So lately I’ve come across some interesting word combinations, such as ‘reporter forgery’, ‘journalistic fraud’, ‘fabricated story’, ‘twisting the truth in one’s favor’, ‘a journalistic idol of one’s generation’, ‘produce beautifully narrated fiction’, ‘fraud in reporting’, ‘reporter who faked stories’, ‘top journalist’, ‘faked news scandal’, etc. And I’ve got confused, to say the least.
‘Fake news’ has been around for quite a while, moreover, it became the word of the year in 2017. It’s been used so much that sometimes I get the feeling that fake news has entered the very essence of our existence and that we can’t do without a bit of fakeness in our daily news intake. It’s a kind of a drug that some of us have become addicted to and, just like in the case of any type of addiction, it’s quite difficult to overcome it. And the willpower won’t be of great help if you media illiterate.
There’s something else I’ve noticed regarding this fakeness phenomenon. The more sensationalistic the news is the likelier it is going to be perceived as true. Facts do not seem to be that appealing. People might even find them quite boring. And that’s how a logical explanation is preferred to some absurd conspiracy theory.
There’s something else as well. There is this ongoing tendency of opposing ‘us’ to ‘them’. This opposition would always portray ‘we’ in bright colours and ‘they’ in dark colours. So the moment something happens, something that ‘we’ would find quite shocking, the ones guilty of it would be ‘they’. And this ‘they’ will include everybody who has a quite different point of view from ‘ours’. And if one of ‘us’ is found guilty of something that won’t be true, that will be another lie ‘they’ would be spreading.
Now let’s get to another point. To what extent is journalism independent? To what extent do journalists unbiasedly report facts? To what extent are the readers manipulated into believing what is to be believed? To what extent are the readers ready to discriminate between what is true and what somebody wants them to believe to be true? How much truth is there in news nowadays?
For me, it’s quite difficult to answer these questions. I’m aware that serious research should be done in order to get some answers. But I’ve got the feeling that in many cases journalism has turned into sensationalism. But why? Maybe because they badly want to meet their readers’ expectations. And it doesn’t matter who you are: a leftist, a rightist, or a centrist, or even an anarchist. Let’s be honest, you’d not read ‘their’ newspaper, you’d read the one reflecting your beliefs. And here we are, mere numbers looking forward to getting impressed by the reasonably unbelievable facts.
Even being partially aware of this, it’s still quite shocking to suddenly realize there’s no one, but absolutely no one a reader could totally trust. Everything should be questioned! And everything should have the benifit of doubt! So before rushing into believing what your favourite news magazine claims to be true, take a deep breath and check, corroborate, compare and draw your own conclusions. It’s good to have analytical skills developed in order to avoid falling into the manipulation trap.
There’s something that quite disturbs me nowadays, even when it comes to those trustworthy news sites. Reporting has turned into something which is whatever you want but not reporting. It is something like half fiction, half reporting. But why is it necessary to make it so much fiction-like? Are the reporters again considering the readers’ expectations? Why is it necessary to add so much unnecessary detail to make the story more believable?
These questions came to my mind particularly when the Der Spiegel scandal erupted. The news magazine bravely admitted the wrongdoings of one of its ‘top journalists’ and definitely apologized. The one once called the ‘idol of his generation’ suddenly has turned into the ogre of his generation. One who was presented with prestigious awards suddenly became a fraud. How come?
To be honest, I had no idea who Claas Relotius is, and (maybe to may shame) I’m not following Der Spiegel. Even so, I had the idea that this news magazine is a trustworthy source somehow deeply embedded in my brain. Many would often cite it in their articles, and somehow it is common knowledge that serious journalism is done there. So the disclosure of a journalist’s forgery came as a shock to people who still believe that they can rely on what the press reports.
I really like the thorough analysis Der Spiegel made in the article DER SPIEGEL Reveals Internal Fraud, but there were some passages which made me again question what journalism is, or, to say it otherwise, what it has turned into. The fired journalist said that he did it because of fear to fail. To fail what? Expectations? Whose? The readers’? The newspapers’? His family’s? His own? To fail what if what you are expected to do is to report on something. Just report and nothing else. How or maybe when did reporting turn into a failure?
It was also interesting to read the following: ‘As an editor and section head, your first reaction when receiving stories like this is to be pleased, not suspicious. You are more interested in evaluating the story based on criteria such as craftsmanship, dramaturgy and harmonious linguistic images than on whether it’s actually true’. But why do ‘craftsmanship, dramaturgy and harmonious linguistic images’ have to prevail over truth? What’s the ultimate goal of a news magazine? To impress the reader with ‘craftsmanship, dramaturgy and harmonious linguistic images’ or to report something?
So this gets me back to the question how independent the press is nowadays? I don’t know the exact answer. But it depends above all on its readers. No readers – no work. And we have to be responsible readers, readers who look forward to learning what’s happening in the country/world, and not to getting their expectations met. So the problem is quite complex, and like always there’s no one side of the truth, and definitely there’s not only one being guilty for everything. Although it’s quite convenient to put the blame on someone else and ignore one’s own shortcomings. Let’s change, let’s become more responsible for the choices we make in every field of life.
And I’d like to insert here Rudyard Kipling’s poem We and They, which I indirectly referred to in this post. Prejudice is a blindfold resulting in the impossibility to see the truth.
Father and Mother, and Me,
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And every one else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But-would you believe it? – They look upon We
As only a sort of They!
We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,
Are horrified out of Their lives;
While they who live up a tree,
And feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn’t it scandalous? ) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!
We shoot birds with a gun.
They stick lions with spears.
Their full-dress is un-.
We dress up to Our ears.
They like Their friends for tea.
We like Our friends to stay;
And, after all that, They look upon We
As an utterly ignorant They!
We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk or blood,
Under an open thatch.
We have Doctors to fee.
They have Wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!
All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!