No excuses for wrong information

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The term “fake news” has been bandied about a lot lately, and quite frankly, has been well-deserved when levied against national news outlets and internet posts.

We’ve all heard President Trump rechristen CNN as Fake News Network, and given its inability to portray stories in proper light, it fits.

There’s now even more egregious examples of this phenomenon:

•Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State, has been reported by anonymous sources as calling President Trump a moron and has threatened to quit. However, Tillerson has vigorously denied these charges, and there has been absolutely no corroborating information to back up the original claim.

•CBS was forced to retract a story regarding the death of legendary rock singer Tom Petty, after first reporting he was dead and then later finding out that he was ill but still alive.

•Newsweek retracted a piece on the girlfriend of the Las Vegas shooter, claiming she had used two Social Security numbers and was married to two different people after making a mistake reading public records.

•Several outlets reported that President Trump denied a waiver for Hurricane Maria victims to use food stamps at fast-food restaurants, when in actuality, he approved that.

•There’s even some news that puts Madisonville in a bad light: Chron.com, the website for the Houston Chronicle, claims that Madisonville is the 30th most dangerous city in Texas. The numbers, especially regarding Madisonville’s population, were dead wrong, and unsubstantiated.

I tried contacting the site administrators, but was unsuccessful. Yet the information remains up.

There’s a line between honest errors and purposeful mistakes — the latter of which I feel come from news organizations attempting to push an agenda instead of performing their proper functions. If a reporter is looking to hurt someone, say the president, then of course, the best way is to take some innuendo and make in spectacular.

In the case of the piece regarding Madisonville, while there wasn’t any nefarious purpose in the story, it’s regarded as clickbait. Yet still, it’s based on incorrect information.

In the trade, we call that shoddy reporting. It’s taking a fax, or a press release, or an email, applying the minimum of work, and tossing it out for the masses.

In the end, all that’s accomplished is a sensational story that draws readers, but little else, and then it’s off to the races on social media and other outlets as the thing takes on a life of its own.

Truth needs to be paramount, particularly in this day and age when information it so readily available. But truth alone won’t necessarily be enough; there has to be an effort to put the time in to get things right, and that starts at the source.

We won’t push agendas. We’ll tell proper stories.

Tony Farkas is publisher of the Madisonville Meteor.

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