We hear about it, read about it and see it reported about on a pretty much continual basis since the 2016 election. As polls continue to show, the credibility of the media has plummetted. Americans are increasingly questioning the validity of the information streaming on their mobile devices and elsewhere. As a lifelong journalist, it's a sad state of affairs.
But we should have seen it coming. Just as soon as the Internet hung its "Open for Business" sign, it was inevitable. The great thing that suddenly anyone could be a publisher was also the scariest thing. Who to believe -- Facebook or The Washington Post? The bloggers in the basement or the reporters in the newsrooms?
Full disclosure, I contributed to the problem long before it was recognized as a problem. Back -- way back -- when I served as a reporter and co-editor of my high school newspaper, "The Poly Parakeet," we hatched the idea of producing an April Fool's edition.
For my part, I concocted a story that the senior rings would be delivered a little differently. All the rings would be brought by truck, which would proceed to dump them out at the main entrance to Poly High School. Students would have to claim their rings by looking at the initials engraved on the inside.
Much to my surprise, not all students found it funny. One girl came to the student newspaper office crying, saying, "I'll never find my ring!!"
I called it satire; today it would be called fake news.
Even now, people still mistake satire (like what The Onion publishes) for news, regardless of how it's labeled or presented. It's just human nature: People will always believe what they want to believe. Like the earth is really flat and dinosaurs roamed the planet until a few thousand years ago.
There is a new report just out from the Pew Research Center that takes an extensive look at the issue via a bevy of experts. "The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online" notes: "Experts are evenly split on whether the coming decade will see a reduction in false and misleading narratives online. Those forecasting improvement place their hopes in technological fixes and in societal solutions. Others think the dark side of human nature is aided more than stifled by technology."
Not exactly reassuring. Gone are the days when we could turn on our TVs and let Walter Cronkite or John Chancellor come into our living rooms and tell it like it is. They had our trust. Who are we going to trust today not to give us fake news? That's the big question, isn't it?
Yes, I know it's spelled like "Jerry." No, I don't know why it's pronounced "Gary."