David Lauderdale

Fake news is a hoax, so please take me off your fake email list | Opinion

The email came with explicit instructions:

“DO NOT ADD A SINGLE WORD, but just pass it on.”

But it turned out to be a massive sack of garbage under the headline: “Where Did The Hatred For The American Flag Start?”

It asked: “EVER WONDER WHERE COLIN KAEPERNICK GOT HIS IDEA TO KNEEL AND DISRESPECT THE FLAG?”

The email explained that it came from Barack Obama, back when he was a U.S. senator.

It quoted him:

“It’s my intention, if elected, to disarm America ... (that part was in red) ... to the level of acceptance to our Middle East Brethren.”

There was more:

“There are a lot of people in the world to whom the American flag is a symbol of oppression ...”

“The anthem itself conveys a war-like message. You know, the bombs bursting in air and all that sort of thing.”

“The National Anthem should be ‘swapped’ for something less parochial and less bellicose. I like the song ‘I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing.’ If that were our anthem, then, I might salute it.”

By now, some of you know the problem here. Obama never said any of it.

And that was proven 12 YEARS AGO in research by snopes.com.

So imagine my surprise to see that this fakery was sent to me from a name I recognize. If true, it is from a smart gentleman who has more than once scolded me here at the wee little Daily Astounder for being part of the vast Fake News Conspiracy that is killing America.

Well, “fake news” is hogwash. And it’s brainwash.

I cannot speak for the blither and blather of your television shows, and certainly not your tweets and Facebook posts, from Russia with love.

But maybe you’ll consider this newsworthy.

What we have always done in my humble newsroom career is “measure twice, cut once,” as one editor taught us. You double check. You triple check. And “when in doubt, leave it out.”

We’ve had signs on the wall that say, “Get it first, but get it right.”

We’ve all been admonished to verify everything, even how to spell “Smith.”

We’ve learned to do “libel audits,” where you dissect each word in a story. Who, or what, could possible feel shortchanged by this? Go get their side of the story. And if you cannot get it, say so and tell why.

We work in a hurry, and it is a stressful job. But we get it as right as humanly possible.

We enjoy immense freedoms, and everyone in America should be glad of that. Rush Limbaugh or Leonard Pitts Jr. can rip the president if they want to, and they will not be sent to a mysterious death in Siberia.

That freedom is tempered by libel law and privacy law and case law. We have company ethics policies. Organizations representing different branches of my profession have established their own standards, including editorial writers, columnists and managing editors.

We do not blindly hit the “send” button.

Still, we make a lot of mistakes, and it kills us when we do.

I remember my first error — a mistake in a story for The Packet in the late 1970s. It had something to do with the new Lowcountry Regional Transportation Authority, now called Palmetto Breeze. I did not triple-check.

I also remember that the director back then had a little carving of a mule on his desk. It reminded him that no matter how hard the day got, he no longer had to work at the south end of a northbound mule.

The error hit me like the kick of a mule. I went to the beach and stared into the ocean, like I’ve seen people do when their dog dies or their girlfriend leaves.

My most recent error came last week. I misspelled the name of a famous person throughout the story and in the headline. I did not measure twice. Facebook readers caught it quickly, and we were able to fix it. But those people threw a few rotten tomatoes at us, as they should have.

When mistakes are made, there is no joy in Pluff Mudville. We try, day and night, 365 days a year, always against the clock and financial constraints, to get accurate information about our community, its people and issues to our readers.

We don’t always succeed. But what our little newspaper does cannot be misconstrued with the social media and email screeds that purposefully are created to mislead.

So here are your explicit instructions. Don’t go around shouting “fake news.” It’s a hoax.

Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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