A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.
Mis-Attributed to Mark Twain
Like its twin brother post-truth, fake news is as old as history. The Biblical story of Exodus is foundational to Judaism and contemporary Israel, but outside of the Bible itself there is not a scrap of evidence to support it.
Historians date the Battle of Kadesh to 1274 BC. The Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II boasts of his single-handed contribution to the defeat of the Hittite forces:
No officer was with me, no charioteer, no soldier of the army, no shield-bearer… I was before them like Set in his moment. I found the mass of chariots in whose midst I was, scattering them before my horses…
Nearly 900 years later, the Greek historian Thucydides wrote:
Most people, in fact, will not take trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.
Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War.
Nowadays, fake news has come in for heavy criticism in its latest incarnation on the Internet and social media networks.
But experts and more astute journalists knew that the so-called mainstream media was in deep trouble on both the home and the foreign front long before fake news.
The upshot is that politicians and policymakers, international business and the public are very badly served – with all the implications which that entails for domestic politics, international relations and the global economy.
In the United Kingdom, journalism’s collapse began with increasing commercial pressures from the 1980s and 1990s. There and elsewhere, the collapse was aided and abetted by the Internet.
The Times of London alone used to have 16 gallery correspondents reporting on Parliament, but such numbers are no longer affordable, resulting in a catastrophic decline of international, national and local coverage.
Neither press agency nor mainstream journalists have the time for proper fact-checking, research and interviews.
Since the early 1990s, vast amounts of material appearing in the media are merely revamped boilerplate articles written by press agencies, whose journalists are under huge pressure to produce multiple articles a day based on government and corporate press releases.
Hacks at digital news outfits also churn out multiple articles, and again lack the time to do the job properly, producing junk information which often fails to reach even the level of Wikipedia.
The award-winning British journalist Nick Davies analysed all this and more in his 2009 book Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media, which begins with an exposé of that spurious, long-forgotten and spectacular panic-inducing and über-hyped non-event in the run-up to the 21st century, the Y2K Millennium bug.