OK, so nothing about the headline to this article is accurate or even relevant. I just wrote it to get the clicks. It’s meaningless. But apparently, that’s what passes for “news” these days, and the only things that matter anymore are clicks, likes, shares, retweets and attention-grabbing lies for headlines, truth be damned. What a chump I’ve been!
I did this totally stupid thing and went to journalism school. I studied the greats. I have, “The Journalist’s Moral Compass,” on my bookshelf. I’ve read it repeatedly and referenced it throughout my career. I used to have hours-long debates in coffee shops about the proper role of subjectivity in news reporting and whether objectivity is ever truly attainable.
I’ve attended speeches – so many speeches – by extremely thoughtful and renowned journalists about the future of the industry, how newspapers can remain relevant in the digital age, how to be fair to the public officials we cover, how to cultivate and protect sources, and how to be relentless in the pursuit of the truth above all else. Information gathering, proofreading, fact-checking, talk about a waste of time!
Here I am after 14 years in the biz, hustling my ass off to eek out a meager living by practicing ethical journalism, when all this time I could’ve been preying on people’s fears and resentments, stoking their anger, and inflaming their passions with bald-faced lies that keep them coming back for more and keep me rewarded with oodles of sweet, sweet cash.
From the Washington Post:
At a time of continuing discussion over the role that hyperpartisan websites, fake news and social media play in the divided America of 2016, LibertyWritersNews illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology, quickly go from nothing to influencing millions of people and make big profits in the process.
Six months ago, (Paris) Wade and his business partner, Ben Goldman, were unemployed restaurant workers. Now they’re at the helm of a website that gained 300,000 Facebook followers in October alone and say they are making so much money that they feel uncomfortable talking about it because they don’t want people to start asking for loans.
Instead, Wade hums a hip-hop song and starts a new post as readers keep reading, sharing and sending in personal messages. One comes from a woman who frequently contacts his page. “YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE I TRUST TO REPORT THE TRUTH,” is one of the things she has written, and Wade doesn’t need to look at her Facebook profile to have a clear sense of who she is. White. Working class. Midwestern. “And the economy screwed her.”
He writes another headline, “THE TRUTH IS OUT! The Media Doesn’t Want You To See What Hillary Did After Losing… .”
“Nothing in this article is anti-media, but I’ve used this headline a thousand times,” he says. “Violence and chaos and aggressive wording is what people are attracted to.”
Mr. Wade is wrong. Everything about that article and everything else he is doing is anti-media. It’s anti-journalism. It’s anti-truth. And really, it’s anti-American because it’s poisoning this country’s people in a way our system has never seen before and may not be strong enough to withstand.
You see, I’ve done this other stupid, irrelevant and unprofitable thing throughout my life – I’ve studied history and civics, American and otherwise.
Messrs. Madison, Hamilton and Jay, were very clear in their arguments for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution that our entire system of self-government is fairly well dependent on a well-informed populace. Informing the populace well was, in fact, the entire point of their writing what’s now known as The Federalist Papers in the first place.
On my résumé, I like to include a quote from ol’ Jemmy Madison at the top: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
The second line of the quote warns, “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”
Farce or tragedy, I’m not sure which we’re experiencing, but it puts me in mind of Abe Lincoln’s line about the boy who stubbed his toe: I’m too hurt to laugh and too old to cry.
We have a people who are not just uninformed, they are intentionally, relentlessly misinformed. That seems quite a bit more dangerous. I don’t know how it’s going to end, but it’s not going to end well.
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive’s RouteFifty.com, the National Journal’s The Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.