What is worse than fake news?

Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 14:39

With our daily exposure to fake news through the traditional media and now where everyone with a computer seems to want to write a BLOG, we see something more insidious creeping in. This is twisting what could be real news into something which looks like real news but could be something else. “Twisted News”.

How this works is that someone takes an accurate and researched story from some accredited journalist or reputable newspaper and then links this to other stories which are not really related but make the person or company come out in a bad light.

The problem is that while Harvard Management 101 might teach that if attacked, NEVER answer the charges or it gives the reporter more ammunition to keep the story running, say nothing and even if you go through a bad spot it will usually go away as the next news story takes the headlines. Unfortunately, with so many “wanabees” blogging out there, the scavengers all try and get a story and so embellish what has already been printed.

Up front in the news currently are all these charges of inappropriate behavior against powerful men. OK, terrible if some of the reported activities took place but many of these people have had lives destroyed via innuendo which has as yet not been tested in court. One could also ask what is it when now actors who are now out of the acting game because of age or because they can’t get more acting jobs, suddenly go public with allegations of what they had to do all those years ago to get same acting jobs?

In the corporate world, a company is attacked by some news media over an alleged impropriety. Almost always the smear is instigated by an insider, or ex-employee with a grudge revealing some dirt the company would rather have kept to itself. Many times it’s a partner of an employee seeking revenge after a break up spilling the beans. Without the insider information which in many if not all cases the companies have already fixed as soon as they knew about it, the journalist would have little else to go on and in looking to embellish the story, will go with whatever they can get.

Most of the time the journalists and in turn the reading public do not understand the industry of a company under attack as when dealing with anything about defense. Killing terrorists, “Bad”. Often identifying who are terrorists becomes questionable. Having worked in 52 countries and in conflict situations where one tries to assist in establishing long term stability by providing necessary infrastructure while bombs go off around you, it is hard to explain what that is like, to people rushing so they don’t miss the 7.45 am train to the office. To make payments you can’t just go to your local ATM and it is difficult to trace and translate every contract and receipt letting some things slip through even if you do so innocently. I had a contract on an aid project which said in English “four-wheel drive” and in Chinese “at least two-wheel drive” so the vehicles could be used as taxis. When complaining one time about dealing with a knowingly corrupt regime, I was told that to achieve stability you still needed to work with them to facilitate change or otherwise you have no contact. Not cost effective to a real world but perhaps so under international diplomacy. But Hey, someone runs a Blog and they are experts on everything; anything for a story.

One of the worst examples of seeing some individual set up was when a particular company went bust because of the Managing Director’s stupidity in promising profits which were not realized. Shares spiking around $18 they were delisted. The press took him apart even though what the MD had done was not technically illegal. But the accounting and the law firm who handled the 20c issue were in a panic in case someone found out the 200,000 share options they had as part of their payment had been cashed in at $17. I was in the room when the accounting partner agreed to stitch up the MD who was subsequently after investigation, charged not with what would be difficult for the public to understand but with theft which dominated the news away from the company crash. Checking of what he was supposed to have stolen, I learned that he had not returned a neighbour’s ride on lawn mower. His career was destroyed.

So, someone has a grudge against a person or company and its easy by innuendo to try and make news headlines by pulling down the tall poppy. Often the person or company under attack does not have the resources to fight back and what do you do when it hits a grey area? Remember the My Lai incident in Viet Nam when Calley’s soldiers slaughtered around 500 civilians. Terrible of course but what is the difference when dispassionately a bomber pilot does the same from a safe altitude? How do you even write that up?

If you can’t allow the news to go away and all the bloggers keep looking for a headline by going after the carrion, the only defense is then attack. Then, as the Chinese government did when the Falun Gong Cult embarrassed them with their silent protest in front of the Great Hall of the People, they went on the offensive. For months there, anti-Falun Gong tirades dominated the media from university professors down to school children. The movement died away.

For companies or individuals, Bob Hawk the former Prime Minister had this defense strategy down to a fine art. Anyone about to go negative against him and they were hit with a writ meaning it was under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere. By the time it was scheduled for court the story had lost its meaning and everyone forgot about it. Either way the news whether twisted or not went away and everyone could get on with doing business. The threat to sue can at least make people be a little more wary on how they present the facts rather than getting away with their delivery in isolation. The we might get back to "Real News".