So, “a man walks into a pizza joint…”
This is not the beginning of a joke. A man did indeed walk into a Pizza Parlor in D.C. carrying an AR-15 assault-style rifle causing terror and mayhem. Thankfully, no one was killed but the facts behind Edgar Welch doing such a thing are almost as frightening as the act itself. The incident has cast a bright light on the all too real dangers stemming from what is being called “fake news.”
A totally false “news story” detailing a conspiracy involving Hillary Clinton’s involvement with a sex ring being run out of the restaurant was written, posted and then went viral on social media outlets around the world. Millions of people read it and either re-tweeted it, sent it out to Facebook friends or forwarded it.
With mastheads resembling real media outlets, reputable sounding names and perfect journalistic tone, one can see how distinguishing between truthful reporting and outright fiction can be difficult.
Some have said that the pizza parlor incident was an extreme reaction to this practice but I think that the prevalence of fake news being circulated electronically has become so far reaching, it poses a true danger to our society. With no substantiation of facts or due diligence of any kind, anyone can write anything and send it out into cyberspace. These news pirates are making money from lies and the more salacious the lie the more likelihood of the fiction going viral.
Which brings me to our President-elect. There is no question that Mr. Trump has effectively used his passion for tweeting. I applaud the use of this new technology by Mr. Trump to reach millions of people to convey his thoughts on substantive issues. But, when he is merely retweeting or instantly venting about something he has seen or heard without fact-checking or taking a breath to calm down; shouldn’t someone put the brakes on our future Commander in Chief?
Perhaps he should take a tip from past Presidents and how they found ways to “vent.”
Doris Kearns-Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize winning presidential biographer, compared some of Mr. Trump’s tweets to the famous irate letter that Truman wrote to a reviewer who harshly criticized one his daughter’s performances. She then discussed how some of our presidents had much more effective rituals for venting their instant reactions to events, stories or comments.
Lincoln wrote what he called “hot letters” vehemently asserting his displeasure. Subsequently, he filed the letters…un-mailed. FDR wrote a new paragraph in the first draft of whatever speech he was going to give, firmly stating his outrage. By the final draft, that paragraph was eliminated. Even our current president admitted that he was aware of Lincoln’s “hot letters” and often writes his own, but once completed, destroys them.
The fact is tweeting can be an effective communication tool, but potentially incendiary fake news is out there. I think that our president need not fuel it.