For Those Who Are Confused, Here Is An Excellent Explanation Of Why Biased Mainstream Media “Fake News” Is More Sinister Than Hoax News Stories

cnn-newsroom-hands-up

I don’t feature Victor Davis Hanson’s commentary as much as I probably should. It’s my bias against being unjustly seen as biased: he’s an eloquent and thoughtful conservative scholar, but is almost completely embargoed by liberal websites and media. I have a difficult time fighting off efforts to pigeon-hole Ethics Alarms as a conservative blog as it is, and citing a prominent conservative Hanson is seen by many as a smoking gun.

Nonetheless, as we live through the Fake News Ethics Train Wreck,  a caboose on the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck, Hanson’s latest commentary is a shaft of light. I have consistently referred to partial, distorted, badly reported, slanted or misframed news stories (like the current reporting of the Sally Yates betrayal as an act of principle and courage, rather than what it was: a politically motivated breach of professional ethics) as the real and sinister “fake news,” even as the mainstream media has pointed to the other kind—completely fabricated news—to distract from its own partisan, unethical reporting. Many commenters here have protested that the former isn’t truly “fake news.”

Hanson knocks that claim out of the park (Spring Training is fast approaching, so baseball metaphors are on my mind) , using many of the examples Ethics Alarms has cited previously. It is well worth reading.

Here is his essay,  Fake News: Postmodernism By Another Name.

25 Comments

Filed under Education, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, The Internet, U.S. Society

25 responses to “For Those Who Are Confused, Here Is An Excellent Explanation Of Why Biased Mainstream Media “Fake News” Is More Sinister Than Hoax News Stories

  1. Neil A. Dorr

    Jack,

    I miss when you used to talk about things other than the things you now spend all your time talking about. American media bias and the controversies surrounding it are probably the least unethical things happening in the world right now. Millions are dying, millions more live in hopeless situations — ethics runs through all of that.

    Sincerely,
    Neil

    • I honestly don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. I don’t repeat posts, and I don’t write about grand philosophical issues like war and poverty. In the current case, I am uniquely qualified to clarify a controversy involving the Presidency and legal ethics; I would be abdicating responsibility not to cover it.

      The lack of a trustworthy news media endangers democracy and the US itself, which given this nation’s role as an ethical exemplar, makes it as vital a story as there is.

    • Tippy Scales

      American media bias is absolutely a crucial issue to discuss. The media has a responsibility to inform the public in a non-partisan manner, and they’re abdicating that responsibility.

      How are people supposed to know what’s going on, if the people charged with informing the public filter the information they disseminate through a biased lens?

    • What!?

      a.) This blog has never suggested that it writes about only the most pressing ethical questions.
      b.) The News Media IS one of the most pressing ethical question.
      c.) How in the world can any of that other stuff get fixed without an honest, unbiased press who sheds lights on those problems?
      d.) What does the “least unethical thing” mean? Does it mean that you agree it’s unethical, but it’s not a big ethics problem? Or does it mean that the news media isn’t unethical at all-least unethical could be read to mean fully ethical. “Jesus is the least unethical person of all time.” If it’s the latter, I’m forced to the conclusion that you may be an idiot. If it’s the former, you are seriously mistaken (but not quite an idiot).
      e.) Without the press doing it’s job, the whole of America has a major problem. If the press doesn’t present things with an even hand, the voters, who were not properly educated, will be manipulated into making decisions that simply reflect the preferences of the press. That didn’t happen this election because there are still voters who had a decent education, back when teachers were a profession that cared and most teachers were competent. (Although the anti-press voters didn’t exactly pick someone who instills confidence in me either-but I believe that’s the fault of the unethical two party system. Most voters didn’t want to vote for Trump or Hilary).
      f.)How can you not be afraid of a biased press, once those people die and they are replaced by voters who were taught by the morons who are teaching now?
      g.) Frankly, the terrifying combustibility of the terrible education system and a terribly biased press seems to me the great ethics danger of this age. I’d love to hear how I’m wrong.

  2. Wayne

    I’m not clear if students attending universities are required to take a course in ethics in journalism. My guess is that they aren’t.

  3. What Hanson is describing in a nutshell is Progressive Magical Thinking which in my opinion has lead to a society wide flushing of ethics dragging morals down the drain with it.

  4. Glenn Logan

    Sorter Hanson: Media uses “ends justify the means” to rationalize fake narratives as long as it will promote liberal holy writ.

    Shocking.

  5. Warren

    This article is hugely disingenuous. Hanson summarizes several major journalistic scandals (Rolling Stone’s UVA article; the Duke lacrosse story), along with less specifically sourced “tropes” and “allegations” related to the result of the 2016 presidential election (it was Comey’s fault; it was Putin’s interference) and conflates them, even though they appear to be beasts of a different color: the former representing disgraceful reporting and the latter representing what appears to be editorializing and the “hot takes” of the Twittersphere. This, in the service of a thesis which is entirely semantic: bad journalism = fake news. Fine. Call shoddy reporting whatever you like, but there is a category difference between even the most gruesome of Hanson’s examples — say, Sabrina Rubin Erdely of Rolling Stone — and the traffickers of deliberate falsehoods whose offshore hoax sites propagate lies just for kicks. You say the errors and failures of the mainstream media are a bigger deal than their wholly amoral counterparts in the trolling biz because we ought to hold the mainstream media to a higher standard. I agree. But that’s all the more reason to distinguish between these two completely separate channels of information. You and Hanson seem to be stuck on the term “fake news” itself, so maybe remove that term from the argument and see where it stands. Does it still seem even remotely logical to conflate bad journalism with non-journalism? To conflate the ethical breaches of reporters with the intentional falsehoods of self-described trolls?

    • Chris

      I often find Hansen disingenuous, and the lede of this article is no exception:

      After the election, Democrats could not explain the inexplicable defeat of Hillary Clinton, who would be, they thought, the shoo-in winner in November. Over the next three months until Inauguration Day, progressives floated a variety of explanations for the Trump win—none of them, though, mentioned that the Clinton campaign had proven uninspired, tactically inept, and never voiced a message designed to appeal to the working classes.

      I did a spit take when I read this. I read a lot of progressive writers, and this has absolutely been “mentioned.” A quick Google search for “hillary clinton did not appeal to working class” turns up several progressive sources on the first page dealing with this precise issue. Not all of them agreed with the premise, but they absolutely addressed it. Could Hansen not be bothered to Google before he wrote this incorrect lede? It wouldn’t be the first time.

      • Nevertheless, the succession of excuses he lists are correct, with the popular vote still being the defualt rationalization that her campaign was just hunky-dory. “None” is just wrong, however.

  6. Glenn Logan

    Does it still seem even remotely logical to conflate bad journalism with non-journalism? To conflate the ethical breaches of reporters with the intentional falsehoods of self-described trolls?

    Answering for myself, yes, it does, and here’s why; journalists these days aren’t just doing bad journalism, as would a mere incompetent. They are doing deliberately biased journalism with intent to deceive.

    By my lights, that is much more dangerous than the trolls, because the trolls are largely easy to identify — an unknown “news” organization you’ve never heard of drumming up a sensational headline that speaks right to your biases.

    What the media are doing is much worse. Under the imprimatur of professionalism earned by name recognition from past efforts (something the trolls notably don’t have), they are dissimulating with an eye toward a biased and therefore unethical narrative. Their reports are more credible whether or not they are any more or less true.

    So yes, I think Hanson got it right. In fact, given the disparity in perceived gravitas, he may have done the trolls an injustice.

    • Glenn Logan

      Reply fail – this was meant as a reply to Warren’s comment.

    • Warren

      Glenn, even accepting every argument you present here, it still sounds like we need two different terms: one for the organizations which practice journalism, however ethically or non-ethically, and another for the trolls. If you and Jack and Hanson want to promote the idea that bad reportage by any group is fake news, that’s fine by me. But I still think we need to call these renegade sites *something.* They are quite literally a different thing: based offshore, run by people who are not journalists, who refer to *themselves* as pranksters. Again, I’m not disputing your points here. Even you use the term “trolls” and “mainstream media” in your response, which suggests that *some* sort of differentiating terminology is necessary.

      • Glenn Logan

        But I still think we need to call these renegade sites something. They are quite literally a different thing: based offshore, run by people who are not journalists, who refer to themselves as pranksters. Again, I’m not disputing your points here. Even you use the term “trolls” and “mainstream media” in your response, which suggests that some sort of differentiating terminology is necessary.

        Actually, I think calling them both fake news is both accurate and useful. When a professional journalist deliberately appeals to a biased position for the purpose of promoting a one-sided narrative, exactly like the offshore non-journalists do when they appeal to bias, i.e. “Hilary Clinton helps child abusers!” or some such, the difference is only motivation.

        The professional journalists intend to appeal to a biased narrative to mostly for partisan purposes, and the offshore sites just want clicks for profit. But they are both appealing to exactly the same thing — the bias of ill-informed or mentally deficient readers.

        Ergo, fake news.

        • Chris Marschner

          Glenn, if we draw an analogy between real and counterfeit goods, if I buy a Gucci handbag or a Rolex from a guy on the street and they turn out to be fakes I was less than diligent and wanted something too good to be true. Conversely, if I buy the identical goods (meaning counterfeit) from a high end retailer, their reputation should give me confidence in the authenticity of the good. When such a retailers begin knowingly selling fake products consumers and honest retailers suffer. When it’s information fake news is fake news.

  7. dragin_dragon

    Anybody here ever heard of the NATIONAL ENQUIRER? Not to put too fine a point on it but they are the original “fake news” propagators and they have NEVER been published off-shore. They’ve also been sued numerous times…and lost.

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