On Saturday, Nellie Bowles, a technology reporter for The New York Times, wrote a piece about Campbell Brown, the former news anchor recently hired by Facebook to help the social media giant improve its relationship with the news media. One obvious problem is Facebook’s contribution to the dissemination of fake news, which Brown is now fighting. How? Let the Paper of Record tell you all about it.
“Ms. Brown,” wrote Bowles, “wants to use Facebook’s existing Watch product — a service introduced in 2017 as a premium product with more curation that has nonetheless been flooded with far-right conspiracy programming like ‘Palestinians Pay $400 million Pensions For Terrorist Families.’”
As those of us who are in the reality based community know, the Palestinian Authority’s financial support of terrorists and their families is very, very far from a conspiracy, far-right or otherwise. Reading Bowles’s report, for example, Lahav Harkov, the Knesset reporter for The Jerusalem Post, took to Twitter to share some of her meticulous reporting on the Palestinian pay-for-slay program with Bowles: Read the real news, and you’ll learn that, in 2017, the PA doled out more than $347 million to families of terrorists who had murdered Jews, increasing the amount to $403 million this year. Between 2013 and 2017, the PA spent $1.12 billion on supporting terrorists and their families, as Yosef Kuperwasser, the former head of the IDF intelligence’s research branch, reported in Tablet last May.
This information, of course, was available to Bowles and to anyone else with Internet access, and only she and her editors may know whether it was malice or sheer incompetence that stopped her from looking up a simple fact before presenting it as an ideologically tainted conspiracy theory. But here’s what we do know: This is how the pernicious notion of fake news takes hold. It’s one thing for some yahoo on Facebook to report breathlessly that Bill Clinton isn’t Chelsea’s biological father or that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer—even the most gullible among us understand that our social feeds are, to borrow a phrase from a great American newspaperman, stuffed with the stuff that is coarse and stuffed with the stuff that is fine. But we need journalistic institutions like the Times precisely because we trust them to be more discerning, to sift through the stream of falsehoods for the few glittering nuggets of hard truth. Bowles and her editors did nothing of the sort.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.