“Fake News” is a Fake Notion
Clarence W Thomas*
Associate Professor, School of Mass Communications, Virginia Commonwealth University, USA
As a journalism Professor I often discuss the meaning and
purpose of journalism with my students. Recently, the notion of “Fake
News” has managed to sneak into our conversations as students have
sought clarification. Many students seem puzzled and confused when
discussing the term. They want to know what such a term is supposed
to mean in light of their study and practice of journalism. In addition
to my own students, I recently taught a group of journalism students
from China. They were also concerned by the term and wondered how
controls on journalism in their country could dare be questioned by
Americans when we have “Fake News” in our country.
As I tell my students, wake up! “Fake News” is a FAKE notion.
The notion of “Fake News” was forced on America and the world
by a presidential candidate (now President) who used and uses it as a
verbal preemptive device designed to lessen and even diminish facts/
truth, which he considers to be detrimental to himself and/or his cause.
Under such a notion, truth and facts are supposed to wither away and
become replaced by “alternative fact.” Under this notion, flip/flop then
flop/flip are standard practices. Right is wrong and wrong is right. Yes is
no, then no is yes, then no again.
Some say that journalism is the first draft of history.
Journalism (like history) is supposed to seek truth, nothing else.
Journalism, at least in America, is supposed to seek truth and
provide that truth to society. Journalism in America is also supposed
to be a watchdog for society, which keeps check of government, big
business, etc. In turn, the truth provided by journalism should facilitate
a better society.
The founding fathers of the United States understood the value
of the press as a facilitator of a free society. Therefore, they made
freedom of the press a prominent part of the First Amendment of the
Constitution. They understood that the press, in an attempt to seek and
provide truth, might be unpopular at times, but nonetheless needed.
According to President George Washington, “Our liberty depends
on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being
Benjamin Franklin noted, “If all printers were determined not to
print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would
be very little printed.”
President Thomas Jefferson commented, “When the press is free
and every man able to read, all is safe.” He also noted, “The basis of
our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object
should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we
should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without
a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I
should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable
of reading them.” Jefferson believed, “The press is the best instrument
for enlightening the mind of man, and improving him as a rational,
moral and social being.”
The United States now faces a President who belittles and demonizes
the press (journalism) through his use of the fake term called “Fake
As the story goes, if you knowingly let a snake into your house, and
it bites and kills your family, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Wake up America! Wake up journalists! “Fake News” is a FAKE notion.
(Published in Journal of Mass Communication and Journalism)