In the USA, the phrase “fake news” is a topic of much debate. Many commentators blame websites like Breitbart for Trump’s victory. Breitbart’s headlines include gems such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber”.
However, the same mainstream media that criticise fake news are part of the problem themselves. You see, they are subject to the same institutional logic that makes fake news so influential. If it bleeds, it leads, which is to say that if a headline is sensational enough, people will click it. Or, as the CEO of television network CBS Les Moonves said about Trump: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
The Dutch situation
Compared with the media landscape in the United States, the Dutch media aren’t too bad at news-gathering, or so you might think. Thus, the new political party DENK came in for a great deal of scorn when it somewhat clumsily pointed out that the Dutch media are biased. You would have to be a bit of an idiot to believe their conspiracy theories.
Yet, the Dutch media landscape resembles the American one more than you would think. For instance, Syrian asylum seekers were linked to the New Year’s assaults in Cologne; the Gouda neighbourhood of Oosterwei was supposedly being terrorised by “Moroccan hoodlums”; a Telegraaf reporter ruined a Rotterdam-based photographer by presenting him as the owner of an S&M studio, and even Trouw got in on the game, with one of its reporters calling a neighbourhood in The Hague a “sharia triangle”, before being found to have made it all up.
Instead of regarding the American situation with Schadenfreude, we should ensure that we have the tools that allow us to analyse our own media. One of those tools is solid academic training. Or, as Professor of Moral Philosophy JA Smith posited in a 1914 lecture, “Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life, save only this – that if you work hard and intelligently, you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education.”
Consider that my philosophy of education.