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When Fake News Isn’t Funny…

One of these stories is not like the other, which pains me to say because up until last fall, “fake news” was a satirical term to be loved and cherished, and as a humorist myself I’ve spent many late hours writing stories like these because they’re almost as much goofy fun to write as they are to read…

But fake news took an unexpected turn for the unfunny during the election of 2016 when it came to light that many of the jarring stories being shared around like wildfire on social media were not only the worst form of clickbait, but to take things even a step worse, many of them never actually happened at all.

The Orlando Sentinel ran a frightening story back in November exposing two of these freelance yellow journalists who literally got up each day searching for the most controversial headlines they could make up to drive advertising traffic, completely unburdened by any sense of ethical responsibility as they watched angry Americans share and like their made up nonsense by the thousands while Google and other advertisers wrote them five-figure checks for the disservice.

They didn’t care that his utter lies were fueling even more animosity in an already tense political climate because at the end of the day, it was all about clicks and ad revenue – not news.

“In a perfect world,” he says, “it would have nuance and balance and long paragraphs and take longer than 10 minutes to compose. It would make people think.” But he never writes it, he says, because no one would click on it, so what would be the point?

Another story from the New York Times cited another writer as merely giving his audience what they want, claiming “satire” as a driver for these sensationalistic headlines that “nobody really believes,” yet hit close enough to home for people to like, comment, and click to the tune of thousands of dollars a month.

Facebook has since admitted – after many posed the question of just how much fake stories like these, as shared around the social media giant, may have influenced our election – that they need to do a better job at sorting out fact from fiction before headlines ever make it into their users’ news feeds.

The idea that random twenty-somethings sitting around drinking beer and writing lies for profit could influence an election was scary enough by itself, and then the term fake news found itself taking another turn… 

The “fake news” moniker transformed yet again on January 11th, 2017 at President Donald Trump’s first press conference when he openly accused CNN and BuzzFeed of being “fake news” on account of a questionable story that had leaked the night before concerning Trump’s ties with Russia – including one particularly leaky detail involving a sexual fetish that the billionaire may or may not have participated in during a trip overseas.

Since then it seems like not a day goes by where the President doesn’t say or tweet something disparaging towards the press for airing his dirty laundry and calling him out on the bullshit that he trumpets because “fake news” has gone from describing made up clickbait stories to now being a scarlet letter that the State uses to label anything that they don’t agree with, regardless of fact or citable sources, which contrary to popular belief are still considered to be a cornerstone for most professional journalists…

“Any negative polls are fake news…”

“The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”

“The fake news media is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.”

But these are not hole-in-the-wall media outlets filled with fame-seekers making up headlines that the President accuses of lying…

CNN. The New York Times. NBC. ABC. CBS.

…basically everyone except for Fox News…

All of these mainstream media outlets that President Trump sees as “an enemy of the people” are comprised of award-winning journalists with decades of experience reporting from war zones and amid civil rights protests, informing the public on presidential scandals as well as mankind’s greatest accomplishments and harrowing missteps throughout our nation’s history…

  • The New York Times has won 119 Pulitzer Prizes for excellence in journalism since the awards were founded in 1917.
  • CNN has earned 23 Peabody Awards for distinguished service in broadcast media.
  • Last year CBS won 7 Emmys in honor of its investigative and breaking news coverage.

Journalists may not always get the story right, but they do work by a code of ethics that drives them to represent facts without bias, take responsibility for the accuracy of their work, and particularly when it comes to politics and our government, strive to hold our public officials responsible through fair and honest reporting of the actions that they take on behalf of the people.

The idea that suddenly our faith in the fourth estate could be tossed out the window in favor of either…

  1. Guys in an apartment just making stuff up for an easy payday.
  2. A President who veers closer to totalitarianism each day that he denounces the free press by day and tweets out his own unsubstantiated nonsense by night.

…is an insult to the very investigative, hard-hitting journalism that the American people need right now to answer our questions about Trump’s potential ties to Russia or conflicts of interest with his business empire or even whether the election itself was comprised, as Trump himself has suggested without any supporting evidence to back his allegations.

Reporting that contradicts our President’s tweets aren’t “fake news” merely because they don’t paint him in a positive light – that’s called journalism.

Articles that completely fabricate stories for the sake of capitalizing on social media and political anger aren’t “fake news” – those are just flat out lies.

Now stories about murderous kittens and purposefully tear-inducing baby shampoo – those are definitive fake news stories at their finest, and I say that it’s time we humorists took the term back to mean something fun and not repulsive like it’s been represented for the last three grueling months.

Media Credit: © Ljupco Smokovski / Adobe Stock