I wonder who first used the phrase “fake news”. Was it the Great Faker ? Or some hard pressed hack on one of the US’s remaining great newspapers ? Anyway, it was vivid enough to catch on and is now a staple of today’s vocabulary.
In my mind, I keep hearing the voices of my youth muttering about “ you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers” to which several and various voices would be raised in disagreement if not dispute , claiming degrees of reliability and commitment in the newspaper they took. This is all very dated. Even newspapers that still sell aren’t selling as they used to and the pressure to find something to shift one edition after another must be considerable. Very little is done for the good of our health, political, psychological or physical. It has to show value and value means it has to sell.
Yesterday I watched a long time BBC presenter and a political correspondent only a bit younger head up a newcast by debating what the Prime Minister had or had not said to his Chancellor – something they couldn’t have known. When opinion becomes a staple of national news, you may not have fake news but you do have skews – skewed news, very often stewed news (endlessly repeated till the flavour has gone out of it) and certainly stewed in another way, made up of bits and pieces which might be intellectually nourishing – if not exactly good for you. Skewed news in plain language means bent. Most of it is and we are encouraged to think that if it is, it is benignly so.
The hallmark of a good journalist is how he or she gives you a combination of information and word picture. That this is open to abuse explains why announcing you are a journalist to certain people makes you far from popular. Long ago we used to say “Just give me the facts !” but nowadays you’d be pressed to find them. Journalism is a weird hybrid, involving all sorts of skills dictated by different contexts, skills and instructions. It shocked me to discover that the people who wrote the best tripe were often the best educated. You need to be clever to be a fool.
And you can get very hung up on the truth: what truth ? whose truth ? how much truth ? Very little truth is absolute outside certain scientific disciplines and like beauty, it is framed in the eye of the beholder.
“Ballooning costs and delays to the HS2 rail link are expected to be confirmed by transport secretary Grant Shapps.” That’s what we can safely say – coloured by knowledge that the line is in chronic overspend, was the vanity project to end them all and will be communicated by a man with a charm bypass, a little short himself on the public credit side.
“Boris Johnson has ordered a review of Europe’s biggest infrastructure project, which could lead to its top speed being cut or the plan being scrapped altogether.” The Blond has been in spending mood, well again – the appearance of spending mood. Probably his father told him, this is how you get the public on your side. So we’re due for something cancelled and HS2 has cost shameful amounts of public money. We’ll see.
This is all about degree – the degree of the truth, the degree of expediency, the degree of what the public want to hear – and crucially, how it is packaged. Virtual reality has entered every kind of food chain. It is rare to want to know how bad it is, so that you can prepare yourself. Most of us want a couple of sunbeams in amongst the grey. Which is why you so often wind up with good natured idiocy, appealing kids or furry animals as the last item on the news – perfect example of skews. This bomb, that war, this shooting, another rise in addictive death, schools falling down and roads with potholes, likelihood of flood, fire and civil unrest: don’t worry ! Here’s a kitten ….