Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fox Tales

Here we go again...
The folks over at Fox News, no strangers to journalistic faux pas, slipped on another reportorial banana peel recently while recounting the horrors of the government shutdown.
Anna Kooiman, one of those interchangeable blond-haired, doe-eyed commentators that populate the network, said on an episode of “Fox and Friends” that “We’re going to talk a little bit later in the show, too, about some things that are continuing to be funded and President Obama has offered to pay out of his own pocket for the Museum of Muslim Culture, out of his own pocket.”
Shocking? Controversial? Outrageous? Redundant? Yes. But true? No.
It seems Ms. Kooiman swallowed hook, line and sinker a story produced by something called the National Reporter, which publishes satire, not news. She later apologized, blaming “poor research.”
If you look up Museum of Muslim Culture on the Internet, you’ll discover almost instantly that it’s located in Jackson, Miss., and receives no government funding whatsoever. That’s the kind of “research” a fifth-grader could do.
And then there’s this: If the president had in fact bankrolled a Muslim cultural center out of his own pocket during a government shutdown that saw national parks and monuments closed, it would have been front-page news in every major newspaper in the country and the lead story on every network news telecast. Tea Party members would have been marching on the White House with pitchforks and torches.
It wasn’t. And they didn’t. Does that raise a red flag? It should have.
Of course, this is the same network that initially got the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare wrong and whose affiliate in the Bay Area breathlessly announced that the names of the pilots whose Asiana passenger jet crashed in San Francisco were “Som Ting Wong” and “Wi Tu Low.”
So much for high journalistic standards.
Lest we be guilty of picking on Fox, it isn’t the only guilty party.
Iran’s partially state-run Fars News Agency not only believed a piece in The Onion claiming that rural Americans preferred President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over President Barack Obama, Fars actually plagiarized it — putting the story up on its website and claiming it as its own.
A satirical piece claiming that Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas went into a shouting tirade after a Hooters restaurant refused to accept his government expense account credit card as payment for a $53 tab spread like wildfire over social media.
A faked story claimed a study conducted by the World Health Organization predicted that blond hair soon wouldn’t exist in the human population. The last natural blond would be born in Finland sometime over the next two centuries. There was no such study. Yet it was reported as fact on ABC, CNN and the London Daily Mail.
What to make of all this? It appears in the headlong rush to embrace social media along with its “citizen journalists,” bloggers and tweeters, critical thinking skills have been left in the dust.
The first rule of Journalism 101, at least the way I learned it, was to question everything. It may make you something of a skeptic but at least you won’t be apologizing for reporting satire as fact.
This isn’t rocket science. It’s the same skill set we use on used car salesmen and Scientologists.
Of course, it could be that Fox News, which we could charitably describe as being a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, has no interest in verifying anything that may discredit the Democrats. It would seem they believe that if it embarrasses President Obama, put it on the air and sweep the consequences under the rug.
Additionally, social media has proven that people believe what they want to believe, rational debate notwithstanding. I have received hundreds of emails over the years that purport to prove that Obama is an American-hating Muslim, aliens walk among us and that backyard barbecues can melt your contact lenses. All urged me to “pass this along.”
Indeed, an entire cottage industry has emerged on the Internet of websites that do nothing but expose myths and shed the light of truth on urban legends.
Mark Twain, a man who was not above spreading a myth or two in his day, said this: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
If he could only see us now.

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