What News is ‘Fake News’?

Madison Popovic, Editorial Director, Junior

According to poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” There are multiple sides to every story which depend on the perspective from which a story is told, as well as how the audience interprets it. This has never been more clearly demonstrated than in a recent incident that flooded the news. A group of boys wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, a Native American group, and Hebrew Israelites sparked an uproar on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as they crossed paths while attending various marches and protests. Varying accounts were released about the event, which makes it increasingly difficult for society to understand a full and accurate story from contradicting pieces. One question that arises: who is telling the truth? A second is: how does the “truth” change depending on the narrative that the storyteller spins it with? In an era where “fake news” is a rallying call for some, it becomes especially important to make sure that we look at the news from every angle, before we decide which angle is the right angle. Of course, we all know that the right angle is the angle that measures 90 degrees exactly and is formed by two perpendicular lines. However, in life, the news is never as clear as math.


The recent encounter involved Nathan Phillips (a Vietnam veteran), Nick Sandmann (a high school student attending an anti-abortion rally), and a group of African American Hebrew Israelites. In a flurry of social media, all within a 24-hour period, viral videos emerged to seemingly point the blame at Sandmann, who appeared to be mocking Native American Phillips as he performed a peace ceremony. The scenario became a he said-he said-he said triangle. First the villains were made out to be the MAGA-hatted teens, then the Native American group was accused of starting the confrontation, and the Hebrew Israelites were blamed for inciting the action with their “racially combative” comments at both Phillips and the students, according to The New York Times. Enough viral videos, each taken from a different view, seemed to definitively point the finger of blame at one group or another, but when all was said and done, there was enough blame to go around for everyone. One showed the Hebrew Israelites flinging slurs, another showed the Native American group stepping in to try to intervene, while yet another showed the teenage boys smugly standing their ground.  And the unfortunate take-away is this: anyone with an agenda can make a villain seem like a hero, and a knight in shining armor seem like a clod.


In the 24-hour news cycle of social media, people rarely try to find out the truth when there’s a story over which one can instead get outraged. Righteous indignation seems to have replaced the need to find out the whole story, as long as one can find out the quick story. And now that everyone and his cousin has a cell phone that shoots video footage, there will always be different versions of the truth, angled and edited to tell whatever story you want it to.


The truth is never easy to find and is often lost in mass amounts of false information. In an interview for Psychology Today, Mark Murphy, a bestselling author, said that it’s best to create a list which organizes facts and the opinions of others. The recognition of the common facts makes it increasingly easier for one to decipher from the interpretations of others from the cold, hard facts.


Juana Summers, an editor for CNN Politics, said, “One of the great things and one of the horrible things about social media is that everyone can have their say….It’s kind of a marketplace for ideas. And some voices that sometimes are not correct….can oftentimes get amplified.” It’s difficult to parse through the facts when a plethora of people have accounts where they can express their own opinions. However, it’s necessary to put in the extra work to discover the truth.


President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of facts within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity.” Though Silent Cal isn’t famous for saying much, this piece of advice is worth listening to. “Facts” are easy to come by; knowledge, wisdom and judgment are required to decide what facts mean.