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de Vos: Martians living in Tabernash

Jon DeVos

Jon DeVos

Some folks got their undies in a bunch over the fake news that permeated the election. The truth is that the truth grows squishier day by day. We’re caught up in some odd universe where fake news on social media becomes real by repetition; viral morphs to virus, infecting peoples and generations.

Lying has become acceptable, even fashionable, endorsed in 2012 by the Supreme Court in United States v. Alvarez where they said liars would come to no harm for lying about military service. Lying seems to be a requisite for political office these days. They sound most statesmanlike lying about lying.

Fake news isn’t news. It’s been around since the first person said hello to the second person. In 1271, Catholic military crusaders, called the Knights Hospitaller, built, and for 130 years, held a strategically important castle in Syria, called the Krak des Chevaliers.

For six years, the Egyptian Sultan, Baibars tried to take the castle by force, but the knights were fierce fighters and repulsed the Egyptians every time. The Sultan had a brainstorm: fake news! He forged a letter, supposedly from the Knight’s Grand Master in Tripoli announcing that all was lost, the Knights were ordered to surrender but, not to worry, safe passage back to Libya had been negotiated. The Knights muttered and grumbled but threw down their weapons and were promptly beheaded.

Towards the end of the 1800s, Americans were getting fed up with Spanish influence in the northern hemisphere. When Cuba rebelled against the Spanish colonialists, America saw opportunity. Tempers and rhetoric were raised by both nations.

Newspaperman, William Randolph Hearst, saw it as an opportunity to foment interest and raise his circulation numbers. Beating the war drums became a competition between moguls when Joseph Pulitzer joined the fray. Hearst sent a photographer to Havana to interview distressed Cubans in the face of a looming war. The reporter spent several days before reporting back that there were no indications of any war. Hearst replied, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

Fueled by fake news in daily headlines, the newspapers vied to outdo each other as relations between America and Spain spiraled downward. In a show of force and support for the Cuban rebels, America sailed a serious battleship, the USS Maine, into Havana harbor. A few days later, on February 15, 1898, the USS Maine blew to smithereens along with 268 crewmen. With absolutely no facts to base any accurate reporting, Pulitzer’s papers claimed the Maine was blown up by a Spanish torpedo. Hearst’s papers offered a $50,000 reward for information on the attack, knowing full well there had been no attack.

Later investigations concluded it was much more likely that the Maine had exploded due to a coal-gas fire that spread to the ammunition storage.

Fake news made the Spanish-American War inevitable. It was a fierce, short war with an overwhelming American victory. The 1898 Treaty of Paris gave America control of Cuba and ownership of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine islands.

The Iraq War? We kicked that hornet’s nest and destabilized the entire region based on fake news. Despite overwhelming and repeated “evidence” of WMD’s, there were none.

As bad as a historical lies and fake news may have been, social media has made things ever so worse as repetition becomes reality.