Before there was the web as we know it, there was fake news – thanks to Stephen Glass. The New Republic was stung worst by Glass, the journalist who will go down in history as the craftiest pathological liar. If you’re unfamiliar with who this man is, you can look up the movie, Shattered Glass, which sprung from a Vanity Fair article of the same name.
Of course the film is a somewhat fictionalized version of the true story about the journalist who sold lies as factual articles to multiple national publications, including Rolling Stone. (Yes, that does mean there were fabrications in print from that magazine long before the University of Virginia gang rape debacle.)
As for Stephen Glass, he can be credited with creating the glass ceiling on lies in journalism. It would be nice to say that the journalistic world learned a long-standing and important lesson from this pathological liar, but any lessons learned didn’t necessarily lead to greater integrity in the vocation. Whether or not current editors are consciously aware of it, Glass set the limits for fabricating “facts” for print. That’s readily apparent from the apology interview Glass had with 60 Minutes.
The previous video is just under 13 minutes, but if you are really wanting to understand the motives behind creating fake news, it’s worth the time. Glass attempts to explain himself, and his habit of creating stories that were completely fabricated. Today’s “half-truths” and “exaggerations” have slightly more complex motives, but at their core, are the same. The bottom line is getting the “home run” as Glass put it. He destroyed his own career in journalism in the pursuit of constant attention, adulation, and a record of seemingly perfect stories.
He wanted fame.
Today’s fake news is driven by the desire for “hits” online, and unfortunately, the desire to manipulate the masses. Because neither Glass nor the purveyors of fake news today are concerned with presenting factual information, it is just an exercise in building egos. Glass got away with his lies because he gamed the system – he could get past the fact-checkers because he had done their jobs already. He knew what they would look for, and gave them it.
Sites and publications that offer fake news are no different. They just rely on the public being stupid.
They rely on the public not taking the time to check facts.
They just are very talented at manipulating readers by playing to the emotions of their intended audiences.
In military speak, they are propagandists who are well-versed on the tools of psychological warfare.
Glass was the same type, but instead of needing to manipulate large masses of people, he just had to keep offering “perfect stories” to his editors. The editors were duped because they wanted to believe that it was possible for a single journalist to consistently deliver exciting stories for their readers.
Today’s publishers of fake news have far more sinister desires, and all of them have to do with controlling their audiences as opposed to entertaining them.
Of course, this is all in reference to “fake news” that is really offering lies as truth – not news sources that are accused of being “fake” simply because someone disagrees with them.
Glass got away with his lies because people wanted his stories to be true.
Fake news flourishes today because the people have become too lazy to bother making sure that what they are reading is accurate.
Either way, it boils down to the public believing lies. What has changed is that believing the lies today involves falling prey to the agendas of others, instead of just feeding the ego of one pathological liar who managed to get a job as a journalist.