I was surprised that in his Dec. 14 op-ed, “An indictment of ‘real’ news,” Barton Swaim used only one example of how the mainstream media is guilty of publishing “fake” news. That’s the logical fallacy of hasty generalization. He also employed the specious tactic of false equivalence, which was used devastatingly in this election.
The example Mr. Swaim gave — “He [Trump] repeatedly insisted that trade deals had displaced American workers and harmed the economy, upending two centuries of American economic policies that held trade up as a good thing, a position that Republicans have pushed in recent decades.” — was nothing more than writing that left out qualifiers but essentially conveyed truth. First, President-elect Donald Trump has said that some trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, were bad or would be bad for Americans. It also is true that most American economists agree that trade is beneficial to most people. It is also true that Republicans usually have favored free trade. Leaving out qualifiers may be characterized as imprecise, even misleading, but it is not making up facts out of thin air.
Mr. Swaim’s piece contributed to the cynical disbelief in anything appearing in print (with ink or electrons). He was right that all writing and speech bears marks of interpretation. Distinctions must be made between the egregiously false and the essentially factual.
Elizabeth Fixsen, Savage, Md.
My 7 a.m. brain could barely contort itself to follow the argument that Barton Swaim presented. In one paragraph, he said, with zero attribution, that a fake news story “doesn’t alter opinion or allegiance.” No “may not” or “probably not,” simply “doesn’t.” Is he aware of any comprehensive objective research giving any credence whatsoever to that assertion? Opinion columnists are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.
He then went on to indict mainstream journalists as not yet appreciating how their likes or dislikes “dictate [their] interpretation of facts.” Obviously, we are all human with biases and tendencies, but there is simply no meaningful comparison between a handful of individuals knowingly pumping out made-up stories and a centuries-old system of journalists, fact-checkers and editors trying their best to get timely news out to the public, with corrections published as necessary.
Johanna F. Polsenberg, Washington
I agree with Barton Swaim that media interpretations and characterizations of facts can, and often do, shade the truth or simply misrepresent it. President-elect Donald Trump provides a plethora of opportunities for simple straightforward criticism of his actions and words. So it is puzzling why the media at times distorts, mischaracterizes and/or exaggerates what would be valid criticism if accurately reported.
I also agree with Mr. Swaim’s suggestion that media misinterpretations of Mr. Trump’s statements are likely motivated by dislike of him. But misinterpreting facts cannot be justified, no matter how unpleasant a character he may appear to be.
Edward Basile, Washington