It’s unsettling that Mark Zuckerberg, king of Facebook, cannot see the difference between fact and myth. He recently told a committee in Washington that his global information labyrinth is neither inspired nor obliged to disclose the difference between the truth and a lie. Put the Zuckerberg way, fake news rocks; accuracy doesn’t.
In another era, when verified facts were the currency of good journalism, Zuckerberg would be quickly seen as a fraud, a poseur to be dismissed for his arrogant stupidity. Today he runs a global digital information exchange with 2.5 billion subscribers to a sluiceway of onrushing images, text and video which may or may not portray what is real and what isn’t. And there are the related specters of corporate data mining and Russian interplay. Accuracy advocates call it Fakebook because so much of its content cannot be trusted. Or verified.
Zuckerberg is an odd spokesman for digital communication. He has created a torrent he is unable to manage, a colossus he cannot control. Thanks to the likes of Zuckerberg, our information age has become the era of fable and pretense, of promise disabled. With truth such a damaged currency, the Fakebook generation is more likely to be played than informed.
A free press or
On October 30 The Salina Journal published a column by Rep. Steve Watkins, a Republican who represents the 2nd Kansas congressional district. Watkins raged about the tenacious focus of the House impeachment inquiry and the unfairness of “false narratives” that attempt to smear President Trump. Most of the text seemed straight from the White House script writers.
Layered among Watkins’ harsh words about Democrats and their witch hunts were grand self-promotions. He declared his important role in trade legislation. He will protect our borders. He admires veterans. He is foursquare behind Donald Trump, who will preserve our various freedoms. Watkins is fighting for us (although he doesn’t represent us) in Washington, and so on. He is also running for reelection, although he won’t be on our ballot. Watkins’ district is in far eastern Kansas.
It’s of little importance that Watkins is hardly a household name in these parts. Nor does it matter that we hear and read the same White House lines from a number of so-called guest columnists, including Rep. Roger (“Talking Points”) Marshall. But it’s passing strange that in an election season The Journal does not consider these self-promotions to be political advertisements and label them as such. It’s doubtful that their campaigns have been billed for the space.
Letters or official press releases from Sens. Jerry Moran or Pat Roberts can contain information of use or interest for constituents. That’s different, and of some value.
But the chants and war cries of politicians promote only the politician, or the steep slant of a pet scheme, or a favored cause lobby; they are advertisements on line or in print and should be labeled as such, especially in a year running up to an election.
In an earlier time, newspapers were published by bona fide journalists and not by private equity groups or hedge funds; informed and conscientious editors dealt sensibly with the huff-puffery that sprouted in an election season. At scrupulous publications, politicians and their organizations were given one free column in an election season; thereafter they were asked to pay the standard advertising rate for the space to promote themselves or their views. Otherwise the press release, the self-serving “column”, the party announcement thinly disguised as “news”, went in the nearest trash can.
Today, it’s odd that the asset-squeezing, money-driven corporations now running so many newspapers overlook this lapse in billing practice. Hedge fund journalism is about publishing without the messy expense of editors who know what they’re doing. This does away with the needless cost of separating fact from propaganda. The result is less about a free press and more about free advertising.