Accuracy in Media

Former Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren takes journalists to task for the proliferation of fake news, in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times on Monday.

Van Susteren said that while fake news is a problem, it’s not a new phenomenon considering that Americans have been lapping up fringe stories for decades, from the Kennedy assassination grassy knoll conspiracy theories to the “baseless notion that 9/11 was an inside job.” She then went on describe what was new:

“What is new is a propensity for large segments of society to believe things that are clearly untrue. Pope Francis wouldn’t and didn’t endorse Donald Trump. An FBI agent involved with Hillary Clinton’s email investigation wasn’t found dead in a murder-suicide. These memes were launched by specious Internet sites as satire or were put out as purposeful misinformation. Their spread could have been halted by a more skeptical public.”

Yet one of the reasons that the public gets so easily sucked up into the fake news cycle is that they distrust the media to tell them the truth.

Van Susteren then concludes with some advice to journalists on what they can do to slow the spread of fake news:

“Real reporting is detective work, trying to get to the bottom of a story or event. That requires skepticism and patience. If a reporter is going to be an advocate, he or she should play devil’s advocate — and do it with every source, on all sides.

Part of the reason fake news is so easy to believe is that fringe stories no longer read or sound all that different from too many of the real stories. Too often, both have little or no sourcing; they lack context and they get disseminated with almost no fact-checking. Sometimes the fake stories look, sound or read better than real ones. And both are chasing the same thing: ratings or online clicks.

There’s a reason our Founding Fathers explicitly guaranteed freedom of the press in the 1st Amendment. It is imperative for a free and healthy society. Just ask the journalists in unfree places who every day risk their lives on its behalf. If we are squandering that freedom, don’t just blame Facebook or Twitter. Blame all of us.”

The 24/7 news cycle has created more pressure on reporters and newsrooms to generate stories at a rapid pace. As Van Susteren noted, that has led to a lack of sourcing and fact-checking, and opened the door to fake news.

If the media are truly interested in halting or slowing the spread of fake news, they need to start cleaning up their own houses instead of blaming others for this scourge.

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