Ten days before Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, I was invited by the
League of Women Voters of Southwestern Indiana to talk with them, at their March meeting, about "fake news."
In early January, "fake news" seemed pretty simple: Stories that someone
made up, posted on a purchased but official-sounding website, and then collected advertising money and created havoc nationwide with
thousands of views.
Perhaps the best example was the story about
"The Comet Ping Pong," a pizza place in a nice neighborhood in Washington DC. The "story," as reported,
linked Hillary Clinton and those close to her to running a child sex slave ring out of the restaurant.
You would think that would be jump out to readers as being a false narrative. Yet
a 28-year-old man from North Carolina took it to heart and after "reading up on it" on the Internet drove 350 miles
to our nation's capital, took a weapon into the restaurant and fired it. No one was injured in his stated attempt to "rescue
children;" in subsequent interviews, he did not disavow the stories that he heard from "word-of-mouth" and
confirmed on the Internet.
That seemed a blatant example of
"fake news," again a term you hate to use. If it's news, it isn't fake. If it's fake, it isn't news.
Yet from that beginning, and since the likely efforts by Russia to influence our
election by planting stories of its own, "fake news" has become a political statement. If a politician, from a local
party chief to the president of the United States, does not like or agree with a story, they brand it as "fake."
And, more than ever, they are aiming the charges at legitimate news organizations, both local and national, not web sites
that pop up in favor of certain causes.
Thus the conversation
was launched over lunch on March 23 at McCollough Library on Evansville's East Side. The room was surprisingly, and somewhat
frighteningly, full, with around 75 residents and readers eager to listen and, more importantly, share their thoughts. That
always helps when you're far from the smartest person in the room, and when you write -- not talk -- for a living...