Burkha Barbie

A friend has pointed me to a weekly feature in the Washington Post called “Intersect.” Each week’s entry begins with “What was fake on the Internet this week?” and proceeds to list leading hoaxes, stories intended to be satirical that were taken as true, and the like.

So that’s where we are–in a media environment where no one knows what’s true and what’s fabricated, an environment that has made my students distrust the accuracy of pretty much everything they read on line, an environment that feeds and reinforces crazy uncle Ray’s darkest suspicions and conspiracy theories, and lets us all troll for “evidence” that supports our preferred beliefs.

I’m not sure what to call the media overload we live in, but I’d hesitate to call most of it journalism.

I had two immediate reactions to the existence of this (very useful) site. First, it testifies to a phenomenon I’ve previously noted: we have a large number of elected officials and public figures who are walking self-satires. Be honest: if you saw a headline to the effect that Sarah Palin or Louie Gohmert or Michelle Bachmann said Martians had landed and were having sex with antelopes, wouldn’t you believe it? Aren’t they all perfectly capable of saying something like that? Who could blame you for being credulous?

Second, this is exactly where real journalism needs to go. We need more sites devoted to verification (or debunking, as appropriate) of assertions made by our political class. That used to be what journalists did: when Partisan A proclaimed a fact, or made an accusation about Partisan B, real reporters investigated it and told us whether it was true. We need more sites like Politifact and Factcheck and Snopes….not because they are always right, but because–unlike so much of the rest of our current media sources–they are at least trying to get it right.

By the way, I know it’s disappointing, but Mattel really isn’t coming out with a Burkha Barbie…..


  1. There may be no Burkha Barbie but I don’t doubt the Star headline this morning, “Ballard Vetoes $4.7M For Police”…does anyone else? He stated that Public Safety didn’t include the items in their budget; they probably didn’t bother knowing it wouldn’t be approved. The City-County Council have authority to make such requests; many vehicles in the police fleet have over 100,000 miles on them, the facility located in the old Eastgate Mall is, I’m sure, one of the police facilities they referred to needing upgrade, looks likeabandoned construction property. It houses the IMPD Northeast Community Police, Crime Watch offices for this area and part of the Prosecutor’s Office.

  2. It turns out that the most dangerous stuff on the Internet is all the sites that want us to believe what is not true and all the people who actually believe them. We also have to remember that many are people who spend every moment of their leisure time at their computers, reading their forwarded emails which consist of the stuff in those web sites. Fiction is reality for them, and it’s where they suspend their reality testing. That’s what influences them when they vote, so maybe it’s not so incredible that we are surrounded by people like Pence, Palin, Bachmann, Gohmert, Santorum and the rest. They confirm that the stuff is really true, so what used to be fringe has become the cloth.

  3. It has become a habit for me to go to Politifact and Factcheck and Snopes to verify even the most mundane national political articles. Sad to say, most of the time anything political is spun and contains half-truths, exaggerations, speculations as truth, and outright lies.

    I cannot depend on the local media to report local political issues in any meaningful way. Occasionally, IBJ or NUVO will have an article that does a better job of reporting and verifying than any “reporter” at the Star or local television station. Really frustrating and revelatory of the conditions in Indiana, ‘nothing stays the same…..it goes backwards’.

  4. Other than all the miracles claimed by religion, the first time I recall as a Baby Boomer a real fake story that gained popularity was Erich von Däniken’s book Chariots of the Gods. A best seller about ancient alien astronauts visiting earth. Today on TV we have plethora of programming about “Big Foot”, “Haunted Houses”, Space Aliens, or some other unknown monster that is presented as documentaries.

    Zombies are very popular today. Maybe there is a good reason for Zombie popularity. Zombies are unthinking creatures with primal instincts. We have people who believe Obama is a closet Islamic Terrorist bent on destroying America, or Obama is bent on destroying our Christian Nation.

    As has been observed we have little factual reporting from The Indianapolis Star. One important part of journalism is the presentation of statements by politicians or so called experts, the verification of facts and a critical analysis. Fact supported statements, rational thought, critical thinking, and analysis is what is missing in our Mega-Media. You also have in the Age of the Internet the most outrageous claims can be made via a Web Site. It is not important if the Web Site has any factual basis, success is measured in the number visitors to the Web Site.

  5. Do you suppose the Star is primarily used as an advertising circular for USA Today? Both are Gannett owned; the Star carries gossipy local items, sports reports and right-leaning articles primarily, the sample of USA Today has Reader’s Digest versions of national and international news – right-leaning perspective if not content. Just sayin’

  6. (Zombies are unthinking creatures with primal instincts.)

    Must have been Right Wing Religious Republicans in an
    earlier life.

  7. “Pravda of the Plains” – that’s what The Indianapolis Star has been derogatively referred to by some in this state and with good reason. One whole side of my family, my Mother’s side, were journalists affiliated with the Indianapolis Star, the Indianapolis News, and the Indianapolis Times, years ago, long before the Gannett buyout. My great uncle, William Lowell “Tubby” Toms, was a reporter/columnist who helped The Indianapolis News win a Pulitzer in the late 1930’s through a series of articles that broke the back of the Klu Klux Klan in this state, and my grandfather, Don McClure, was The Star’s photo editor for well over thirty years. My Mom chose to work as a police reporter for the Indianapolis Times, which closed its doors in 1965, being the independent minded person that she was. She met her future husband, my Dad, while working for The Times in the late 1940’s . In their day, the Indianapolis Star was a real newspaper, albeit right of center under the ownership of Eugene C. Pulliam, something my Mom would rail at and follow up with frequent letters to the editor even though she was a “blue-blood” Indiana “Abraham Lincoln” Republican, with a Mother that served on the RNC representing this state from the 1930’s through the 1950’s. While The Star would sometimes bury the news, like they did when “the tapes” clearly indicated that Richard Nixon had ordered the Watergate cover-up, it was still there – you just had to dig in order to find it – page 42 if I remember correctly.

    I cannot help but think how dismayed and completely shocked they’d all be what we have now as our only newspaper. They would, no doubt, be down right furious over it actually. As bad as The Star is for most folks it’s even worse for someone like me who has memories of when it used to be a real newspaper and something that I often saw, as a child, up close. When most of my former political science professors would refer to The Star as the “fish wrapper” I would wince a little. I no longer have any reason to wince. I view their coverage of the RFRA as an aberration – not the norm, unfortunately, and the Gannett national “filler” as just that, filler. Truly sad stuff for a city the size of Indianapolis.

  8. Tom Lund; impressive family history, you should be proud. Hope you comment often on this site; you apparently know real “news” – if and when you can find it here. I was sorry when the Times ceased publication; the News was good for followup on local news to continue articles in the Star or for news that happened after the Star was delivered. We have become a one horse; or a one half-assed horse town when it comes to printed news. TV newscasts aren’t much better; especially depending on closed captioning which is too often unreadable. Still; I don’t believe we will ever give up the print form of communication for a number of reasons. Easier to tote arond than a laptop, larger print than texting on phones and the articles, pictures and obituaries we cut out to save. There are reasons to hang onto hope that locally the printed news format will improve…in our lifetime.

  9. News analysis definitely seems to be going the way of the Dodo, and it seems that it will get worse before it gets better. One of my favorite bloggers used to write on HR & employment issues at CNN Money, but was recently let go because “we’re moving away from the expert model.” I’m not kidding – CNN thinks it can’t afford experts anymore, it’s that bad.

    As much as I hate the blending of journalism (such as it is nowadays) with advertising, a carefully moderated amount of sponsored content, clearly labelled, would be better than the current clicks-at-all-costs mentality. While snopes et al are great reference sites, debunkers are going to have to be more slick & entertaining to draw readers – almost like an advice column, along the lines of “I read Dear Abby every day.”

    And given the ever increasing histrionics of the web, these debunkers are going to have to call people out in the harshest of terms to attract readers. Calling a dupe a complete idiot, or a duper a complete turd, is no longer out of bounds (for good or ill I’m still not sure) – I can picture The Intersect turning into an Art Buchwald or Erma Bombeck type column that makes people laugh while making a valuable point.

    Hmmm – maybe I just found myself a new job?

  10. I find it more useful to read critiques of the news than to read the “news” itself. In my community, Nygaard’s Notes (http://www.nygaardnotes.org/) does a good job of putting stories in context and in historical perspective, something I think the press used to be able to do, as the institutional memory of a community. Dean Baker’s pieces at CEPR, (http://www.cepr.net/index.php/beat-the-press/) are particularly helpful at understanding economic news, so often skewed and misreported.

    For 9 years I worked at a media ethics organization – the Minnesota News Council – that provided the public with a way to hold media accountable for inaccurate and damaging reporting. Unfortunately it is no more; not because it is no longer needed, but we have such low expectations of news organizations that we no longer expect much from them except ads.

  11. I should say that the news council, as a mechanism for accountability, works well and should be enacted by communities across the nation. It engages people of all ages and occupations in thinking about the practical nature of ethics and the role of the media; it protects the image, integrity and pocketbook of the media when a ruling is given in their favor and journalism ethics are explained to the public; and it amplifies the public’s voice when speaking to an institution that buys ink by the barrel and commandeers the public airwaves.

  12. LeslieM: Copied and pasted from Wikipedia and posted below: information regarding the National News Council (NNC); gone since 1984; makes me question WHY it was dissolved, WHO benefitted by it’s loss and if that loss isn’t what freed the media from reporting facts and figures, leading to what we are stuck with today. They answered to no one regarding complaints. Because so many of the misrepresentations, blatant lies and pseudo religious based laws today come from the federal level; local news councils would be of little benefit. The current media condition needs to be addressed on a NATIONAL level and Sheila, you are right in that news can no longer be considered journalism in it’s truest form. The fact that compliance and cooperation with NNC was voluntary brought me to the current Indiana on-going RFRA battle and the fact that some of the 11 “communities” who report “protection” of LGBTs have laws written to allow businesses to refuse investigation if a discrimination suit is filed against them. What good is a law – or compliance to laws and ordinances – if it is on a voluntary basis? This fact in Indiana needs to be repeated in media headlines and news of the same importance as the Memories Pizza Parlor’s receipt of almost $1 Million in donations for upholding discrimination. Sadly, the 1st Amendment doesn’t require truth in protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the press; nor does it keep religion out of government while haphazardly keeping government out of religion.

    “The National News Council (NNC) was a non-profit media watchdog organization. It investigated complaints of media bias and unfair reporting. The NNC formed in 1973 with a grant from the Twentieth Century Foundation,[1] the Markle Foundation and other sources.[2] The Council was composed of 15 members, nine members of the general public and six journalists.[3]

    Compliance and cooperation with the NNC was entirely voluntary on the part of news organizations. The Council had no punitive powers. Its only power was that of publicity, drawing attention to media bias in hopes of the media’s taking steps to acknowledge and correct it. Some media outlets were more willing to cooperate with NNC than others. CBS News under president Richard Salant notably supported the Council, including Salant’s serving as NNC chairman,[4] but journalists within CBS itself, including Walter Cronkite, did not. Abe Rosenthal of The New York Times was said to have taken some pride in refusing to cooperate with the NNC, saying “I am against regulation of the press, including self regulation except within each individual newspaper or broadcast station.”[5] The NNC heard a total of 242 formal complaints during its tenure.[2]

    The NNC announced in 1984 that it was dissolving.”

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