On fake news

I don’t do “breaking news” in this website. I mention this in boilerplate reply to those kindly readers who continue to supply me with news tips on the latest outrages — unreported, not accurately reported, or not adequately presented in conventional news media. I am more a former journalist than a present one, but from experience I know that, to do the job properly (“without fear or favour”) takes detailed, and usually expensive, mostly thankless work. By omission of this plodding we spread rumours instead, which is wrong even if many of the rumours might be true. You can’t take “maybe” to the Confessional.

Worse it is, when the bias is carefully managed, and the hearsay is almost certainly untrue. As a long-time consumer of “the news,” familiar with how it is generated, I am more and more appalled. I have elementary “editor’s questions” for almost everything I read on Internet sites, and what I see in print is seldom any better. This applies to all sides of every contested issue; though it is obvious that the bias runs Lefterly, to an overwhelming degree. One comes to believe only what one has seen with one’s own eyes, and that is necessarily little.

It is a matter to regret, that in a country the size of Canada, or one the size of the Natted States, there is no market large enough to sustain even one reliable news agency. That is to say: even one that stakes its reputation on methodical checking of fact, unhurried collocation, and dispassionate articulation; which consistently eschews emotion and sensation. Nor, if such a thing briefly existed, would it be likely to survive long. It would require heroic vigil, against efforts to subvert it. Scrupulous editors would, for instance, never hire any graduate of a journalism school, or with a commonplace humanities degree. They would rather employ strictly specialized correspondents, with genuine expertise, writing within carefully delineated “beats”; whose honesty is above suspicion. They would grant the space that is required to report significant matters thoroughly. Which is to say, something like the remarkable Swiss daily, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, used to be. (I think it was the last to crack up, in the 1970s.)

Even in the past, there were few newspapers or news agencies like this; and going back to the sixteenth century (the Fugger newsletters and the like), the few that have existed were invariably “business” papers, cultivating a readership of traders and investors who “needed to know” what was actually happening, far afield, because they had money on the line. But in a modern economy dominated by the capitalism of hype and fashion trends, such businessmen no longer exist. Money is risked, but no market or currency is stable. One reads the media only to know which way the wind is blowing.

At the moment I sit on at least five Toronto-based “stories,” about which I cannot write. But in each case I am aware that the accounts from all “mainstream” media are seriously incomplete, and on crucial points, wrong. I don’t know anything resembling the whole truth in any of these cases (hence my reticence to weigh in). I do know that I, and all other news consumers, are being misled, both intentionally and unintentionally. Scratch any surface and I find an “agenda.”

The fault lies largely with us. We are easily angered, but we are not curious. We grasp at what straws are offered, and if they fit our preconceived views, we are content to repeat the half and full lies. We choose news sources to suit our preconceptions: to provide ourselves with the emotional comfort of being told what we already know and expect. The news outlets don’t dare to contradict us; they make their money on our credulity.