Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, to get something past an editor and into a newspaper or on a news program (remember Huntley and Brinkley) you had to have three sources and be able to confirm them to you editor. This prevented so called ‘fake news’ and ‘fake but accurate’ reporting getting out to the public.
In those days names like Walter Cronkite and Edward R Murrow brought a feeling of honor. To this day we don’t know whether Huntley or Brinkley were liberal or conservative. They would be horrified to have their politics bandied about on the nightly news.
Stories were checked and rechecked. Facts were verified. Reporters knew that if that didn’t back up their claims they would be on the unemployment line.
Today we live in the world of instant news. When the President stubs his toe it’s a race to who gets the story up first. Headlines like “President Stubs Toe, Stock Market Crashes” are flashed around the world before we are able to find out that he was kicking a branch out of the way so the Prime Minister of Israel, who was walking behind him, wouldn’t trip over it.
I lay most of this at the feet of social media. Everyone with a cell phone becomes a reporter. They shoot 60 seconds of video, put it on Facebook, youTube or twitter, and suddenly everyone knows the ‘facts’. Even if it’s completely and irrevocably wrong.
The mainstream media is put in a position that if they don’t rush to put the story up, they will be shown to be slow out of the gate and irrelevant. Facts and truth be damned.
One of the worst of the social media is a little gossip site called “Next Door.” Anyone can say anything and send shock waves through a community. “I heard a large ‘bang’ at 3AM last night. Was it a gun shot? Be careful out there.” Suddenly people are certain that roving bands of shooters are terrorizing a formerly quiet neighborhood. (Investigation showed that the large ‘bang’ was a pallet falling over, probably pushed by a cat jumping on it.)
Busybodies can cause more harm. “I saw a man walking down the sidewalk yesterday afternoon. He looked scuzzy, probably homeless. Be on the lookout for him. Next time I see him I’m calling the police.” There’s a very good chance that ‘homeless scuzzy man’ was me, walking to get my first haircut in months.
Sometimes too much information is worse than no information at all.