Penn State University was forever damaged by fake news in 2011 and fake news is nothing new. However, the good news is that we may now have a way to combat it.
In early November 2011, the media’s sensational reporting that Penn State University (PSU) officials turned a blind eye to the rape of a child was (and still is) a “fake news” story.
Even though the facts prove this narrative is false – and absolutely preposterous -- the media continues to report this “fake news” in spite of many protestations from its consumers.
Given what the media knew about the reputation of Joe Paterno and PSU, it should have viewed this story with a jaundiced eye from the outset.
However, what it knew by December 16, 2011 should have caused the media to, at the very least, reconsider the narrative. And if the media was truly concerned about “fake news” it would have gone on an all-out attack on the prosecutors in the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General (OAG) for planting the false story about Mike McQueary witnessing Jerry Sandusky raping a child.
Sandusky was later acquitted of that charge.
By December, the media knew that Mike McQueary had reported the incident to his father (John McQueary), Dr. Jonathan Dranov, Joe Paterno, Timothy Curley, and Gary Schultz. It also knew that PSU’s attorney, Wendell Courtney, had been consulted and so had the university’s President, Graham Spanier. It also knew that PSU officials had contacted Dr. Jack Raykovitz, the Executive Director of The Second Mile (Sandusky’s charity) to inform him of the incident.
In summary, the media bought into a story about eight people allegedly knowing about a child being raped by the founder of a children’s charity and all eight decided to let him continue accessing and molesting children for over a decade.
That seems rather preposterous, does it not?
The media knew that the eyewitness, Mike McQueary, also did nothing. He didn’t intervene as the crime took place. He didn’t think to call the police on his cell phone while at the Lasch Building. He didn’t call the police after he told his father and Dr. Dranov.
Instead, McQueary, his father, and a medical doctor all concluded that the person who should be told about the rape of a child was Joe Paterno -- because it happened in the PSU football facilities.
That seems rather preposterous, does it not?
But the game changer that December – or what should have been the one thing to change the media’s narrative – was that it also learned McQueary didn’t use any explicit terms with Paterno or anyone else. He testified that he didn’t use the words rape or sodomy or any other term that would have necessitated a call to the police.
Apparently, a denial of the key allegation by the key witness was not enough for the media to change the narrative.
That’s why the media’s complaints about the “tidal wave” of “fake news” should be taken with a grain of salt.
Conspiracy theories and other questionable information have been posted on the internet from its inception. The media seemingly didn’t care about it for over 20 years but now all of the sudden, it's concerned.
The crazy part of this is that the media’s rationale for stopping “fake news” on the internet and social media is that it has a potential for causing harm.
And the media’s evidence for this is #pizzagate.
The so-called #pizzagate story was propagated on social media and it alleged Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were operating a child sex trafficking operation using the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop. The story resulted in a man arriving at the pizza shop with guns in tow to rescue the children who he believed were held there. A shot was fired as he sought entry into a back room, perhaps thinking it was one of the “secret rooms” where the children were hidden. The pizza shop, which was run by a Democratic Party donor/fundraiser, had to close for a few days, then reopened.
In the aftermath of the #pizzagate shooting, the media scoffed at the idea that anyone had taken the story seriously because of its highly improbable details such as secret rooms used for torture and human sacrifice. Ironically, those details were similar to the fantastic allegations made in the McMartinPre-School case; however the media had no issue with believing them. In fact, the improbable details were the key to sensationalizing the story and eventually caused a national hysteria about child abuse at day care centers.
People spent time in jail awaiting their trials in the day care center cases. Lives and livelihoods were ruined. The media coverage of the McMartin case originated in 1984 – 33 years ago.
The media didn’t learn from the McMartin case and acted in the same manner in the 1986 Atlanta Olympics, the 1989 Hillsborough Soccer disaster, the 2000 phony National Guard document incident (i.e., Rathergate), the 2006 Duke lacrosse case, the Sandusky scandal, the Freddie Gray case, and the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia.
In all of these cases, the media fell in love with the narratives of the allegations and didn’t bother to fact check the stories – or even use common sense.
Thousands of people – whole communities – were harmed by these stories and there were hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. While a few reporters stepped up and stated they got the stories wrong, by and large the media organizations that drove these stories did not. They didn't offer to pay restitution. Some were sued and mounted vigorous defenses.
Given its track record, it is quite hypocritical, and certainly an overreaction, for the media to call on Facebook to begin flagging and fact checking its content based on the minimal damage caused by #pizzagate.
However, it’s not the media’s concern over accuracy or “fake news” that is driving it to bully Facebook. The fact of the matter is that social media has pulled even with cable news at the top of the sources of that people relied on in the 2016 election. According to Pew Research, social media and cable news were tied at 14%, and were ahead of network news (at 10%), while print news lagged behind at 2%.
A minority (32%) of Americans trust the media and the majority has grown tired of having to put up with the “fake news” stories they have been feeding us for the last 30 years. The media no longer has the influence it once had on public opinion and its attempt to place filters on social media in the name of accuracy and truth is a ruse.
This is about power, not truth.
However, what the media is about to find out is that by coming down on Facebook it came down on itself.
That's because Facebook, for the most part, is all of us.
Facebook, if all goes according to plan, should give us the opportunity to call out the falsehoods in stories written by Sally Jenkins, Christine Brennan, Sara Ganim, and other media hacks for fact checking by a third party.
"Under the new process, if a link attracts enough fake-news reports or complaints, Facebook will send it to fact-checking groups, who will have access to these results through a Facebook-built tool."
There would be seemingly nothing to stop Penn Staters from posting previous and/or current factually challenged Washington Post or USAToday columns about the Sandusky scandal on Facebook then flagging it as “fake news.”
What is good for the goose is definitely good for the gander.
For Penn Staters and the rest of the American public, the Facebook system will give us an opportunity to finally correct the record.