Parker column: Fake news will out
Washington Post Writers Group
WASHINGTON — The phrase “the truth will out” has always been at home in American newsrooms where journalists dedicate their days to making it so.
Sometimes Truth needs a little nudge, as was the case recently when an anti-media organization, absurdly named “Project Veritas,” apparently invented a story intended to impugn The Washington Post (and the media more broadly), while also helping Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Briefly, the more aptly named “Pretext Veritas” and its creator, the self-regarding (bad) actor James O’Keefe, seems to have hired a woman to say that Moore impregnated her in 1992 and that she got an abortion at 15. As if you could forget, Moore has been accused by several women of molesting them when they were teens and he was in his 30s.
Jaime T. Phillips presented herself to Post reporters with her scandalous tale, apparently expecting them to concede the paper’s bias against Moore, and, voila, a scoop! O’Keefe surely would have raced to present his findings, all filmed on hidden camera, his usual modus operandi, and launched a fresh fundraising drive.
You see? O’Keefe’s mission has been to prove that the media are biased. While this may be true to the degree that all human beings carry biases, the Post’s editorial board isn’t coy about its positions. That said, the editorial and opinion pages shouldn’t be confused with the reportorial staff, which adheres to basic journalism tenets, including, “park your bias at the door.”
Essentially, Phillips baited the Post and the Post declined to play. Or, rather, the paper did what it’s supposed to do and checked out the story. This isn’t cause for trumpets and heraldry, mind you. It’s what journalists do. As opposed to what pseudo-journalists — also known as typists — claim they do. With a little footwork, Post reporters were able to trace Phillips to Project Veritas and demonstrated that her story was a fraud.
It was — you may now cue the horn section — FAKE NEWS.
Thanks to O’Keefe, the Post also showed a skeptical public just how different real journalism is from the effluvia produced by Project Veritas. Perhaps there’s a place for him at Pravda.
Moore, meanwhile, might have hoped to discredit all his accusers, though O’Keefe refused to respond to questions Monday regarding his relationship to Moore. If one woman would lie, however, wouldn’t it be possible to suggest the others were lying as well? In a lesser-case scenario, if the Post had run with the story without confirming it, O’Keefe could prove that the Post was biased against Moore for publishing a fake story.
Again, none of this happened.
The lie was outed by the truth, while O’Keefe’s own obvious agenda was revealed. Hating the media these days is good business and good politics among a certain constituency. If anyone should feel betrayed by O’Keefe, however, it would be all those people who have been duped into believing that the mainstream media are the bad guys. Let’s be very clear. The bad guys are the ones who knowingly lie.
Recall that it was Trump who popularized the phrase “fake-news” whenever he didn’t like some story written about him. Not that covering Trump requires embellishment or fakery. Originally the term was used in real news stories about fake stories being promulgated through social media. But Trump’s marketing savvy — and his appreciation for the fact that people tend to believe what they want to believe — prompted him to make “fake news” the battle cry of the conservative right.
Excuse the echo, but this bears repeating: Those who would purposely mislead or seek to confuse others are bad people. Worse, they are evil.
Conspiracy theorists will always be among us, and the credulous are in no danger of extinction. However, that a million people — or 60 million — believe something doesn’t make it true. Nor does crying “fake news” alter what is. The proof is anyone’s for the asking.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.