When I use the term fake news, I do not mean deliberate sabotage of news sites by, for example, Russia’s troll house. Or opposition research marketed as news. Or false information that merits retraction and results in dismissals as at CNN recently. Nor material that is outed by traditional media sources themselves as fake news. Consider, for example, the BBC’s displeasure at the glut of fake anti-Trump stories (“Many people on the left right now are feeling overwhelmed and fearful and unsure of what’s going to happen next”), many of which have also been debunked by Snopes as“patterns of falsehoods.” At some level, the people creating the news have to know that it is fake.
No, I am talking rather about the subtle underlay of easy but questionable narratives that flow constantly and unconsciously through media. We assume that media cover stories that way because, well, that’s just the way they do things! Let’s look at ten examples: More.
- False and prejudiced history repeated so often it becomes fact
Do you remember when the Catholic Church burned Copernicus at the stake for suggesting that Earth orbited the sun? Me neither. Popular science writing frequently retails false history.
In one recent example, many media outlets informed us that the Bible must be wrong because it states that the Canaanites were exterminated. But modern genetic studies showed that descendants survived the massacres. As a matter of fact, as David Klinghoffer painstakingly details, we can learn in many places in the Bible that the Canaanites survived. Yet the sources of plainly false information were grudging in their corrections:
Even the reputable journal Science, in a reporting article, had to backtrack with an editor’s correction, blandly styled as an “update”:
“This story and its headline have been updated to reflect that in the Bible, God ordered the destruction of the Canaanites, but that some cities and people may have survived.”
Not “may have survived.” In the Bible’s account, they definitely survived, in large numbers. The original headline? “Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites.” It should be, “Ancient DNA confirms biblical account…”
But that would be expecting too much. James Hannam offers many other examples at First Things,
“As it happens, much of the evidence marshaled in favor of the conflict thesis turns out to be bogus. The Church never tried to outlaw the number zero or human dissection; no one was burnt at the stake for scientific ideas; and no educated person in the Middle Ages thought that the world was flat, whatever interpretations of the Bible might imply. Popes have had better things to do than ban vaccination or lightning conductors on churches. The thought of a pope excommunicating Halley’s Comet is absurd, but this has not prevented the tale of Calixtus III doing just that from entering scientific folklore. More.”
This particular type of fake news misleads readers as to the nature and source of controversies around science, including some in which much is at stake… More.
See also: What can we do about fake news that would not diminish real news? Critics of ‘fake news’ should go to China — only the government has the right to post fake news.