Fake-Spotting

At last! The problem of fake news has been solved! Someone needed to step up and deal with this scourge and finally someone has – a personal injury attorney in Phoenix.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of checking out tort lawyers in Arizona to figure this out. The answer was contained in a press release issued last week with the headline: “Three Solutions to the Problem of Fake News.”

One might have thought this emanated from, say, a professional journalistic association or a think tank or maybe even the White House.

But no, the press release was issued by a guy named Doug Zanes, “a Phoenix car accident and personal injury lawyer.”

Why?

I have no idea.

Your standard press release – even the really silly ones (and there a lot of those) – is usually designed to promote the business or politics of the issuer. This doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Are you going to be inspired to take your fender-bender litigation to the guy who figured out fake news?

Obviously not. You want someone with the creativity to come up with a reason you’re not at fault. It’s the opposite skill set.

Yes, it’s entirely possible that this press release is fake news (or fake release), but maybe this guy felt compelled to provide a public service. Maybe I should stop being cynical and report this breakthrough in journalistic analysis because, I’m pretty sure, the rest of the so-called media isn’t going to tell you about this.

The first thing to do, according to Zanes, is “Check the most suspect stories before they are disseminated on social media platforms or on media websites.”

So apparently what you have to do is find the fake news before anyone reports it so that you’re ready for it when it comes out.

I’m not sure how you can do this, but I’m guessing the answer is time travel.

Step two is: “Fake news sites need to be branded as fake by people.”

It’s so much easier to spot fake news sources when someone – preferably a person – tells you they’re fake.

Finally: “Teach children how to read more critically in this new age of media because a recent Stanford study found middle school, high school and college students are easily duped by what they read in social media.”

And then maybe the children can tell us what to believe.

We have something to look forward to.

 

Fake perspective? Of course, fakeness isn’t the only problem with news. There’s also the matter of emphasis.

In journalism school we’re told to be objective. And we’re told to use the “inverted pyramid” to construct our stories. That means we’re supposed to put the most important stuff at the top.

Which, of course, is a subjective decision.

This a big problem when there’s a shiny object – i.e. a fun fact or phrase – to distract us reporter types.

Case in point from the reporting of a First Circuit ruling in O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy that begins with this sentence: “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

What reporter can resist that opening line? It certainly caught my eye, and it led to a New York Times story about a ruling in a case about whether some dairy delivery drivers have a right to be paid overtime.

Not exactly big news.

The story, by the way, was accompanied by an addition to your collection of WTF photos accompanying news stories:

The caption informs us that these are trucks lining up in 2006. Apparently, the Times wanted us to know that the company owned trucks a decade ago.

The story headline is a tad misleading too: “Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute.”

Wouldn’t it make just as much sense to say the company’s policy cost its drivers millions of dollars? That’s what I mean about the problem of emphasis.

Now raise your hand if you think the comma was dropped by a punctuation-challenged Maine company.

It wasn’t. The court was talking about a state law that might have exempted drivers from a list of people worthy of overtime payments if there had been another comma in the list.

So what’s the deal about the comma?

It’s really not that interesting.