‘Fake news’ didn’t exist once upon a time. I say once upon a time, but it was less than a year ago that the phrase entered common parlance. Before then it was ‘misinformation’ or ‘propaganda’ or, if you remember far enough back, ‘lies’.
The term, was mainly employed to discredit Brexiteers in the build-up to and aftermath of Britain’s EU referendum – remember ‘Project Fear’? – before being turned on Remainers by Brexiteers when the latter realised how potent it was. Then along came The Donald, and the solidifying of ‘post-truth’ politics.
In the meantime, as was to be expected, ‘fake news’ spread to other areas of the media; and now it seems that the onus has fallen on readers to inform journalists, instead of the other way round..
Take last week’s Telegraph, for example, which trumpeted an article suggesting just half a pint of beer a week could harden arteries, leaving drinkers at risk of severe, immediate, health risks. It was later picked up by the Mirror.
Yes, that’s right. Half a pint per week.
Many, no doubt, will have seen it and believed it. Luckily, many more read it and wept with laughter, chief among them Chris Snowdon of the Institute for Economic Affairs, who used a burst of tweets to point out that the report in the Telegraph was based on dodgy evidence – and, most embarrassingly, a typo.!The study, in fact, proved moderate drinking had health benefits that far outweighed the negatives.
The Telegraph promptly deleted the article and all references to it, without so much as a clarification. The verdict? ‘I hesitate to call anything a new low in health reporting,’ says Snowdon, ‘but this is definitely in the same postcode as the nadir.’