Fake news, clickbait and mass disinformation. These have been hot topics lately, and for good reason. I’ve watched several viral videos about the reaction of news outlets to Trump’s budding presidency. In these videos, a contrast was drawn with those same news outlets’ reactions to Obama’s presidency. Right-wing outlets slammed Obama for doing the same things which they praise Trump for, and vice-versa. I’d call it comical if it weren’t so costly. President Trump even refused to answer one outlet’s questions because they were what he called “fake news”.
Journalism emerged as a method to keep government accountable to its people, and there was a responsibility for journalists to maintain integrity and honesty. I think we have this idea that, very recently, real journalism has died in favour of higher ratings and profits. This is a scary idea, especially for those of us who are concerned about the future of our planet: but let’s rewind to the 1980’s.
The 80’s were simpler times so we’re told, with neon ski jackets and hammer pants. It was the golden age of the now-ironic guitar solo, MTV, and the glam rock hairband. Amid the synthesizer laden soundtrack of the 80’s however, there are lyrical hints that things weren’t all that much different from today. In 1982, during the hiatus of The Eagles, Don Henley released Dirty Laundry. The lyrics are so profound, they could easily be an anthem of today. In his satirical critique of the news industry, he hits the nail on the head of entertainment focused cable news:
I make my living off the evening news
Just give me something-something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry
Well, I coulda been an actor, but I wound up here
I just have to look good, I don’t have to be clear
We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blond
Who comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry
You don’t really need to find out what’s going on
You don’t really want to know just how far it’s gone
Just leave well enough alone
Eat your dirty laundry
We can do “The Innuendo”
We can dance and sing
When it’s said and done we haven’t told you a thing
We all know that crap is king
Give us dirty laundry!
If those lyrics don’t define today’s cable news outlets, I don’t know what could: and we should take solace in that. The internet has provided a medium which exposes cable news for the garbage that it is. If it seems like fake news is a new phenomenon, look to this song from 1982. Denzel Washington recently said “If you don’t watch the news, you’re uninformed. If you do watch the news, you’re misinformed.” As jealous as I am that I couldn’t write something so concise, I couldn’t agree more.
As King Solomon put it, there is nothing new under the sun. Shakespeare, in Sonnet 59 wrote “If there be nothing new, but that which is… Hath been before, how are our brains beguil’d” and Mark Twain added “We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.” Fake news isn’t new, it’s just that we have only recently labeled it as such. That should give us hope in what seems like a hopeless situation. The fact that we can now identify fake news marks a shift in public perception. #FakeNews doesn’t mark a journey towards fake news, but rather from it. Online and independent journalism has exposed cable news, and that should give us hope for tomorrow.