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It’s not news that ‘fake news’ is used willy-nilly

April 7, 2018 GMT

It’s important to keep an eye on the rest of the world.

After all, the world certainly has its eye on us.

Recently, news anchors working for stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. — a media giant that currently owns, operates and provides services to 193 television stations in America, but could add 40 more stations to that number if the FCC OKs its attempt at acquiring Tribune Media — delivered a scripted message to millions of viewers. Some of those stations and anchors are here in San Antonio.

The script, which was published in seattlepi.com, has a sound message on the surface. It sounded off on “irresponsible, one-sided news stories” being shared on social media, the “alarming” idea that some media outlets “publish these same fake stories without checking facts first,” and a lament that “some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think.’


It went on to express that the station (or, rather, stations, if you figure the corporate mandate was read by a couple of anchors during a news broadcast at each of the local stations) understands “Truth” (capitalized, natch) “is neither politically ‘left nor right’ and is committed to ‘factual reporting.’” It then goes on to urge readers to “reach out” to the individual stations if coverage is “unfair.”

That’s fair enough. Buzzwords and spin aside, a media corporation should want the public to be skeptical of the fake stuff, and it should invite consumers to weigh in on the product. That some employees of Sinclair might have not wanted to read from the script is also not a big surprise; Americans don’t like being told what to say, even when one’s job is to, well, read from a script in a way that sounds convincingly unscripted.

Then last weekend, the sports news site Deadspin posted a video that merged the speech as it was broadcast by anchors across the country. The video of dozens of trusted anchors delivering the scripted speech — and the propaganda feels it sent — went viral because it bothered a lot of people.

But it shouldn’t have, because it is nothing new.

The Deadspin video that some saw as an alarm about a locksteppy message is nothing more than a reminder of the power of the media.

Every time we turn on the television or the radio, every time we log on to the internet or even sync with our telephones, we are letting the omnipresent, world-influencing, trend-inducing and now data-mining world into our lives. That’s why quips trend across the country; it’s why a television — or radio or even online — campaign can be seen in Laredo as it is in Wichita, Kansas. If it’s corporately owned, it is probably going to be close to indistinguishable from the others.


And that Deadspin video is nothing more than a reminder of what we should all already know: The media have the power to deliver a tremendous message to a great deal of people in the blink of an eye, certainly long before the recipients even know they’ve been influenced.

Trouble is, the media are changing. Truth is not always uppercase, and half-truths slip through the cracks. Not everyone is a sophisticated consumer of news, but everyone with a keyboard can Like, Share and re-report. And everyone can have an agenda.

Fake news is a growing threat. But anybody who has been paying attention also knows that the label “fake news” is applied willy-nilly. For some people, labeling something “fake news” is a way to discredit anything that makes them uncomfortable and no amount of fact-checking is going to change that. That makes fake-news watchdogs more than a little suspect.

More and more, the public is its own gatekeeper. And it’s hard to keep a watchful eye on so many gates.