What do we talk about when we talk about fake news – Part 3

This is the final day of sequentially posting a paper I’m giving at the Western Social Science Association.  Instead of being in the form of a traditional academic paper, I’m going to post it in HTML with links to many of the subjects I’m discussing, and links to Amazon for the books that I reference.

Jon Stewart & Daily Show

During his infamous 2004 appearance as a guest on CNN’s political debate show Crossfire, co-host Tucker Carlson tried to compare the questions Jon Stewart asked presidential candidate John Kerry on his show with those Crossfire would have asked, Stewart’s response was:

“If you want to compare your show to a comedy show, you’re more than welcome to.”

“You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.”

During liberal co-host Paul Begala’s introduction to the episode, he introduced Stewart as “the most trusted man in fake news.”

It was during this time that many Americans came to know Stewart as the king of “fake news.” But this was a different kind of fake news.  It was not made up stories designed to influence politics or draw clicks to web pages more devoted to selling advertising than presenting information. Instead, Stewart used the term to refer to his brand of satirical news that had its roots in the world of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update segment.

Fake News in the era of Trump

Fake news today takes on a wide range of forms including all of those we’ve talked about so far:

Analysis and Conclusions

Christopher Lasch –Postmodernism

Of course, the problem of the media providing factual accounts is not unique to literary journalists.  Christopher Lasch, in his 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism, argues that in postmodern culture we are beginning to question the very existence of factuality as a significant concept:

“[T]he rise of mass media makes the categories of truth and falsehood irrelevant to an evaluation of their influence.  Truth has given way to credibility, facts to statements that sound authoritative without conveying any authoritative information.”

What Lasch is saying is that it is not the truth or falsity of a statement that matters so much as whether people will accept it as valid.  Lasch illustrates his point with an example from the Nixon administration:

President Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, once demonstrated the political use of these techniques when he admitted that his previous statements on Watergate had become “inoperative.”  Many commentators assumed that Ziegler was groping for a euphemistic way of saying that he had lied.  What he meant, however, was that his earlier statements were no longer believable.  Not their falsity but their inability to command assent rendered them “inoperative.”  The question of whether they were true or not was beside the point.”

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