The sharing of bias and false news has become all too common …
… all too common … And, more alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake …
… publish these same fake stories without checking facts first …
… without checking facts first.
OK, you caught me. I confess.
Yep, the scripted, “must run” segment that aired verbatim recently during more than 150 local TV news broadcasts — including one here in the Rogue Valley — struck a nerve in the collective consciousness of those who not only practice, but cherish the freedom of the press rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
And so, hat in hand, tail between my legs, I stand before you on bended knee asking forgiveness for perpetrating my own contribution to the growing epidemic of unchecked facts, personal bias, and false reporting.
Last week in this space, I wrote that there were plans under consideration to run a gondola from Mount Ashland to various locations across Southern Oregon. That isn’t happening. Neither is a subway tunnel beneath Medford, helicopter tours to local wineries (although I am partial to that idea), horse-drawn carriages on the Bear Creek Greenway, or traffic circles in the shape of a pentagon.
It was all Fake News.
Then again, it was also April Fools’ Day.
If only the ordered incantation by the contractually stymied TV anchors who have families to feed, bills to pay, students to send to college and mortgages to meet was just a prank — and they weren’t worried that a Donald Sutherland was hovering, waiting to screech an alarm to the corporate pod people if the anchors went off-script.
Watching the now-ubiquitous montage of news readers staring unemotionally at the screen like so many, many versions of Locutus of Borg — victims of forced assimilation for whom resistance was not only futile but had the potential to be professionally damaging — should be enough to make our stomachs churn and our hearts sink.
Yet, it’s not the worst aspect of directed “must run,” talking-point propaganda. As much sympathy or empathy as we might have for those who had to recite the mantra, it’s hard to know what to feel about viewers who couldn’t (or refused to) comprehend that an attempt was being made to subliminally convince them of a political point of view.
Howard Beale had a screw or three loose, but over time he’s been proven right when he warned about how easy it was to persuade, entice and absorb the public consciousness:
“We’ll tell you any s--- you want to hear. We deal in ‘illusions,’ man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds ... We’re all you know,” Beale ranted from behind his ‘news’ desk. “You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal.
“You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even ‘think’ like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs!”
Paddy Chayefsky gave Beale his bravado and bluster in his Oscar-winning screenplay for “Network,” and these days we’re closer and closer as a society to living out his prophecy.
A new study by a physicist at the University of Miami, plotting extremes on a bell curve, posits that it no longer matters whether the news we hear is “real” or “fake” — our society is so polarized that just the simple act of absorbing information scatters us to opposite ends of the curve.
“Even on issues for which there is no conceivable counter-evidence,” says study author Neil Johnson, using a round-versus-flat Earth as an example, “a surprisingly large number of people take an ‘anti-crowd’ viewpoint.”
The Earth isn’t round? One plus one doesn’t equal two? Sometimes a cigar isn’t really a cigar?
You can see where it all gets very confusing very fast. Is it Fake News only if someone I agree with says it’s Fake News? Or is it Fake News when news professionals display the ‘freedom’ of the oppressed and recite a “must run” commentary as though it were the Pledge of Allegiance?
Before Jean-Luc Picard becomes assimilated into Locutus, he shares his worries about what battling the Borg could mean:
“I wonder if the Emperor Honorius watching the Visigoths coming over the seventh hill truly realized that the Roman Empire was about to fall,” he says, contemplating the fate of the Federation. “This is just another page in history, isn’t it?”
Which really brings us to the bottom line; or, rather, the conclusion drawn by the shadowy powers behind the fake-news “Fake News” segment.
On the surface, they were right ... this is extremely dangerous to our democracy. It’s up to us to make sure we see the irony.
If Mail Tribune senior designer Robert Galvin had a dime for every time he was offered a penny for his thoughts, he wouldn’t be able to be reached at email@example.com.