The late football coach Bill Peterson was a master of malapropisms. A sampling:
As head coach at Florida State University in the 1960s, he said: “Men, when they play the national anthem, I want you to stand on your helmets and put the sidelines under your arms.”
Later, as head coach of the NFL’s Houston Oilers, he said: “Men, I want you to think of one word all season. One word and one word only — Super Bowl!”
Which brings us to the purpose of today’s editorial, which is to offer some commentary — and insight, perhaps — on “fake news,” one of President Trump’s favorite catch phrases. He used it often in his 2016 presidential campaign, so much in fact, that one online site named it “word of the year” in 2017, which is why we dredged up that quote about the Super Bowl from Coach Peterson.
This is important because, as the rhetoric ramps up in the 2020 presidential campaign, our guess is Americans will hear people and the media talking plenty about fake news.
Depending on your own values, political and otherwise, “fake news” will either be something you read or hear that you know for a fact to be untrue, or real news that you don’t happen to like or agree with.
Wikipedia defines “fake news” as a “form of yellow journalism or propaganda ..." whose purpose is to deliberately misinform, or hoaxes spread via traditional news media or social media.
That style of journalism was in vogue for many years, generations ago, usually because reporters were paying sources for stories, and people eager to make a buck would just make stuff up.
Those practices vanished when real media and real reporting took over, and for years presenting the news in a straight-forward, honest manner has been the norm.
Then came the digital news era, bringing with it an increased presence of false news, made-up stories and politically-motivated lies — reverting us to the yellow-journalism age. Once the digital platforms sell the fake news as real, the misinformation is off and running, like a California wildfire driven by gale-force winds.
Fake news is so prevalent that a Pew Research Center study of American attitudes has ranked it of greater concern than racism, climate change or terrorism. That says a lot about the power of deliberately falsified reports.
The Pew study reveals that Americans have widely divergent views about fake news and different responses to it, which suggests that the emphasis on misinformation might actually run the risk of making people who watch the media less well-informed, which is diametrically opposed to the aim of legitimate news agencies.
Apparently, the aim of feeding Americans false information is to make it more difficult for Americans to see the truth. It’s a political tool worth its weight in blood money.
This newspaper and its staff do everything in our power to make sure that what you read on these pages and in our online presentation is a compilation of the facts, verified and reverified before a story makes it to the print or online editions. We can make mistakes, and if you spot one, please let us know as soon as you can.
Here is some sound advice about the news you read and hear, and it’s a lot like the advice we have for residents with regard to avoiding being victims in phone scams — if it looks or sounds too good or too bad to be true, it probably isn’t true. The truth usually is somewhere in the middle.
Healthy skepticism is the key.