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MARTHA SEZ: We hear the expression ‘fake news’ all the time these days

September 21, 2018
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

Some of my favorite stories turn out not to be true. In the same way, facts drawn from my vast fund of knowledge, when exposed to scrutiny in the glaring light of day, are found to be mere stand-ins for the truth, not facts at all.

"Fake news!" a friend piped up when I complained about this the other day.

It keeps happening. Any time you try to use one of your favorite quotes, someone will be there to tell you that you're wrong.

"'Let them eat cake?' That wasn't Marie-Antoinette!"

"As President John F. Kennedy observed, a rising tide lifts all boats."

"That was Shakespeare. Or wait, maybe it was Bacon. Or Mark Twain. The Bible?"

"No, I think Ezra Pound. Or Oscar Wilde. Or Dorothy Parker."

"I always thought it was Aunt Minnie."

"Oh well," I might say when a plan doesn't come together. "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray."

"Nope. Robert Burns wrote "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men gang aft agley," someone will point out. Another English major.

But how could that be? My grandmother Rose, so proud of her Highland Scots heritage, used to read me "Bobby Burns" verses from the onionskin pages of an ancient volume of poetry. How could I forget "agley?"

Onionskin paper is made from cotton, not onions. I think it is the same as Bible paper, but I would hate to commit to that.

Rose would not have liked the results of my DNA test.

My Scottish blood, as she would have put it-she talked about blood a lot- is certainly watered down.

And Rose would not be alone., National Geographic and 23andMe have surprised many people who thought they knew where they came from. They'd be even more surprised if they had their DNA analyzed by all three companies; results often differ dramatically.

Family stories vary depending on who is telling them. When Rose and her younger sister Flora got together, they argued about what happened to whom back when in Waco, Texas.

"No, Rose," Flora said more than once in my hearing, "that is not how it went at all."

Rose, born in 1884, was a wonderful storyteller, and I prefer to accept her stories as gospel. I like them.

I have a little 8-inch Ginny doll I remember my father gave me when I was 6 years old and in the hospital, undergoing surgery for amblyopia, or lazy eye. When I reminisced about this to my mother some years back, she told me I was mistaken. My father very much wanted to come see me in the hospital, she said, but could not, as he was on an important business trip.

When I think about it, I know that the doll was clearly chosen and purchased by my mother. Daddy wouldn't have had a clue. But-and this is the crazy part-I can see my father there in the hospital room so vividly. He was wearing a winter coat, charcoal gray herringbone. This memory, while false, is compelling. It isn't fair to give my father credit for something my mother did, but still, I really like my original version of events.

I was given the opportunity to experience this phenomenon from a different point of view when I was new in Keene Valley. I complained to Fred Warner, a local person, that people were spreading gossip about me that bore no relation to the truth. He looked me in the eye.

"Sure, we'll talk about you," he said. "And if we don't like the story, we'll change it!"

So there you go.

We hear the expression "fake news" all the time these days. It is funny or infuriating or so common we no longer hear it. We may forget that the term originally referred to a deluge of false Facebook stories posted in 2016 by teenagers in Veles, a small town in Macedonia.

According to BBC News, "The young people in Veles may or may not have had much interest in American politics, but because of the money to be made via Facebook advertising, they wanted their fiction to travel widely on social media. The U.S. presidential election ... was a very hot topic on social media."

You may have seen those fake news headlines, including "Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President" and "FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide."

Truth can be elusive.

Have a good week.



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