“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” — Presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Sioux Center, Iowa, on Jan. 24, 2016


This week we decided to look at fake news and how our cross-generational viewpoints might be different, and which generation's view is more steeped in common sense you be the judge.


Fake news was the topic in a recent New York Times column by Michael Lynch. He began by sharing that this year’s Oxford English Dictionary international word of the year was “post-truth." Defined as: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and a personal belief.”

At the heart of fake news is accountability; President-elect Donald Trump, Gov. Paul LePage, and many others are jumping on the bandwagon by dismissing the traditional press as liars, while going direct to the populace via social media, tweeting and bringing their truth to Americans, with the goal of trying to minimize local and traditional media.

This seems more than dangerous. Giving social media the platform is more than letting the wolves guard the hen house; it is tantamount to eliminating the hen house altogether and giving the wolves a free pass to the entire farm.

What is frightening is that once you get inaccurate information out there, it is almost impossible to correct it after the fact.

A story that backs this up happened almost two decades ago. A father was accused by his babysitter of inappropriate behavior; a “he said, she said affair” that happened on rides home after nights taking care of his young children.

The incident branded this man; he claimed his innocence and the case was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence. But the damage was done. Whenever I saw this man, I continued to have doubt; I didn’t know him and the teenage girl seemed innocent and came from a good family.

It was a decade later when the girl, now a young woman and accomplished professional, approached him. She wanted him to know how sorry she was and wanted to “make good." She asked if she could reimburse him for his legal bills as a start. He asked her why she did it. She said he had scolded her about something, her parents were going through a hard time, and she was f***ked up and wanted attention. She then cried, while he looked at her with a stone face.

Once she stopped, he told her that the attorney fees were $20,000. When she reached for her checkbook, he said, “Not so fast." He told her to write him a check for $200 and for the next 10 years she could repeat the process every month until the $20,000 was paid in full; he wanted her to remember, each month that went by, what she had done to him 10 years prior.

With that he forgave her. Forgiveness gives you back your life; she could pay him back and he believed she would pay it forward as well, sure that this had deeply impacted her, as it had him.

The larger point is that you can’t go back; more recently, FBI Director James Comey branded Hillary Clinton as dishonest by putting her emails “in play," perhaps changing the course of the election. Vindication for Clinton days before the election did not change what people thought.

Trump’s insistence that “where there is smoke, there is fire” and calling her "crooked Hillary" while telling his followers she should be put in jail fed the fire like gasoline on newsprint.

Fake news is not only dangerous in its inherent quality to deceive and keep us from the truth; it more importantly desensitizes us to what is real and what is not.

The more LePage and Trump claim the media are irrelevant and untruthful, the better case we have for preserving and paying for it.


Jesse Brower is my oldest son; 29 years old, he writes from his home in the Boston area:

I sit next to a guy at work and have observed that he forms many of his opinions based on fake news; it’s often painful to have discussions with him because “real” facts don’t seem to matter.

On a daily basis I watch him eat lunch, with a cross face, as he shakes his head in disgust, while he reads different conservative journals. He will mumble something offensive about “illegals," which kind of cracks me up, because he’s an immigrant himself.

It is my window into this world, which seems to be a world fueled by fear-based validations, where anyone thinking differently than him is lying. It’s a narrative that these fake-news sites are pouncing on, because it becomes painfully obvious (at least to me) that the people who read these journals aren’t looking for facts; rather it seems they are looking for validation of their belief systems.

Having gone to journalism school during the social media revolution, I’ve tried to develop a perspective that honors both how easy it is to have a voice these days and the weight and responsibility of what that voice carries. It’s something that “conservative” news sites seem to care little about, as they make clear that they are more about selling whatever agenda they’re offering their readers than giving the alternative perspective they claim.

What has been missing in all of this is thoughtful conversation, and I think that this is exactly what the fake news outlets want; that is their agenda. They appeal to a crowd that doesn’t care about the source of information being offered, and it’s that loud crowd of people who haven’t felt the weight of their voice until now. Never have there been so few barriers to entry to having a voice and we might want to realize how important the barriers to entry are if we are to continue to allow them to influence our opinions.

That’s where considering the source comes into play. Why aren’t people questioning the information that is being presented to them? And if they are, why aren’t they doing it in a way that isn’t simply closed off to what they assume they won’t agree with? I suppose it’s easier to read what looks legit and fits with your ideological views of the world, even if it redefines how you judge the validity of the information you’re reading.

Until we figure this out, there will continue to be “birther” stories and conspiracies of all kinds getting in the way of truth.