Friday, January 27, 2017

Who is the founding father of fake news?

There's a lot of talk about "fake news" these days, but lost in the 'here we are' is the 'how did we get here'. Some websites have proclaimed Dan Rather the founder of fake news, others have crowned Brian Williams as such. Understanding fake news is impossible without a full-scale structural analysis of "objective journalism" itself, because "objective journalism" was designed to facilitate fake news. The name to know is Walter Lippmann.

Walter Lippmann is generally regarded as the father of modern journalism, and as most of us know, modern journalism is what it is today because of the concept of objectivity. It is because of Lippmann and the work he did that journalists decided to go the "objective" route in the first place, instead of their prior mode which was openly partisan and in some cases, yellow.

The problem is Lippmann's writings. On the one hand, Lippmann perched himself up on a lofty elite tower and scolded other journalists of his day for their mis-reporting deeds in some of his writings - most notably, "A Test of the News". But then on the other hand, Lippmann is the inventor of the phrase "Manufacture of Consent" in his book "Public Opinion". As a journalist, Lippmann really only had one way to "manufacture" said consent, and that was through journals, magazines, editorials, and news reports. This alone should be enough to pique the curiosity of people interested in fake news, to take a look into this "manufacture of consent" and see what it is all about. What is "the manufacture of consent" about anyways?

Being published prior to 1923, his book "Public Opinion" is 100% free and in the public domain. It also has its due as a challenging read. And its not like Lippmann outright states in the simplest terms "I want to use news reporting to manipulate people".

Instead, Lippmann will use two or three pages (358 and 359) to enunciate his point that 1) News and truth are not the same thing, 2) there is only a small body of actual truth in the large body of information, and 3) the rest is in the journalist's own discretion.

In other words, a journalist has a gold card to lie all they want.

Lippmann spends nearly 20% of his book on the concept of "stereotypes". He was obsessed with stereotypes because he believed that was where his greatest moment of opportunity was at for effectively leveraging these stereotypes against the reader. Page 355 is quite possibly the most important page in the book, from the standpoint of understanding manipulative journalism and fake news:

It is a problem of provoking feeling in the reader, of inducing him to feel a sense of personal identification with the stories he is reading. News which does not offer this opportunity to introduce oneself into the struggle which it depicts cannot appeal to a wide audience. The audience must participate in the news, much as it participates in the drama, by personal identification. Just as everyone holds his breath when the heroine is in danger, as he helps Babe Ruth swing his bat, so in subtler form the reader enters into the news. In order that he shall enter he must find a familiar foothold in the story, and this is supplied to him by the use of stereotypes. They tell him that if an association of plumbers is called a "combine" it is appropriate to develop his hostility; if it is called a "group of leading business men" the cue is for a favorable reaction.

It is in a combination of these elements that the power to create opinion resides. Editorials reinforce.

The key to Lippmann's book though is the culture, not one or two or a handful pull quotes. The culture of the book is the indictment. The culture of the book is 400+ pages of media manipulation, in one way or another, especially that 20% that is devoted to stereotypes. That's what the stereotypes are for. It's all about manipulation.

For those who prefer audiobooks over printed text, Public Opinion is also downloadable in MP3 format. That will give you preference options in learning more about the roots of fake news.

Being able to discuss in detail the history of fake news in its entirety, not just starting in the year 2004 - now that's a powerful thing indeed.

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