Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—‘Fake News’ Reappears

By Rick Outzen

Most journalists have the same rules for all politicians, regardless of political affiliation. The politicians have three choices when asked a question.

They can answer the query. The officials can say “no comment,” but they run the risk of not having their side of the story included in the article. They also shouldn’t get upset if the reporter gets answers from other sources.

The third option for the official is to lie. The gamble with lies and half-truths is whether the reporter will uncover them. Sadly, many politicians and government officials take that bet, and eventually, they lose it.

President Donald Trump, bless his heart, can’t stop fibbing. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and other administration officials double down with more misstatements in support of their boss.

Hilary Clinton didn’t win the popular vote in the presidential race because three million people voted illegally. The crowd at Trump’s inauguration wasn’t the largest ever. Obama didn’t wiretap his successor in Trump Tower just before the election, and he didn’t ask the British government to do it for him either.

How the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other national media have reacted to the steady stream of outlandish statements is what every good journalist does.

They now verify every statement that comes out the White House. No “fact” is taken for granted. They are double checked against available source documents and prior statements.

And what has been the response from President Trump? The articles are “fake news.”

The charge of “fake news” isn’t a new one for newspapers. We see it nearly every time reporters challenge the status quo.

In the 1950s, the Mississippi Legislature wanted to brand Greenville’s daily newspaper, The Delta Democrat, “fake news” for writing about racism in the state. The lawmakers even passed a resolution declaring Hodding Carter, its owner and publisher, a liar.

Unfazed by the political attacks, Carter invited the entire Mississippi State Legislature to “go to hell, collectively or singly, and wait there until I back down.” He won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorial writing.

Bill Minor, who passed away recently, followed in Carter’s footsteps. As the Mississippi Bureau chief for the Times-Picayune, Minor covered the shooting of Medgar Evers, James Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss, and the Jackson State shootings. The Mississippi power brokers hated him for not shying away from the truth. He became known as the “conscience” of Mississippi journalism.

Fortunately, in our democracy, the truth still is valued and respected. Newspapers will strive to do their best to report it, regardless of the name-calling.