Conflicting news stories is not novel and probably one can make the case that there have always been news outlets with some limited focus on the truth. Having said that, the current problem with fake news is off the charts and is seriously compounding the challenges of dealing responsibly with the major issues we face. With all the doubt of information shared in the public to build support, progress on issues like the economy, climate change, and a broad-based infrastructure plan may not move forward.
So why is very questionable reporting and disinformation off the charts? Why is fake news now so dominant in the daily news cycle and the impacts so dramatical? The answer is quite obvious. Former President Trump, in the last five or so years, has put his stamp of approval on the use of false information, twisted conclusions, and downright acceptance of lies as part of today’s dialogue. To add insult to injury, he has successfully used his showman skills to attract a following that enthusiastically buys into the lies and false messages, making him a political force despite not holding an elected position.
Because of Trump’s style, much of the Republican Party, particularly office holders, toe the line and salute the outrageous actions primarily to get re-elected. These politicians count on the Fox-like news outlets for getting their message out to the voters who they need to win. This partnership is certainly financially positive for both Trump and Republican candidates, and with money being so important in today’s politics, we should not be surprised that truth tends to be the forgotten player.
But it is not just Fox and Newsmax folks that are at fault here. The more liberal outlets could help if they could find a way to separate the news from their positions and beliefs that would fit better as editorials. The way it is now with news and opinions meshed together, I understand why folks with more conservative views turn off MSNBC and CNN, seeing these news outlets as guilty as anyone and, naturally, staying loyal to the conservative version of the daily news.
Clearly, Public Radio and Television do the best job at providing objective information as they present the facts as clearly as possible. Proof of their objectivity is the year-after-year effort by Republicans to shut these news outlets down and take away any government support for the truth being presented. Volunteer contributions are the lifeblood of public-funded news, and thanks to all who do support their efforts.
Major newspaper outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times do a much better job of separating the sharing of the news in a factual way from how they personally feel about the direction of whatever policy issue is at hand. I find the Wall Street Journal to directly share the facts on the news side of the paper and, yes, on the editorial pages they clearly represent their very conservative views of how things should unfold. But too few people today read newspapers in depth or possibly at all, and many people are fine getting their ‘facts’ from anonymous sources like QAnon.
So where does that leave us? How does this clearly wrong set of actions continue to prevail? What can be done? It isn't really complicated. Winning elections would really help. Complaining alone will not get it done. As long as lies have huge political impacts for some elected officials, the lies will continue. We who prefer the side of truth to win out need to adopt the Stacy Abrams philosophy of an intensive ground game, starting early and often on mobilizing voters—which actually works, as demonstrated in Georgia—and get to work.
To put this in historical context, I share this message from Ulysses S. Grant, key General in the Civil War and later President of the United States. “If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon, but between patriotism and intelligence on one side, and superstitions, ambition, and ignorance on the other.”