Instead of checking facts screaming ‘fake news’ seems to suffice

By Dermod Travis

Risky to confess such things – especially publicly – but there are a few things that get under my skin fast.

Eons ago, when I was in high school, it only took a single word.

It wasn’t the word itself so much, as it was the tone some used saying it that suggested you were getting flipped off more than you were communicating.

Fast forward to 2018 and I’m happy to report that it now takes two words said in any tone – or used in any manner – that will do the same: fake news.

Grabbing a cab this past week, the driver was well-immersed in a podcast of a national radio show where the host routinely used the term as he interviewed his guest.

My take away after a 10-minute ride was that it had something to do with dandelions, a medical study and Windsor, Ontario.

The guest had evidently become the target of what might be called the fake news gang of natural medicine or western medicine, difficult to tell which coming in late to the podcast.

The host was highly sympathetic with his guest. But what really jumped out was how he nonchalantly used ‘fake news’ in his questions, as though it had become a legitimate term to contrast opinions.

I suddenly felt the crying need for that schoolyard tone from eons ago.

Once all that was needed to dismiss a crackpot theory was simply to say, “more people believe Elvis is still alive than would fall for that” and you would move on, but somehow we’re now party to a battle between rival fake news gangs.

It’s not a term to legitimatize. It’s quackery.

It’s as though the phrase is some magical pixie dust that makes everything disappear that runs counter to someone’s point of view.

As former U.S. senator, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

But instead of checking facts, screaming ‘fake news’ seems to suffice.

Case in point: in the ongoing debate over the Insurance Corporation of B.C. and future rate hikes, a few are advocating for private insurance.

Fair enough, it’s a legitimate to opinion to hold, but I tweeted a reply that they should be careful what they wish for – Ontario has the highest auto insurance premiums in the land and it’s 100 per cent private.

Backing up the tweet was inter-provincial analyses of auto insurance costs prepared by the Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments, the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the Consumers’ Association of Canada, all of which put Ontario out front by far and all dismissed as fake news.

Evidently, someone’s neighbour doesn’t pay the amount cited in the reports for premiums in Alberta.

By popularizing the term, some are making it mainstream.

Earlier this year, the B.C. Liberal party was looking for Digital Warriors to help that party ‘combat fake news’.

Former independent MLA Vicki Huntington must have signed up – how else to explain her refuting the claim that the B.C. NDP had hacked the Liberal party’s website?

Someone else took issue with a New York Times article that IntegrityBC tweeted, and replied ‘fake news’.

My response: prove the facts are incorrect or unfollow us.

Harsh? Admittedly, not one of my more diplomatic tweets, but it’s time to draw a line in the sand with those whose contribution to public debate is limited to the same two words.

When facts challenge your opinion, then reexamine your opinion.

In his farewell speech, former President Barack Obama noted: “For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles…surrounded by people who share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.

“And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence.

“However, without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, that science and reason matter, we’re going to keep talking past each other.”

Maybe that’s why TheGoodGodAbove tweeted a new commandment: “Thou shalt stop calling everything you don’t like ‘fake news!’ Thou shalt attain a firmer grip on reality.”

She has a point.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

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