Opinion: Fake News and Lakewood – by Mordechai Lebowitz

opinionSome of us must have by now heard about the phenomenon of “fake news” that has come so starkly to the fore in the recent presidential (not precedential) election. But based on what I read in print and online publications, including The Scoop, it would indicate that they must think it is happening somewhere else and is somehow not relevant to us in Lakewood.

The high-profile examples we all read about are the false reports of FBI agents mysteriously killed after exposing Hillary’s emails, various anti-black and Hispanic reports about Donald Trump and a slew of what used to be called wacko conspiracy nut content that never got a grip on society’s psyche. Recent (real) news reports have featured interviews with people who employ large numbers of writers in the pursuit of proliferating fake news to serve a number of conservative/liberal/anarchist/wacko objectives. Fake news is not some small backroom boiler operation. It has made the big time. Even Facebook has caved in and joined some coalition to try and combat it.

How could this happen, I thought. How could an otherwise largely intelligent populace drink heartily from this vat of cuckoo kool-aid on a whole range of topics? After all, real news is shocking enough to entertain and disturb us. Where is our healthy disbelief and cynicism to assist us in filtering truth from fiction, let along fiction that serves an insidious agenda?

Some of us may remember an early example of this phenomenon – early in the second intifada, there emerged the picture of an Arab father shielding his child, who was supposedly killed by Israeli gunfire moments after the photo was taken. French TV reported it and it spread like wildfire around the globe. The problem – the child wasn’t dead. It was staged (fake) news. Lapped up by reporters and a worldwide audience only too eager to accept the narrative offered, no one properly challenged it. Even the Israeli authorities, most likely based on its being reported by a reputable (to that point) journalistic source, initially apologized for the tragic event. This used to be known as propaganda, and it still should be. Examples of this are widespread and an almost accepted tool in opinion-shaping. Especially in an era where news sources wear their political and moral missions on their sleeves (Fox News, CNN etc.) many stories are at least tilted towards a preferred narrative. The days of objective reporting are long behind us and to think otherwise is foolhardy.

So, in the realm of propaganda, we know it is happening and we know we need to be cautious, and so by now, every story of Israeli excess or Palestinian craftiness is met with a counterforce of hasbarah and counter-propaganda and apologists galore to save us from the other side’s evil intentions. This is probably as good as it is going to get.

Even more concerning are the little items I have been noticing recently in our own community and here is where the insidiousness really poses a danger to our society. Setting aside any halachic issues (and there are many) with accepting the fake news as real, we are bombarded almost daily with fierce over the top attacks on individuals and institutions within our communities. The blogs, the print publications and the pashkevilin flow like a river of hate and blame for every ill we suffer. Busing problems, taxes, development, traffic, shul politics, and denigration of rabbonim, lay leaders and regular Joes alike; all the issues that affect anyone are broadcast with a conviction and accusations against individuals of intentional harm. Now, I don’t expect everyone to be able to control themselves when they feel personally aggrieved by someone/thing. Their hyperbolic diatribes, while unfortunate, are not shocking. What is shocking is how quick everyone else is to accept wholeheartedly this entire story as absolute truth. Where is that healthy cynicism? Where is the need for more probative data to support the claims? This is like the guy at the shul Kiddush who holds forth on all the hock of the day and everyone just assumes because he speaks with confidence and conviction that he must know what he is talking about. Well, in many cases, he hasn’t got a clue about the truth. He has as much reason to sell an opinion-shaping perspective as anyone else. We must do better, as individuals and as a community.

I don’t know whether editorial responsibility is the answer, as many of these blogs and even probably the print versions are loosely or barely monitored and controlled. And I am all for the ability of the common man to voice his concern about abuse of power, abuse of the weaker in our society and rooting out corruption wherever it lies and wherever it threatens the health of our society. I don’t know how much to expect from individuals exercising self-control, bombarded as we are with sound bites and videos and texts and blog postings, on topics from favorite recipes to the impending “end of the world as we know it”, on a daily basis.

Let’s face it – nothing is Fair and Balanced anymore, every input is from a perspective, if not always designed to sell that perspective to the reader/listener. So how do we filter all the input, how do we separate fact from fiction, germ of truth from hyperbole, character assassination from acts of self-preservation? How do we separate fake news from real, even in our own little town?

I am hoping someone out there has some good ideas.

(TLS welcomes your letters and opinions by submitting them to [email protected].)

This content, and any other content on TLS, may not be republished or reproduced without prior permission from TLS. Copying or reproducing our content is both against the law and against Halacha. To inquire about using our content, including videos or photos, email us at [email protected].

Stay up to date with our news alerts by following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

**Click here to join over 20,000 receiving our Whatsapp Status updates!**

**Click here to join the official TLS WhatsApp Community!**

Got a news tip? Email us at [email protected], Text 415-857-2667, or WhatsApp 609-661-8668.


  1. Today sadly the real news is full of lies for many reasons including making the story more interesting and more entertaining to keep your readers from leaving your news media company rather its a paper, news website or news text etc….

    Some people really can’t stand the stories filled with lies and want to know the full truth of the story. So they know behind the scenes news that are honest (cause they dont do it for business) people who post the full true story with no information left behind.

    May all media start posting the 1700 percent truth in all stories

  2. Saddest part of this whole thing? The people who attack this editorial.
    I’ve given up after this election. Unlike the author of this article, I’ve given up after this election. Its time to face reality. People don’t care about truth. The ones who do are extremely few and far in between.
    It’s extremely sad and says little of who we are and the religious way of life that we lead. If we don’t seek out truth, why is our Judaism worth much?
    That’s not to say that Mitzvos aren’t Mitzvos, but they are only a shadow of what they would be worth, if they would only be done with truth and sincerity. If our beliefs aren’t based on seeking out the truth, our Mitzvos aren’t either.
    Very sad, but then again the days of the coming of Mashiach are days when truth is hidden…

  3. We live in difficult times. Things are very complicated. Many times people make true news to either as a cover up or to hide the real issues.

  4. Truth seeker – you are taking this politics business a little too far. People may have political beliefs based on nonsense, but Torah is real. That is based on truth

  5. I think the recent election has show that we can still trust the intellect of the American people.

    We were bombarded with fake news from the main stream media against Donald Trump and conservatives, and we now have proof that the media did everything they can to help Clinton.

    But the American people saw the through it all, and not only did they elect Trump, their trust in the media has evaporated. No one believes these stories anymore.

    Yes, there are still some naive people out there who believe their Facebook feed and CNN’s latest gossip. But these are the same people who continue to fall for the Nigerian lottery scams. Stupid will always be stupid.

    As far as local news goes, most people don’t believe gossip per se (Other than the naive people). But we see facts, and facts don’t lie. When our quality of life is destroyed by out-of-control growth, even the stupidest people start to wonder if everything we’ve been told about the honesty and well-meaning of those in charge is really true.

Comments are closed.