The plague of fake news is largely assumed to be due to the ruling class trying to convince people to stop noticing things. There is a lot of that, for sure. When the New York Times instructs its writers to use “guest worker” to describe illegal aliens employed in the cash economy, it is a deliberate attempt to deceive. The mythical Backlash™ that is always lurking after a Muslim goes boom is deliberate agit-prop. At the same time, most of the people in the media are true believers so their bias goes unnoticed.
Another aspect of the Fake News phenomenon is the general stupidity of the people in the media. Theirs is the worst sort of stupidity in that it is tightly wrapped with an overweening sense of righteousness and superiority. The typical newsroom is a collection of credentialed mediocrities that are convinced they are the smartest people in the room. It is a reckless stupidity that makes them easy to fool, thus all the hoaxes, but also prevents them from asking sensible questions. This article is a good example.
Clearly, this “study” was shopped to the media via press release. They provide copy that can be cut and pasted into a news item and they provide a graphic, which is like catnip to the modern media. Mx. Chang was given the task of writing up a story about it and someone got the job and slapping on a click bait title. If Mx. Chang bothered to read the underlying study, she clearly did not understand what she was reading. Of course, the people at the Missouri School of Journalism have no idea how to do a study.
The most obvious flaw is that they used a questionnaire, which they distributed to news sites and had them get readers to fill them out. Unsurprisingly, the readers of NPR like and trust NPR. Even less shocking, no one who reads Drudge bothered to fill out the survey as Drudge did not participate. The billion people who go to his site, therefore, were left out of the survey. Even though the methodology used to arrive at their analysis is probably good enough, the data collection is crap on stilts. Therefore, the whole thing is crap.
People who work with data understand that data collection is critical to any analysis, so that’s often where you see the most effort. If you want to know how people intend to vote, for example, you better have a sample size that is large enough so that you can model the electorate. A survey of the most loyal readers of news sites can tell you something about those readers, but it tells you nothing about public attitudes regarding the news or the fake news phenomenon. It is a fake study for the purpose of fake news.
That’s why the public is increasingly cynical about the mass media. When they see a story about how The Economist, of all things, is the most trusted news site in America, they know they are being fed fake news. Mx. Chang, on the other hand, hasn’t the slightest idea what any of this means. She is just paid $25 to do a cut and paste job and get it up on the site. She is probably a very nice person, but nothing in her resume qualifies her to write about any of the topics assigned to her by Market Watch.
This is something you see all over the news media. The people assigned to cover the news, rarely have any experience in the field. In fact, they rarely have any experience or education outside of media. Their alleged expertise consists of years reporting on topics they don’t understand. It is impossible for someone like Mx. Chang to ask sensible questions when she does not know the first thing about the topic. The result is she has to take everything at face value, repeating whatever is said to her.
This shortage of intellectual capital is probably the main driver of the fake news problem and the decline in trust in the news. It’s not just the stupid people saying stupid things. It is the lack of smart people at the top. That Missouri study is a good example. They lack the wattage to figure out what is going on in their own ranks. Throw in the fact that most news organizations are overrun with Progressive nutters and you end up with a mentally disturbed lesbian anchoring your prime-time news channel.
Tucker Carlson has characterized the Washington media as a collection of stupid rich kids. That’s a good way to think of it. The upper middle class family has one kid, who is not so bright, so they send her off to journalism school and a career in the media. That’s been the case for a couple generations, but there’s a limit to that formula and we may be reaching it. One byproduct of the fake news era is the collapse of social status of the media. To be a TV talking head is to be on the same level as a carny barker.
Regardless, anything dominated by stupid people is going to fail eventually. The mass media is experiencing the corollary to the Smart Fraction. It’s not that the mean IQ is falling to a certain point where the enterprise fails. It’s that stupid people tend to chase away smart people. You see this in a social setting where the smart and sophisticated move away from the boorish and loud. How many smart people want to be on the same set with a talking airhead like Don Lemon or Jake Tapper? The news is becoming this.