Writing Right: The Blog

Shutting Down "Fake News"

February 23, 2017

Tags: Opinion

"Fake News." Ever hear of it? It's been in the headlines a lot lately, thanks to our President. Love him or hate him, Trump has been calling out the deteriorating pretenders to the Fourth Estate for years now. I've been doing it for a couple of decades.

I saw the inevitability of fake news half a century ago when the British press devolved into a ragtag bunch of self-serving renegades taking Yellow Journalism to its zenith. It seemed back then that the American press would eventually follow, and it did. But not until the last presidential election has America's "Freedom of the Press" morphed into "Free-for-All of the Press."

You see it everywhere. The one-time bastion of "All the news that's fit to print" has turned so violently left wing, their publisher is now going door-to-door to beg via email its subscribers to re-up. He's admitting the paper's past journalistic transgressions and promising to right the ship since it floundered so badly on a spate of fake news, culminating in the 2016 election. The resulting egg on The Gray Lady's face has been anything but reassuring. The paper continues to lose subscribers, integrity, and prestige at an unprecedented rate.

But the Times isn't alone in its shabby treatment of the truth. Other "mainline" publications ranging from The New Yorker to The Washington Post, the L.A. Times, and Newsweek long ago gave up the ghost of pretension to the Fourth Branch of Government. They're joined by a spate of more than fifty other Internet and print pretenders, from CNN and The Huffington Post to NPR, Politico, and The New Republic.

Sadly, they took their cue from the skyrocketing numbers and staggering loyalty behind some lesser fake-news rags: the Blogs. Bloggers for years have felt a certain kinship with the legitimate press (even before that press took a sharp veer to the left). When the Ninth Circuit Court appeared to sanction their rights to free speech in a ruling in 2011, it concluded that, even though someone might not write for the “institutional press,” he's entitled to all the protections the Constitution grants journalists.

Emboldened, the Blogosphere exploded in a rash of unfounded, unresearched, unrestricted, and unsubstantiated claims against public figures everywhere. Hampered by their own notoriety that makes them "fairer game" to such libelous attacks than private figures such as you and me, the "celebs" had little option but to sit back and take it or waste their money on meaningless lawsuits that more often than not went nowhere.

Unfortunately, the Ninth Court, in its usual flash of brilliance, failed to take into consideration the fact that, by equating bloggers with formally trained journalists working for legitimate news outlets that survive or fail on the strength of their reporting, they created a monster. By arming everyone with a .45-caliber handgun, they made our cops' guns mute.

The resulting slaughter in the streets has been both ruthless and relentless. Everyone who can afford a domain name for $95-a-year (or free, in many cases) can hang out his shingle. The result: Voila! Instant journalist. But without the proper training and vetting, weighting, and editing of a story; without the prerequisite fact-checking, sourcing, and evaluating the objectivity of a story; and without concern for the inherent obligations historically assigned to the press of morality, fairness, objectivity, and dignity, there is no Freedom of the Press. There is only Falsehood.

The proof? How many scumbags do you know who dally in the daily destruction of other people's lives via their "journalistic" blogs? If you stopped to take count, you would be stunned. Ask Milo.

Yes, it seems Donald Trump is right. The world is filled with fake news--and fake news creators, too, of course. The only way to stop them is to fight them where it hurts: their pocketbooks.

If you're talking about legitimate news outlets gone awry, the way to wake them up is to boycott their products and call 'em like you see 'em. Cancel your subscriptions and get your "news" somewhere more honest. But if you're talking about unprincipled and often unhinged bloggers with a personal vendetta who wouldn't know the meaning of the word, libel, if you set the dictionary down in front of them (or, rather, posted it on their screens), you have only one option: Sue the bastards.

We're not speaking of the rational bloggers (and there are still plenty of them in the Blogosphere, thank God) who practice their crafts responsibly. But they are increasingly in the minority. Do the math. And call your lawyer. That, sadly, is really what it all boils down to. America's Fourth Estate has been waylaid--and emboldened--by the Court's interpretation that virtually all reporters are created equal. The only way to clean out the real swamp is to hit 'em where it hurts.

Can you win? Absolutely. Libel laws are still on your side, particularly if you can show intent to harm you or your reputation through publishing damaging lies. Awards in the millions of dollars for the most egregious of offenses are not unusual. (Former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, for instance, was awarded $7.3 million only last year.)

So think about it the next time you're attacked unfairly, unremittingly, and with outright malice and intent to harm. Want to help shut down "fake news"? Then take the first step to shutting down the "fake news creators." Wherever they hide.

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