The real “fake” news


photo by Peyton Sutch

Sophomore Sarena Wilkerson, among many other students, watches major news outlets like CNN. However, these are not exactly the most reliable forms of journalism.

We all know one of our 45th president’s favorite phrases to insert into every press conference and interview: “fake news.” And whether you backed Donald Trump in his hatred for the press or laughed at how he discredits facts as opinions, the reverberations of his words have left an undeniable impact.

Political polarization is nothing new, but the scars that Trump’s presidency left behind run deep. Democrats hate Republicans, just as Republicans hate Democrats, and it is starting to feel increasingly impossible to have a civil discussion with someone who disagrees with you. There is a plague of mistrust and hate running rampant across the country that has affected everyone — especially the integrity of journalists.

Above all, it is a journalist’s responsibility to provide “the truth,” as the American Press Institute puts it. Open dialogue is certainly welcome, and anyone can point out that the First Amendment enables anybody to give any opinion they want. But the tether between journalism and the truth has become worn down over the years, and now it feels like news outlets are just catering to their audiences because they know that if they do not, there will be outrage.

The worst part is how audiences go right along with this pandering, unknowingly driving a deeper wedge between the left and right. CNN and Fox News are some of the best known examples when it comes to political bias in the news, and yet their viewership continues to hinge onto their every word.

You will not find a single article on CNN’s website discussing Kamala Harris’ messy history as a criminal prosecutor, because CNN wants you to focus on how she is the first female VP and decently progressive. And Fox News is hardly known for its Trump-bashing — but they will stress every possible way that Joe Biden has already failed as president.

CNN and Fox, of course, are not exclusively guilty of these biases. There are countless news outlets that do much the same, these two are just easy pickings. However, there is a very obvious connection between all of these examples to a vocabulary term from the U.S. History class I took last year: yellow journalism.

In layman’s terms, it is a form of journalism that prioritizes reactive news over factual news. Newspapers would write exaggerated articles brimming with misinformation to gain more public support for something they otherwise would not, had the public known all the facts. We learned about yellow journalism as though it were a thing of the past.

It would be willfully ignorant to think such a thing, though. Take a look around. Editorials are one thing — in fact, they are an excellent way to ignite discussion among a larger audience, but the mere title of “editorial” specifically prefaces an article with the statement that what you are about to consume is simply someone’s educated opinion. The real issues arise when news outlets begin publishing things that are not just opinionated, but outright false, and pass those things off as facts.

Take the up-and-running ‘journalist’ competitors of TikTok and Reddit. While most larger organizations at least try to fact-check their reports despite their blatant favoritisms, it is becoming more commonplace to hear your Aunt Stephanie brag about how she does not watch cable anymore because Facebook tells her everything she needs to know. In reality, these social media groups are not necessarily obliged to truthfulness, and often have no problem with spreading sensationalized lies. The fact that extremist conspiracies like “Pizzagate” get as out of hand as they have, goes to show the depth of America’s trust issues when it comes to the difference between real and fake.

These sorts of dramatized and contrived stories have beaten the reputation of journalism into the ground, and gruesomely so. Any individual with a basic education on how our country’s election system works would be able to decipher, from the given facts, that Biden genuinely won the 2020 election. But once you turn on the TV to Fox, you will be met with Tucker Carlson’s vehement insistence that the entire process was rigged. What is scary is not that Tucker Carlson, Fox News Entertainment star, is allowed to spew out his right-wing propaganda all day long. What is scary is that Fox’s audience of millions take that propaganda as fact.

People would rather believe the same twisted, mainstream news as their peers than gather a balanced viewpoint from their own research. “Fake news” has driven fear and mistrust into information that would otherwise be indisputably true, and this creates a vicious cycle that does not allow anyone to form a unique opinion outside of Democratic and Republican agendas.

This is terrifying, and it is not true journalism. Angry Facebook moms are too caught up in their QAnon conspiracies to think about the ramifications of their posts. Major publications are too busy trying to improve their ratings with their tiny glimpses of the news that they broadcast through rose-colored glasses. It is not about the news anymore, it is about how to make audiences feel better about their opinions, because that is all they want to hear.

It would seem we have forgotten what it means to be a journalist. More than simply delivering the truth to the people, journalism provides a platform for discussion. There is a reason that “freedom of the press” is listed as one of our First Amendment rights. Without it, how could we ever expect to know what is happening? How could we exercise the basis of the First Amendment, freedom of speech, if there is no discussion to be had about said happenings?

In a country so divided that we might as well brace ourselves for another civil war, feeding into your preferred news channel’s profits does little to help. Your nightly reportings of ‘why Ted Cruz is despicable’ may give you reason to complain amongst your like-minded friends, but how is that supposed to facilitate compromise and civility when the other half of the country is busy being told how Ted Cruz will save our democracy? The answer is that it does not facilitate anything of the sort. Instead we become more divided, and more unabashedly stubborn in our beliefs, and the polarization worsens.

I am not asking those on the left to start watching Fox News, or for those on the right to start watching CNN, because that will serve no purpose other than to get people more angry. The takeaway needs to be this: listen to real journalists who prioritize educating and informing people, not propaganda pretending to be journalism that only cares to get people riled up.

It may be unrealistic to demand completely objective news in such a bipartisan landscape. However, there is definitely a middle ground we can reach, as long as we can get out of our heads and focus on the truth instead of what creates the better narrative. So the next time you hear breaking news about the political scandal of the week, do your research and check your sources.