Fake News … Seriously???

By Lyle R. Hill

I answered the phone as it finished its third ring. Because it was a Monday night, I did not offer up my usual formal salutation, but just a simple “Hello.” The voice of the caller was a very familiar one. It was my almost 11-year old granddaughter, Jillian.

“Grandpa, I need your help if you have some time for me,” she stated very matter-of-factly.

I could tell from her tone that she was a bit upset so I certainly wanted to help her and it actually makes me quite happy when one of my grandkids turns to me for help. I like to think that they think of me as a source of wisdom and guidance … someone they know they can always turn to no matter what the problem or concern might be.

“Of course I will help you, Jillian, and what is it that you need help with?”

“It’s kind of a homework assignment and we are supposed to talk with an adult person, other than our mother or father, that we think is old, but not stupid.”

“Your teacher actually said that?” I asked.

“No, she said ‘mature and of good judgment’ but when I asked David what that meant, he told me it meant kinda ‘old but not stupid’ and recommended you if nobody else was available.”

David is Jillian’s teenage brother and, if nothing else, I guess I should be happy that he thinks I’m not stupid.

“Okay, Jillian, what’s the problem?”

“Well, Grandpa, last week a story came out in our school newspaper, the one the eighth graders put out every two weeks, that said all of the crayons in Mrs. Rubin’s classroom were missing and that someone said they saw kids from my class in her classroom stealing the crayons two Tuesday afternoons ago after school.”

“Did kids from your class take those crayons, Jillian?”

“Of course not, Grandpa. Mrs. Rubin’s class is for second graders. We don’t even use crayons. We use colored pencils, markers and paint brushes. Why would we take their crayons?”

“Well, who exactly was it that accused your class of this crime?”

“The school reporter won’t say because he says he is afraid his source might get beaten up.”

“What is it your teacher wants you to do by calling and talking to someone who is old and not stupid about this?”

“She wants us to talk this over with someone and then write a report on what we should do about the situation. Then the class will compare all of the stuff they come up with and we will come up with what she called an ‘action plan’ or something like that. A couple of the kids in class are calling this ‘fake news’ and they want to do a protest with signs
and things on the playground. But I don’t see how that will help. Everybody still will think we’re a bunch of crooks. It’s not fair, Grandpa.”

“No, it’s not fair, Jillian.”

“But you know what’s really weird, Grandpa, a friend of mine from Sandburg School said the exact same thing is happening at her school. Not to her class, but to another one that got accused of stealing all of the crayon’s out of one of their second grade classrooms.”

“And did it also get reported in their school newspaper?”

“It did, Grandpa. Just like at our school. Kinda strange don’t ya think?”

“Well, I guess there could be a serial crayon thief on the loose in Elmhurst,
Illinois, but I have a feeling that’s not what this is about.”

“What’s a serial crayon thief, Grandpa?”

“We’ll talk about that Sunday when you come over for dinner. Right now we have to help get your report done.”

“Okay, but what should I say?”

“Well, Jillian, I think the kids in your class that called this fake news might
be right. You see, when someone makes an accusation against someone, but has very shaky proof, or even no real proof at all, to back it up, it’s sometimes known as fake news.”

“But why would they do that? Isn’t that just the same as telling a lie?”

“You could look at it that way, Jillian. My boss, Debra Levy, who has been a reporter, columnist, editor and publisher, doesn’t call this kind of stuff fake news, she calls it propaganda and I probably have to agree with her. She says, ‘if it’s fake, it’s not news.’”

“Propa-whata, Grandpa?”

“We can talk about that on Sunday, too, Jillian. For now, because you have to come up with some kind of a report, I am going to suggest that you and your class friends demand that the paper publish a letter from you guys denying that you took anything and demand an apology unless the paper can produce a real witness or some other real proof of your alleged crime.”

“But won’t some people still think we’re guilty?”

“They might and that’s the real damage that fake news or lying of any kind can do to someone. It can hurt for a very long time. And I have a feeling that is what your teacher might be trying to teach you.”

“Teach us what, Grandpa?”

“To always speak the truth. Don’t repeat what you hear without knowing it’s true and don’t jump to any conclusions until you know the whole story about a situation.”

“Grandpa, does this kind of stuff happen in the grown-up business world, too? Do grown-ups lie and spread fake stories?”

“Yes, it does, Jillian. More than you can imagine.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously!”

Lyle R. Hill is the managing director of Keytech North America, a company providing research and technical services for the glass and metal industry. He also provides glass-related advice on Glass.com. Hill has more than 40 years’ experience in the glass and metal industry and can be reached at lhill@glass.com. You can read his blog every other Monday at lyleblog.usglassmag.com.

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