We Americans are the ultimate innocents. We are forever desperate to believe that this time the government is telling us the truth.”—Former New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg
Let’s talk about fake news stories, shall we?
There’s the garden variety fake news that is not really “news” so much as it is titillating, tabloid-worthy material peddled by anyone with a Twitter account, a Facebook page and an active imagination. These stories run the gamut from the ridiculous and the obviously click-baity to the satirical and politically manipulative.
Anyone with an ounce of sense and access to the Internet should be able to ferret out the truth and lies in these stories with some basic research. That these stories flourish is largely owing to the general gullibility, laziness and media illiteracy of the general public, which through its learned compliance rarely questions, challenges or confronts.
Then there’s the more devious kind of news stories circulated by one of the biggest propagators of fake news: the U.S. government.
In the midst of the media’s sudden headline-blaring apoplexy over fake news, you won’t hear much about the government’s role in producing, planting and peddling propaganda-driven fake news—often with the help of the corporate news media—because that’s not how the game works.
Because the powers-that-be don’t want us skeptical of the government’s message or its corporate accomplices in the mainstream media. They don’t want us to be more discerning when it comes to what information we digest online. They just want us to be leery of independent or alternative news sources while trusting them—and their corporate colleagues—to vet the news for us.
Indeed, the New York Times has suggested that Facebook and Google appoint themselves the arbiters of truth on the internet in order to screen out what is blatantly false, spam or click-baity.
Not only would this establish a dangerous precedent for all-out censorship by corporate entities known for colluding with the government but it’s also a slick sleight-of-hand maneuver that diverts attention from what we should really be talking about: the fact that the government has grown dangerously out-of-control, all the while the so-called mainstream news media, which is supposed to act as a bulwark against government propaganda, has instead become the mouthpiece of the world’s largest corporation—the U.S. government.
As veteran journalist Carl Bernstein, who along with Bob Woodward blew the lid off the Watergate scandal, reported in his expansive 1977 Rolling Stone piece, “The CIA and the Media”:
“More than 400 American journalists … in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency… There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services… Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters… In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.”