Can conservatives and progressives trust journalism for the sake of fighting “fake news?”

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

To fight fake news in a bipartisan way, Republicans and Democrats need to find it in themselves to trust professional journalism, while reserving verification rights.

We need to agree that the role of journalists is to enforce truthfulness as a basic ground rule for civic discourse, while advocates reserve the right, of course, to disagree with the conclusions of journalists.

So it kills me that conservatives, like Colorado State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton), won’t accept respected journalistic fact checkers as arbiters of fake news.

But maybe there’s a road to compromise in liberty advocate Ari Armstrong’s thoughtful definition of fake news that he articulated last month–much of which I agree with.

Armstrong and I diverge from the thinking of most journalists on the definition of fake news, because we both define fake news based on the content of the news story, not its source. In other words, we both agree that a fake news story could come from the Washington Post, Brietbart, BigMedia.org, PeakPolitics.com, or TheFreePatriot.org.

If you define fake this way, you allow conservatives, who might hate the Washington Post, and progressives, who might hate Breitbart, to agree on a starting point to discuss how to address the fake news problem. So I accept the idea that any outlet could produce fake news partly for sake of compromise with conservatives.

But how could someone like me, who has such respect for journalism, possibly agree that the New York Times could be a potential source of fake news? Because, as Armstrong points out, a credible news outlet like the Times will go to great length not to make errors and to correct them quickly. So if it makes a mistake, and produces a fake news item, its fake news will likely be ephemeral fake news.

But even if we accept that any news source can produce fake news, we need a practical way for liberals and conservatives to agree on a definition of fake news.

This definition has to rely on arbiters, rather than an individual’s own case-by-case assessment, as proposed by State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) and, in part, by liberty-advocate Ari Armstrong, because just like in any competition, partisans need referees to judge the game, in this case, to assess the facts.

That’s why it’s so unfortunate that most conservatives won’t name journalistic entities that can help us referee the facts. By doing this, they are rejecting the role of professional journalism in society.

Both Armstrong and Neville have rejected the Fake News Pledge, which is a promise not to post fake news on Facebook. It defines fake news as a story “deemed false or inaccurate by Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck.org, or by a respected news outlet.” It also must “packaged to look somehow like news.”

That definition could snag an article from the Times, but as a practical matter, it’s unlikely that a fact checker like Factcheck.org will find a factual error in a New York Times article before the Times corrects the error.

So I think the Fake News Pledge’s simple definition should work for conservatives and progressives.

But who’s optimistic? With Donald Trump’s constant berating of mainstream media as “fake news,” how could Trump followers ever accept journalists as arbiters of facts, especially given that everyday Republicans in America don’t seem to. The Pew Research Center reported this month:

Today, in the early days of the Trump administration, roughly nine-in-ten Democrats (89%) say news media criticism keeps leaders in line (sometimes called the news media’s “watchdog role”), while only about four-in-ten Republicans (42%) say the same.

That’s not encouraging for the prospects of Republicans accepting the Fake News Pledge and the role of journalist fact checkers as arbiters of fakeness. And it’s bad news, no matter how you look at it.

24 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. DavieDavie says:

    The term "Fake News" is being defined far too broadly in this context.  We should not allow conflating mistakes in reporting with intentionally misleading or false information masquerading as news.  The difference is intent. 

    I think Democrats first invented the term "Faux News" in reference to Fox News.  This may have led to Republicans co-opting the term for themselves (hey, if you think G W Bush is the worst president of all time, then obviously, Obama immediately became the positively worst president ever — try to top that Dummocrats!).

    As news reports of Roger Ailes passing have noted, he almost single-handedly created an environment where facts are dismissed by his audience, and the news source is either trusted or not, regardless of the quality, contents or intent of the message.

    If skepticism  has been lost in our culture, replaced by cynicism, ignorance and blind faith, then I am pessimistic that we will be able to turn the tide until we figure out a way to reintroduce critical thinking into the general populace.

    • Jason Salzman says:

      trouble is, how do we know the "intent" of a news outlet? It's obvious in some cases, like the outlets that post actual disclaimers saying nothing is true.

      But is the intent of Fox News is to deceive? So every Fox News story is fake? Breibart? Conservatives say the intent of the New York Times is to deceive.

      So the only way forward, if there's going to be compromise, is to evaluate the accuracy of news stories on a case-by-case basis, with journalists doing the fact checking. 

      But, yes, ultimately the solution is critical thinking by media consumers. Ahh

      • DavieDavie says:

        The legal system has been dealing with the issue of "intent" for, well, forever.  

        Also, intent can be inferred from past history.  Over time every source will demonstrate a degree of objectivity, accuracy and thoroughness on a scale of 0 to 100.  But yes, impartial, authoritative judges  such as journalism faculty (or weighted average of many, many reviewers) would be required to sift through and evaluate a representative sample of output from the most popular news sources.

        • Jason Salzman says:

          yes, that's an option.

          but conservatives wouldn't like the idea of "approved" news sources waiting for just the right moment to drop the fake news bomb….

          • DavieDavie says:

            You could publish the ratings with any disclaimers you like, but it is up to the individual to judge for themselves how much they value the information painstakingly gathered by others.

            You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink.

      • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

        Language arts and Social Studies teachers have started teaching how to be a critical news consumer: (Before y'all conservatives holler about "librul meedja", this works for some of the less reliable leftie sources like occupydemocrats, too.

        Some tips:

        *Watch out for emotional language and stereotypes.

        *Beware of poor grammar and spelling; if they can't take the time or use a spell-checker and/or editor, chances are no one is checking facts or holding them accountable for accuracy, either.

        *Be cautious of sites that cater to existing bias; if they tell you exactly what you want to hear, it's probably not accurate.

        *Buy your news from professional, established journalists, with enough staff to report, edit, fact-check, produce, and support the news.

        *Be leery of over-advertised sites with bajillions of popup ads – if the main purpose is to sell products, then the news may be unreliable.

        *Check your sources – there should be more than one source for a big story. It should be from a real person, preferably an authorized spokesperson, not from  an alias or a "tweet"

        *Use the web to check stories. Always go to the original source of a story, if it has been aggregated or shared between sites.

        *Examine the web address – if it is abcnews.com.co, it is a fake news site. Also check the "contact us" information and the bylines – if there is no way to contact the author or the news originator, be wary. Washington Post has a good video on spotting fake news:

    • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

      Sadly, Davie, there are just so many people out there who were never taught to question authority. I am a "boomer". It has been one of the fundamental tenets of my life and world view.

      The political dynamic we see now has been presaged by the evangelical movement and its shift from a thought-based, message driven, format that focused on learning to be a better person, to a worship-based, pay your tithe and "sit back and reap the rewards" kind of evangelism. Self-reliance and a firm confidence in ones own mind seems to be giving way to a culture of victimization and dependence.

      The same mind set that has driven the growth of mega-churches has fueled the rise of Trumpism. It isn't about being a follower of the teachings of Jesus "the Christ" and becoming a more loving and giving human being. It is about winning. Pay your tithe and vote for Republicans and God will make you rich…just like Donald Trump. Trump and the hordes of blind followers who have elevated him to a world destroying level of power are propelled by one thing….the love of money.

      The Jesus of Nazareth I recall reading about is the complete antithesis of Donald Trump, the evangelicals "dream president". It just proves that modern Christian evangelism is no closer to the teachings of Jesus than the words of the prophet Mohammed are to creating Daesh.

      If Ailes has a lasting legacy it will be in his championing the demise of truth and honor. Roger Ailes was one of those misbegotten souls who allowed his lust for money and power to render him a blight on humanity…to steal his soul and turn it to the same demons that drive the Yamster…

      May God have mercy on him.

       

      • DavieDavie says:

        Duke, I agree.  What you have said raises many questions too.  I don't think human nature has changed much in the several millennia of recorded history.  A constant for all that time is that there will be seekers of power and influence, both sincere and charlatans.  Another constant is ignorance leading to fear and a need for security against threats, real or perceived.

        Religion is ripe for abuse as much as for good, depending entirely upon the strength of the guiding principles upon which its leaders and constituents adhere.

        It is good to have faith in people and institutions that have earned, and continue to earn that faith.  It is unfortunate that many people have misplaced faith in people or institutions that do not deserve it, due to ignorance, lack of judgement or allegiance to their "tribe" for lack of insight or awareness of other options.

        The increasing "speed of life" and flattening of communication channels (disintermediation) leading to fragmented information sources of questionable reliability has served to perversely amplify our weaknesses rather than promote our strengths.  

        We need a new Age of Enlightenment to bring us out of the current darkness Roger Ailes and his ilk have ushered us into.

  2. Powerful PearPowerful Pear says:

    Jason, 

    You are kidding yourself if you think:

    "We need to agree that the role of journalists is to enforce truthfulness as a basic ground rule for civic discourse"

    Fake news has been around from the beginning of time. I would guess you are distressed because your profession, whose business it is to be esteemed through use words is not having an impact on the citizens. 

    I'm reminded of the Dan Rather reporting from Khe Sanh that the VC control how and when the base was supplied. A lie, but it fit the narrative that the war was lost which is what CBS wanted.

    No I'm not inclined to believe journalist, and it is foolish to even suggest it. If your self worth is based on esteem, you might look for another profession.

    • VoyageurVoyageur says:

      Hey, Prunie, the public still trusts us journalists more than used car salesmen.  Solace is where you find it.  See you later at Platte  Valley Bar and Grill.  Hope Mike can make it.

      • Powerful PearPowerful Pear says:

        I though Blowman was out of the state. Maybe Jason should join us to make his case for trusting the untrustworthy.

        • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

          My god, you're a jerk.   Why would you insult Mike Bowman, when he's about to have a beer with you and V? If he shows up anyway, you're in for a treat.

          You'd get more respect if you relied less on insults and more on reasoned arguments, even if the arguments are faulty.

          People will argue civilly all day with Negev or CHB, because the emphasis is on reason and facts, not talking points or ad hominem attacks. FYI, insulting in ALL CAPS just makes you look ignorant.

          Checking in at lunch….and checking out. Tip a frothy one for me, guys.

          • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

            The part I love is the notion that Jason should care to "make his case" to someone with a listening impairment. That's funny.

            • Conserv. Head Banger says:

              Passionate Prune is a little more dried up than usual.

              And how is a Dan Rather report from Viet Nam in the late 1960s relevant for today? Some old stuff is still relevant today, like the sack of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade in 1204 that removed the 500+ year barrier that kept Muslim invaders out of SE Europe?
              But Dan Rather?

            • Jason Salzman says:

              Duke, it might increase my chances of winning the argument.

          • Powerful PearPowerful Pear says:

            MJ, 

            I don't recall you standing up for me when Blowman called me names, but that is a typical MO for Kook Bernie Supporters. In spite of your rudeness your invitation for a Beer at the Platte remains open. Just send me one of your usual nasty grams on date and time.

        • MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

          Pear – I can't make it to Denver today, but I think both of you are retired so it would be easy to get us together on a last minute whim?  My youngest son is expecting a child and we thought it would be here by now. It isn't, so I'm  finishing up some hemp work out-of-state and plan to come back as soon as the little tyke shows up.  It may be tomorrow or a week from tomorrow.  In any case, I do look forward to the get-together. 

          • Powerful PearPowerful Pear says:

            Sorry the schedule didn't work this time. Although I am not completely retired, I do control my schedule. Make it easy on yourself. Send me a nasty gram when it works for you. The Platte has the best nachos and cold beer in Denver. I enjoyed meeting "V" and hearing about his interesting background and life's challenges.

            • MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

              PP – I called the Platte Grille about 12:50, described V and a man 'dressed like Johnnie Cash' would be arriving soon, gave them my credit card number and told them to pay for your beers and lunch. I never got an alert so they may have screwed up – or you two went somewhere else?  I'll be a gentleman when we meet. Promise. I may even decide to be nicer once we've shared a brew. You be Reagan and I'll be Tipp? K? 

      • Diogenesdemar says:

        Stay upwind V …

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