There is certainly one thing that US President Donald Trump has given to the world, and that is the concept of fake news.
I watched, in real time, Trump’s media interaction in which he first used the term. That media interaction was scheduled to last for 20 minutes; it went on for 75 minutes. Then, to the amazement of many, one reporter asked a silly question. Trump responded by telling him bluntly that it was silly and added something like: “Your TV station is well-known for producing fake news, so I am not interested in talking to you.” Trump added that the TV station had also made nasty personal comments about his wife, which certainly were not news and were designed to cause personal hurt.
I agreed with Trump entirely. Recently, I watched on CNN a White House press briefing by a fellow I had not seen before. The topic was a Trump administration proposal to insist that any immigrants into the US must be able to speak English.
A CNN reporter put his hand up and sarcastically asked: “Does that mean that the US will only accept immigrants from England and Australia in the future?” The White House guy then lashed at the reporter, telling him that, that was one of the dumbest questions that he had ever head. He went on a bit and told him to get his act together and not to be so blatantly dumb in public.
I was mentally cheering the White House guy and congratulating him. Bear in mind that universities offer degrees in journalism. Journalists are expected to be intelligent and polite, like any other professionals. Sadly, some journalists and media outlets have given themselves the licence to dispense with such things as human decency and honesty. I have been on the receiving end of this myself, so I know what I am talking about. Consider the guy who wrote: “Dr Kemm is a piece of human trash.” That comment and subsequent article were widely distributed internationally, as were others in similar vein.
Now we have to ask the question: What is news? Many people will say that the answer is obvious. But no, there is a big difference between news and opinion. News is: “An aeroplane crashed in the Drakensberg today, killing 25 people.” Opinion is: “A suspected badly maintained aeroplane, from a minor airline, crashed in Drakensberg today, killing at least 25 people. Pilot error and bad maintenance are suspected as the cause of the accident, but Civil Aviation authorities say that it will take at least a month to arrive at initial findings.”
Increasingly, these days, newspapers and other media outlets produce opinion intertwined with the real news to such a degree that one has to pay real attention to separate the two. During breakfast, I quite often watch British SkyNews on TV. What SkyNews does each morning is have about four newspaper journalists sitting around a table, discussing items out of newspapers scattered on the table.
The only qualifications that the ‘panel’ have for that job is that they are journalists. What irritates me is how much ‘in-depth analysis’ they go into. They are not telling the news; they are expressing their opinions on a wide range of items. At times, I watch in amazement as some journalist, who, perhaps, has been in the job half a dozen years, proceeds to explain why the British Prime Minister did something. The journalist then talks as if he or she knows how the Prime Minister thinks and what she said in private to the French President. They then end up with ‘conclusions’ that are a total fabrication of their own feelings. Not news at all. That is an aspect of fake news.
There are people who get to write opinion pieces on topics on which they know absolutely nothing. I recall when, as a nuclear scientist, I was asked to take part in a two-person debate live on TV in front of a studio audience. The topic was nuclear power. My opponent was a university lecturer. He was in the Fine Arts Department and his speciality was finger painting on pottery. The chairperson of the debate pointed out that we had equal time and equal rights to our opinions.
In the old days of the Fleet Street professional journalist, there was pride in telling the public the accurate truth. There is now far too much latitude for journalists to give their opinions or, worse, for them to give their own version of the truth because they are projecting their personal beliefs.
I have personally given journalists true, verifiable facts face to face, only, when reading their articles the next day, to find an intentionally altered version of reality because the journalist has a personal point of view to project.
One can expect this type of behaviour from some publications, which nobody expects to take seriously, or those websites that deliberately create dramatic fake news to get people to log in so that they push up their viewership in order to sell advertising.
I loved it when Trump’s White House guy thumped the CNN reporter for being so sarcastic and insulting. Hopefully, the Trump fake news gift to society results in the genuine professional news people getting the upper hand, while the others get pushed down the pecking order.