CBS's 'Madam Secretary' Lectures Us on 'Fake News'

Let me start out by giving some words of advice to CBS’s Madam Secretary: We get it! You’re mad Hillary lost, and you think creating a “fake news” scapegoat will make you feel better. We’ve seen it happen in the real world, so we don’t need to see it on scripted TV more than ten months later. Pretending it’s still relevant honestly only makes you look worse than you already do.

In the October 8 season premiere “News Cycle,” Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni) becomes caught up in a “fake news” story when an assistant vice minister of a small country drops dead during a meeting with her. Within a day, anonymous sources propagate the theory that she, in fact, killed the man, quickly turning the public and even an Arizona senator against her. Fortunately, this is a clearly biased network television series (on a channel with clearly biased network news), so she has the chance to lecture viewers on the dangers of “fake” information.



Marty Hawk: Care to comment?

Elizabeth: I... I wouldn't know where to begin.

Marty Hawk: Senator Morejon says it doesn't...

Elizabeth: But maybe with the fact that this is obvious crackpot theorizing, which quite possibly is the work of a disinformation campaign by a foreign power.

Marty Hawk: You mean, say, China...

Elizabeth: What Senator Morejon is doing by legitimizing this baseless story-- it's not just immoral and unethical. It undermines the stability of democratic government.

Marty Hawk: That's an overstatement.

Elizabeth: Reliable information is the bedrock of any institution, be it science, government or private enterprise.

Marty Hawk: Of course. If citizens can't tell the difference between fact and fiction, then the entire project of civilization turns to dust.

Marty Hawk: Yeah, not to put too fine a point on it.

Elizabeth: You find this amusing, Marty?

Marty Hawk: Hey, no, not at all, but it is no secret that Senator Morejon is no fan of yours, or President Dalton, so he is entirely...

Elizabeth: So as an elected member of Congress, he's within his right to do whatever he can to block the executive agenda.

Marty Hawk: Absolutely.

Elizabeth: But by bringing legitimacy to a ridiculous murder claim against me, he's using the tactics not just of dirty politics but of warfare.

Marty Hawk: I don't think so.

Elizabeth: Because it's dictatorial. It's autocratic. And it's un-American.

Marty Hawk: I think the senator would say he's just trying...

Elizabeth: Furthermore, a mainstream media outlet ought to have a better understanding of its responsibility to the public, and refuse to signal-boost these kinds of outright lies.

Marty Hawk: You are in no...

Elizabeth: Really. You ought to know better.

It’s times like these that remind me how dumb the media elite really think the public is. In real life, they’d much rather believe that a shadowy foreign power convinced sixty million people to vote for Donald Trump just by posting bad press on the Internet than admit they followed a bad candidate. On Madam Secretary, they’d sooner show that nearly one in four Americans would readily believe the Secretary of State to be a murderer just because they read an article title. It’s no wonder the liberals keep trying to limit free speech if they think we’re one “Hillary Clinton Secretly From Mars” story from anarchy.

On the bright side, Elizabeth and her staff at least acknowledge the only way to fight “fake news” is with the truth rather than squashing freedom of the press. Eventually, they discover the fake news came from a foreign drug cartel hoping to draw attention away from the diplomat’s drug-induced murder. The episode ends on a solemn note as Elizabeth remarks, “How fast everybody jumped aboard that train” and bemoans how fake news can “convince them to lose faith in their government officials.”

Give me a break. First of all, the people don’t need "fake news" to lose faith in government officials when government officials do that better on their own for real. Second of all, if you’re going to do a commentary on “fake news,” don't portray the single craziest conspiracy theory as the standard for "fake news" - there's a big difference between having your emails hacked and being accused of murdering a man. Even we common people have standards. Finally, when the information you’re fighting includes news of DNC collusion to squash Bernie Sanders’ campaign, clear biased support from Facebook officials, and a group of paid anonymous trolls, it may be time to reassess your definition of “fake.”

Will the show take my advice? No, but, hey, by all means, keep giving long-winded and preachy speeches about false information set to inspiring background music. Keep calling dissenting press "warfare" and "dictatorial" and "un-American." It worked wonders in 2016 ... for the Republican Party.

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