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OnWords: Fake News


The term “fake news” has exploded all over the real news, possibly in order to draw fire away from how the news media has covered falsehoods in the past.

Fake news has been around a long time, though.

Consider the presidential race between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Among the slurs the two exchanged, Jefferson’s campaign at one point said Adams had “neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."

These days, fake news has become an easy way to make money through online advertising. Creators of fake news may have no stake in the political impact of their fabrications. They make stuff up only to make a quick buck.

Also new is that the term “fake news” has become a way for public figures to deny any story they don’t want the public to hear.

All of this fakery should be distinguished from satire, which uses a fictionalized version of reality in order to unearth a hidden truth or hold the powerful accountable.

Ironically, during times when the difference between fake news and real news is fuzzy, in a time when the truth itself is constantly being questioned, we need satire’s incisiveness more than ever. We need satire to deflate the power of those who would deceive us.

So if an outrageous news story seems too perfect, if it reinforces the very outrage that drives your political passions, it’s probably fake news.

If an outrageous story isn’t verifiable but makes you both laugh and think differently about an issue, it may be satire, and worth your consideration.

Lael Ewy is a co-founder and editor of EastWesterly Review, a journal of literary satire at www.postmodernvillage.com, and a writer whose work has appeared in such venues as Denver Quarterly and New Orleans Review and has been anthologized in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh.