Jon Stewart Has Simple Advice On How To Fight Fake News

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Jon Stewart has found himself back in the news following the publication of The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests. As he re-enters the national consciousness, he does so with some big ideas about the media and, naturally, that election we had a few weeks ago. Chief on his mind is how the media landscape has shifted and perhaps created the election and national climate.

Stewart spoke with New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik at a Times talk last week. His take on fake news is particularly interesting. It's long, so strap in.

"Rumor becomes fact becomes canon really quickly in this system at a speed that you can't imagine," Stewart said, as captured by The Hollywood Reporter. "What happens is someone creates a conspiracy theory on the web and then news organizations cite a website that is in no way credible for that piece of information and they put it on their news site and later on, five days later, when somebody is doing a story about that and they do a search, that comes up but what doesn't come up is the annotation of where that came from and where the source was so that piece of information has been laundered. It's free-floating. And that gets placed into a story about that subject without the qualifying radioactive isotope that tells you it's from a bullshit source and then it goes on. And from now on, whenever anyone does a story about that — credible places, not credible places — that piece of information is now accepted as fact and passed around and used as an example of something real that has happened. If the news organizations really want to tackle fake news, they need to look at where they are aggregating their information. Stories that were sent from a Macedonian teenager to grandmothers' email accounts didn't sway this election. News organizations that lost their credibility and authority because they were not careful enough about introducing toxic and poisoned information and laundering it into a system devalued the authority of real supposed news sources to the point where people are frustrated enough to elect a man who stands for what he stands for."

His basic point is that the focus on speed leads to a devaluation of facts. Some false story gains momentum and then your, uh, economically anxious uncle is yelling "We won" and getting banned from Delta for life. So Stewart calls for some slowing down, some contextualizing, some ability to place ideas within a larger fabric of what we like to call "reality." Stewart points to Fox News as an organization that consistently places facts within narrative and successfully conveys their agenda. Of course, a news organization having such a strong agenda is its own issue. The idea of the media not having an agenda is, of course, a relatively modern phenomenon.

So Stewart's call is an interesting one. Can CNN, which he takes to task, create a narrative without a partisan agenda? Seems like a tall task for a network that paid a pundit that was contractually forbidden from disparaging Trump, was continually paid by Trump while on the air, and then quit the network to seek a place in the Trump administration.

Read the rest of Stewart's thoughts here.
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