TEXAS VIEW: Your hometown paper isn’t fake news

By Victoria Advocate

It’s bad enough when national politicians toss around the term “fake news” like a hand grenade with the pin pulled.

Everyone ducks for cover, even though this device is a big, fat dud. Such explosive language does nothing to further communication or understanding.

What’s even worse is when this ridiculous rhetoric seeps into local discourse. Sadly, the Victoria Sheriff’s Office chose this line of attack recently about a Victoria Advocate news story.

Newspapers and other media certainly are fair game for criticism, but it’s meaningless to do so using propaganda tactics. A basic step propagandists take is to confuse people by abusing the English language.

“Fake news” is today’s weapon of choice. Politicians toss it around about every news story that they don’t like or that casts them in an unfavorable light. However, that is not at all the correct definition of fake news.

Rather, fake news is fabricated content that intentionally masquerades as news coverage of actual events. This is done for political gain, for amusement or for profit.

What is it not then? Fake news is not created by legitimate news organizations. It is not done by reporters who adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.

It definitely is not done by your locally-and family-owned newspaper, which has built its reputation for credible and trusted journalism across 172 years of serving this community. We’re not perfect, by any means, but we’re from here and for here, as our slogan goes. You can walk into our offices in downtown Victoria to talk to a real person about any concerns you have. You can’t do that with fake news posted on bogus sites linked to on Facebook.

If you think an Advocate news story is incorrect or unfair, we will listen. We will publish a correction if we did make a mistake. We will publish letters to the editor and guest columns from those who disagree.

All legitimate news organizations behave in this manner. More than ever, news consumers need to understand this key difference from what they see on social media.

On your Facebook “news” feed, fake news flourishes. It could be as seemingly harmless as your crazy uncle sharing his latest conspiracy theory from nutsrus.com, or as sinister as an anonymous lie posted to damage a political opponent on the eve of the election.

In the good old days — before Facebook addled everyone’s brains — people agreed on what fabricated content was and what it wasn’t. People could have conversations based on a shared understanding of the facts.

These days, people hide in their dark echo chambers, coming out only to shout at others equally misinformed from the other side. The only winners in this war are incivility and ignorance.

That’s sad and troubling at the national level. It’s downright absurd in our hometown, where we should be able to talk with our neighbors and work out any differences.

The Advocate story in question was about the sheriff’s office media consultant, who has been paid almost $50,000 a year without any contract or job description. The sheriff’s office was given ample time to comment for the story but chose not to do so. Instead, two days after the story published, the sheriff’s office used its Facebook page for a rambling post that didn’t challenge the validity of any of the facts in the story. Above this straw-man post blared four big red words: “Fake news strikes again.”

None of this is necessary. None of this advances the public’s understanding. Public officials might not like the news coverage they receive, but that doesn’t make it fake news.

We all live, work and play here. We ought to be able to rise above the poor example set by national politicians.

If we don’t, we may wake up one day and find we have lost our grip on our values, our way of life and our democracy. Shouting fake news about journalism shakes the foundation of our Constitution.