Specunewsulation is Fake News

Speculation is not news. Pretending it is... makes it Fake News.

On Friday, CNN broke the news that somebody had been indicted by a Grand Jury for something related to the investigation US Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting. They had received the information from a trusted source with knowledge of the indictment, but could not say who was charge, nor with what, because the indictment was sealed until Monday. CNN proceeded to spend the rest of the evening in panel discussions with pundits and reporters speculating on who was charged and with what.

The speculation went like this: Maybe it's one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. If it's Paul Manafort, maybe he's charged with collusion with Russia – or maybe the charges aren't related to the campaign at all. Maybe Manafort is charged with another offence that was discovered in the course of Mueller's investigation. Maybe investigators will use those charges as leverage to try to get Manafort to provide evidence against somebody closer to the president. Maybe...  etc.

On Monday, it was revealed that Paul Manafort and an associate have been charged with a number of offences that may be unrelated to the campaign. But, my issue is with CNN's handling of the news on Friday.

Cable Opinion Network

I take issue with this type of coverage by a network that calls itself the "Cable News Network," because speculation is not news. It's fiction. If CNN wants to change its name to Cable Opinion Network (CON for short), this would be fine. Instead, it claims to report the news – while passing off speculation as if it were news. Often, as was the case Friday evening, to the exclusion of all other news. CNN's audience is very poorly served.

To make matters worse, CNN often uses the same beat reporters who report the news to speculate on it, further confusing the audience.

The technical term for speculation is "bullshit."

Friday evening, I labelled CNN's specunewsulation as "FakeNews" on Twitter because it was, as it too often is, a fictional docudrama of talking heads. The technical term for this type of information is "bullshit." I was immediately castigated by the usual suspects: pro-Hillary Democrats who immediately assumed I was defending Trump (I wasn't) and liberal "journalists" who assumed I was saying CNN was lying. Also, not the case.

I did not claim CNN was lying about the news – that someone had been indicted for something. I don't believe they would do that. Rather, I questioned whether CNN's pundits were speculating with no foundation – or, if they knew from their confidential source that Paul Manafort had been charged (and with what), and were pretending to "speculate" while actually laying out what they already knew to be true. If the former, they were broadcasting bullshit. If the latter, they were perilously close to breaking the law by revealing the contents of a sealed indictment.

In either case, CNN was delivering bullshit at best and labelling it news. Meanwhile, actual things were happening in the actual world that CNN was not reporting because they were busy "speculating." That's not what good news organizations should do.

Specunewsulation is Fake News

My point was, and remains, that when "news" outlets mix fact-based news (somebody has been indicted for something) with opinion (Maybe it was Manafort. Maybe it was unrelated. etc.) they create a mishmash infotainment product that is not news. It confuses people as to what the facts are. And, it brings the outlet, and all of the news media, into disrepute. It's the original Fake News.

It may not have been intentionally created to deceive – but it's deceptive. It erodes public trust in the news media because so much of what people consume as "news" isn't news at all. It's speculation. It's opinion. Which is fiction. Which is fake. It's Fake News. Not a far reach from false stories intentionally created and communicated specifically to deceive.

Why does this happen? Two reasons I can see: first, news is a highly competitive business with enormous pressure to be first and to fill air time, and it's a lot cheaper to pay some pundits to sit around shooting the shit on camera than it is to hire, staff and support a far flung team of actual reporters to ferret out real news around the world. Believe me, I'm one of the cheap pundits.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mind informed, feisty panels full of smart people offering brash opinions, informed insight and juicy hot takes. I make a living, in some small part, by being one of those people on some of those panels. But those panels are not "news." I am not a journalist. It's OK for news outlets to deliver opinions – but they should be clearly demarcated as opinion – separate and distinct from news. CNN is not alone in its failure to do this well. But, on Friday, it was particularly galling to watch.

Related: The real problem is: all news is fake

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