into cranking out…lots of words.

Are they accurate?

Deeply sourced?

Reported firsthand?

Probably not.

Every time you swallow another fake news story — and compulsively share it on social media — you enrich a liar, an immoral charlatan delighted to make rubes of everyone within reach.

The most recent story I produced for The New York Times took weeks of digging and reporting, fact-checking and review — it went through 12 versions before appearing for public consumption.

The reason it took so long? It was reviewed by multiple editors, male and female, asking me more and more questions, challenging me repeatedly to check my facts and my assumptions, to review my choice of language and tone.

If I got something wrong, (real journalists’ worst nightmare), it would be hastily corrected — with a public, permanent note to let readers know that.

That’s journalism.

The payment? Nowhere near what you might think or expect.

So why bother?

Pride of craft.

Because truth matters.

Now more than ever.

22 thoughts on “Truth matters more than ever now

  1. Pingback: Truth matters more than ever now — Broadside | gramirezblog

  2. I read this excellent, sobering post just after seeing a tweet by the US president-elect claiming that millions of votes were cast “illegally.” Not a shred of evidence to back up his claim. I cannot come to terms with the horrifying reality of this man in power. At a time like this I am profoundly grateful for those struggling on to painstakingly reveal the truth.

    1. I’m so glad to hear from you again! It is a terrifying time right now when so many voters are so profoundly ignorant, some willfully so.

      Journalism is more essential than amusement, yet so many are now getting “news” only through the echo chambers of social media.

  3. One of the most worrying trends I’ve observed after the election is the conciliatory tone adopted by pundits from both sides of the political spectrum. The claims that “he won’t do half of what he said he would do” – meant as reassurances – in fact endorse a culture that no longer places any value on accountability. These are frightening times that need to be confronted with defiance and determination by those with the power to influence and the integrity to tell the truth.

    1. Exactly.

      Not sure if you have time and interest to read US media…this column is what we need and I fear will become a minority POV….NYT writer Charles Blow: “you are a fraud and a charlatan.”

      What’s sad and interesting is that those are the same words used — weeks ago re Trump — by the FT and The Economist.

      ‘http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/opinion/no-trump-we-cant-just-get-along.html?_r=0

      1. Thanks for that link! A reassuring piece. I read the complete transcript of the NYT interview and was horrified but not surprised by Trump’s infantile blend of flattery mixed with threats.

      2. I cannot imagine sitting in the same room with him as he spins and spins and spins and spins. I hope very much to be out of this country on Inauguration Day. And we are discussing if/when/how to leave if we need to.

  4. It’s one thing when an article is written by The Onion, you know that is fake news. But the ones that look almost real with no disclaimers are the problems in the fake news biz. The sloppy bloggers like Breitbart actually worry me more they don’t even bother checking the entire source or if the source is reliable.

    1. The sources are “reliable” in their eyes if they reiterate their points…if the points themselves are real or factual? It’s a real rabbit hole and one many readers never bother to dig into.

  5. I still can’t believe that a snake-oil salesman was elected by the American people. I really don’t think it’s going too far to say that he might very well cause another US civil war, with spillover to other nations. He’s a complete menace. Fake news? Unfortunately, it’s always been around -Flavius probably made up fake news about Caesar. But also unfortunately, many people have no ambition when it comes to doing a little research or asking a few questions of themselves – they don’t want to. This whole thing is about aggrandisement – people look at DT and believe that if he’s president, that if he’s an embodiment of the American dream, then he will provide the same for them. If you can buy into that, then fake news just serves to confirm your prejudices. And where there’s a market, there’s always someone to fill it.

    Great piece. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lynette! 🙂

      I can’t believe it either — and as someone who’s lived within bragging distance of DJT for years, anyone here in NY/NJ/CT knew what a piece of garbage he is….but if you: 1) hate Washington; 2) hate the Clintons; 3) hate women in power; 3) are utterly desperate for work for you and your kids…he sounds so appealing. Part of the problem (and it’s a serious issue) is that all major media are centered in NYC where he’s a laughingstock….so there was a naive and stupid assumption that our contempt for him would somehow translate to places where there is opioid addiction, no jobs and no hope. Then he shows up with a shitload of (false, lying) reassurance…and wins.

      Just as millions of Canadians voted for Trudeau as a hearty vote against Harper, for so many people here, a vote for DJT was a vote against HRC.

  6. Pingback: Truth matters more than ever now — Broadside | Le Bien-Etre au bout des Doigts

      1. Yes, you’re absolutely right. And I am following the US election…avidly. I think it’s also important to read the foreign press so as to get a “mix” and different perspectives, etc.

        For example, just read this on the British The Independent website wherein it says Obama phoned Hillary, after the election results, to say “You need to concede.”

        http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/barack-obama-hillary-clinton-concede-election-night-donald-trump-presidential-latest-a7443606.html

  7. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Monday links | A Bit More Detail

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