Denzel Washington’s comments on fake news represent a truth bomb we all need to succumb to, for if there’s to be a fix to the fake news situation, we all need to do better.
I seldom use my editorial desk as a soapbox to stand on but after being emboldened by the words of Denzel Washington, I feel compelled to use my rickety swivel chair as a step and OH&S be damned.
For those who missed it, Denzel turned a flickering, Californian red carpet into the pale, loveless sands of Alamogordo after he dropped his atomic truthbomb on the ills of fake news.
All of what he says is true; those who are resistant to the wily, easy charms of fake news lose, and those who participate fully, flailing their hopeless whirlwind step, do so too. But winter is coming, and I fear the truth will be shunted out the front door into the uncaring night à la Fred Flintstone. While it may yell for our attention, we’ve already moved inside. In Australia we have been comparatively lucky. The fake news we have experienced has been juvenile compared to our US relative with hair on its lip. But, whilst we haven’t elected a head of state upon the back of it, the triggers are present.
No-one, especially in such a competitive market, has the stomach for objective truth, as objective truth is available to all. Thusly, the question is invariably asked in sweated Monday editorials; “well, what makes us different?”. The answer, as Denzel pointed out, is the race to be first place. The quicksilver age in which we live has speeded both the process, and the value of a piece of news. Harsh to say it, but even the most enduring, thought provoking pieces only last for a day or two, maximum. The prevailing culture seems to encourage a “get it out, get it read, get onto the next one” attitude. On a personal note, under my editorial stewardship, I’ve been surprised to see what stories the public latches onto and the pieces they do not; fast is often preferred to thought provoking.
As publications, we follow the audience. If the audience only has a stomach for digestible tidbits, then we serve them up with relish and bump the deeper content further down the list, for, if we don’t, we have no audience.
The temptation exists, to have that shining briefcase of gold over breakfast, and but for a moment, we cool. However, therein lies the gimp.
We share the same fertile breeding ground as the Americans. The divide between Left and Right is sparse, with the battlelines drawn between right and wrong, as combatants do not lay down their halberds but merely grip them tighter. There’s distrust in the established media, as there is in politics. With the wafer-thin, insider-dealing, sell-out nature of the Senate, the quick point scoring is all. Make no mistake, the Trump situation, and all that rides in after it, can easily happen here.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Five fake news stories we believed in 2016
- Get it while it’s schlock: The return of fake news
- TBS Legends: Truth is in the eye of the beholder
Recent History should serve as our guide. The mistake that the US made was legitimising fake news by their response to it; first, in not taking it seriously, which make the content louder to get noticed; then, when it was noticed, taking it far too seriously, morphing it into a kind of truth of its own. (Not that it was true, but that people agreed with it.)
As Mr Washington said, we get good at something we practice. So, I suggest that we practice the art of suspicion. To shoehorn a tip originally intended for writing, what’s required moving forward is a built-in, shock-resistant, bullshit detector.
I know people are angry, divided and reactive, so I do not believe that the Newscorp/Fairfax fiasco from earlier in the week will be an isolated incident. I’m not asking us to tear down newsprint colossi by hurling a Molotov through a chat window, but see it for what it represents: a fork in the road. There’s no fictional pedophile ring in a Canberran restaurant yet, but there absolutely could be, if we let it.
There will always be people who only hear what they want to hear, and we’re all like that to varying extent, but as an eye for eye makes the world blind, a headline for a headline makes us all stupid.
The responsibility lies in all of us.
Those who type the sentences, and those who read them.