Fake News

A while back, I read the book The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin, a fictional piece telling the story of Lindberg family told through the eyes of Anne Lindberg, Charles’ wife. Benjamin came to Little Falls to speak around the time my book club selected Benjamin’s book so I went to hear her. I have to say, she wasn’t all that well received. Members of the audience questioned her depictions with a bit more scrutiny than she might have gotten elsewhere on her book tour. This is Lindberg territory and residents of Little Falls have a better sense of the story of the aviator than most folks would. What I remember most about Benjamin’s presentation is that when something in her book was questioned as historically inaccurate, her defense was, “This is fiction.” She’d done plenty of research, she said, but had never consulted any of the Lindberg family members to get their point of view nor had she ever visited any of the Lindberg historic sights. I guess fiction writers don’t have to do those things.

The book and Ms. Benjamin come to mind this morning as I pondered this concept of fake news. I have a friend who read the book and told me how awful it was that Charles Lindberg had wives and children in other countries. As far a she was concerned, this fact so shadowed his credibility that anything else that he was or might have accomplished in his life was negated. I told her that Charles’ daughter wrote about her life growing up in the Lindberg household and gives a whole different perspective on Charles. “But she is his daughter. Of course she would be biased,” my friend said.

The fact is, my friend read The Aviator’s Wife as though it were a factual presentation. If Benjamin had been in on our conversation, I suppose she would have told her that the book is fiction and she aught not believe it as fact. But Benjamin was not present and my friend didn’t take my word for it. Benjamin, I suppose, might consider the readers who read her book as true to be just plain naive and let it go at that. But I think an author should take some responsibility just like those who write fake news should do.

Perhaps we need more genre categories. “Fake News” could be one of these. Why not? It is not a petty game when people believe a piece of news that is absolutely untrue and then make decisions in their lives as though it were fact. It has already been suggested that fake news may have influenced how people voted in the presidential election, but what about other ways people are impacted. Fear, for example. This is huge because fear can lead people to withdraw, to spread the fake news and stir up violence, to take up arms, or to turn to alcohol and drugs. This is not the responsibility of those who throw out those fake stories, you say? Not in my book! I believe we are each responsible for everything we say and do including the outcomes. When there are unexpected harmful effects to anything we do or say, it is our job to try to make these right if possible and to change our behavior. I am a writer myself and I am always trying to refine how I present my ideas in the most truthful and respectful manner I can. If I want to be satirical or if I am presenting fictional information, I want that to be clear to my readers that this is what I am doing.


4 thoughts on “Fake News”

  1. The concept of “fake news” is scary, but differently that you probably see it: when people suggest that they (or the government? Google? Facebook?) should take initiative to sensor and limit that which they deem “fake.” A recent listing created by a college professor with her suggestion to limit the list’s freedom of speech listed a few news sources that I privy. They were conveniently mixed with parody and copycat sites, and this professor didn’t include left-leaning alternative media in her list.

    The blurred lines between fake news and alternative media is concerning. But there is a solution: discernment. Logic and reasoning, thinking through news pieces, analyzing data and questioning that which you read. It is definitely more work to think through the news media, but that is how I am able to tell between fact and fiction. Benjamin probably assumed that her readers would, too.

    1. By fake news, I mean stories of events that never actually happened, not someone’s interpretation of a real event. I first became aware of it one day when Bernie and I were driving home nearing the end of a trip and I saw on Facebook that one of the U. S. Olympic swimmers had drowned. We were stunned. I turned on the radio and heard updates about the Olympics but nothing about the swimmer. I checked the news sources on my phone. Nothing. Finally, I went back to the story again and it had disappeared from my feed. It was not true. I can imagine the reaction of someone who was a member of the swimmer’s family might feel if they had read the item. Of course they would have found the truth out later, but why cause the pain in the first place.

      As for the election process, an example of fake news was the pope endorsing Donald Trump. He never did that. I saw another one saying the pope endorsed Hillary Clinton. He didn’t do that either.One can label people who believed either of these as just plain stupid, I suppose,or you can put the responsibility on the those people to check it out. But the truth is most people aren’t so academically inclined. I prefer not to judge them. I know for myself, I want to be able to believe what is presented to me as the truth. I know better, of course, but that makes me sad. Sad that we live in such a broken world that people think playing with people’s emotions and minds is funny.

  2. In college, I remember a professor I had say never believe everything you hear or read as truth. Always search out the truth on your own. How True!

    1. Read what I said to Chris. I agree what your professor said but most people aren’t so analytical as to question. We can call them being naive, but I think at some point we have to look seriously at what happens when people believe things not true. So far, I have heard people put the total responsibility on those people. But in a way, it is like telling a man that he wouldn’t have gotten hit by the car if he had just run across the street instead of walking so slow. We can just say he is naive for thinking the cars were going to stop for him.

      I am just now starting to rethink this. I realize I am treading on the concept of freedom of speech. But there has to be some responsibility for the consequences of this fake news stuff.

      Thanks, Nancy. I love it when you share your thoughts.

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