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Living in an era where misinformation is weaponized

By Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency on

“Jared Kushner is under federal investigation for diverting money to terrorist organizations according to a guy I met at the gas station who told me he works for the FBI” is something I would never be allowed to publish.

“Donald Trump Jr. has an escalating cocaine dependency problem according to a woman I ran into at the supermarket who told me she’s his dealer” is another sentence my editor would flag.

There is, you see, this thing in the news business called judgment. You may or may not have ever heard of it, though it is supposed to be one of the foundation stones of journalism.

Many of us have spent years pretending otherwise. Which is to say, pretending we are not in the business of deciding what is important and what isn’t, what is authoritative and what is not. Instead, we embrace false equivalence and specious syntactical strategies to spare ourselves from having to draw even the most obvious conclusions.

That’s how you get people hanging nooses and using the n-word and reporters dubbing it “racially insensitive.”

It’s how you get news media creating fake balance between climate scientists and climate change deniers.

 

It is how, more than 20,000 lies later, you get reports of Donald Trump saying bizarre things “for which he provided no evidence.”

In seeking to avoid charges of anti-conservative bias, mainstream news media have too often been serial evaders of their responsibility to tell the truth without fear or favor. And as social media have, to a large degree, supplanted mainstream media as information conduits, they’ve proven, if anything, even more cowardly.

Which makes last week’s brouhaha over the New York Post’s story on Hunter Biden all the more fascinating. It seems Facebook and Twitter both limited users’ ability to share the story, which purports to be based on emails showing that Joe Biden’s son peddled access to his father when the elder Biden was vice president.

The restriction has the right wing up in arms. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat labeled it “dangerous and stupid.” Sen. Ted Cruz called it “censorship.”

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