A few days ago, I said to myself, “You were prescient.” At the time, I was reading a report about “fake news,” deliberately erroneous articles that may or may not in part have swung the election to Donald Trump.
What do I know about it? Quite a bit. When I was in college in the late 1960s, my friend Sandy Weinberg and I did a Sunday night radio show called “The Kroit Report.” Before the first episode, we didn’t have a name so we went to the classical music section of the college radio station and picked out an album recorded by the Budapest String Quartet, whose violist was Boris Kroyt. We liked that name, and then Sandy (I’m pretty sure it was him) misspelled it.
Here was the point of the show: mix actual news that sounded bizarre enough to be fake and add in our own made-up news that sounded legitimate enough to be real. The point was to alert the listening public that everything you hear or read isn’t necessarily factually correct. We can all get fooled. It was, we thought, both clever and important enough to point out.
There was no internet then, and the computers that did exist were primitive. My then-girlfriend (now my wife) was working on her senior “horse blood typing” thesis on punch cards using a Univac computer that took up the better part of a room.
These days, of course, most people have laptops, tablets and phones hooked up to the internet, and a false story can go viral just by being cleverly enough conceived by that 30-year-old living in his parents’ basement (the one Trump is always alluding to).
We have just gotten through weeks of post-election “fake news” just on the topic of the “War on Christmas,” the perennial nonsense that has been bolstered by the president-elect’s repetitive pronouncement about how we’ll be hearing more “Merry Christmas” when he is in office. Obviously, nothing says “freedom” more than a chief executive who tells the citizenry not only which holidays to celebrate but what to say during those highlighted holidays.
So just a few weeks after you receive this issue of this magazine, Trump will be inaugurated here in Washington, D.C. Let’s try to create some “fake news.” This will be based on what our president-elect used to say that he has recently repudiated. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to promote this “fake news” broadly. The premise of the dissemination should be that Barry Lynn has been around Washington for so long that he has a connection who gave him a copy of Trump’s inaugural address.
Here it goes:
“My fellow Americans, I have not been completely honest with you for the past year and a half since I decided to run for president. This is not to say that I have never been honest. I’ve been accurately opining about social issues much of my life. I’m here to tell you, I was correct back then. So let me give you a few examples.
“In 1999, I declared myself to be ‘very pro-choice’ on abortion. I was also not very interested in ‘culture war’ issues, nor did you ever hear me say a peep about church politicking. I thought immigration was a net plus for our country and supported amnesty.
“During the campaign I did express some opposite conclusions, and the names I put forth for the cabinet reflected those changes. But seriously, how could anyone believe I wanted Betsy DeVos to run the Education Department! She doesn’t even believe in public education. How about U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General? He even wanted to put that great guy Barry Lynn in jail for exercising his right of free speech. And please, Rick Perry to run the Energy Department, an agency whose name he couldn’t even remember back in 2008? Would I appoint a governor who actually used his state office stationery to encourage people to come to a Christian prayer rally in a sports stadium?
“No, I fooled a lot of people in the past year, but secretly I have always believed those fundamental constitutional truths that I expressed decades ago.”
Okay, now it is up to you to spread this false message. The internet is filled with “fake news” as is, and who is going to notice some more, since so many of us can’t recognize it in the first place?
Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.