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Watch out for that ‘fake news’

~ EDITORIAL

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“No, I’m right.”

“All right, let’s look it up.”

Before long, in the quest to answer the important questions, such as “What is the origin of the term: OK?” or “How many million votes more than a majority did Hillary Clinton get in the election?” or deep philosophical inquiries such as “Does the Koran actually say how many virgins will greet a Muslim martyr after he dies?” one of us will look it up on Google.

I often sit around at my favorite cigar bar with a bunch of fairly intelligent guys who like to watch various sports events, violent action movies and the occasional “Pawn Stars,” “Shark Tank” and “Storage Wars” (women are welcome, they just don’t show up much — don’t know why really, it’s kind of a mystery) and argue about facts.

I’ve engaged in such arguments with other male friends in a myriad of other venues since I was young, and inevitably someone will challenge someone else’s facts. In the old days, we’d haul out a five-year-old volume of . . . take your pick, the ‘Farmer’s Almanac’, the Encyclopedia, ‘The Elements of Style’ etc. I had one friend who would always very authoritatively say things like, “Fifty-two and a half percent of those surveyed thought that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, while twelve percent thought it was a red herring,” and you never knew whether he was just blowing smoke, or was actually in possession of the facts. By the time it occurred to anyone to check his story, we’d all forgotten what the argument was about.

Today you can settle these things in a jiffy, using Google or IMDb (for movie facts), to the point where someone will protest, “No! Don’t look it up. I want to remember it on my own!”

Just when you thought you were safe to look things up on the internet, there comes the tragedy of “fake news.” Since the election some left of center pundits and academics have started to put together lists of “fake news” sites that are supposedly harming the republic through the dissemination of non-factual articles. Incredibly — from a probability standpoint — almost all of these “fake news” sites are right wing. Amazing! It’s kind of like flipping a coin ten times and getting heads each time. What are the odds?

The funny thing is, of course, is that there have been “fake” news sites and fake facts floating around as long as there has been an internet. Over the past 20 years — I’ve been sent emails with stories like: “Bill Clinton admits to fathering ten illegitimate children,” or “George Bush got a DUI last week but it was covered up by the Secret Service,” and, “Aardvark and Sasquatch mate and produce a Republican.”

So, I really don’t understand the sudden concern about “fake news,” and fake news sites. If people want to find out the truth of things, it doesn’t take a whole lot of time and effort to get to the truth. As the “X-files” used to say, “The truth is out there.” All you have to do is go find it.

Meantime, if you want the local truth: read the Times-Advocate.



*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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