If you ask 10 people today who the most trusted person is in America, you’re likely to get 10 different answers
■ By David Porter / Contributed
Fake news has been around forever. I know I practiced it with some frequency when I was a kid. Back then, we called it fibbing. Had I thought at the time to call it “news,” I might have been more successful at it.
History is rife with examples of fake news. Who can forget Orson Welles’ radio broadcast, The War of the Worlds? Well, it was in 1938, so, really, who can remember it? But we learned about it in school and how it caused mass panic across the country.
Fake news has been around a lot longer than that. Even Benjamin Franklin put out a fake newspaper in 1782. It seems it was something of a joke gone awry. He shared the paper with his friends, and they shared it with their friends. And pretty soon, other colonial newspapers were printing the stories assuming they were real.
The newspaper included disparaging (and incorrect) information about American Indians, which reportedly contributed to the shaping of attitudes toward the natives. The accounts were revived as “evidence” of the savagery of Native Americans for support for the War of 1812.
Fake news can be enduring. In the 8th century, a document purportedly written in the 4th century reportedly was used by the Catholic Church to claim control over various lands. According to Scientific American, the document was not exposed as a fake until the 15th century. By then, the damage had been done.
The earliest known example of fake news dates back 40,000 years on the wall of a limestone cave in Northern Spain. It depicted a large herd of deer running next to the image of a man named Dlanod standing over a dead bison that he had killed.
Turns out, Spain didn’t even have bisons at that time and Dlanod’s trophy was actually a wild hog. Except he didn’t kill it. He found it dead in a ditch and just stuck his spear in it and posed for the drawing. All of that is according to a detailed drawing in a nearby cave.
Dlanod Drumpf was a bit of a braggart and exaggerator, a trait that reportedly ran in his family. Dlanod, in a later cave drawing, railed against the competing account and claimed that his huuuge hands had killed the largest beast in the history of hunting and that he had invented both fire and the wheel in order to transport the beast and to cook it.
A large crowd gathered outside Dlanod’s cave to protest his nonsense, and they held up signs criticizing his antics. But Dlanod couldn’t read, so he thought they were all rallying in support of him.
Of course, that whole caveman story is fake news itself, but you believed a little bit of it, didn’t you? At first, maybe? Even implausible fake news is often believed either because the reader trusts the person saying it or because it fits with beliefs they already have. Often, there is just enough truth within the fake news to make it believable.
It seems like there is a lot more fake news today than ever before, but I don’t know. If you look back in history, there has always been propaganda, exaggerations and outright lies. But there were fewer news sources.
Back when I was a kid honing my skill in stretching the truth, there was one man that America relied upon to tell us the truth. That was Walter Cronkite, who was known as the most trusted man in America.
If you ask 10 people today who the most trusted person is in America, you’re likely to get 10 different answers. When 10 people are reporting slightly different versions of the same story, you don’t know what to believe. But today, there are thousands of information providers all delivering their own spin on the news.
As diverse as the message is, the reception is just as varied. That is to say, we get our news through opinion filters and then view the news through our own filters, so even when the news isn’t fake, our interpretation of the news applies our own biases to it.
It’s not about the truth anymore. It’s about what you believe. Isn’t that a scary thought.
Copyright 2018 by David Porter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know what I believe; I believe I’ll have a cigar. And that’s the truth.