Fake News is Old News

My husband and I have spent about thirty hours in the car over the past week. He was the keynote or guest speaker at a synagogue, a church and a business group and we both preferred driving to flying. During that time we barely listened to news. Instead we took advantage of the fantastic gift of downloading audio books from our local library.  Even when we are home, I find myself spending more time on the crossword puzzle in my morning paper rather than reading the news.

While we never kept radio news going constantly in the background and our lack of a TV set in our home meant that watching the evening news wasn’t part of our daily routine, I realize that I am avoiding news in a way that I didn’t used to do. I am tuning out.

Part of this is a function of excessive input. There is simply a constant barrage of information in our 24/7 society (o.k., for me 24/6 since Shabbat is blessedly a day off). Too much information available makes it less appealing. Furthermore, since news outlets can and do post constantly, their level of reliability has substantially dropped. At the same time, the tone of reporting has become more shrill, hysterical and partisan. If I want read fiction, I can find much better literature than reporters are delivering.

I was somewhat amused to find a Musing that I wrote back in 2010, before the news cycle had ramped up to today’s levels. Since we have been on the road so much, with limited time for writing, I hope you too will enjoy this reprint:

Recently, I read a newspaper story of a boat on fire and its owner’s rescue by a fellow mariner. The account appeared on the online version of our local paper. It confirmed my decision to stop getting a physical copy of the same paper.

You see, certain details about the event were accurately reported.  It is true that there was an incident on a local lake involving two boats; one which was on fire and the other which served as a rescue vessel. But what became clear from the reader response to the article was that the news story mistakenly reported Boater A jumping overboard to escape the flames and being fished out of the water by boater B. A cable news channel seemed to have gotten the story even more confused when it portrayed the captain of the rescue boat boarding the burning vessel to save his neighbor.

The real story was dramatic enough as the captain of the burning boat crossed from his bow to the bow of the second boat only moments before fire engulfed his vessel. And I can’t think of any real harm to the universe done by the careless and erroneous reporting.

Which is why it serves as such a valuable lesson. This story involved no confusion as on a battlefield or disaster scene, generated no rush to scoop another newspaper (the city only has one), and had no element which could rouse the reporter’s personal political biases. Even so, the reporter messed up the story and the newspaper ran an error filled article.

Repressive regimes do their best to ensure that only the official version of the news gets reported. When Germany invaded other countries, it confiscated radios so that the citizens wouldn’t have any outside sources of news. Citizens of the old Soviet Union knew they needed to read between the lines of Pravda newspaper. Taking stories at face value was like knowingly accepting counterfeit money. Today, regimes like Iran and China attempt to control Internet access.

Thanks to the constitution’s first amendment, America’s press cannot be censored by Congress or forced to print anything. But that only allows a free press to function, it doesn’t guarantee one. Freedom of speech does not impose the obligation on any individual or any news service to report the truth accurately. The press has the choice to highlight a story or underplay it. When Congress or the president’s approval rating is front page news under one administration and not reported or delegated to a monthly back page report under another administration or when unpopular legislation moving through Congress is ignored we have a free but a useless press.  When stories destroying someone’s character are reported in large print and the correction or retraction appears in an inconspicuous box, we have a free but harmful press. The New York Times has proudly proclaimed for decades, “All the news that’s fit to print.” A more accurate rendition for today’s news gatherers might be “All the news that fits our agenda, printed whether it is accurate or not.”

14 thoughts on “Fake News is Old News”

  1. “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” A problem is seen. Your comment hits the mark on how there is selective reporting.
    A comment : “If front page is on how sock color made Team B win, then read the back pages for real world information.”
    Distortion and omission seems common.
    And yet, to not know partial, is like eyes fully closed, because it is dark, keeping out what you can get. Watch upon the wall. Call on time..

  2. I have a different take on this issue though it probably dovetails with the heart of your concerns, Ms. Susan. I did a ten year “fast” from TV and I am contemplating another one. I haven’t watched the MSM in years because they are biased. Haven’t subscribed to NYT or WP for the same reason.

    I am very conservative and definitely qualify as a news junky. My concerns are with bias, quality, and subject matter of news coverage. I was okay with Fox News And Fox Business for a time, but even they are getting on my nerves.

    Every program covers almost exactly the same stories ad nauseum. The president’s tweets, whether the president is unbalanced, how many NFL players took a knee during the Anthem, NFL players took a knee for the Anthem in the UK, then stood for the UK Anthem, and on and on and on. I am also concerned with how much fluff is covered when there are important things going on elsewhere, see list above for some examples. Others include the scandal when Melanie wore stilettos when boarding Marine One to go to Houston after Harvey struck. Any attention to the fact that when she debarked in Houston she had on tennis shoes? Give me a break. Then there was the scandal of the president playfully throwing packages of paper towels to people while in Puerto Rico. How terrible, how disrespectful! How about, what a great idea to create a little moment of lightheartedness for people who were living in a long-term disaster zone.

    Thank heaven for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish World Review, CBN, and one or two other news sources to fill in the huge gaps in coverage. It is like the MSM andeven Fox to some extent are trying 1) to desensitize us to certain issues and 2) to distract us from important issues they don’t want us to focus on. When, for example, was the last time even Fox News did serious coverage of terrorist attacks on Israel? Just saying.

    Just think of me as a frustrated news junky about to go cold turkey. Time to get back to the Word, writing haiku, and reading some Shakespeare and a little Thoreau.

  3. What ever to the Who, What, Where, When and Why of journalism? It is a slogan that for some reason we were taught in Jr. High School.


  4. Truer today than in 2010. I haven’t read our local paper, “The Press Democrat” for years. Incidentally’ it is owned by the New York Times- an agenda perhaps? I’ve found the best, most honest news report on EWTN. It is less scintillating, to the point of a yawn, but accurate and truthful with no spin. What about JLTV from Los Angeles?
    Hope you’ve been enjoying your road trips!
    Truly, Dianne P.

  5. You have hit the nail on the head, again, Mrs. Lapin! I used to be an avid watcher of the evening national news (i even record it). But the blatant bias by news reporters and news stations has turned me off. I no longer want to hear or see the sensational, theatrics of the news outlets. It also bothers me by the replaying of the crude, violent type of videos local and national outlets feel they must replay over and over again. I am very offended by this, so I choose to turn my head and more often, change the channel.
    As with all news now, I am very aware of the slant in the reporting.

  6. Susan, I look forward to reading what you and the Rabbi have to write and say. I watch your program on TCT. I have learned so much from you both as you explain “God’s Language. Stopped cable years ago and do “a news fast” except to get the weather and choice programs on BBN, TCT and CBN via antenna tv. Why pay for cable garbage to come into my home ? So sad that we have come to this point and newspapers are only good for starting fires in the fireplace! God bless you both as you continue your journey in life. Judy

  7. What a fine ‘First Amendment 101!’ Benjamin Franklin of Poor Richard’s Almanack would be proud. Like you, I look more at the mainstream media and its slanted reporting with a jaundiced eye.

  8. On my last road trip I listened to my favorite Rabbi. I’m curious as to what books you listened to while driving? Another road trip coming up in December. I am so sick of the news that I just can’t put myself in the position of not having an alternative! Grandchild number five due in December. ?

  9. I’ve tuned out completely. I have grown so tired of watching the ruling class in Washington drive this country off the cliff, ignoring everything except their own lust for worldly wealth and power. The rest of the news is no better…reporting on and praising a Godless, secular society largely of their own making. Why put oneself through that? It’s hard to live a hopeful, optimistic, God-centered life with that paean of decline and destruction playing all the time.

  10. In some cases their reporting is harmful. During the Colorado theater shooting, ABC blamed a Tea Party member with the same name.

    Proof? We don’ need no stinking proof. We’re with the MSM!

    1. Deliberate misreporting and suppression of news that doesn’t support one’s agenda has definitely become more of a problem, Susan. But I don’t think conservative news sources are as honest and fair as they should be either. But even, as in the boating case, when there is no agenda, it is amazing how frequently lack of excellence in getting a story right is the norm.

      1. No TV here for years now — find the real GOOD news in the Scriptures. Admire your Sabbath “day free” from all the rot in the news. It gets more and more difficult to find “honesty” in the press.

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