Monday, January 15, 2018

The Genesis of Fake News

St. Mark's Anglican Church
St. John's, Newfoundland
According to Merriam-Webster, some of the earliest uses of the phrase “fake news” go back to newspaper articles in 1890 and 1891. However, fake news itself goes back much further. For those who believe in the story of creation as presented in the Old Testament Book of Genesis, it could be said that fake news goes back almost to the very beginning.

The serpent asked Eve if God really told her and Adam not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve replied, “God said, ‘Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest ye die.’”

The serpent assured Eve that the fruit wouldn’t harm her. According to the serpent, eating that fruit was probably the best thing for her. “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil,” he told her. That fruit was too alluring to resist! Fake news has been going strong ever since.

The United States has had a long and rich tradition of fake news. Two of the nation’s Founding Fathers, Ben Franklin and Samuel Adams, were very adept at producing and disseminating fake news. Adams was particularly good at rabble-rousing propaganda.

In 1835, the New York Sun went non-political with fake news when it reported that there was life on the moon which could be clearly seen through a powerful telescope. Although the story wasn’t true, it was fantastic for circulation.

Other memorable fake news stories from yesteryear include A Neglected History, H.L. Mencken’s completely fictional history of the bathtub, and Orson Welles’ 1938 broadcast of the War of the Worlds. More recently, who could possibly forget the Balloon Boy Hoax of 2009?

Fake news has been around for a very long time and there’s no sign that it’s going away anytime soon.

Quote of the Week

“Our industry has its share of Dan Rathers, capable in some respects but deficient in judgment. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, is their favorite metaphor. The world is smoke, they forget. The challenge is interpreting it accurately, rigorously.” Holman Jenkins, Dossiers and Disinformation, Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2018.

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