‘Fake news’ gets a companion: ‘Sloppy news’

‘Fake news’ gets a companion: ‘Sloppy news’
Image: arfa adam/Shutterstock

[Ed. – Last week the mainstream media rose up in revolt over a report that Speaker Paul Ryan had implemented a new ‘prudish’ dress code that included a prohibition on women baring their arms. Initially they refused to hear the truth: that this was a decades-old rule. This week they’ve finally accepted that it was a fake news story. So what have they learned? Read on.]

As a fake-news strict constructionist, I think it’s important to differentiate between what might be called classic fake news — stories that are maliciously designed to be fake (There’s a child-sex ring at a pizzeria in Washington! Obama is a Muslim! etc.) — and reports that are willfully sloppy or heedless of gathering the facts because the underlying story fits with a political cause. These reports seem to fall into the latter category; let’s call it Sloppy News. (Some outlets, to their credit, corrected stories that wrongly characterized the rules as new, which is not something purveyors of bonafide fake news do.)

Matthew Yglesias [who tweeted out ‘An uncomfortable lesson: Fake news wrongly blaming Ryan for the Speaker’s Lobby dress code was effective at producing much-needed change’] edges distressingly close to an ends-justifying-the-means argument in favor of Sloppy News: It’s OK to get facts wildly wrong if the result is something that you deem positive. On Twitter, many readers were distressed to hear this argument from a journalist, even implicitly and with the disclaimer that the lesson is “uncomfortable.” Yglesias denies this is what he meant.

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