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Generating Fake News

March 28, 2019

Much has been panicked about recently over "fake news." But how does fake news get generated? Aren't journalists trained to verify information they produce and to research its validity? After all, that's journalism's job. If untrue news stories are being published in formal news media, isn't that because reporters and editors either screwed up or decided to deceive? (The concept of fake news does not apply to social media because nothing there can be considered news, fake or otherwise.)

Well, yes, some will admit, but research is just so, you know, hard. It's a lot easier to trust sources that are, well, reliable. And if not reliable, at least public enough to be credible. Or simply because we like them.

In a case in point, a false story was repeated by CNN and MSNBC, neither of which bothered to conduct basic research, but allowed their political rabidity to overwhelm any professional responsibility that we might have expected of them.

The story concerns an interview with one Patrick Moore on Fox News, March 12, 2019. Moore was identified in the story as a co-founder of Greenpeace who had renounced the group and become a vocal opponent of most of its policies, accusing it of abandoning the humanistic values that launched it. In the Fox News interview, Moore apparently criticized the modern environmental movement for distorting the debate over climate change and global warming.

The whole fracas might have ended there except that the arch-enemy of environmentalists, Donald Trump, triumphantly tweeted Moore's comments and dismissed "the climate crisis" as "Fake News." Greenpeace responded with its own tweet in which it claimed in part, "Patrick Moore was not a co-founder of Greenpeace."

So far, so mud. But CNN and MSNBC picked up the story, parroting Greenpeace's claim in a manner that to anyone reading it, Moore is a liar, and by extension, his opinions are worthless.

There's only one problem: Moore was a co-founder of the group. He sailed with it to the South Pacific to publicize nuclear weapons tests and further north to confront commercial whalers, all at some personal risk. He dropped out of the group several years later when it went in a direction he didn't like. His book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout, gives his reasons.

Now whatever your opinions of Greenpeace, Moore, or Donald Trump, surely the overriding factor is the truth. Was Moore a founder of Greenpeace? News archives are unambiguous. And even though the group has expunged Moore's name from its website, nothing gets erased permanently on the internet. The records, which are easy to find, are clear: Moore was one of its founders.

So the fake news is that Moore wasn't involved with Greenpeace. How was it generated and how was it circulated? Easy. It was generated by a lie and it was circulated by partisan-inspired sloth. The next time some news agency fulminates against fake news, ask yourself what role that agency had in promulgating it.

1 For the background, see Menton, Francis. (March 18, 2019). More Flagrant Alteration Of The Past: Patrick Moore As Founder Of Greenpeace. Manhattan Contrarian. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2FyLcDt.