At the dawn of 2017, let us offer a philosophical question for the news media. If the scourge of the new year is “fake news,” should we not concede that it’s not news to speculate about what will happen after a news event? The problem is, without speculation about the future — whether immediate or distant — cable news channels and radio news outlets would surely enter a crisis about how to fill 24 hours a day, and newspapers would struggle to fill their pages.
Time magazine offered a double issue called “The Year Ahead.” Obviously, it cannot be defined as news. Nothing has happened yet. The final page of content in the edition is “The 2017 Quiz on News-to-Be.” The concept is clearly borrowed from the late New York Times columnist William Safire, who began many years with a similar crystal ball quiz.
Questions can project the news outlet’s obsessions, and these certainly do. The second quiz question is, “When it comes to conflicts of interest, Donald Trump will make no changes to his business practices because?” Options include “His lawyers say the law doesn’t require him to” and “Americans don’t really care.”
How Trump handles the potentially massive conflict of interest that is his global business empire should be a top news story. He’ll soon announce how he prefers to resolve that matter. Is it utterly impossible to suggest he will make changes to his business practices? We can predict he will and that whatever he does won’t satisfy Time magazine. Also, after summarily ignoring both Clintons’ buckraking practices for years, why the sudden concern for financial ethics? Ah, the “news” business.
The third quiz question inquired, “Rex Tillerson’s nomination as Secretary of State will?” The choices include “Slip by,” “Fail,” “Be eclipsed by the hearings for Energy Secretary designate Rick Perry” and “Drag on for weeks because of the constant interruptions by climate-change protesters dressed as sick polar bears.” Our option — “be a panicked effort by the left to create controversy, which will fizzle” — didn’t make the cut.
Democrats only come up within the milquetoast question “In 2017, the most interesting political figure not named Trump will be?” The choices (in order) are Gov. Jerry Brown, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Chuck Schumer and — at the bottom — President-elect Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway.
Time magazine itself knows these predictions are barely worth the glossy paper on which they’re printed. On the page before the quiz, Time humorist Joel Stein acknowledged that “2016 was a horrible year for predictions,” as the liberals and their pollsters predicted the Brexit vote and the Trump vote would never go wrong for them. These are the media organizations that assumed it was ridiculous for liberal analyst Nate Silver to project in the final hours that Trump had a 29 percent chance of winning.
This will not stop liberals from projecting their worst nightmares and using “news” outlets as their megaphones. Before the election, CNN analyst Carl Bernstein insisted Trump was a “neo-fascist sociopath” setting up a “neo-fascist movement.” On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow announced: “I’ve been reading a lot about what it was like when Hitler first became chancellor. ... I think that’s possibly where we are.”
President Trump could be a disaster. President Trump could be wildly successful. The Republican Congress could pass some impressive conservative reforms. Or we could get more big-government disappointment. But all kinds of pundits should have the humility to recognize that none of our psychic instincts qualify as news.
We now return you to that argument about “fake news.”