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Fake News… Pass it On

How fake news can snowball when left unchecked

Amid the discussion (and hand wringing) surrounding fake news, one practice that keeps rearing its ugly head is the journalistic practice of checking and re-checking news sources… and how that is falling by the wayside.

news media fake news

Most journalism schools teach that information must be corroborated by two sources, independent of one another. That no longer seems to be in vogue (or “en vogue” if you’re terribly chic.) Consider. (Although the names have been eliminated to protect the guilty.)

There was an article in a newspaper from a large southern metropolitan area that reported on a link between domestic violence and birth defects. Not good news. An enterprising media critic, however, contacted the by-lined reporter of that article to inquire the source of the link. The reporter said that she had gotten the information from an article in a newspaper from a large West Coast city.

In turn, the critic contacted the reporter who wrote that article with the same question. That reporter cited a piece from a weekly news magazine. The critic then contacted the reporter who wrote that piece with the same question. The reporter cited mention of the link in a book on a broader topic.

The critic then contacted the author of the book with the same question. The author stated that the link came from the March of Dimes.

When the critic contacted the March of Dimes, he was told, “We never said that.”

You might call it pass-along fake news if you like, but it’s part of the problem. One journalist falls down on the job and the ripple effect spreads from coast to coast – in this case, literally.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. Consider this TED Talk from former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson who talks about “Astroturf and manipulation of media messages.”

All of which leaves the news consumer wondering just what can be believed. And don’t think for one minute that your personal trusted news source never falls victim to any of this. That may be the most fake news of all.

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