Nothing fake or funny about Dorian’s destruction

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/13/19

There’s an old bit of wisdom that maintains that “seeing is believing,” but it’s not always so simple. And I’m not talking about politicians channeling “Saturday Night Fever”-era John Travolta in a silly viral video which anyone can tell is fake.

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Nothing fake or funny about Dorian’s destruction

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One of the highlight moments, for me, of the 2016 election wasn’t even real.

It was a video clip — comprised of doctored footage — that emerged online after one of the debates between opposing candidates for president Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The short segment depicted the future president and the rival Democrat bounding energetically onto the debate stage as if they were a well-practiced act seeking audience approval on “America’s Got Talent” instead of vying to be, as the post was once called, the leader of the free world.

Exchanging no words, just choice moves, the candidates — neither renowned in real life for being fleet of foot, but in this clip both dazzling dancers — then trip the light fantastic in madcap fashion while “debate” moderator Lester Holt watches from the sidelines unamused.

Clearly a joke, the video is memorable to me, even now, as one of very few sunny moments — even if the footage wasn’t real — to emerge from a political period that was mostly dark, heavy and humorless.

I say “clearly a joke” because only someone born not only at night, but specifically last night could have watched the outlandish segment and deemed it authentic, even if the cleverly- and heavily-doctored clip looked “real.” Of course Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton didn’t sweep aside their differences to dance, and no one, I believe, was trying to proffer the video joke as authentic evidence they had.

There’s an old bit of wisdom that maintains that “seeing is believing,” but it’s not always so simple. And I’m not talking about politicians channeling “Saturday Night Fever”-era John Travolta in a silly viral video which anyone can tell is fake.

Three years after I got a hearty laugh from that dance clip, altered video and images aren’t always so funny and for many people, the phenomenon — actual fake news — is worrisome.

One fresh example: some of the most-shared images of the wildfires now burning in the Amazon, including one shared on social media by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, are old. Other viral images of the Amazon fires don’t even depict fires burning in the Amazon.

Viewers need be wary; and many are.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year revealed that 63 percent of adults said “made-up or altered videos or images” create a “great deal of confusion.” Twenty-seven percent reported “some confusion” over altered video/images while the remaining 10 percent reported “not much” or “no confusion at all.”

I came across that survey result in the September issue of Editor & Publisher, which covers the newspaper industry and is naturally interested in how we, the people, consume news.

The same issue of Editor & Publisher offers this: 41 percent of Americans are “actively trying to avoid the news these days,” according to the “Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019,” released in June.

No additional details were offered, but reading between the lines I think the avoidance of news referenced in the latter poll is a result, at least in part, of confusion by the unreliable news referenced in the former.

Adding to the confusion, sometimes riddles get wrapped inside enigmas, which is the best way I can think to describe last week’s Sharpiegate incident in which we were asked by the president to believe our unbelieving eyes.

In a saga of many twists and turns, President Trump warned as Hurricane Dorian threatened the East Coast early last week that the storm, already deadly in the Bahamas, potentially had Alabama in its sights. This grave announcement by the president was soon followed by a correction from the National Weather Service that Alabama was in the clear and, the NWS Tweeted would “NOT see any impacts from Dorian.” The president, adding to the confusion, later produced a map showing the storm’s then-projected path, with a laughably inauthentic extension of that path hand-drawn, presumably with a Sharpie, to include Alabama.

The map was every bit as absurd as footage of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dancing, except for a key difference: We were asked to believe one of these absurdities and not the other.

The other key difference: One was funny and one wasn’t.

The funny one did not involve a rising death toll and miles of storm destruction in the Bahamas.


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