With newspapers vanishing, Americans are increasingly dependent on the Internet for information. And this leaves democracy in danger. I have long favored some system to validate journalists in the way accountants are certified.
I wouldn’t go so far as to bar the unqualified from “reporting.” However flawed, freedom of the press is essential to democratic government. But I would like journalists to have some kind of identification – the letters CJ after their name, for example – to help readers judge whether the source of the information is trustworthy.
The situation is becoming dangerous, as hordes of unschooled bloggers spread fake “news.”
That sleazy attack on Chuck Hagel during his senate confirmation hearings, for example, when a blogger suggested he had ties to Friends of Hamas. It was wild speculation presented as news, and it was repeated by Republican senators.
Not only does Hagel have no ties to Friends of Hamas, there isn’t even an organization by that name.
This kind of chicanery has become a vicious Republican propaganda weapon. They circulate lies among themselves, and these lies sometimes get picked up by the mainstream media. An example of the way the Republican “echo chamber” functions is provided by Reader Supported News today:
Breitbart News had posted an article about Paul Krugman filing for bankruptcy after years of lavish spending, seeming to show the irony of someone recommending big spending being done in by those policies on a personal level.
It is a story that has been making its way around the web for a few days, and was picked up at the relatively reputable Boston.com except that it appears to have been posted by a blogger rather than a reporter. That blogger picked up the story from an Austrian magazine, Format. The Austrian magazine noted at the end of the piece that they got the story from the web site The Daily Currant which is a satire site, like an online version of The Onion.
Of course, Paul Krugman is not bankrupt, and I have never heard that he spends “lavishly.” But I bet that won’t stop the right-wing propaganda machine from spreading the bogus story. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it on Fox News.
If Breitbart and the Boston.com blogger were trained journalists, they would have checked for the source of the information before repeating it. One of the cardinal rules of reporting is to get at least two sources to corroborate a story.
But I don’t expect Republican leaders to support a system to sort out fact from fiction on the web. I’m sure they like it the way it is because it provides fuel for their propaganda machine. They have a history of using fake scandals to attack political opponents.
You may recall the ACORN “scandal” manufactured by a college student with a video camera, a tape machine and a female friend posing as an under-age prostitute (photo above). By the time the damaging video was exposed as an edited version that distorted the truth, Republicans in Congress had used it to discredit and defund ACORN.
I have no idea where the epidemic of fake “facts” will lead as more and more “writers” invade the Internet. But the American people are not as dumb as they sometimes appear to be. Fool them often enough and they will catch on.
With any luck, the influence of irresponsible and malevolent “reporters”will wane as readers find out what they’re up to.