How Fake News Grows in a Post-Fact World: Ali Velshi (Transcript)

That tweet went out and it said exactly what it says there: breaking: law enforcement source tells CNN there appears to be terrorism connection to the Empire State Building. You can imagine the effect that had. That tweet spread like wildfire. It went out there. I deleted it which is not something you’re supposed to do but in that particular case when I knowingly spread — inadvertently spread false information I thought deleting it would be the best thing to do. I apologized, I responded to everybody who forwarded that tweet and everybody who responded to it. I said sorry to my boss. I had a big talking too and I learned the meaning of the word no.

But what nobody accused me of was lying or of spreading fake news, they understood that this whole problem was about my fat fingers. It wasn’t about my credibility.

The real problem is that there is fake news and it’s spread by a wolf in journalist’s clothing. And this wolf would have you believe that the real news is actually fake, and that’s the real problem that we’re facing today.

On December 4, I tweeted this out and notice in the bottom it was retweeted 11,000 times. I tweeted breaking news: the US Army Corps of Engineers halts the Dakota access pipeline work telling the Standing Rock reservation that the current route for the pipeline will be denied. This is a very controversial issue. I had this news earlier than most people did which is why it spread so many times because people wanted to distribute this information.

But one of the first responses I got to this tweet was what’s your source. Now come on I’m not a journalism student. I’m a veteran journalist in my 24th year of this business. If I spread breaking news that is false or wrong, I am going to at the very least get disciplined and I could actually get fired.

But increasingly I am getting pushed back on social media from people who accuse me of purveying fake news. If you google my — if you put in my name on my handle and fake news — hashtag fake news you’ll see things show up and when you accuse legitimate journalists of being purveyors of fake news of lying, it’s a little bit like asking somebody when he stopped beating his wife. Some of the damage is done in the accusation alone.

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And when you de-legitimize journalism and when you de-legitimize facts and when you do that, you create a vacuum in one of the most important checks in civil, economic and political discourse, because who then is going to be there to hold power to account? Is the crowd going to do it? I get paid to do it. Others get paid to read information. This is one of the major dangers of accusing real news providers of fake news.

Let’s talk about a crowd. That’s a crowd of 17 different US intelligence agencies, all of which concluded that Russia had hacked the U.S. presidential election with the aim towards supporting Donald Trump. But the president — the newly elected president of the United States didn’t believe it. And 80% of his followers didn’t believe it either.

But of the rumor that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex slave ring out of the basement of this suburban DC pizza parlor, 50% of his supporters believed that it could have been true, including one who went there armed and fired three bullets. He didn’t kill anyone, he didn’t injure anybody, he didn’t even hit anybody. And he seemed honestly surprised that not only was there no child sex slave ring but there wasn’t even a basement.

Many of Donald Trump’s followers believed this new claim he’s made that millions of people voted illegally in this election except that there’s no evidence, there’s no proof, there’s no nothing. It’s just out there.

Approximately half of Donald Trump supporters, according to the latest poll, believed that Barack Obama is a Kenyan born Muslim. Now the irony of all of this is that I actually am a Kenyan born Muslim and he wasn’t at any of the meetings. So this is part of the problem that that there’s stuff out there that just doesn’t work. It would be bad enough if the President of the United States wasn’t going out of his way to actually promote some of this stuff. I thought we were going into this election we would be covering really important things like how to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure and how to increase wages for workers in America.

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But instead we are debating discussing and reporting on absolute nonsense and part of that is because people don’t really think that we’re doing the right thing that we in journalism are doing what we’re supposed to be doing. This is fed by a concept, the traditional media which is what I’m referring to the places I’ve worked, the CNN’s, the CTV’s, the Al Jazeeras, the MSNBCs and NBCs, the traditional media perpetrates this elite consensus that questions some assumptions more than it questions other assumptions that somehow what we do is removed from the reality of people’s lives, that we do our work in an ivory tower while news actually happens where people live.

People in my industry say that their goal is to hold power to account and yet on the Friday of inauguration I was watching newscasters on national news dressed to attend the inaugural balls of the President of the United States. The same thing happens on the night of the White House Correspondents Dinner where we cover the fact that we’re all at these events. Why do journalists try so hard to get themselves invited into the corridors of power and when we’re there why are we there not representing the people but rather there as invited guests eating the catered food?

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