Fake News: Media’s Money Cheat Code // Soren Madsen

After two quarters of participating in this CTW, it has become abundantly clear that everyone cheats in some aspect of their life. However, the information on cheating by corporations and interest groups is a little bit more nuanced. From Dan Ariely’s The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, cheating in a corporate structure comes from individuals seeking approval and satisfaction of their superiors (the ones who are going to pay them!) (Ariely). Yet, without a good example, this concept can be hard to visualize. For this, we can look at how news media cheats by perpetuating fake stories.

Like any other business, news outlets have a responsibility to make money. While reporting news in a completely objective context would be ideal for the customer, it is not ideal in terms of a business tactic (Graber). What attracts people from using one news service over another if they are all the same? One of the many ways to attract people is to perpetuate a certain political bias. It is hard for people to hear something they disagree with, so it is more comfortable to listen to something that corresponds with their political beliefs.

In the wake of the 2016 election, our new President was an extremely controversial candidate. As the Democratic and Republic parties fought it out for control of the executive branch, the news media did not simply stop and stare. Biased sources such as CNN and Fox did everything they could to oust the opposing candidate. However, a year later, news outlets are still just as cutthroat. There are very few news stories that are reported without bias today. So, what has the media employed in such tactics? Fake news. In fact, over 80% of students at SCU had seen a fake news story in the past 6 months.

The issue of fake news surrounds its prevalence as a trending story. When a fake news story first breaks, it is not recognized as fake. A shocking headline grabs people’s attention and remains in their head. However, those willing to question the story usually come upon a fake story later. This means that the lie isn’t caught until some time after the story goes viral; many times, the story reporting the shocking story was fake doesn’t go viral. Therefore, there is still a good portion of the population that read the story that still believes the headline was real.

In March of 2014, renowned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed that the Sandy Hook Massacre was all a cover up. Jones has accused the families of those involved in the Alex-Jones-Infowars-greenstudioshooting of faking the deaths of their children. In his radio broadcast, he was quoted as saying, “‘I’ve looked at it and undoubtedly there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying and they were pre-planning before it and rolled out with it’” (Cooper). These comments have circulated among the 2.3 million subscribers for years as Jones has mentioned the idea in other broadcasts, but it did not really become a big issue until recently.

Now, still years later, the families of the victims are harassed daily by the fanbase of Jones’ talk show by people demanding proof that their loved ones passed away. All the torment became too much, and now the six families are suing Alex Jones for defamation. One particular suit claims that Alex Jones has “persistently perpetuated a monstrous, unspeakable lie” (Williamson). The trials are taking place in different courts, and the outcomes are still to be determined.

When it comes to how I discovered these ideas, it began when I noticed that a lawsuit had been filed against Alex Jones by the families of the victims of Sandy Hook. I quickly became curious as to why the two had any relation at all; it seemed totally out of place to me. I did a quick search on “Infowars Sandy Hook” and was presented with Jones’ conspiracy theory. Wondering how he was able to say things like that publicly, I remembered the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and felt remorse for those families slandered by his words. It was then that I realized that Jones was creating this circus in the same way that our President gained media traction: bombastic speech. He was intentionally creating fake ideas to attract people and sell stuff. All of this was for money. I bet he didn’t count on a lawsuit, however.

The Infowars is the epitome of how open speech on political beliefs can make money. Alex Jones regularly pushes products and services that relate to the topics of discussion printing-money.jpgfor the show. It’s a gross misuse of sway over the less knowledgeable population and clear manipulation for profit. The actions by Alex Jones to attack the victims of a horrible tragedy clearly show the man has no remorse for whom he destroys in his path for revenue and money.

While the Infowars is a business venture in and of itself, the correlation it has with public view is dangerous. If people are led to believe in false conspiracy theories because of this show, it has huge implications in terms of how we view the First Amendment. What constitutes free speech, and where do we draw the line? If anyone is allowed to say anything, how do we reconcile the correlation of false ideas and the result of such ideas: false beliefs? It seems to me that the moral code that would prevent the slander of victims of a mass shooting doesn’t apply to everyone, especially when considering the revenue to be collected.

 

Works Cited:

Ariely, Dan. The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves. HarperCollins, 2013.

Graber, Doris A., and Johanna Dunaway. Mass Media and American Politics. CQ Press, 2018.

Williamson, Elizabeth. “Truth in a Post-Truth Era: Sandy Hook Families Sue Alex Jones.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 May 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/05/23/us/politics/alex-jones-trump-sandy-hook.html.

 

 

 

 

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