Responding to headlines about “fake news,” silver-screen icon Denzel Washington offered up this classic quote from Mark Twain:
If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed, if you do read it, you’re misinformed.
He’s right, of course. The irony is that Mark Twain probably didn’t say it.
Which doesn’t make it fake news. To be fair, Mr. Washington himself didn’t cite Twain as author of the quote, which seems to derive from similar remarks by Thomas Fuller and Thomas Jefferson.
When I first saw the Fake News stories populating my newsfeed, I thought they must be referring to those absurd and provocative headlines that infest so many internet news pages. It seemed sad but not surprising that people give credence to this kind of salacious click-bait, but hardly worthy of national discussion.
I soon realized that the subject was more serious and, indeed, more substantive. Nevertheless, there may be a closer connection between the fraudulent and the whimsical than one might imagine.
Let’s start with the serious.
First of all, it’s not news that there is fake news or how harmful it can be.