This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian’s news coverage. Your questions may be edited for space and clarity.
Reader: I just read Bob Price's May 6 Sound Off column. In the last paragraph of the last item he says, "Now, if I could just make clear the difference between 'fake news' — intentional disinformation — and mistakes." It would be a really good idea if someone would detail the differences between "fake news" and errors. Fake news is just what it sounds like — it's not news. It's deliberate falsifications, deliberate lies, and we see it all the time — Not from The Californian but from other sources.
— John Ullman III
Price: You nailed it pretty well, John. "Fake news" is created by people or organizations that are knowingly disseminating false information. Sometimes it's simply clickbait designed to make money off of advertising, which is insidious enough, but often it's politically motivated.
About five months ago CNBC came up with a list of what it called the biggest fake news stories of 2016. You may well have seen several of them, because each one garnered hundreds of thousands of hits. Some were picked up by mainstream media.
"Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president."
"Donald Trump sent his own plane to transport 200 stranded Marines."
"Ireland is now officially accepting Trump refugees from America."
"WikiLeaks confirms Hillary sold weapons to ISIS."
"FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apartment murder-suicide."
"FBI director received millions from Clinton Foundation; his brother’s law firm does Clinton’s taxes."
"ISIS leader calls for American Muslim voters to support Hillary Clinton."
"Hillary Clinton in 2013: ‘I would like to see people like Donald Trump run for office; they’re honest and can’t be bought.’"
"RuPaul claims Trump touched him inappropriately in the '90s."
Errors are errors. They may be the result of haste, carelessness or misunderstanding on the part of the reporter, or bad information from a source, but except in the rarest of cases (Google "Jayson Blair" or "Stephen Glass") they are not intentional efforts to deceive.
Satire lurks in the gray area between the two, which is why most newspapers steer clear of it. It takes a deft hand to pull it off and a modicum of sophistication and cultural awareness to grasp it, which is why we occasionally hear about epic misunderstandings. My favorite was the time the Chinese government's mouthpiece website, People's Daily Online, breathlessly reported The Onion’s parodic anointing of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un as the “Sexiest Man Alive.”
Back to "fake news" vs. errors: Responsible media will promptly correct errors, or in the most grievous of cases, retract the entire article. Disseminators of "fake news" simply move on to the next outrageous lie.
How does the casual reader tell the difference? Check the source: If you've never heard of the newspaper or website before, and no major media organization is reporting the story in question, ratchet up your skepticism. Read beyond the headline: Telltale signs of falsity will often become evident. Check the byline and Google the author's name: Phony stories are often written by phony reporters working for phony organizations.
In the Facebook era, everyone is potentially both a consumer and producer of news and information. This makes it incumbent on us all to develop some rudimentary fact-checking skills. A good place to start is by learning what differentiates disinformation ("fake news") from errors, opinion and analysis, and satire.
Google "how to spot fake news" for more information.
Reader: Just a question regarding your May 6 paper and the story on Page A9 about Bakersfield being the ninth largest city in California and Oakland being the 10th.
I was just curious because not long ago Bakersfield had passed Anaheim to take the ninth spot, and it seems that Oakland had quite a bit more of a population. So I just wanted to say Oakland substantially had to drop in behind Bakersfield. I'm not sure where Anaheim went, but anyways, the numbers don't seem to add up. Bakersfield at No. 9 is not a surprise but Oakland dropping behind us seems like it is. All right, thank you.
— Dean Pruitt
Price: You have a good memory and a sharp eye, because we apparently misread the report by the California Department of Finance's Demographic Research Unit. The agency lists the state's largest cities as Los Angeles (which topped 4 million for the first time), San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento and Long Beach. Oakland comes in eighth with 426,074, followed by No. 9 Bakersfield, with 383,512, and No. 10 Anaheim, with 358,546. Bakersfield burst into the top 10 in 2011, leapfrogging three cities, but, according to the DOF report, Oakland still has about 43,000 more residents than Bakersfield.
Reader: Back when I edited the Mojave Desert News I never ran unsigned letters for many of the same reasons you gave in Sound Off.
When people asked me about this I reminded them that the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were committing treason against the British Crown, which in those days was worn by a mentally unstable king. John Hancock’s famous signature was written bigger than the others so, as Hancock explained, “King George can read it without wearing his spectacles,” or words to that effect.
— Bill Deaver
Reader: Regarding your position on anonymous and pseudonym signed letters going to the round file where they belong: I completely agree!
Those who can’t take responsibility for what they say shouldn’t say it. This is the principal problem with the Citizens United ruling allowing extraordinarily wealthy organizations to “speak” — that is, pay to produce expensive well produced TV ads, mass mailings and such.
The law should most definitely require that the real people behind political speech take responsibility for what they say. When people do, they are more likely to speak responsibly. And, no, corporations aren’t people. The executives who run them are.
— Stephen A. Montgomery