In 1998 when my son Tom was in Grade 8 he attended a special program at Holy Name School at Danforth and Carlaw in Toronto.
I was working for the Minister of Education in the Mike Harris government. It was a chaotic time, but I always felt my kids supported me.
One Friday morning, I pulled all the newspapers in from the front door and was shocked to see an enormous, half-front-page, above-the-fold photo of a protest at Holy Name School, as students were protesting the Harris government.
There, smiling brightly in the middle of the photo – one of the tallest kids in crowd, right in the front row – was my son Tom. I was gobsmacked.
I paced around for a couple of hours before everyone got up and out of bed to get ready for school.
When Tom finally came downstairs, I was waiting for him. I cleared my throat and spoke carefully:
“Honey….” I began tactfully, “What are you doing on the front page of the Toronto Star protesting the government I work for?”
“Ha!” Tom exclaimed, laughing skeptically. “Ma, that was no protest. The principal came on over the PA system and told everyone we were getting an extra recess and that we should go to the playground. So we all went to the playground, where a teacher directed us all to collect up along the fence. A photographer was waiting there to take our picture. After that, we all got an extra recess which everyone thought was pretty cool, so there were no complaints. There was no mention of any protest.”
While I was relieved to learn I was not being protested by my own son, I was disappointed to know the Toronto Star and the teachers would do such a thing. But you know what? It was a great learning experience for all three of my kids. None of them have ever read a news article without a healthy dose of skepticism since that day.
In fact, that same month there was an “education fair” at which students were invited to throw bean bags at a plywood cut-out of Mike Harris. This also earned the front page of the Toronto Star; when he saw it, Tom crowed in disgust: “Look at all those students, totally hypnotized by teachers!”
There has always been fake news. It used to be called “Yellow Journalism,” and then “propaganda,” and next “advertorial,” “sponsored stories,” and then “native content.” (What a devious description THAT is! Or as Tom Smith would snort, “Could you be a little more vague?”)
Now we have CNN reporting Russian hacking stories based on no evidence; the New York Times denying its own headlines to support a new narrative. Donald Trump’s efforts to blow up this entire ossified media infrastructure are to be supported and applauded; he is providing a giant service to everyone. At the very least he’s delivering a great wake-up call. At the best, he is yanking up the standards of serious journalism in North America.
The video tweet of him wrestling CNN to the ground – a fake fight scenario making fun of a fake news station at a fake boxing match with a fake promoter and a fake executive – is hilarious and brilliant.
Or as Tom Smith might say, “Look at all those viewers hypnotized by media.”
He was “woke” at age 13. We all should be by now.