Fake news has been around a long time.
Back in the early 1980s, I was a reporter at a large metropolitan newspaper. My desk was next to a writer who was probably the most talented wordsmith in a newsroom of more than 100 editors and reporters.
I learned a lot from him. I read all of his work and asked him to critique my stuff from time to time.
It was a daily paper and every day we searched for a “bright” – a short story of just a few paragraphs with great human interest, humor or oddity.
This reporter had a remarkable ability to come up with these brights.
At least 10 years after we were both gone from that newsroom, I ran into him. He had taken a corporate communications job (which paid much better than the newspaper).
I mentioned to him one particular “bright” about a remarkable bunch of children in a daycare center.
“Oh, I made that up. Those kids don’t even exist,” he said matter-of-factly.
I was floored.
I had two courses in journalism ethics in college and it was drilled into us that you do not manufacture stories. You report the facts – that’s it.
Later, at that same newspaper, there was another reporter who was not as skilled a writer as the other guy but who was a whiz at digging up stories.
He wrote a front-page story about a poor black family in rural Oklahoma. They were living in a shack out in the country when an angry white neighbor bulldozed their tiny cabin while they were away.
This poor family became homeless because of this racist rancher in a county with a reputation for hating minorities.
It was a great story to tell.
But it was a lie.
The reporter interviewed the family. First, they were not living in the shack. They lived in a nearby town. They had spent some time in the shack and they were upset that it had been bulldozed. But the shack was not on their land but it was actually on land belonging to the rancher who knocked it down. It was his property.
The reporter didn’t talk to the neighbor after he found out the truth because that would have killed the story. Instead, it made the front page. The landowner was furious and sued for defamation.
The newspaper settled the case out of court (due to the insistence of their attorneys and their insurance carrier) and to the paper’s credit, they fired the reporter.
Later, I became an editor at the same paper. I had several young reporters working for me.
One day, I got a call from a high school baseball coach. We had run a story about his team. He said the story was fine except for one detail. It had direct quotes from him and he had never spoken with the reporter.
The reporter was so lazy that he made up some innocuous quotes when he could have easily phoned the coach and gotten the same information in an ethical manner.
We fired that reporter. He was 6-5 and weighed about 300 pounds and he was so upset that he told me later that he wanted to take me outside and take a swing at me.
I’m glad that didn’t happen.
When I got in this business, newspapers on occasion would print stories that weren’t true. When the truth came out, they would print corrections or clarifications.
Most of the people I worked with in the 70s, 80s and 90s were pretty honest.
Some people are pretty clever about getting fake news published. There is a story of a man who was dumped by his fiancée and he was so mad, he phoned in a phony obituary on her. And it was published.
Another story involved a phony letter to the editor from a disgruntled parent posing as middle school principal.
Now, most of the fake news comes from the Internet and social media. It seems anyone can say anything about anyone and it gets passed along as truth.
A state lawmaker sent a photo about 10 years ago that we published in the Tulsa Beacon that turned out to be a Photo-Shop phony.
Now is a great time for newspapers to reinforce a reputation for truth. But that won’t happen these days because straight news no longer exists. The news is slanted toward a marked liberal bias that accepts anything but traditional and Biblical values.
When two lesbians working at the Tulsa World lead the charge to legitimize homosexual marriage, it’s easy to see that they are no longer reporting the news but trying to make the news.
Expect four years or eight years of fake news about the Trump Administration. And unfortunately, more and more fake news will be part of the liberal newspaper establishment.