The Fakest News of All: The Desire for Real News

Our+society%E2%80%99s+problem+with+the+media+is+not+fighting+fake+news%2C+but+rather+not+wanting+to+actually+fight+fake+news+%28Courtesy+of+Twitter%29.

Our society’s problem with the media is not fighting fake news, but rather not wanting to actually fight fake news (Courtesy of Twitter).

By Jan-Carl Resurreccion

In some instances, people enjoy and want to buy into fake news that validates their personal assumptions. (Courtesy of Twitter)

It was not so long ago that a major news network promised to call apples “apples” even while others were calling them “bananas.” In an age of lies we call “fake news,” news consumers labor to find the truth amid a messy sea of poor reporting and intentional deception. This deception can originate at any level, from Russian deceivers or domestic politicians spreading lies, to news networks manipulating or fabricating stories. Nevertheless, some do find the truth after much digging and searching, and some news providers do the due diligence to bring the truth. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.

It was only last year on Dec. 11 that Oxford Dictionaries declared the word of the year to be “post-truth,” defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” By that definition, a post-truth society does not reject the existence of truth, but cares more about its personal preferences. Have we, the citizens of this nation, really turned ourselves around in only a year and returned to the path of seeking truth, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult?

However, seeing ourselves as a post-truth society would explain several key facts about our time. It would explain why fake news persists despite all the fervor against it. If people were so concerned about the truth, then we would expect fewer incidents of fake news as producers of weak or deceptive news lose viewership. It would also explain the increasing partisanship, as it becomes easy to dig in and refuse to let go of even demonstrably false beliefs if one places preferences over truth. And if truth cannot adjudicate between us, the only avenue left for whose beliefs shall reign supreme will be vilification and violence. Sounds a lot like the legitimization of political violence in our streets today.

Consider the competing hypotheses for these facts. Could it be that the purveyors of fake news, be it CNN, Russian deceivers or anyone else, have such a stranglehold on us that it is impossible to tell truth from lies anymore? Demonstrably not, for the mere phrase “fake news” shows it is possible to tell the difference. Or perhaps it is hard for most people to tell the difference between truth and lies, and only a select few can figure out what is true. But this interpretation is uncharitable at best. Gullibility on the internet was once reserved for grandmothers falling for Nigerian prince scams. It strains credulity to assert that suddenly we have all become as deceivable as that. It actually appears that we are a post-truth society.

But if we are truly a post-truth society, than we have bigger problems than simply figuring out the truth, which is already a gargantuan task. For if we don’t care about the truth, then all the truth in the world will not and cannot save us. No amount of due diligence shall impress us. No warning shall make us change course. Indeed, were the truth shown to us, we may very well reject it because we do not like it. And what does this make of our society’s claim that truth is king once again? Is it only Kabuki theater? If so, we are playing a dangerous game. If we continue to deceive ourselves with the lie that we value truth when we do not, we will start to believe it, and then truth and lie shall become indistinguishable.

Lest we think this a problem only for other people, let us take a simple test. Picture yourself as, to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, “the most reluctant convert.” Convert, in this case, to some ideology you not merely disagree with, but oppose. If it were truly demonstrable that you were wrong and your opponents were right, could you change your mind and heart? Could you be the most reluctant convert to conservatism, or to progressivism? The most reluctant champion of LGBT rights, or most reluctant defender of religious liberty? A hard and unpleasant image, to be sure. But if we believe it impossible, we may be in the same post-truth boat.

A line from Judith Viorst’s play “Love and Shrimp” reads:

“I made him swear he’d always tell me nothing but the truth
I promised him I would never resent it
No matter how unbearable, how harsh, how cruel
How come he thought I meant it?”

When we go to our news providers and ask for nothing but the truth, ask to be told apples are apples, do we really want that? Or do we want to be told apples are bananas? If we do, we had best figure out how to make truth king in our hearts again. Otherwise, we will tear ourselves apart, governed not by truth but by power, fighting over nothing as noble as truth but merely as petty as differing preferences.

Jan-Carl Resurreccion, GSB ’18, is an accounting information systems major from from Bergenfield, New Jersey.