I’m at game seven of the World Series sitting five rows behind home at Dodger Stadium when a batter fouls off a pitch. The catcher gives chase but it flies over the screen landing in the stands near me right behind home. A mad scramble ensues and two Astros fans (pictured right) fight for the ball both yelling “mine.” But look more closely at the picture. Is it fake news? To the left of the guy in the Astros jersey there’s a fan in a LA Dodgers cap looking down at his iPhone. Same with the young woman behind him and the woman behind her looks bored. Behind her another fan is looking down and there’s a guy in a grey shirt with his back to the action. Over on the right a young man in a LA Dodgers jersey walks down the aisle. That’s not what happens when a foul ball comes into the stands. Everyone is engaged.
What really happened? The ball came over the screen just as I described but there was a mad scramble for the ball and it bounced off several hands before someone picked it up. The Astros fans, who were sitting right next to me, were in on the action but they never actually touched the ball. The picture was fake. So how did it come about?
Joe, the Astros rooter, persuaded the guy who ended up with the ball to lend it to him so he and his buddy could frame the shot taken on Joe’s iPhone by an accommodating fan. Fake news and if you spent the time looking at the photo you could tell by the atypical reaction of the fans.
But sometimes you can’t tell. The Russians, yes the Russians, perfected fake news a long time ago.
When someone fell out of favor, the Russians just air brushed him out of the picture. Now we call that Photoshop. But unlike the foul ball image you can’t tell with the Russian photography unless you remember the original shot and even then you might question your memory.
So how do you ferret out the real from the fake news? This morning my daughter Kathy who works as a producer for a Tampa, Florida television station, sent me an article from Slate which reprinted a demand letter from a lawyer in Alabama named Trent Garmon who represents Roy Moore the Republican candidate for an open Alabama U.S. senate seat. Slate ridiculed the letter as being “utterly incoherent, full of typos and incomprehensibly written.” Slate published the letter in full although it redacted the phone number and email address of the recipient, John G Thompson of the Lightfoot Franklin and White firm. Indeed the correspondence did not seem to be one that a lawyer would send in a high stakes matter like the Moore case.
So was the letter fake? Slate did not say that a reporter had called Garmon to verify that he sent it. So maybe someone sent the letter to the media to discredit Moore’s counsel. Plus, I remember seeing a press conference yesterday with Moore’s lawyer, Philip L. Jauregui, not Garmon. Thinking that I was on to something I decided to investigate the matter.
The simplest thing would have been to call Garmon but I didn’t want to bother him. So I went to the internet. First, I confirmed that there is a lawyer Trent Garmon who practices in Alabama. I know the Lightfoot, Franklin White firm and saw that John Thompson, to whom the letter was addressed, represents the Birmingham News and Alabama Media Group (al.com).
I could have called John, who is a great lawyer, but I didn’t want to bother him either. So I kept looking and found an interview with Trent Garmon on MSNBC. He confirmed that he represented Moore, had sent a demand letter to Alabama Media and he talked a lot like the letter read. So I’m convinced that the letter published by Slate is real and not fake news. Only took me about an hour.
The award winning Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist of Millennium Magazine says, “We’re living in a time when lies and false news reports have more of an impact than ever.” He sounds sincere and insightful but is Blomkvist real? He’s not although readers of the Lisbeth Salander novels will recognize the character.
To borrow a thought from the latest Salander fiction, The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye, it is as if “the Internet trolls (have) taken over to create a fake dynamic in which lies and truth (are) set against each other as if they (are) equivalent notions … a mixture of urban truths and apocryphal stories, both new and old (swirl) in the air (and) not even a well trained eye like Blomkvist’s (can) tell the difference between what is true and what was fabricated.”
Yesterday a college president told me that the antidote to fake news is a better educated and informed citizenry. NPR reports that ten universities are sponsoring an educational initiative aimed at teaching how to read the news and “to think like fact checkers.” What took me 60 minutes for Trent Gorman they say will take this generation 60 seconds. According to Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State, fact checkers read laterally— moving away from the original text, opening up a series of tabs in a browser to judge the credibility of its author and the sources it cites.
Maybe a better educated and more savvy citizenry will take the time to vet the news. I hope so, but I fear that a lot of our citizens won’t. There will always be fake news that will outrun the truth and this is not something new, it’s simply a matter of degree.
I refer you to the story of John Foster Kane, publisher of the New York Daily Inquirer and a candidate for governor with aspirations for the presidency. His newspaper reported in 1927 that there was a Spanish Armada off the Jersey coast, a total fabrication. When confronted with this lie Kane responded, “Can you prove that they’re not?”
The newspaperman was called “Citizen Kane” and his newspaper foretold what could happen when the news is fake but the people don’t know it. I submit the following for your consideration:
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