The ancestral lineage of fake news is easy to trace. It winds back through the birther movement and Benghazi, as a tool for weakening political opponents. It filtered through Sarah Palin, who never said she could see Russia from her house, and Al Gore, who never said he invented the internet — myths that hardened into seeming truths due to repeated retelling. It has silly origins, as networks begged us to believe that reality TV was real. It had sinister origins, as W. begged us to believe that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq.
Okay, so at least we’re admitting this predates Trump and Russia, and that someone profits from political division. Don’t love the “both sides” business, but Sarah did get a raw deal on that one considering how much stupid shit she ACTUALLY said.
We are at this point in the column the optimist who jumped off a building. So far, so good.
Yet the origin of fake news, as it applies to modern times, is not important. What’s important is the acceptance of fake news. How did we go from a nation of skeptics to a nation of carp, blindly slurping up every bit of rot that wafted to the bottom of the lagoon?
There might be no better place to start searching for answers than in the English classrooms of our public schools, which in the latter half of the 20th century bought into the idea of descriptive linguistics, or the notion that rules were overrated.
There’s the crash.
Let’s not talk about Rupert Murdoch’s money or the benefits to the wealthy that result. Let’s talk about what public school kids learn in English class!
Language evolves, the thinking went, so instead of fighting it, why not roll with it?
This gave teachers permission, of sorts, to avoid the hard work of beating proper English into the skulls of balky kids.
Diagramming sentences became passé, and the finer points of the language were lost as students were basically allowed to make it up as they went along.
I’m … not sure you can go from the passing of the diagrammed sentence in public school to W’s weapons of mass destruction bullshit, given that W and almost every TV personality who reported on him in any significant way was a private school kid.
In some ways I understand where this dude is going but knowledge of dangling modifiers and incorrectly placed prepositions can’t replace a finely tuned bullshit detector.
Yet in English classes, the resulting lack of intellectual discipline and critical thinking has startling similarities to the sloppy thought that has elevated fake news from a strategic political endeavor to a big-box store of wholesale lunacy. “Efforting” might not be a real word, but it doesn’t matter because everyone will know what it means; Hillary might not have actually had a disloyal campaign aide killed, but it doesn’t matter because everyone knows that’s the way the Clintons operate.
Oh for God’s sake. These aren’t abstractions. People don’t believe “fake news” because language is evolving. They believe “fake news” because regressive segregationist propaganda tools harnessed the recognizable language and conventions of objective journalism in order to turn the electorate against Democrats and moderate Republicans, whip up fears about black crime and immigration, and aim reasonable concerns about violence — that would otherwise be directed at the NRA — at the owner of your neighborhood falafel stand.
The real mystery isn’t why people believe fake news. It’s why we reserve our greatest contempt for the buyers of bullshit and not the sellers. Your dumb second cousin Pete thinks Hillary invented AIDS and that’s not okay for Pete, but when we’re done critiquing Pete’s grammar can we maybe talk about who got paid to make Pete believe what he believes?
Those English teachers who come under so much criticism here? They’re teaching to GOP-mandated tests and filling out assessment forms while their budgets are being slashed and they’re buying their own paper and fundraising for chairs and the next town over just shot down a tax increase of half a percent to pay for heating the building because a charter-funded ad campaign told them teaching kids to read shouldn’t cost more than a large Diet Coke at McDonald’s.
Why don’t you diagram that.