Fake ‘fake news’
The author is the Tokyo bureau chief and rotating correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Japan is euphoric over Los Angeles Angels’ star player Shohei Ohtani. Newspapers printed extra editions after he was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player through a unanimous vote last week. The Tokyo Tower was illuminated with the number 17, Ohtani’s number, in the Angels’ colors to celebrate the feat at 17:17 p.m. The Japanese government proposed to present him with the People’s Honor Award, which he politely declined.
As a one-on-a-kind player, Ohtani hit a significant milestone in the 150-year history of the Major League as both a hitter and a pitcher, which had not been thinkable since Babe Ruth about 100 years ago. Ohtani hit 46 homers, 100 RBIs, and 103 runs in 155 games, On the mound, he made 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings.
In a press conference at home, Ohtani was bombarded with more than 50 questions on topics ranging from taxation in Japan to his diet. Most of them were unworthy of responses. Yet the young athlete responded calmly and sincerely to every question. One journalist said he set a good example for how a public figure should act in a press conference.
Three years ago, Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung stopped responding to a TV interview because he did not like a question the reporter posed. Lee later wrote on social media that he regretted his act. But he declared war on the media with 100 days left to the presidential election, in which he is running as candidate of the ruling Democratic Party (DP).
Lee claimed the media was a “tilted playing field” and urged his supporters to turn on the media to expose truths “the traditional media was trying to ignore” through comments on social media. What exactly is the truth the media was hiding? If Lee knew, he should have calmly addressed it. The media does not know what they supposedly hid.
If there were things media organizations were trying to dismiss about him, journalists would not have sat it out quietly. Even if their editors or publishers ordered them to side with one particular presidential candidate, hundreds of reporters in the newsroom would not have complied. If Lee does not believe it, he is either naïve or overrates the power of media outlets. But Lee should be corrected if he blames the media for criticisms of him, or for reporting his falling approval ratings.
Lee accuses the media of spreading fake news. Media organizations can err in their reports, but do not create or report fake news. Fake news refer to malicious disinformation and the intentional spread of groundless news, which happens to be a crime. Unintentional errors are entirely different. Donald Trump claimed that votes were manipulated after losing the presidential election. Believing in his groundless accusations, some of his loyalists stormed Congress and staged a riot, which is a typical example of the disastrous consequence of fake news.
Yet Lee accuses the media of presenting falsified reports with articles that raise suspicions or question his actions and policies. The comments he is encouraging his army of followers to post on social media actually could turn into an epicenter of fake news.
Voters must make their judgments on what is fake amidst a flood of conflicting stories on social media. They must discern what are baseless accusations and implausible promises so that the vain presidential promises like Moon Jae-in’s — to become a president who will mingle with people everyday or make the skies completely free of fine dust — no longer exist.
In the movie “The Post,” Meryl Streep playing The Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham says, “We do not always get it right. It is not always perfect. But I think if we just keep on it, you know, that’s the job isn’t it?” It is a question we would like to pose to Lee.