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FAKIN’ IT : Searching for truth in our news

By Amanda Dee

photo: Last spring, people from the U.S. to the U.K. were buzzing online about a faux Limp Bizkit concert purportedly at the Sunoco on Wayne Avenue. Dayton Police tweeted to dispel these rumors, but more than 100 people still showed up, even if they knew the band wouldn’t show.

“Limp Bizkit comes to Sunoco on Wayne.”

Today, you wouldn’t believe it, at least not without seeing the red backward baseball hat with your own eyes, but if the Facebook event titled as such had been posted prior to April 20 of this year, chances are hundreds might have been hooked with the lie.

And as was witnessed in Dayton this past spring, when a large group of people starts believing in a lie (recently added to the category of “fake news”), sometimes higher authority intervenes; and sometimes that intervention comes in the form of a tweet. “BE AWARE: There is NO Limp Bizkit concert Wed. 4/20 at Sunoco station at Keowee St. & Wayne Ave. These ads [are] FALSE,” Dayton Police tweeted April 19, with the word “fake” stamped over an image of a Limp Bizkit concert poster.

Despite the Dayton Police Department’s best efforts, the buzz surrounding the event, even after it was myth-busted, garnered attention from national news outlets like Gawker, People Magazine, and The Daily Beast, and even international media attention from The Guardian in the U.K. (thank you, internet).

If you’re wondering if a “limp bizkit” is a term for a soggy biscuit or you just haven’t followed the chain of events as described, then let us take a brief aside:

Fred Durst, a.k.a. “red cap,” is the angry lead vocalist fronting the band Limp Bizkit, a nu-metal outfit that originally began playing under the moniker in 1994.

Ohio native Brian Baker is the “mastermind” behind the Facebook event “Limp Bizkit Comes to the Sunoco on Wayne,” which actually did manifest at the Sunoco on April 20 of this year with at least 100 attendees, including one in a bear costume, Dayton police, and neither Durst nor “Nookie.”

Baker says he planned the faux performance for 2017, but people just needed it sooner. Real or fake.

Although “fake news” has been easily assimilated into most of our lexicons, disseminating through radio waves, print, and both cyber and in-person social circles, its definition is less clear-cut. In part because it has multiple definitions.

“Fake news” refers to stories fabricated and pitched under the guise of news. Like, remember when that D.C. pizza joint served as Hillary Clinton’s child trafficking front? (That did not happen.)  It also refers to satirical and parody news outlets like The Onion. Although “real” stories sometimes are lumped into the mass of clickbait headlines and articles luring internet users with funny but oft sad realization through comedy, “fake news” has become a catchall for news that readers don’t agree with or news with incorrect information. Thus, the difference between the former (humorous or malicious) and the latter (probably too opinion-heavy for straight news standards or improperly fact checked) hinges on the intent of the creator.  One is purposefully putting out misinformation to influence others or trying to strike a truth with humor or a ridiculous story; the other is subject to human error—misspellings, missed fact checks, etc.—or erring on the side of presenting too much evidence to confirm their own beliefs instead of the balanced truth journalists are supposed to hold dear.

In a World…

As we cram another year into the recesses of our memory, some divisions protrude past into 2017, be it the conflict in Syria, the drifting EU, or the walls raised during or due to the U.S. presidential election.

A testament to this political and journalistic landscape, Oxford Dictionary stamps 2016 with its “word of the year”: “post-truth.” “Post-truth” means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” according to Oxford, which selects the word of the year based on, in addition to debate and discussion, spikes in its frequency of use—which hit highs amidst the European Union referendum (commonly referred to as Brexit) and the U.S. election.

Merriam-Webster’s word of  2016 is “surreal,” defined as “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream,” according to Merriam-Webster. “Surreal” was selected due to the spikes of its use throughout the year, as well, mainly after the Brussels attacks in March; the summer’s coup attempt in Turkey and terrorist attack in Nice; and most recently and sharply after Nov. 8, U.S. Election Day.

Although Marc Katz is now penning columns reflecting on his time as an active journalist, in those reflections he pulls from 44 years as a reporter for the Dayton Daily News, 41 of them covering sports. Dayton City Paper sat down with Katz to look back at that time compared to now.

“I think what we used to do 30 years ago, 40 years ago, we’d [journalists] just say, ‘That’s a lie.’ You’d just say, ‘That isn’t true.’ Someone would say, ‘Well, my neighbor told me that hamburgers at McDonalds are going from 15 cents to a dollar and a quarter.’” And if that wasn’t true, if burgers were only going from 15 cents to a quarter, “It would be a rumor,” he says. “But now, people believe what they see because you’re not just hearing it from you and me—and you can go to a site and there it is.”

In one of Katz’ Big Ten football reporting tours in the ’80s, he had a chance to speak with University of Illinois (U of I) coach Mike White.

“I’m listening to this guy, and you could tell how the guy really had command and control—I mean, he’s got 120 guys on his roster, he knows everyone’s height and weight and their grade point average, and their mom and dad, and how fast they run the 40 [yard dash],” he remembers. “He knew everything about every player. But in those years, the Big Ten didn’t take too many redshirt, junior college players. If you had two on your team, it was a lot… Ohio State may have had one. He’s got, like, 19 on his staff. So the question is ‘How’d you get so many junior college players?’ He goes, ‘Um… just happened.’”

After pressing him about a certain quarterback, who he knew didn’t have the grades to back up his athleticism, Katz says, “All of a sudden, [White] doesn’t know anything. Nothing… We knew. It was all grades.” Following this interaction, Katz forewarned the present Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke that U of I would be dealing with “massive probation” within the next few years. And the Fighting Illini did deal with just that.

For Katz, a journalist doing his or her job is a journalist who thinks critically, who questions what’s said, and what’s not.

Comparing the four-decade evolution of his experiences in the news room, he reflects, “There was more shouting toward the end and more opinions, even columns that weren’t columns… If you’re on what we call ‘the other side of the room’ [the news room], there’s always a reason why something happened… I believe it was Ben Bradlee [Washington Post editor, 1968–1991] who said, ‘Never believe the first thing someone tells you. See if they can repeat it the same way.’”

 Suspicions Confirmed

In the field of social psychology, the term “confirmation bias” refers to the human tendency to seek out evidence that supports one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses. More than 60 percent of adults go to social media as a news source, with 18 percent doing so often, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted at the start of 2016.

The question then hanging in the air is “How do social media sites like Facebook play into this phenomenon today, with algorithms curating what users clicked on in the past and showing them only more of what sources they most likely already agree with or those paying the company to advertise?”

“I don’t know if there’s more ‘fake news’ than there ever was. I just know that you can get to it now…” Katz considers. “Before 1978, you had print media, and you had radio, and you had television. And radio and television had short news shows, five minutes every hour; TV had the nightly news, which was a half hour. That’s it. You couldn’t say, ‘I saw this there,’ ‘I saw this here,’ because you didn’t—it wasn’t there.”

With the ease of access to information, however, has come suspicion. Gallup released poll findings this spring that reveal Americans’ trust in mass media has dipped to its lowest point—a little over 30 percent of responders say they have “a great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in mass media, with 14 percent of self-identified Republicans expressing trust, down half of what they reported last year. And Gallup has been asking this question of trust in journalism every year since 1972. In 1976 after investigative journalists delved into issues like the Vietnam War and Watergate, that trust in mass media peaked. Since 2007, a majority of responders have consistently polled a lack of trust in mass media. And now, we’ve reached a nadir, according to Gallup.

Returning back to the mild season of a scam Sunoco concert in the spring, one Limp Bizkit fan couldn’t cope with the uncertainty, reaching out to Fred Durst himself on Twitter for support, begging, “This is right by my house I need answers.” In the words of Durst, “NOT TRUE—don’t let them pull one on you.” Maybe that’s advice news makers and consumers can both heed.

For Dayton City Paper’s debate forum about whether or not ‘fake news’ is really a problem, please go to page 6-7.

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Amanda Dee
Reach DCP Editor Amanda Dee at editor@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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