It’s not often that I want to completely eradicate a word or phrase from the English language, mostly because I know that language evolves. Yes, there are words and phrases I don’t like, but I live with them. I mean, c’mon … I’m a word nerd.
Sometimes, however, one reaches a point of oversaturation that demands at least an easing of continual use. “Wassup” would definitely be one of those; when my dad started using it less than a year after it first showed up, I knew it had truly jumped the shark (while I’m at it, “jump the shark” … yeah, I know I just used it, but I’m an enigma 😜). I’m likewise tired of “break the Internet,” as well as the family often associated with having done so (that’d be the Kardashians, another reason I’m grateful I don’t have cable).
But one phrase has been used so much in the past two years that it has become meaningless (and is usually completely wrong anyway): “fake news.”
We could argue that it’s an oxymoron since if it’s fake it’s not news, but we’d then have to figure out a new way to refer to that stuff masquerading as real news that’s anything but—not just Bat Boy, but things like Pizzagate, where children supposedly were being held and sold as sex slaves by Hillary Clinton and John Podesta in the nonexistent basement of a D.C. restaurant.
Sorry, but Bat Boy was created by an editor and a writer at the now-defunct Weekly World News, a legend in tabloids. Since he wasn’t real, no, he didn’t run for California governor, run as Mitt Romney’s running mate, or live in the New York City subway tunnels.
And sorry, while there are indeed exceedingly nasty pedophile rings in the U.S. and elsewhere, no evidence has surfaced (but lots of speculation and conspiracy theories have) that Satanic rituals involving pedophilia were going on at Comet Ping Pong in that basement that doesn’t exist, as failed gunman Edgar Welch and the D.C. Metro police can attest. Yet some still believe, especially because they’re positive that evil Hillary is responsible (everything bad that’s ever happened apparently is the fault of someone with the last name Clinton … well, except for George Clinton … nothing evil about the funk).
I was reminded of my utter hatred of that certain phrase when I received a missive that claimed the first lady’s having posed nude (mentioned in a recent published letter) was “fake news” that had been debunked. Sorry, but that did actually happen (more than once), and Melania is the first U.S. first lady to have done so (though not the first to have modeled; Pat Nixon and Betty Ford also reportedly did).
Most famously, British GQ put her on the cover of its January 2000 “Naked supermodel special” (yes, really, because the Brits apparently loved their lad mags then), lying on a fur blanket and wearing only diamonds and handcuffs.
I do occasionally miss some things in fact-checking, but that wasn’t one of them.
Much of the time, the truly fake news (meaning manufactured from whole cloth) seems to get a pass from the same people who call legitimate stories backed by evidence and research fake. That “thump” you occasionally hear in downtown Little Rock is probably my head hitting the desk when someone repeats as truth something from an obvious satire site. Seriously, it’s not that hard to check.
The “fake news” epithet has become the go-to for those who don’t agree with a media outlet or facts. It’s often applied to opinion (which isn’t news), analysis (not news, but an expert breakdown of news and what it means), early reporting after additional facts are uncovered (time machines are still not a thing, people), and pretty much everything that doesn’t fit in someone’s worldview. It’s become synonymous with anything you don’t like.
And people wonder why I get frustrated sometimes. If it’s not the bad parkers in our cramped parking lot, it’s the “fake news” screechers.
It doesn’t help when the administration nearly constantly decries news sources if a story is negative (but if that same source is positive, it’s happy dances all around).
Brian Karem, Playboy columnist and executive editor of the Montgomery County Sentinel in the D.C. suburbs, spoke for a lot of journalists recently when he fought back against an administration “fake news” rant by Sarah Huckabee Sanders (making Arkansas look bad … again … gee, thanks) in the White House press briefing room:
“[A]ny one of us, right, are replaceable, and any one of us, if we don’t get it right, the audience has the opportunity to turn the channel or not read us. You have been elected to serve for four years at least. There’s no option other than that. We’re here to ask you questions, you’re here to provide the answers, and what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at it and say, see, once again, the president is right and everybody else out here is fake media. And everybody in this room is only trying to do their job.”
The Washington Post reported that Karem had just finally gotten fed up with the bullying tactics employed by the administration. He wrote in a column on the Playboy site: “I don’t like bullies and I don’t like the entire situation of the press and free speech being castigated for no other reason than we either get stories wrong—which happens, and it should be then responsibly corrected—or because we report news the president doesn’t like—which seems to happen even more often than getting stories wrong.”
He’s right. Responsible journalists tell the truth. If they make a mistake, they own up to it, and they may be out of a job. If later developments and research show errors in the original story, they don’t ignore it or cover it up.
They do their job, and that’s all.
But sure, keep up that whole “fake news” spiel every time you disagree with facts or something negative but true is reported. Journalists who care about the truth will just keep fighting back.