Opening Words from Sun. June 20 by Ray Preston (w/ Lisa Manzo Preston)

RAY: Good morning, it is Sunday June 21st…and it looks like it will be a beautiful…

LISA: WRONG! It’s not the 21st…it’s the 20th. That’s fake news! You’re fake news!

RAY: Perhaps that was an honest mistake. Perhaps I merely got it wrong and there was no nefarious intent.

LISA: NO! You’re fake news!

RAY: I worked as a journalist for 34 years. I was a reporter, photographer, editor, news producer and anchor at stations in Texas, California, Oklahoma and Missouri. I’ve worked at network affiliates for NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX.

A few years ago I was covering widespread flooding in west St. Louis County. We were ready to go live from the water’s edge. An SUV cruised past us slowly and someone rolled down the window and yelled “Fake news!” at us.

I had worked all day interviewing homeowners who had several feet of water in their homes. Emergency workers who had been helping people escape the flood waters.

So what was “fake” in my story? Was I reporting that the river level was 14 feet over flood stage when it was really 16 feet? I was quoting the National Weather Service.

But that was my knee-jerk faction. I know that yelling “FAKE NEWS!” at me was shorthand for “I don’t trust the media. I think you have an agenda that you’re pushing.”

Fake news is nothing new. It’s been with us for generations. If you don’t think so that means you haven’t been paying attention in the grocery store check-out line and overlooked such headlines as:

  • HILLARY CLINTON ADOPTS ALIEN BABY
  • TWO-HEADED SPACE ALIEN SHOT BY FARMER
  • I WAS BIGFOOT’S LOVE SLAVE: NOW I’M PREGNANT WITH HIS BABY

The problem with such publications is that they mix these stories in with legitimate news stories. So they muddy the waters.

What’s true and what is something straight-out of FantasyLand? Legitimate stories about cancer research are next to stories about ancient civilizations being found on Mars.

And to confuse people even more here comes a growing number of “citizen journalists.” Those who have a cell phone and broadcast their reports often adding their thoughts and feelings about what is happening. And, for the most part, they are accountable to no one.

When there is unrest on the streets of St. Louis I often monitor these broadcasts. I have absolutely no problem with people doing this but I’ve come to the conclusion that they should be referred to as “citizen REPORTERS” because they are indeed reporting what is going on, but I don’t believe they should be called JOURNALISTS because, in my mind, a journalist is balanced and objective. A journalist withholds their opinions.

I grew up during Watergate. Journalists were to be respected and honored.

So why have they fallen from grace in so many instances? The fault lies, in part, with the news business itself. And it is a business. There is a certain percentage of those in the news business who will exaggerate, embellish or mislead. Just as there is a certain percentage of lawyers, doctors, judges, accountants, priests, police officers, computer programmers, on and on who fall short of acceptable standards.

But, of course, education can change this. Otherwise we’ll continue to wonder if the headlines are legit. Headlines such as…

  • ALIEN BIBLE FOUND: THEY WORSHIP OPRAH
  • ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS A WOMAN: WAS JOHN WILKES BOOTH HIS JILTED LOVER?
  • NEWS REPORTER EATEN ALIVE BY 80-FOOT DINOSAUR

Of course some of those headlines are easier to figure out than others. Thanks for listening.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.