by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
PolitiFact announced this week that it had chosen fake news as the “Lie of the Year.”
“Fake news found a willing enabler in [President-elect Donald Trump], who at times uttered outrageous falsehoods and legitimized made-up reports,” PolitiFact said in its announcement, adding Hillary Clinton “emboldened her detractors and turned off undecideds with a lawyerly parsing of facts that left many feeling that she was lying. Her enemies ran wild.”
“Because of its powerful symbolism in an election year filled with rampant and outrageous lying – PolitiFact is naming Fake News the 2016 ‘winner,'” they added.
Aside from the fact that the move feels an awful like Time magazine nominating “you” as the 2006 “Person of the Year,” the decision by the Tampa Bay Times project has reignited criticism that it has itself contributed to the epidemic of hoax reporting.
An important distinction needs to be made between fake news and plain, old sloppy and misleading journalism.
There’s a difference between journalists botching the details of a breaking news event on the one hand, and “reports” claiming Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump, which have no basis in reality and are created with the explicit purpose of deceiving for profit, on the other.
There’s a difference between fake news and reporters badly twisting public remarks out of context. There’s a difference between fake news and members of the press rushing to assign blame for things like the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz. There’s even a difference between fake news and Brian Williams claiming falsely that he came under fire with U.S. troops in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq.
The point is: Sloppy and misleading journalism obscures the line between fact and total fiction, which forces audiences to search out more credible sources of information.
This is where fake news-peddling grifters come in, as they swoop in to take advantage of the growing demand for trustworthy reporting. So although there is a difference between fake news and lousy reporting, the former is enabled and made stronger by the latter.