Stupid news versus fake news was the focus of John Stossel, a Creators Syndicate writer who also appears on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News.
The author of No They Can’t! Why Government Fails but Individuals Succeed, Mr. Stossel was a member of a panel at his 50th Princeton University reunion that discussed “Free Speech and Fake News.”
Enumerating what he considered the biggest life changing events in the 50 years since his 1969 graduation, he listed:
• Invention of the personal computer and cellphone
• Google and Facebook
• The fall of the Soviet Union
• Pollution control rules
• The women’s movement
• Changing attitudes about sex and gender
• A drastic reduction in poverty around the world
But he said only one of those changes — fall of the Soviet Union — led the news.
If that seems astounding, and it does, he said the “big” headlines that dominated the headlines of his previous reunion years in five-year increments when he might show up, were topics such as:
• Patty Hearst robbing a bank
• Serial killer Ted Bundy
• The accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant
• The “Live Aid” concert for famine relief
• The Exxon Valdez oil spill
• The O.J. Simpson trial
• Michael Jackson’s death
• And this year, the Ethiopian Airlines March 10 plane crash, the second Boeing Max 8 disaster.
Mr. Stossel said those stories were chosen from “biggest stories of the year!” reports in mainstream media such as MSN and ABC News.
Adding that those events were worth covering, he asked hypothetically why the media ignores, for the most part, more important events such as the creation of cellphones and Google or how millions have lifted themselves out of poverty?
One answer was because these events happen gradually. For example, when Facebook was being invented, few reporters noticed.
Another reason was because stories surrounding big events happen in more than one place. Saying reporters are good at covering plane crashes and murders because it’s easy to interview officials in charge, he said bigger news such as changing attitudes about gender “happens all over the place.”
When he graduated he said 60% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, and now fewer than 9% do. “Globally, that’s probably the most life changing event over the past 50 years — a great victory, made possible by freer markets,” he continued. “But most reporters don’t like free markets, and politicians rarely talk about change they don’t control.”
Thus, because of bias many life changing events receive short shrift in news coverage.
Mentioning the July 13, 1985, “Live Aid” concert held simultaneously in London and Philadelphia by virtue of large scale satellite link-ups, he said journalists really didn’t cover the big cause of famine in Ethiopia. It wasn’t drought. It was a Marxist government happy to starve its enemies.
Citing the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he said the news was too beautiful an image to ignore “but it would have been nice if journalists had spent time analyzing how wrong they’d been to call capitalism unjust and communism sustainable. Instead, images of the Exxon Valdez oil spill dominated the news that year, helping spark a decade of exaggerated environmental fears.”
Then in 1994, he said the Rwandan genocide received news coverage, as it should have, but Americans heard much more about O.J. Simpson.
And in 2004, coverage of the Iraq and Afghan wars was plentiful, “which was good,” he said, “but now that the Afghanistan War is America’s longest war, it gets very little coverage” [because] “It’s harder to report on long term political problems that aren’t solved by U.S. military intervention.”
He added that in 2004, during a previous reunion, one of the biggest stories was hysteria about an Ebola virus outbreak. But because he noted that only one American died from Ebola that year, he said his fellow panelists “sneered” when he said that, pointing out that thousands died in Africa.
Admitting that was true, he asked why, if that’s the measure of a news story, aren’t the millions of deaths from malaria and diarrhea every year in Africa front-page news? Because he said, “Ebola scares reporters and makes for better click bait headlines.”
Which led him to state unequivocally, “The news is stupid and shallow.”