Making Stuff Up Is Cheaper than Researching Real News

ACCORDING TO LIZ - For over three hundred years maxims have circulated on why truth lags behind lies in the news; mostly as variants on this excerpt from an 1821 article describing a complicated court case: 

The public mind has been too much inflamed in this transaction, by misrepresentations — these the examination have materially corrected, but the influence of the corrective, does not extend as far as the injury of the falsehood: “for falsehood will fly from Maine to Georgia, while truth is pulling her boots on.” 

Ironically the truth is that falsehoods, once repeated, have the staying power of a burr in a spaniel’s ear. 

Fox News, its more extreme emulators and countless radio talk shows act as echo chambers for whatever the crazy of the moment wants to spew about, be it Trump or Marjory Taylor Greene, Ginni Thomas or Greg Abbott. 

Many Americans truly believe that today’s Fox News pundits are the only credible voices of dispassionate news in this country. 

But the truth may be just a little more cynical. 

The almighty dollar. 

Rupert Murdoch has capitalized on the untapped conservative audience by providing programming to draw in a demographic that had been abandoning the more liberal national news networks in favor of talk radio invective. He brought them back to the boob tube by passing off opinions as real news. 

What gets more eyeballs on advertisements, a well-researched documentary or a wingnut spouting off a plethora of fantastic lies? 

Who’d-a thunk a Trump could become president? 

What costs more? Paying investigative reporters for the hundreds of hours necessary to fact-check content, or revel in the revenue increases from granting infamous faces with polarizing opinions a platform from which to spread their ad-attracting diatribes to those Americans who feel disenfranchised? 

Statements always need to be checked, knowledge is always provisional, and anyone claiming anything is an absolute is de facto removing themselves from the knowledge business. 

Talk radio, right-wing websites and Fox News are designed to feed as many persuadable Americans as possible with a personalized outrage diet fed by their click-bait approach, and magnified by consciously-designed media and advertising that reflects such programming. 

This in turn allows partisan activists and manipulative marketers, often assisted by foreign-sponsored troll farms using automated software, to watch every click so they can further trigger emotional responses magnifying and reinforcing the great divide that is tearing this country and democracy apart. 

While making mucho money to further sponsor wingnut impact on our lives.

We need to start increasing relevance and decreasing biases, avoiding impulsiveness and sound-bites in favor of thoughtfulness and reflection, emphasizing objectivity, accountability, civility, and grace. 

Graciousness used to be respected by all, the stepping down of the old guard in favor of the new, the reaching across the aisle and around the world in times of personal suffering. 

Today we have lewd jokes from Donald Trump Jr., screeds from conspiracy theorists and self-serving fakery by the new breed of Republicans denigrating Nancy Pelosi for the attack on Paul. This stands in direct contrast to the outpouring of shock from everyone everywhere in the immediate wake of 9/11. 

Before the United States became an outlier in its inhuman treatment of other people. Before it became a world pariah, albeit a powerful one that had to be appeased. 

Before Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump fertilized the rise of the Jaír Bolsonaros, Victor Orbáns and Georgia Melonis. 

To quote Brian Bennett of MSN: “…mean-spirited digs after an act of political violence [have] highlighted the devolved state of American political discourse.” 

This devolved state owes much to the vitriol on talk radio and the simplistic snapshots of right-wing television that garner ears and eyeballs for their corporate sponsors. 

Because in-depth analysis takes time and money, the focus is on attacking the person instead of the issue. With opinions, not facts. 

With the focus on sound bites and personal opinion, there is no need to fact check, no need to seek out independent verification. In fact no need for the truth at all. 

And with the loss of fact-checking comes the rise of immoral anonymity. Except in rare cases when people are caught on tape or copy inflammatory e-mails a little too widely, people can lie with impunity to shore up their insinuations and their profits. 

If the same TV hosts and talk radio jocks repeat the same lies again and again until they are taken as the truth if not the word of God, their viewers become dumbed-down and conformist, losing the ability to analyze any issue objectively. 

Many media organizations are already bereft of professionalism, following the dictates of their corporate masters and becoming more and more removed from the news, and from the investigative journalism that used to be their raison-d’etre. 

No more objectivity, no more accountability, no more civility, no more celebration of the wealth of our diversity. Just bullshit. 

Coercive conformity raising the specter of Big Brother and 1984 with its thought vigilantes.

Trump was right – fake news is the danger of our time. The greatest threat to our freedom and democracy. 

For instance, for generations homosexuality was repeatedly cast as a choice, a disease or mental disorder. Blacks were clearly inferior and suited only for menial labor. Native Americans were violent and alcoholic, and deserved having their children removed into schools where the Indian could be forced out of the child. 

These were assumptions accepted through assertions by the talking heads during the lives of our parents and grandparents. These were not facts. 

Diversity, which has been the strength of a country that welcomed all people, allowing the underlying structures of that society to be challenged and change, allowing people to grow and change themselves. 

But if we continue to allow the lies promoted by today’s talking heads and influencers to proliferate without rigorous examination and critique, that growth could be reversed and all the gains we have fought for overthrown. 

Salman Rushdie famously declared: “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” 

Without encouraging criticism, without the acceptance of diverse viewpoints, the ability to question beliefs masquerading as facts and emotions impersonating evidence, the ability to challenge poor assumptions will wither and the world will be all the poorer. 

By acknowledging that everyone has the ability to evolve over time, what is verboten in one generation may be accepted and then become mainstream in subsequent decades. 

But for society to evolve, profiting must be put aside in the interest of the truth. We need to invest in information over infotainment. We must encourage analytical thought in our schools, in our government and, especially, in our media.


(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)