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What Explains the Growth of Fake News?

Recently we saw, within just a couple days, two particularly egregious cases of mainstream media journalists and commentators frenetically trumpeting dubious news stories that were quickly debunked. The first was the anonymously sourced story from Buzzfeed News claiming that hard evidence exists of Donald Trump directing his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. The second was the claim that boys from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, in Washington for the March for Life, surrounded, mocked, intimidated, and abused an elderly American Indian—a story that relied upon unverified claims from the (not actually very elderly) American Indian activist and a deceptively edited yet still ambiguous video. (In a third humiliation to the mainstream news media in the span of one week, its 2008 monument to itself on prime DC real estate—the Newseum—announced its closing.)

Journalistic standards are supposed to prevent missteps like the recent Buzzfeed and Covington cases. Why did they fail? Why were media professionals so eager to believe the worst immediately—and in some cases to launch into remarkably vicious attacks—on the basis of shaky evidence and unverified claims? One clue is the obvious fact that most of those who spread the false narratives did so because they fit their agenda; they desperately wanted Trump to be guilty of witness tampering, and they wanted the pro-life Catholic boys—some of whom were wearing Trump-supporting MAGA hats—to be obnoxious, nasty racists. The hate was already there, looking for a new opportunity to be expressed. Others may have felt less intensely about the subjects, but the narratives nonetheless fit with their worldviews and so were naively accepted.

Read more at Crisis Magazine. 

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