Contributed by Lawrence Lease
Vladimir Putin began his career in politics when the tribe of Ninja Inuit who raised him fell under attack by Islamic radicals. He had lived with the tribe of Inuit since he had been washed up on the shore of the Arctic Ocean and then was weaned by a wolf.
Did the preceding story seem a bit off to you? Perhaps, you are questioning the veracity of this report and even now looking up Putin’s Wikipedia page where you will find that Putin was not raised by a tribe of Ninja Inuit or weaned by a wolf, nor has his family ever fallen victim to Islamic terrorists. This story is so patently absurd that no one would believe it. However, equally untrue and absurd tales have been spun and reported by some news agencies. Many of these false stories or “fake news” have been targeted at President Donald Trump. Or they have been mere pranks without any ideological basis.
To give an example which deeply troubled many Americans at the time, the Associated Press falsely reported that the President threatened to invade long-time American ally, Mexico, while having a conversation with Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto. President Nieto flatly denied that Trump had made this threat. Nonetheless, the LA Times and Mother Jones both reported this false story. What is most disturbing is that the Associated Press is a respected news outlet which should have had more journalistic integrity than to report this story. This story led to outrage and even myself, a Trump supporter, began to question if the president should be impeached.
The problem, of course, is that the story was untrue. Yet, the damage was done and many people decided that Trump was unfit for the presidency based upon false information.
CNN published another story targeting President Trump, claiming that the US Senate was investigating a Russian bank linked to an associate of Trump’s. CNN was forced to retract this story and apologize.
Other fake news stories include Tennessee approving “Hail Satan” license plates, a Muslim demanding pork-free menus throughout the US and Nancy Pelosi’s daughter being arrested for trafficking cocaine. While some of these stories are clearly the work of pranksters looking for a laugh, others have the goal of undermining the reputation of certain individuals. Some of the stories came from satirical websites and the authors intended them to be amusing, not believable.
While no one wants to ban satire, the dissemination of misleading information to deliberately undermine public figures is deeply disturbing. A democracy such as ours depends upon an informed and rational populace. If the citizenry is misinformed, they become moved to make decisions which affect the public good according to that misinformation. For example, public officials might be discredited based upon misleading information, or public officials with malicious intent might be voted in.
The pen truly is mightier than the sword. It can bring down tyrants or inspire unnecessary fear and panic. Journalists must take this power seriously and not fall to the temptation of reporting news according to an ideological slant. Fake news is a threat to the fabric of our country and journalists of integrity must take a stand against it.