Charnice Milton is whom those two guys cranking out fake news in a California apartment should have given some thought to during this election cycle.
Milton was a 27-year-old journalist fatally shot at a bus stop in Southeast Washington last year, on her way home from covering a late-night community meeting at Eastern Market.
She was used as a human shield in a gunfight, her killing still unsolved. And she was at that deadly place because of the precise way she practiced her craft, the real journalism that so much of America walked away from during the presidential campaign.
Instead of relying on the kind of quality reporting done by dedicated, trained journalists who value facts, too many Americans devoured the kind of fake news that the likes of Paris Wade and Ben Goldman vomit into the universe.
“Our audience does not trust the mainstream media,” Goldman, 26, told The Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy, who hung out with the fake news guys during election week and who describe themselves as the “new yellow journalists.”
Puhleeze, guys. You don’t get to call yourselves any kind of journalists.
These knobs, who were unemployed restaurant workers six months ago, make more money pounding out false news from a California beach town rental than the vast majority of legitimate journalists who devote their lives to covering school board meetings, city council sessions, community gatherings – the ones who stay until the very end of a late meeting to make sure they don’t miss a thing. Like Milton did.
Fake news hucksters don’t leave their apartment to find stories, they don’t interview any humans, they don’t have any sources.
They are part of the snake oil empire that had more engagement on Facebook in the past three months of the presidential campaign “than the top stories from major news outlets such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News and others,” according to an analysis by BuzzFeed.
“There’s not a ton of thought put into it,” Wade told The Post, about the way he manufactures fake stories from his sofa, such as: “BREAKING: Michelle Obama holds Feminist Rally At HER SLAVE HOUSE!” or “THE TRUTH IS OUT! The Media Doesn’t Want You To See What Hillary Did After Losing.”
And what do they get for this?
“YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE I TRUST TO REPORT THE TRUTH.” That’s the kind of love they get from a faithful reader.
I wish readers like that got a chance to hang out with these two guys, trolling the universe from their living room, sometimes making the average American worker’s yearly salary in just one month of fabricated news. And then I wish those readers had followed Milton around on her beat one day.
Milton wasn’t one of The Post’s foreign correspondents dodging gunfire in a war zone. Nor was she bloodied while trying to interview people during a riot. And she wasn’t running toward a deadly tornado while everyone else ran in the other direction. Those are all things real reporters do. Last year, at least 72 journalists were killed around the world doing some of those things, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Milton was at a community meeting late at night to chronicle picayune details about merchant parking, Farm Fresh Tuesdays, neighborhood brochures and construction progress. They are the kind of stories just about all real reporters have written at some point in their careers.
And, like so many of them, Milton was determined to stay until the very end of the meeting so she wouldn’t miss a fact. A vote. A topic. So she got it right for her readers.
And because she stayed so long, she had to take a late bus, which put her in an unsafe place and led to her death.
The kind of reporting she did is in danger of disappearing as local newspapers struggle to make money in the digital age. And the explosion of fake news has further eroded the media landscape.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said last week that the company is trying to find ways to curb the hoaxes and fake reports that rocket across the globe using its engine.
“The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically,” he wrote in a post, explaining that Facebook has a balancing act in finding the right place between censorship and propagating dangerous untruths.
For anyone who cares about democracy in the age of Trump, there is nothing more disturbing than two guys sitting on a couch, fabricating stories and counting the cash they get with thousands of clicks.
Charnice Milton didn’t do that. We have to find a way to honor her life and her work by valuing real reporting.
Petula Dvorak is a Washington Post columnist.