A news reporter chronicles what happens. A columnist dishes out his opinions—for those who care about them. A news reporter who is not fair should be fired. A columnist is opinionated. That is why he has an audience. A blogger—well, blogs! I think Mocha Unson had a point: bloggers do not follow the same rules as do journalists. The latter are a self-policing lot, and public expectation always gives currency to the ethics of journalism. Bloggers are free spirits because people treat them—or should treat them—as exactly that: Bloggers! They are newcomers that have made their appearance with the opening up of cyberspace.
What is fake news? Most directly put, it is something that is not a fact but is reported as a fact. It is a falsehood foisted as a fact. In the very least, it is something dubious announced as a certainty. When a journalist or a reporter reports what is false, an apology, an erratum, a corrective is expected and will usually be forthcoming. No journalist deliberately spins fibs. Those who do imperil their own future in the business. But the matter becomes a little more tricky when we remember that our access to reality is never direct, never unmediated. Language is among the prime mediators of human knowledge, and stepping outside language is impossible. Was it a whirlwind or a tornado? Red or crimson? Was he boastful or was it being assertive? And that is just skimming the surface of the complication. I think it can be conceded without too much difficulty that there really is no such thing as a completely “objective” report. Quidquid recipitur, ad modum recipientis recipitur….Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. It all depends really on the standpoint, the experiences, the personal history, the affectivity of the perceiver.
But a journalist can be called to account for what he reports through such formal institutions as the editorial mechanism of the medium, or an in-house ombudsman, or a critic. More often it will be the public that will take him to task for sloppy reportage.
Except when she posts libel, however, the blogger it seems is free to blog what her lucid or perverse mind might be occupied with. And because blogging is new, not too many are familiar with the genre and its rules (or non-rules). Communication, however, does have its in-built norms: the first of these is that the responsible communicator assumes the burden of vindicating her claim when so challenged and advancing such grounds and such warrants are reasonable persons take to be supportive of her claims. Flaunt your disregard of the rule and no one will take you seriously. You ex-communicate yourself from the community of responsible speakers and even bloggers, I assume, want to be taken seriously: whether they intend to be sarcastic, satirical or acerbic. The point is that blogger or not, unless you are a responsible communicator, no one should really bother to read you.
And precisely because blogging is a rather recent phenomenon, it can become the means that deliberate falsehoods are disseminated as truth. Blame it, one might cavalierly say, on the gullibility of the reader. Why should we not blame it on the deceit and dishonesty of the blogger? A blog should be taken as a blog: But, really, what does one find on a blog? Opinions, but these cannot be built on thin air. So there is, on the part of a blogger’s followers, an expectation that there is some factual bedrock for the commentary. But to calculatedly use a blog to disseminate a falsehood—that goes a fundamental rule of decency: Do not lie—on the basis of which alone reasonable people can live well-ordered lives. And it is even more vicious and malicious when one uses the free medium of a blog to bear false witness against one’s neighbor. Then, even Sinai quakes in protest!