Want to know the truth about fake news?

There is no fake news.

Yes, you read that right. No fake news. It doesn’t exist.

There is news, defined as “newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events,” which presupposes that the information in question is factually correct. There is false news, otherwise known as lies, which would be the exact opposite, containing information that is verifiably incorrect. But fake news?

Sorry, no.

Of all the issues that have been brought to the fore by the 2016 election, the call of “fake news” is one of the most troubling, the most damaging, and, unfortunately, one of the most effective. I’ll leave others to determine who and/or what is to blame for this phenomenon, although the bread crumb trail seems fairly distinct in my opinion. And this is where everything goes sideways. While opinions can be informed by facts, they are, in and of themselves, not facts. And it is when opinions and facts clash that the charge of “fake news” is most often tossed out, usually carelessly. In other words; “What is being reported refutes or minimizes my opinion on this matter; therefore, the information (news) is fake.”

After economist John Maynard Keynes was reportedly asked why he had changed his position on a particular issue, he supposedly responded, “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?” (I use the words ‘reportedly’ and ‘supposedly’ because there is debate about who actually said this, but the point remains the same.)

While our opinions should evolve when contradicted by facts, human nature encourages some to ignore the new information. Or, as Brennan Gilmore learned, the other option, the one increasingly being deployed: discredit information found to be objectionable. Gilmore was one of the counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville who posted the widely seen cell-phone video of James Fields smashing his car into a crowd of demonstrators, killing Heather Heyer and wounding 19 others.

Gilmore wrote recently in Politico that within hours of posting that video, neo-Nazis “…wrote that I was a CIA operative, funded by (choose your own adventure) George Soros, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the IMF/World Bank, and/or a global Jewish mafia to orchestrate the Charlottesville attack in order to turn the general public against the alt-right. I had staged the attack and then worked with MSNBC and other outlets controlled by the left to spread propaganda. They claimed my ultimate goal was to start a race war that would undermine and then overthrow Donald Trump on behalf of the ‘Deep State.’”

Wow. That’s a lot of conspiracy to take in.

Of course, the more likely scenario (and the one borne out by multiple, independent sources including eyewitnesses and law enforcement) is that Gilmore was actually at the protest when he videotaped the car appearing to deliberately drive at full speed into a mass of people and then flee the scene.

When our leaders indulge in the practice of discrediting that which they find inconvenient, we all lose. But that’s nothing new, of course. Leaders from time immemorial have tried to deflect or undermine news coverage unfavorable to them. What has changed with the accusation of “fake news” is that it is really meant to convey the thought that all news, in general, is fake. And if that sentiment successfully takes hold, then people are left with just a single source for information, likely to be an “official” government, or government-approved, source.

That’s why I was heartened to see the comments made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on Monday told a group that, despite calls from our President to the contrary, “…most news is not fake, but I do try to look at a variety of sources.” And in that seemingly obvious statement lies the crux of the matter: no sufficiently informed person can rely on any one single source of information. To do so is to willingly surrender your rights as a citizen. We zealously protect our Constitutional rights of free exercise of religion, speech, assembly, the right to bear arms and trial by jury. Yet we hollow out those rights when we abdicate our ability to know what our government is doing, how it is doing it and why it is doing it.

In denouncing the cry of “fake news,” I am in no way ignoring that there do exist biased or poorly run news operations. Nor am I implying that news outlets, even ones I would consider excellent, don’t make mistakes. They are run by humans and thus susceptible to human imperfections. But if multiple news sources concur on an issue that our leaders insist is “fake news,” should that not be a warning to perhaps pay greater attention, perhaps fully read that article posted by your pain-in-the-ass relative — not just the headline— and, perhaps, even Google some of the key concepts and see what pops up under the News tab?

Whatever you do, don’t take my word for it.

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