Podcast looks at fake-news phenomenon


William Randolph Hearst

I wrote last week about Marc Johnson, the former journalist, press secretary and consultant whose recently launched podcast series had an episode focusing on Montana’s Mike Mansfield, one of the great statesmen in American history.

Johnson has a new podcast up and it’s well worth listening to. This one is titled “All the News—Fake and Otherwise” and you can listen to it directly on Johnson’s website or on iTunes.

This is a subject we’ve been writing about quite a bit on Last Best News, but Johnson presents fresh material and talks to some knowledgable, thoughtful people about fake news. And since all his podcasts are dedicated to using history’s lessons to understand today’s events, in this episode he also talks extensively about William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst was the powerful press lord who loomed so large in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a pioneer of sensationalism and yellow journalism. There would have been no reason to mention this in Johnson’s podcast, but it is worth noting that Hearst built this empire on the fortune of his father, George Hearst.

Hearst was an associate of Marcus Daly and was an early investor when Daly was making his own fortune in Butte and Anaconda. The beautiful Hearst Free Library in Anaconda serves a reminder of the connection.

Anyway, Johnson’s new podcast is full of interesting facts and commentary. One thing he talks about, which I have not heard mentioned anywhere else, was that the Trump campaign apparently was not so improvisational and lackadaisical as has been reported.

It is true that Trump’s campaign staff ignored many of the usual strategies for winning the race, but it compensated by making extraordinarily good use of focused Facebook advertising, based on sophisticated research into voter predilections on the part of a consulting firm retained by Trump.

In fact, much of the podcast deals not so much with fake news as with how social media have turned politics upside down. Hearst was in on the ground floor, at just the point when cheap, sensationalizing newspapers were reaching millions of people for the first time.

A new age of information is still in its infancy and we have barely begun to understand it. This podcast certainly advances our understanding.

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