Some complain that the term “fake news” is overused and should be “banished.” But if you want to know why it’s so often used, well, it’s because what it describes is so often disgorged. A great example is brought to us by small-town newspaper editor Frank Miele, who relates how an Associated Press story contained two clear falsehoods about President Trump — and how getting AP editors to correct the lies was like pulling teeth.
Writing in his paper the Daily Inter Lake, which serves Northwest Montana, Miele explains that the Saturday before last he was looking for wire stories to put in his Sunday edition and came across the AP offering, “President Donald Trump reacts to reports about the retirement of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe by retweeting falsehoods about McCabe’s wife.” Sounds damning.
It was, too — just not of Trump. Miele writes, “When I read AP reporter Darlene Superville’s story, it was immediately obvious that she had either misunderstood Trump’s tweet or intentionally lied about it. She also plainly didn’t know the meaning of the verb ‘retweet,’ since Trump had tweeted an original statement, not a quoted one.”
Anyway, here’s Trump’s tweet: “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?”
So what was Superville’s beef? As she wrote, “But Trump’s tweet was incorrect. McCabe’s wife, Jill, did not get $700,000 in donations from Clinton for a Virginia state Senate race in 2015. The money came from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s political action committee and the Virginia Democratic Party ... McAuliffe is a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.”
But her beef is bogus. Trump never said Jill McCabe got the money from Clinton, but from one of her “puppets.” As Miele points out, McAuliffe has at times been joined at the hip with the Clintons, and “puppet” is actually one of the more polite descriptions one could apply to him. “Thus a story about anti-Trump bias in the FBI had uncovered anti-Trump bias at the Associated Press. Oh the irony!” wrote Miele.
Now, since Superville has sent more than 14,300 tweets herself, one would hope she knows the difference between tweeting and retweeting. One would also hope she’d know the difference between a puppet and a puppeteer. One would hope. But this story now gets really interesting.
Realizing that correcting the AP artifice in just his own paper wasn’t enough — as Superville could have millions of readers — Miele contacted an editor on duty. He explained that Trump’s tweet was original and that “retweeting” has a specific Twitterverse meaning. As he wrote, “I thought the AP editor would acknowledge this immediately, so I was a bit taken aback by his effort to excuse the reporter’s apparent lack of knowledge by saying perhaps she was using retweet in the sense of ‘tweeting again’ something which you have tweeted before.” This is a bit like saying that reviewing a film is the same as viewing a film if you’ve viewed the film before.
Miele continued, “There was so much twisting going on that I wasn’t sure for a minute if we were talking about tweets or pretzels, but eventually I think I got the editor on my side that at the very least the word choice of ‘retweeted’ was unfortunate.” “Unfortunate” is lib-editor-speak for getting busted for a mistake.
Then Miele broached the big issue: Superville’s blatant fake-news claim that Trump had implicated the puppeteer and not the puppet in the monetary transfer. After going through the story three times, the editor finally got frustrated and referred Miele to a Washington, D.C. AP editor.
Miele was called back 40 minutes later and told — wait for it — that the word “retweeting” had been removed from the story, so now it read that Trump was “repeating falsehoods.” Miele then explained, again, that Superville’s claim that the president told a falsehood was a falsehood itself.
The D.C. editor had to look the story over three or four times before actually getting it.
Miele then writes, “I expressed my amazement that the Associated Press would so casually accuse the president of lying without bothering to check and double check the information. Well, I was told, there is a difference between lying and telling a falsehood. ‘Lying’ according to the AP, has to have the element of intent, whereas a “falsehood” could just be the innocent result of being misinformed.”
Actually, this is the distinction between a “lie” and an “untruth,” the former being an untruth told with knowledge that it’s untrue. “Falsehood” can have either meaning, but it primarily connotes a lie. Of course, Trump’s tweet was neither.
Like Miele, I was wondering if Superville was guilty of telling a definition-2 “falsehood” or an actual lie, and I reached out to her via Twitter for comment. I did not hear back as of publication time.
Fake news abounds today. Some of it — as with CNN being caught pushing the Trump/Russia/collusion narrative knowing it was false — amounts to outright lying. But there’s something even more dangerous: rationalization. This was apparent here in the tweet vs. retweet intellectual contortions.
Rationalization truly is the bane of humanity because it’s when you lie to yourself, when you distort reality for yourself. Do it enough and you fall out of touch with reality — then you can’t find it even when you want to. And as the saying goes, “A man capable of deceiving only others is not nearly as dangerous as a man capable of deceiving himself.” A liar may, at some point, feel a twinge of guilt and abandon his lies. A rationalizer’s guilt has been assuaged by the lies he not only perhaps believes intellectually but may have incorporated into himself emotionally, making them feel oh-so right.
Journalists have a sacred duty to seek and relate Truth; it’s supposed to be our “agenda.” When something we wish to believe conflicts with the Truth, we’re called to dispense with it. Yet only a minority today — and almost no journalists — believe in Truth (absolute by definition). They’re moral relativists/nihilists. Thus, what feels right emotionally becomes their agenda, and the Truth is subordinated to it, blithely rationalized away when the two conflict. It’s the deification of emotion, ego in place of God.
Philosophy aside, media bias has its effect. Miele reported that he checked last Tuesday “and found out that the fake version of the [AP] story was listed in a Google search 7,790 times whereas the corrected version only appeared on 5,710 websites.” It’s yet another example of how “A lie can get halfway around the world before truth can put its boots on.”
Photo of President Trump: Department of Defense