By Steve Murch
Facebook “news” and “fake news” continue to fill our discussions about what is real and what isn’t when it comes to learning about what is happening in our world. There have always been questions about validity of news when it hits home for partisan politics. However, once the facts were presented in the past, people would be more accepting that it was news.
Today, well, not so much. People have their own narrative on life that they stick to, truth be damned. Facts? We don’t need no stinking facts.
Not everyone should have seen it coming but maybe I should have. Back in the early years of when I became managing editor at The Alpena News we had a local “scandal” that could have been interpreted as a precursor to today’s I’ll-believe-what-I-want-regardless-of-the-facts attitudes.
Rumors began to circulate in the community that there had been a huge drug bust that implicated a handful of prominent people – business owners, etc. – who were allegedly arrested. The list of people who supposedly had been arrested grew every few days.
After the rumor had made the rounds for about a week we started getting calls at the newspaper asking why we hadn’t reported on the arrested. We would assure the callers that if anything had indeed happened we would report on it. We would explain to them that we talked to all the police agencies every day and had even inquired about the rumors. Nothing had happened, they said.
The calls usually started shortly after 5 p.m., when people were likely getting home from work, and carried on through about 7 when the local news had long been off the air. Our new editor at the time, Rich Wertz, and I would basically just take turns answering the phone and shaking our heads in disbelief at how outrageous the accusations would become.
This went on for weeks. Then, suddenly, it got worse. The callers had new “evidence” that the arrests had in fact happened. They said they read it in the Detroit News or Detroit Free Press. A few days later they started saying they read it in the Bay City Times. These are newspapers hundreds and hundreds of miles away from Alpena, so we knew the callers were making up these supposed news stories.
Finally, though, the rumors got so bad that the county prosecutor had to call a press conference to announce all the names of people arrested on drug charges throughout the community and what their charges were. Only two were “prominent” and they had small possession charges. Most, if not all, were small drug charges and none were related to each other.
In short, there was no big drug bust at all and a bunch of innocent people had their names smudged.
I still view it as a black eye in the community, how people allowed a juicy rumor to take hold and nearly ruin a bunch of people’s lives.
I think back to those few weeks every time I hear the words “fake news” and we hear another excuse from Mark Zuckerberg about how Facebook did or didn’t do this, that and another thing. News people at all levels of media have been accused of it, but if people would just open their eyes, take in multiple sources and review what is being said, we would be so much better off.
Steve Murch is a former managing editor and award-winning columnist for The Alpena News. He’s a lifelong Michigan resident, a broken and defeated fan of the Detroit Lions, and a forever optimistic fan of the Detroit Tigers. His column will appear most Thursdays.