Fake News vs. Mischaracterized News

I wrote last week that I thought the whole "fake news" thing was just another excuse for censorship from the Left.  I think the problem in online political discourse is not so much with "fake news" but mis-characterized news -- ie the problem is not the news itself but the headline and spin that are layered on top of it.

From time to time I get absolutely inundated with comments on some post from folks who are not regular readers.  When I read these comments, my first question is, "did they even read the article?"  And you know what I have learned?  They did not.  Someone on some other web site has written some odd summary of what I have written, spun to fit whatever narrative they are pushing, and then sent folks to my site, who comment on the article as if that 3rd party summary was an accurate precis of the article, eliminating the need for anyone to actually read it.  The article I wrote years ago called the Teacher Salary Myth still to this day generates hostile comments and emails because the NEA and various other organizations love to link it with some scare summary like "this author is happy you can't afford to feed your family" and send 'em on over to troll.

Here is my experience from reading most partisan websites on both sides of the aisle:  the facts of an article linked, if you really read it, seldom match the headline that sent me over to it.  Here is an example I pick only because it is the most recent one in my news feed.  Apparently, according to blog headlines all over, a professor at Rutgers threatened on twitter to kill all white people and was thus dragged off to well-deserved psych evaluation.   The Breitbart headline, for example, was:  "Rutgers University Professor Taken in for Psych Evaluation for Tweets Threatening to Kill White People."

But if you read even their own article, you can find the tweet in question:  "will the 2nd amendment be as cool when i buy a gun and start shooting at random white people or no…?”  Yes, I know it is horrible that a professor at a major university has so little facility with English, but beyond that I am not sure how any reasonable observer can take this as a threat.  He is clearly making a point that folks might change their opinion on gun control if lots of white folks, rather than black folks I assume, got shot.  I actually think he is wrong -- people would have the opposite reaction -- but it is true that a far higher percentage of blacks fall victim to gun violence than whites and I don't think this formulation of his is an unacceptable way to raise this topic.  It is really no different than when I asked, any number of times, how New Yorkers' opinion of stop and frisk would change if it was done at the corner of 5th and 50th (in Midtown)  rather than in black neighborhoods.  The scary part of this, if you ask me, is a professor was dragged into psych evaluation like he was Winston Smith or something.

So here is my advice for the day -- before you retweet or repost or like on Facebook -- click through to the link and see that it says what you think it says.  I have not always followed my own advice but many times when I have not, I have regretted it.


  1. Dan Heatherly:

    I meant to make this comment on your original post but would like to hear your take on the following related topic. I remember reading an article from a couple of years ago that said something to the effect of "50% (not the actual number) of millennials get their news from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or the Colbert show". I thought this could be alarming but most folks seemed to laugh it off and said that Stewart and Colbert were just modern equivalents of Art Buchwald or the like. I think this current dust-up about "fake news" should include these type of shows (John Oliver, Samantha Bee, etc) in the conversation of what is news and who gets to decide what is news. BTW, I've been a long time reader and glad to see you get some recognition as in those videos you linked to a few weeks ago that showed some other folks that your brand of libertarianism has influenced. Keep up the good work!

  2. Rewired actuary:

    This was reported in the NY Daily News and also NY channel 4. If there is any problem here, it's an overreaction by the NYPD, not misreporting by any of the outlets.

    BTW, why is Rutgers wasting tax money on a professor teaching a course on "Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé"?

  3. Matthew Slyfield:

    "Yes, I know it is horrible that a professor at a major university has so little facility with English"

    That's not half as horrible as the fact that Beyoncé Studies is a real thing.

  4. Matthew Slyfield:

    Much of the misreporting makes the NYPD reaction seem reasonable until you bore down through the story and see the actual tweets.

  5. Rewired actuary:

    I looked at his actual Twitter stream and there are roughly 24,000. Most of them are hateful and profane. Does that justify a psychiatric evaluation? What is he like in person? I could easily imagine that he is deranged. Without more information, I cannot know.

    It is insane that he is teaching in a university.

  6. David in Michigan:

    I absolutely agree ..... go to the source and check around before believing anything on the internet..... or twitter, facebook, whatever.
    In the example you have cited, I've done that. First, he's not a "professor" but a lecturer..... whatever that is. Second, my interpretation is that this was somebody's payback, applying the leftist playbook to a leftist. I find it refreshingly consistent. Yes, it was wrong to drag his ass through this ordeal from a free speech perspective but these are the new speech rules the leftist progressives created at Universities and colleges.

    In looking at his website and his photo, it's clear to me that he is in fact mentally ill but still marginal enough to survive in today's bizarro society. (don't want to be judged? don't put yourself in the spotlight.)

    As I said before, don't take my word, check for yourself.

  7. Joshua:

    How did the teacher thing get published on Forbes with "Govenrment" spelled that way? Don't they have editors?

  8. Rondo:

    When It Comes To Fake News, The U.S. Government Is The Biggest Culprit

    Trump "Exploded" At Media Execs During Off-The-Record Meeting: "It Was A F--king Firing Squad"


  9. sch:

    Reading some further articles suggests that ti was "in classroom" speech was more worrisome than the tweetings and may have been the prompt for the psy eval. They also report he is an adjunct teacher. The beyonce thing apparently not a full on course
    but a google suggests beyonce study not limited to Rutgers.

  10. CC:

    Errors of omission are huge. The media simply ignore many stories.
    Completely distorting a story is also par for the course. Anti-Trump violence at his rallies was called "Violence at Trump Rally" as if his supporters were at fault. Later (and only online) we find out that Dem operatives were paid to incite violence. This is the kind of "dirty trick" (and worse than) what got Nixon in trouble, but the media seem fine with it. Where are the media reporting that pipeline protesters and anti-Trump protesters are often being paid and bused in? hah

  11. bobby_b:

    He didn't say "if" - he said "when."

    He said "when I start shooting at random white people."

    In this age of surprise mass shootings by unstable people, how could Rutgers NOT at least have him questioned before allowing him access to their student body?

    Imagine the lawsuits if he really did shoot someone. Rutgers would lose, badly, because this would be termed a clear forewarning.

  12. TruthisaPeskyThing:

    A great example of fake news is the government production of National Climate Assessment. Really . . . page after page of deception . . . worse than a waste of taxpayer money!

  13. slocum:

    A 'lecturer' is a non-tenure track professor, generally hired on a term-by-term basis. As such, he doesn't even need to be fired, the department can just neglect to renew his contract.

  14. marque2:

    So it seems like this wasn't so much "Fake News" as it was incomplete news. If all the facts about the professors other insane tweets, and insane classroom lectures as well as misreading by Warren of "when" and interpreting it as "if" are added up, it seems like Rutgers did the correct thing in order to protect its students.

  15. John Moore:

    I think "fake news" suddenly became a thing because the main stream media is thrashing around trying to find an explanation for their errors this year that won't cause their collective heads to explode.

  16. Penkville:

    This is another one of your 'Coke/Pepsi' party type of analogies, which you roll out to try and make both sides seem equally at fault. It's a poor justification for this, as the guy really does say "when i buy a gun and start shooting at random white people". Now I can rationalise the statement as you have done, and say he doesn't mean what he says but I don't know that, it could just as easily be that he really does mean what he says. This is nothing like the Lefties SOP of misquoting, taking out of context or just simply lying about what anyone to the right of Karl Marx might say.

  17. Rick Caird:

    I have definitely learned to follow the links to read the source material.

  18. markm:

    There's a discussion of this over at Popehat. The "shooting at random white people" isn't the only post of concern, and the consensus there is that it's not a true threat - it implies that he doesn't own a gun, and he probably would not know how to load or aim one, so until he takes steps to buy a gun it's just blowing off steam. The argument is over another post, saying that if he sees a Trump bumper sticker, he will run them off the road. It implies that he drives and owns a car - which I'd expect since he lives in Brooklyn on the opposite side of Manhattan island from his job in NJ. "If I see a Trump bumper sticker" is phrased as a hypothetical, but it's a quite likely event on a commute as long as his.

    So he has the weapon and the knowledge of how to use it, and the specified condition is likely to be met - taking this post by itself, it looks like a true threat to me. According to the lawyer who started this discussion and actually read much more of his posts, it's not a true threat _in the context_ of thousands of insane rants. But those could also be taken as more reasons to force him into psch eval.

  19. Brennan Schweitzer:

    Warren, I always take your opinion for what it is--your opinion, no more, no less. It's usually correct, but I always confirm through other sources. Gee, that sounds boring, but finding the truth of a matter usually is.