Let’s Watch How We Respond to Fake News, Too

By Michael Brown Published on July 1, 2017

Fake news is not the only problem today. It’s our response to fake news, too. Too often we take the bait and run with it, responding like lemmings to the latest inflammatory article, failing to read carefully and evaluate thoughtfully. Sometimes before we read, we’ve already drawn a conclusion based on an incendiary headline, even though the headline itself is misleading.

Let me give an in-house example, not pointing a finger at the left (which I often do, as you know), but looking at our own reaction to an article from the staff of a fellow-conservative, Sean Hannity.

But before I do this, allow me to respond to some of you who are already upset with me, your reasoning being, “There’s so much fake news on the left. Why draw negative attention to our side?”

Too often we take the bait and run with it, responding like lemmings to the latest inflammatory article.

First, I call out the liberal media all the time and don’t need to prove my conservative credentials in every article. Second, if we can’t take constructive criticism to help us grow, we’re no better than our political and ideological opponents. Third, friends tell friends the truth. As Paul asked the Galatians, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16) Fourth, I’m not saying our positions are wrong. I’m saying that sometimes our responses are wrong.

This Looks Bad, Right?

Allow me to illustrate.

An article posted to Sean Hannity’s website and Facebook page by his staff carries this headline: “WATCH: Overly Aggressive Press Pool Stampedes in to Oval Office.” It describes what happened when a pool of photographers went into the Oval Office to take pictures of the president and his South Korean counterpart.

This is how the event is depicted: “An overly aggressive press pool stampeded in to the Oval Office on Friday, nearly destroying furniture as the media struggled to get a glimpse of President Trump’s meeting with newly elected South Korean President Moon.”

Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?

Yes, it was very bad: “The chaos erupted,” we are told, “as members of the White House press pool and foreign journalists were allowed in to the Oval office for an official photo opportunity between the two world leaders.”

Many of those weighing in probably read the headline only, or at best, just the article, and relatively few would have watched the video too.

What follows then is a fairly accurate description of the event, which ends with an invitation to watch the video. It’s embedded in the article: “Watch the chaotic moment above.”

Note carefully the description: The press pool was overly aggressive. There was a stampede. They nearly destroyed furniture. Chaos erupted. It was a chaotic moment.

The Report vs. the Facts

Stop for a moment and imagine what the scene looked like, then watch the video for yourself. It shows anything but a nearly furniture-destroying stampede. What it does show is the press pool being a little too aggressive as they banter for position. So the president calmly says to them, “Easy fellas, fellas, fellas, easy,” as he was rightly quoted in the post, and then, “Wow, you guys are getting worse.” Yes, they were a bit too aggressive, and a lamp was almost knocked over, and that was it.

The headline should have read, “Lamp Almost Knocked Over as Press Pool Jockeys for Position.” But would that have garnered more than 10,000 Likes and 2,100 Shares on the Hannity Facebook page? And would it have produced more than 3,000 comments?

Many of those weighing in probably read the headline only, or at best, just the article. Relatively few would have watched the video too. And even for those who did watch, the headline and article had already created a misleading impression.

The Lemmings Are on the Move

No wonder comments included, “Act like a pack of animals, maybe you should have a seat out on the lawn. There you can defecate, pee on the bushes and act like wild dogs. Anyone involved in this incident should have their press passes revoked.”

And this totally uncalled-for comment, which is both crass and totally inaccurate, received 1,300 Likes. The lemmings are on the move.

Another comment, which received more than 550 Likes, began with, “bunch of spoiled brats … need to be put in their place.”

If we can’t take constructive criticism to help us grow, we’re no better than our political and ideological opponents.

Here were some other, popular comments: “You can’t even make it up — the lack of self respect, respect and decorum stems from their phony filthy media lies. Compare these less idiot reporters to those of 25 – 50 years ago — They are a complete disgrace.”

And: “The media are nothing but a bunch of thugs looking to attack the president as opposed to getting answers to real questions.”

And: “Throw the herd of wolves out. No respect Get them out! If they have kids they should be embarrassed. Kids on the playground have better manners.”

Refusing To Be Anyone’s Lemming

These are just a few comments out of more than 3,000, as the readers reacted to the inflammatory headline and article like a bunch of mindless followers. Except in this case, the lemming-like responders are quite aggressive and have very sharp teeth. And again, even for those who took the time to watch the video, their emotions were already stirred up. Plus, this video is about the media, which is “all evil” and “bad.”

I find all this quite shameful. (And how many of the journalists were foreigners, unrelated to the liberal American press? South Koreans can be aggressive too, as I’ve discovered in my numerous trips there.)

Is it too much to suggest that we on the right need to do our fact-checking more carefully too? That we need to read and watch with a more critical eye? That we should avoid demonizing everyone on the left (or, in the media, in this case, cameramen)?

I will continue to expose the left’s hypocritical and false reporting. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I for one don’t want to be anyone’s lemming. How about you?

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  • Rex Rhinesmith

    Thanks for this, Michael.

    We must spend more time policing our knee-jerks and praying to live on a high moral plane with as much glee as we feel casting unending aspersions on the other side. We have as much human nature to curb as they do, but we have the conviction of the Holy Spirit to help us as many of them may not, so just what is our excuse for being indistinguishable from them?

  • BTP

    Perhaps the larger problem is conflating click-bait, low-importance stories with false, widely-reported and fraudulent stories of great importance. So, if I believe Hannity’s story, I suppose reporters are marginally more thuggish than they really are. If I believe CNN’s, I imagine the President should be hanged for treason.

    Suggesting these two things belong in the same category of things is itself a lie.

    • Sue McMahon

      I cannot figure out what you are trying to say here. Can you please clarify?

      • Linda

        I believe what is meant is that if there is right-wing fake news it is innocuous little lies or exaggeration of no consequence, whereas “the left” and mainstream media spread vicious lies about the president.

      • BTP

        Sure. I mean it’s nonsense to compare fake news on the right with fake news on the left. If you believe the Hannity story, you are a little wrong about something that doesn’t matter much. If you believe anything from CNN, you are bigly wrong about important things. Putting them in the same category is very stupid for this reason.

  • Sue McMahon

    Very well said, Dr. Brown. You are a voice of reason and someone I trust very much….but I will take this lesson to heart and not put my blind trust in those whom I tend to agree with most of the time, not even you! (That said, I have so far never disagreed with anything I have heard from you; not that you are perfect as nobody is. I just find your voice to be very refreshing, honest, thoughtful and full of wisdom.)

    Thanks for calling out the “right” as well as those on the left. It is (and was in this case) needed and appropriate. May our Lord keep us listening for His voice, following Him, our Great Shepherd, not blindly following any man’s (or particular media’s) ideology. We need to remember there are true Christians on both sides of the aisle, and we need to start listening to each other. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

  • Very true. I’ve been guilty of overreacting before informing myself.

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