So this is what the state of news has come to:
Snopes – the formerly Facebook-associated website that was supposed to help fact check the media, one of a variety of these fact-checking websites that are supposed to help save America from “fake news” – is now “fact checking” satire.
Yes, you read that right. Snopes fact checked “The Babylon Bee,” a website that clearly labels itself the “Trusted Source For Christian News Satire.”
By its very nature, satire is meant to be untrue. And what did Snopes find when it checked on the satire that the Bee headlined as “Jussie Smollett Offered Job At CNN After Fabricating News Story Out Of Thin Air”?
Snopes discovered – surprise, surprise – that it was “false.”
Thankfully so because surely tens of millions of Americans would otherwise believe that CNN correspondent Brian Stelter would say that “Smollett has exactly the kind of skills we look for at our fine organization. He picked a narrative, made up all the relevant facts and details, and stuck with his story in spite of glaring holes in the plot. It’s hard to find people who understand our core values here at CNN, but Smollett seems to be just the guy for us.”
OK. Maybe we’ve reached the point where people in this country would believe that statement if it was attributed to a “CNN correspondent who asked not to be identified,” or to a “high-ranking CNN official.”
But even former Fox commentator and half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would recognize that neither Stelter nor anyone else at CNN would attach their name to a statement basically saying that “here at CNN, we just make shit up” if for no other reason than that CNN spends a lot of time insisting it doesn’t do that as President Donald Trump Tweets that it does.
Humor; it’s humor!
And no American with more than half a brain is going to believe any of the rest of what is on the Babylon Bee website no matter how entertaining the stories might be:
- “Nation Accused Of Sexism For Rejecting Successful Businesswoman Cruella De Vil As Presidential Candidate,” wherein it is revealed that some terms used to describe her “are only used against women, such as ‘shrill,’ ‘bossy,’ and ‘puppy murderer.'”
- “Everyone In US Soaked With Sprinklers As Trump Pulls National Emergency Alarm” thereby activating “sprinklers placed throughout the continental U.S., since the assumption is, if it’s a national emergency, the whole country must be on fire or something.”
- “Ocasio-Cortez Declares Victory Over The Modern-Day Equivalent Of Slavery: Jobs,” , saying she “thought it was a good thing that Amazon was coming to New York and wanted to give us money. But then I found out they were going to extort people and only give them the money if they worked for it. Forcing people to work if they want to get paid — how is that any different from slavery?”
The Babylon Bee is at least funny or trying to be. Snopes?
Well, Snopes has now reached the point of pathetic. This is the fact-checking organization that couldn’t decide whether Nathan Phillips lied about being a Vietnam veteran even though he once looked into a camera and said he was a Vietnam Vet even though he isn’t.
Phillips is the American Indian activist who went and banged a drum in the face of some Catholic high school kids and then hornswoggled major U.S. media into believing he was attacked and threatened by the teenagers.
The family of one of those teenagers, NPR reported yesterday, is now suing the Washington Post claiming the publication “targeted the Covington Catholic High School student and defamed him for political purposes when it reported on a January encounter on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial….”
The Post made the “Make America Great Again” hat worn by teenager Nicholas Sandmann a hot-button national issue.
The Post’s fashion critic labeled the hat a symbol of “exclusion and suspicion, of garrulous narcissism, of white male privilege, of violence and hate” although there have been women and people of color known to wear the hat.
Meanwhile, the Post’s original news story, based almost solely on Phillips as a source, said “he felt threatened by the teens and that they swarmed around him as he and other activists were wrapping up (their) march and preparing to leave.
“Phillips said a few people in the March for Life crowd began to chant, ‘Build that wall, build that wall,’ though such chants are not audible on video.”
Why the Post decided to print Phillips’ claims as to statements about the “wall” when its reporters had video calling those claims into question has never been explained. More video of the confrontation have since appeared and rather than showing Phillips being swarmed by the teenagers, it shows Phillips marching into the middle of them.
To date, no video has turned up of anyone saying “build that wall.”
The case is interesting in that the youthful Sandmann is a private individual. Libel laws in the U.S. gives news organizations broad latitude in what they can report about public officials and public figures. Those people must prove reporters acted with “reckless disregard” for the facts in order to win a libel or slander action.
A lower standard applies to private individuals; they need only show that the media acted negligently. Given that standard, the Post’s decision to go with what Phillips said while admitting no evidence of the “build the wall” claims could be found on video does raise questions.
So, too, the newspaper’s portrayal of Phillips as a “Vietnam vet,” a label that these days tends to bring with it both sympathy and respect. The Post later corrected that statement, but appears to have made no attempt whatsoever to verify it in the beginning.
Later claims by Phillips and his supporters that he never specifically claimed to be a Vietnam vet might complicate the Post’s defense in the case if not for the fact that before Phillips went to D.C. he got on Facebook to solicit money and claimed to be a “Vietnam vet.”
Fact checkers for fact checkers
Those were the words coming out of his mouth in a video in which Snopes recounts Phillips saying this:
“….Phillips could seemingly be heard to say (at around the 9:35 mark) ‘I’m a Vietnam vet, and I served in Marine Corps ’72 to ’76. I got discharged May 5th, 1976 … I don’t talk much about my Vietnam times. I usually say I don’t recollect, I don’t recall those years.
“But in other similar videos, Phillips described himself as a ;Vietnam-era vet’ or referenced his Marine Corps service without mentioning Vietnam.”
It is on the basis of these differing statements that Snopes came to the conclusion that it is “unproven” that Phillips made the Vietnam vet claim. How Snopes reached that conclusion is impossible to determine.
In the first place, Phillips isn’t “seemingly heard to say” anything. He very clearly says “I’m a Vietnam vet,” and he goes on to say his discharge papers identify him as “in-theatre. I don’t talk much about my Vietnam times.”
“In-theatre” is “Vietnam times” terminology for someone who had boots on the ground in Vietnam.
But worst than these claims might be Phillips’ suggestion in the video that leaving the Standing Rock demonstrations in North Dakota with “all the structures on fire and like that” reminded him of Vietnam.
Phillips is big on suggesting things that happened without actually saying they did happen as with the confrontation with the Covington kids. But how anyone can watch a video of Phillips saying “I’m a Vietnam vet,” factually determine that he is not a Vietnam vet, and then conclude he is doing anything other than lying is mindboggling.
Clearly we now need fact checkers for the fact checkers and then probably checkers for the checkers of the fact checkers and on ad infinitum.
There was a time when reporters and editors thought it their job to try to check facts. That went out of vogue some time ago.
Enter the fact checkers. Only they now, too, appear to have gone out of vogue.
At what point here do Americans come to the conclusion they shouldn’t trust any news and that they must become defacto reporters themselves, ferreting out a wide variety of reports on anything in the news and from that trying to put together a true picture.
Unfortunately, that’s a time-consuming practice.
At least Alaskans can consider themselves lucky that when the media gets hoaxed here it tends to be minor and stupid stuff: a bear hibernating in an ice cave where bears don’t hibernate because ice caves are wet, noisy and regularly cave in; a moose calf being born in a Lowe’s parking lot in Anchorage sans placenta (hint to inexperienced reporters, moose calves emerge from the womb wet); a deaf boy’s service dog dying in his arms by being struck by a reckless driver even though it didn’t die in his arms and the driver wasn’t reckless.
One could go on here, but what’s the point? The problems with American journalism today are bigger than simply political bias. Healthy skepticism, intellectual curiosity and simple logic all seem to be on life support if they aren’t already dead.