Misunderstandings of “Fake News” II: Fake News vs. Fake Journalists

Jack Kerwick
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Posted: Jul 05, 2017 12:01 AM
Misunderstandings of “Fake News” II: Fake News vs. Fake Journalists

There is a difference between Fake News, on the one hand, and fake journalists, on the other.

Fake New refers to the end product. What makes a fake journalist a fake journalist are the motives that drive the latter. Ultimately, in practice, the two are inseparable. Conceptually, however, the ideas of “Fake News” and “fake journalists” are distinct.

A fake journalist is someone whose reporting is undertaken for the sake of, not truth, fairness, or informing the public but, rather, his or her own political partisanship, profits, and/or fame and recognition.

Immanuel Kant was one of the Western world’s greatest philosophers. Kant distinguished “acting for the sake of duty” from merely “acting in accordance with duty.” Kant’s moral philosophy was vastly more nuanced than this brief allusion would have the reader think, but his point was that if people fulfill their moral duties just because they are their duties—if they do their duties for the sake of their duties—then they deserve moral credit for doing so. If, on the other hand, they fulfill their moral duties from ulterior motives, then their acts are not right and they deserve no praise.

In other words, whether an act is morally right, whether it is authentically moral, depends upon the motive or intention of the actor.

In many contexts, Kant’s thesis resonates profoundly at an intuitive level. Take the following scenario as an example.

Suppose that I witnessed a murder, say, that of a little old lady who was killed for her bingo money. I had all of the information that the authorities needed in order to apprehend the killer. The only problem is that I am unwilling to come forward. Perhaps I am fearful that if I disclose my knowledge of the crime I will then make myself and my family vulnerable to reprisals by the murderer and his associates. Or maybe I am unwilling to fulfill my moral duty because I know that I will then become part of a long, drawn out trial, and I don’t want to be inconvenienced. Perhaps I have long known the killer and his family and I don’t want for them to have to suffer the pain that they will undoubtedly suffer in the event that he goes to jail for the remainder of his natural existence. Or possibly I just don’t feel like getting involved.

So, I have a duty to help, I know I have a duty to help, but I’m disinclined to do so.

But then it is brought to my attention that the family of the slain woman, the authorities, and other concerned members of the public are offering a handsome reward for anyone that can help them resolve this murder. Without missing a beat, and obviously with an eye to collecting money, I go to the police station and reveal all that I know.

In this case, I would have indeed fulfilled my duty to help the police resolve a murder. But what was my motive? Did I fulfill my duty for the sake of doing so? In other words, did I do the right thing simply and solely because it was the right thing? Or was I motivated by something other than respect for the duty itself?

The answer is obvious. I acted “in accordance with duty,” but certainly not for the sake of duty.

Few people would commend me for coming forward—as long as they knew my reason for doing so.

From Kant we can learn much regarding the difference between real journalists and fake journalists. In a self-governing Republic, it is a good and necessary thing that the media have at least an adversarial-like relationship with politicians. Thus, in and of itself, that the president and many in the media mutually detest one another is far preferable to the love affair that transpired for the last eight years between President Obama and the very same media that is now hostile to President Trump.

But it is precisely the love-fest between Obama and the media that reveals that much of this journalism that we see on display is indeed fake journalism. Fake journalists at CNN, MSNBC, and elsewhere fulfill their duty insofar as they assume a skeptical or distrustful stance toward Trump and his party. Yet they deserve no moral credit, for while they act in accordance with duty, they surely are not fulfilling their duty for duty’s sake.

That this is so is borne out by the fact that the overwhelming majority of Trump’s media critics are Democrats.

As such, they are driven by a desire to delegitimize Trump and the GOP, but the president especially. And they are willing to pursue this goal at all costs, namely, the cost of telling lies—whether these are lies of commission, like the lie that Trump and his associates “colluded” with Russians, or lies of omission, like their unwillingness to talk about the president’s achievements.

Conversely, Obama was a fellow partisan, the first black president in American history. The very same people who are invested in bringing down Trump were equally invested in seeing to it that Obama succeeded. Today, this pro-Obama sentiment continues to animate them as they seek to preserve 44’s legacy.

Any Democrats and leftists who doubt what I’m saying should ask themselves a simple question. If there was a large and influential media organization whose self-styled “journalists” were Steve Bannon, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Savage, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Franklin Graham, and whole lot of others who are known to be Republican, Christian, conservative, and, let’s say, Southern, would you trust that they could also be “objective” in their reporting?

Of course, no one really needs for left-wing Democrats to engage in a hypothetical thought experiment over this topic. We already know how they have long reacted to the one and only network that wasn’t dominated by Democrats and that self-described as “fair and balanced.”