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Phony fake news

POSTED January 26, 2018 5:55 p.m.

Sometimes a movie or television show reveals a societal truth so accurately that it’s like getting hit with a proverbial stack of bricks. This is what I experienced on Wednesday night when watching the newest episode of “The X-Files.”

“The X-Files,” one of the longest running science fiction series, features FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully and their “search for the truth” about visitors from outer space and all things unexplained. Mulder is the believer in the partnership and Scully is the sceptic.

Science-fiction series have a long history of addressing controversial issues. The original 1960s “Star Trek” depicted a world where humans of all racial backgrounds — and aliens of different species — interacted as equals, during a time of great racial strife and tension. Currently, the Netflix series “Black Mirror” examines society and unanticipated consequences of new technology in a very “Twilight Zone” manner.

The original episodes of “The X-Files,” which premiered in 1993 and aired until 2002, didn’t really address social issues much. And while having one of the lead characters be a female doctor and scientist seems like a nod to gender equality, if you rewatch those episodes now all you can see is Agent Scully continually fighting to be respected by her male colleagues. However, with Wednesday’s episode titled “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” the show jumps full bore into the current social and political scene.

(Warning: spoilers ahead!)

Most of the show felt like a trip down the rabbit hole with “Alice in Wonderland,” along with enough conspiracy theories jammed into the one-hour episode to even overwhelm the show’s staunch conspiracy theorist. However, there was one scene that cut through the inaneness.

Mulder is lead to a mysterious meeting with the villainous “Dr. They,” who says he has the ability to alter collective memories. Contrary to his nature, Mulder is skeptical about Dr. They’s claims to have changed what people remember about key points in history for the benefit of the rich and powerful.

It doesn’t really matter if Mulder believes or not because the doctor says his time has passed and we’re now in the era of “phony fake news.” He illustrates his view by pointing out a viral video outlining all his treacherous acts. Dr. They tells Mulder he uploaded the video himself, knowing that no one would believe it’s all true.

 “We’re living in a post-cover-up, post-conspiracy age.” The “poco” age, as he calls it, doesn’t need conspiracies if people can’t tell the difference between real and fake.

When Mulder says that there are still things like facts, Dr. They quotes President Trump: “Nobody knows for sure.”

As a journalist and media professional, I am continually battling the “fake news” campaign spearheaded by President Trump and furthered by other politicians, including our own Congressman Jeff Denham. This issue has gone far beyond one politician trying to discredit unflattering news reports. It’s now to the point where “nobody knows for sure” if they can believe any news report they read.

I don’t believe everything I read, even if it’s from a “credible” source — nobody should. But discrediting ALL news reports is not the answer.

The next “X-Files” episode should be called “The Lost Art of Analytical Reasoning.” Here’s a perfect example (and one used in Dr. They’s ‘phony fake news’ video): In 2017, the White House spokesperson said that “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration” was in attendance to see Donald Trump take the Oath of Office. Media reports from the event showed a far smaller crowd than what was at the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama.

This is a something that can be quantified. There are photos of both events taken at the same vantage point. All someone has to do is count the number of people shown in the photos. This seems like something that should be apparent to everyone. But according to an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the White House spokesperson wasn’t lying, but rather giving “alternative facts.”

I agree with a Jan. 24, 2017 fact check story by USA Today that stated: “…there are not ‘alternative facts.’ There are certainly alternative interpretations of the facts, or alternative data sets, or, in this case, potentially different crowd-size estimates from experts. But a ‘fact,’ in the words of Merriam-Webster is ‘something that has actual existence’ or ‘a piece of information presented as having objective reality.’”

It’s no wonder that our nation is so divided. If people can’t acknowledge something that is a quantifiable fact, then how can we build a consensus?

I believe one of the biggest problems is that no one ever wants to admit when they’re wrong. Admitting fault is like taking medicine, no one wants to do it but it’s something that has to be done for the greater good. Creating “alternative facts” about why you don’t really need to take medicine as the illness consumes your body is only going to result in your downfall.

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