I have long been a critic of politician interfering with curricular issues in our schools. Most of us do not look to politicians as paragons of knowledge. Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez personifies the perils of politicians dictating course choices. Gomez is pushing for a course on to teach students who to avoid fake news. It is part of a new trend around the world to rally people against the scourge of “fake news” — a trend that is already been used as a rationale for censorship and the criminalization of speech. Fake news is now the rallying cry for people who disagree with coverage and is used as a way to avoid answering questions. What one person consider fake news and other considers real news can be highly subjective. The most recent controversy reveals the difficult lines to draw. President-elect Donald Trump made headlines yesterday by denounced CNN as “fake news” and refusing to take a question from its reporter. Yet, the report was “news” that was reported by most major outlets. I agree with the Trump staff about the need for BuzzFeed to have looked more closely at specific allegations and I do find the contractions raised by the Trump staff to be very problematic. Indeed, James Clapper appears to have supported Trump in his outrage over the leaks and further distanced the U.S. intelligence community from the merits of the allegations. [Here is Clapper’s statement] Yet, the legitimacy of these stories comes down to the details published in the stories. A former MI6 agent made the allegation and those allegations were forwarded to the FBI by a U.S. Senator. That is news. The specific “dirt” alleged to be in the possession of the Russians is a far more difficult question for editors and most declined to run those details while reporting the lack of independent confirmation.
As I have previously discussed, the problem is that someone has to decide what is false or what is inspired for foreign agencies to cause mischief. For example, Hillary Clinton denounced Wikileaks as false but never cited as single false email to prove her claim. Likewise, acting DNC head Donna Brazile repeatedly made the same allegations when emails showed that she unethically leaked questions to be asked at a CNN townhall to the Clinton campaign. Brazile told the media that she could prove that emails were tampered with but never supplied the evidence. Wikileaks infuriated the establishment in Washington. The response has been blind rage from people in Washington who have thrived on controlling information and shaping the news.
In addition to Gomez’ bill, state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, has proposed legislation to require the state education board to start a “media literacy” curriculum.
Gomez insists fake news poses “a direct threat to our democracy.” What is a threat is the effort of people like Gomez to create a new mythology that we are suddenly faced with the threat of fake news and that we need to take steps to protect our very democracy from its existential threat. The first step is to educate children to recognize the peril of “fake news.” Of course, people can judge for themselves the veracity or truthfulness of news. Millennials are particularly cognizant of fake sites and pitches as a generation that grew up on the Internet. This is a colossal waste of money and, worse yet, an effort to create a foundation for separating protected speech from unprotected speech that we have seen in other countries.
What do you think?