“News,” is an artifact of information. It’s the inevitable by-product of action or inaction typically generated by traditional newsmakers—presidents, dictators, CEOs, movie stars—though sometimes generated by Jake Average. Think about the articles where a guy saves a dog from rising floodwaters or some kid from California wins The Big Spelling Bee. But whatever the source, news in its purest form is an entity in and of itself, existing separately from whatever the action or inaction that spawned it in the first place. For its birth, it’s dependent on the newsmaker (s.) Once it’s born, though, it has a life of its own.
The news is fundamentally unchangeable insomuch as news, the instant after it occurs and all the way through all the instances after, is history. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if, for example, you happen to be the beneficiary of a good spin from a favorable news department) there seems to be an unavoidable chasm between the news as definite entity—the facts of what happened that constitute “the news”—and our, Jake and Tina Average’s, apprehension of the news. In that chasm lay all sorts of beautifiers and ugly-ifyers which can be freely applied or ignored by those gatekeepers to whom the news is nearly a tactile experience, those who break down the news and parse it out to the public. That is to say, the media.
To the point where a particular piece of news that most, at first glance, would deem inherently good may be presented as if it were inherently sinister. Though it is not inherently sinister, we’re led to believe it is. We trust our own core values, those beliefs about the world that cause us to behave in ethical ways, or ways we believe to be ethical. Our core values also happen to be the only internal mechanism we possess for determining whether or not something we learn about in the news is good or bad, right or wrong. Whether or not our core values themselves are in fact good or bad, right or wrong, is not usually up for debate. Certainly not internally. For example, we hardly ever ask ourselves, “Why do I believe what I believe about this group of people or that? Is my answer to that question good enough? How must I change if my answer isn’t good enough?”
We are typically unpersuaded of the absolute veracity of the news when we think it comes to us spun in a direction counter to our individual core values. And we are all the more unpersuaded when the news comes to us in fairly un-doctored form if the news—the facts of the circumstances—seems to prove something opposite what our individual (and usually long-held) core values might allow us to uphold or approve personally. Rather than risk having to make a change to our core values, which is no doubt very difficult, we’re much more likely to take the wide path that provides the most mental and spiritual comfort. We proclaim, “Fake news.” As it is used these days (as if the term ever had prior days), “Fake news,” is accurately described as, “Real news I wish weren’t true. But my wish is my command if I only declare I don’t believe it.”
As a bit of an aside, all politicians, and all who have ever worked in a politician’s office, not to mention all seasoned news people, know this, all of what I’ve said so far. Politicians, it would seem, are not primarily motivated by the core values they hold dear, by which they believe they can increase the public good. Instead, they seem to be most motivated by what they believe we the people believe about their core values in regard to the public good. Perhaps a cynical opinion on my part, but one that’s destined to be born out again and again across wide swathes of human history. There’s no reason to believe that will change anytime. Soon or at all.
The news—in the sense I’ve used it here, the true, real things which have actually happened—is now a bit of a curiosity. It’s not very important anymore. But as the importance of the actual news decreases, the importance of how the news is perceived seems to have skyrocketed. We’ve discovered that real news can’t be weaponized because it’s nothing more than a human artifact, about as useful to any political platform, for example, as a rock. But news that has been tweaked to the point of unreality can be weaponized. And, since the ethics surrounding the creation of the perception of the news continue to dissolve (They were a smoke screen in the first place.), it means that, more and more, anything goes. The point in history will soon come when events and the relation of those events to others will have nothing to do with each other. All that will be left is opinion. Which works out well for me, I suppose. This being an opinion column and all.
Paul Luikart is a writer whose work has appeared in a number of places over the years. His most recent book, “Animal Heart,” is available now from Hyperborea Publishing. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.