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Issue #1769      March 15, 2017

Warning: may contain fake news

At the time of writing, 2017 hasn’t yet thinned out the world of celebrity like its homicidal sibling 2016. Thankfully, the only global icon to die so far this year is the United States of America. And let’s face it, it was no Bowie …

The bookies are even offering odds on Kim Kardashian being Trump’s successor, and after 2016’s high-profile divorce from reality, I’m convinced anything is possible.

Nostradamus I’m not, but after everything that has happened in the last year, who would have bet against a batch of contaminated canapés at the Oscars wiping out half of Hollywood in a virulent bout of dysentery? The bookies are even offering odds on Kim Kardashian being Trump’s successor, and after 2016’s high-profile divorce from reality, I’m convinced anything is possible.

On that basis, I’m daring to dream and plan to lobby the Mayor of the District of Columbia for planning permission to create a grassy knoll opposite the White House. I think it would really brighten the place up. I’ve taken this seriously and have even committed the ultimate act of modern-day sedition by setting up an online petition.

Of course, my petition is a joke; in reality there is no campaign seeking permission for a knoll, grassy or otherwise, on Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s just an attempt to use this month’s column to generate my own fake news, as these days fake news seems to be where it’s at.

If things go according to plan, an overworked, under-principled content provider will pick up on the gag, ignore my obvious intentions and start frothing about sick, anti-Trump pinkos wanting to assassinate the president. It will be political incorrectness gone madder.

These days, it only takes someone to throw the most ludicrous idea into the clogged and congested ether for someone at a news outlet to pick up on it, recontextualise it for their own purposes and turn it into another piece of prime post-truth “too good to be true” bullshit. It has ever been thus. It just used to be called propaganda.

The bottom line is news is a commodity and Trump clickbait sells. Journalists – or the Orwellian-sounding “content providers” fast replacing them – are increasingly under huge pressure from their paymasters to dispense with journalistic ethics in the rush to capitalise on an audience hungry for spectacle, not specifics, for amusement instead of accuracy.

The temptation by news organisations to allow these unchecked not-even-half-truths to sit alongside genuine factual stories blurs the boundaries between truth and fiction, undermines real news and leads to a breakdown of trust between the public and the media. A breakdown exploited by an unscrupulous White House happy to swim in the muddy waters of misinformation and outright disinformation.

The media must bear some of the responsibility for getting us into this mess, but journalists can also get us out of it. This is why, as it celebrates its 500th issue, New Internationalist is so important. I look forward to another 500 editions, unless, come 2020, President Kardashian has closed us down and turned us into a lingerie catalogue. Face it, stranger things have already happened.

New Internationalist

Next article – Violations in West Papua

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