As most of you will know, the term “fake news” has been so bastardized at this point so as to be more a moniker of quite literally the opposite of its original intended meaning. Once used to label the sort of nonsense news stories that people would share haphazardly on social media, the term is now almost exclusively used by government strong-men with paper-thin skin and entirely too much power. Still, the term does have a real meaning, if only we made a point of getting back to it.
Perhaps in one story, we can illustrate both sides of this. One of the aforementioned leaders that has enjoyed shouting “fake news!” at any media coverage he doesn’t like has been Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. You would think “fake news” would be something Netanyahu really hates. And, yet, Netanyahu also apparently gathered his cabinet members, sat them down, and then solemnly showed them video of Iranian government officials secretly dumping dead bodies in garbage dumps so as to conceal how many COVID-19 deaths the country was enduring.
There was just one tiny problem…
The backdrop: Iran has been Netanyahu’s top foreign policy focus for 25 years. Israeli intelligence believes there have been up to five times more coronavirus deaths there than the 3,036 that have been officially acknowledged, an Israeli official tells me. Netanyahu thought he’d seen evidence of a cover-up.
Behind the scenes: Several hours later, Netanyahu’s office realized the video had nothing to do with Iran, or with the coronavirus crisis. It was a clip from “Pandemic,” a 2007 Hallmark Channel mini-series.
So, how does real, actual “fake news” happen? Well, usually it occurs when a relatively ignorant person, often of older age, encounters media or content that is easily shared and also aligns with their own pre-existing worldview and conceptions, and then that person does the sharing without bothering to vet the truth of the content at all. Were there a more perfect example of this than Netanyahu pushing a Hallmark movie clip as Iranian bad deeds, I cannot possibly imagine what it would be.
And Netanyahu’s people aren’t denying any of this.
The prime minister’s office didn’t deny this account. It said the video had only been sent to three Cabinet ministers who requested it and were told it came from social media and its authenticity was unclear.
Boy, if ever there were a time for Netanyahu to call a story fake news, I’d have thought this would be it.