You’ve all heard the declarations of “Fake News” from POTUS, the Republican Party, and many who have become disenfranchised from the perceived distortions of information from mainstream media. Perhaps you yourself have grown sick and tired of this fake news; these half-truths, or falsifications we’ve seen floating around in all forms of media. What makes something truly fake news though? Does it need to be a complete falsification for us to decry “You are fake news!”? A blend of half-truths? A few facts wrong or missing?
Let us look to the oh so controversial wage gap as a perfect example of this phenomenon. Please note in advance that I will not be diving into personal opinions or arguments regarding this topic here. This is only a case study to illustrate the disconnect between the news writers and the information itself. A large part of the issue when it comes to how “real” the news comes from the biases of both the writer and the reader. For this let us both put those aside and push forward.
In the U.S. Census Bureau report titled: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009. It came to light that the difference in wage between male full time, year-round and female full time, year-round workers was approximately 23%. Many news outlets and the POTUS of the time Obama (along with other politicians) ran with this number to paint it as a crisis that needed immediate fixing and led to calls for action (seemingly ignoring the existence of the equal pay act of 1963). A study released by CONSAD Research Group on January 12th, 2009 concurred with this number…except for the lack of categorization.
According to the CONSAD study, they found that the aforementioned wage gap was accurate as far as the total disparity was concerned, but they believed that it painted a poor picture as it failed to account for many basic things like lifestyle differences, career path disparity, etc. They found that once these factors were taken into consideration that the “true” gap fell to between 4.8-7.1% with a multitude of possible reasons for this remaining difference. A Recent study by Dr. Andrew Chamberlain over at Glassdoor.com came to a similar conclusion with the difference being approximately 5.6% in their study. Both of these adjusted results are way different from the original 23% suggested by the U.S. Census Bureau. Is any of this information to be considered “Fake news”?
No. This isn’t news; its statistical information. In all of the studies, they break down how the information was collected and how they reached the numbers they did. The “fake news” comes into play when the news writers put pen to paper so to speak and turn raw data into a story. Somewhere along the line, we forgot that the news is made up. It always has been. The news is the raw information about a situation or scenario crafted into a narrative by a human writer; enhanced by their writing skills but weakened by their biases, stances, and opinions. There is a key difference between the raw data and the stories told with it.
So who is responsible for discerning between “real news” and “fake news”? The answer is you: the reader. You and you alone are responsible for the media you consume. While we should expect those that tell the news to have a level of journalistic integrity, the idea of leaving our understanding of the world at large entirely in the hands of someone else will only cause us harm. We need to own our own research and take up the personal responsibility to go directly to the sources if and whenever possible. In conclusion, there is no such thing as real or fake news; only information and the stories people craft with it. I can only hope that you’ll go forth and craft your own.