Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Today at ANewsCafe: The internet and Sherri Papini

While we're highlighting independent local news sites, columnist R.V. Scheide is one of the best writers Doni Chamberlain has at ANewsCafe. He has a piece this morning titled, "Real News, Fake News and Sherri Papini". A snippet:
Former classmates and even a hairdresser claiming to know Sherri Papini have offered negative opinions on her mental state. Someone found a post allegedly written by Sherri under her maiden name more than a decade ago which includes racist statements regarding Latinos. It’s a dark cruel world out here—so much so that websleuths.com has banned posts that question the Papini’s account of the abduction. That didn’t matter too much, because the doubters all just moved to Reddit where /r/sherripapini is doing moderately well according to the up-votes.

This type of posting has recently been classified by some mainstream media organizations as “fake news,” particular in the #pizzagate scandal, in which anonymous posters on Reddit alleged high profile members of the Clinton campaign are engaged in a worldwide pedophile conspiracy run out of a Washington, DC, pizza parlor. Reddit banned the hashtag, but a few hundred #pizzagate conspiracy theorists are still working it hard on other message boards. It’s only a conspiracy theory until they find one pedophile. Then it will be news, guaranteed.

That’s why I don’t think “fake news” really describes this phenomenon very well in this case, if by news we’re speaking of stories that are investigated by a reporter, checked for facts by an editor and published by a journal or website with an established reputation for accuracy. Anonymous opinions posted on websites aren’t news, they’re raw investigative product at best. Some of it may be gold, some of it may be garbage. Sifting through it is catnip for armchair detectives, of which there are many, but it’s not news, real, fake, or otherwise.
In my view, it can't be disputed that there's a political element in some of this second-guessing. The mere fact that 1) she's a blonde-haired white woman who identified her abductors as Latino and 2) the negotiator has ties to Bethel Church are enough to send some people scrambling for a safe space. It really doesn't take much to get the haters riled. For what it's worth, one of my wife's acquaintances is a close friend of the Papinis and describes Sherri as a model mother. She's very small in stature, and it's been speculated that perhaps her abductors thought she was a child walking alone. But physical evidence is physical evidence. Do people really think she battered and branded herself?

There's been many a time when an investigative reporter spent months chasing a story and came up with zilch, or not enough to print (back when most news organizations had minimum standards for publication). And as for the internet, declarative statements not backed up with concrete facts are called opinion and should be considered as such.

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