When It Comes to Fake News: Punctuation MATTERS!

I have encountered people who roll their eyes at others who care about grammar and even refer to them as “Grammar Nazis”–which one must admit is a rather over-the-top characterization. After all, corrections in the field of communication never rise to the level of imprisonments or executions (though do see Weird Al Yankovic’s video, “Word Crimes“!).

Call me a “Punctuation Nazi” if you must, but I truly believe that it of Extreme Importance to pay attention to where one places quotation marks (if used) with respect to the term, fake news. Let me explain why by illustrating what each option means:

1. No punctuation: We are dealing with fake news.          

This is a declarative sentence that states that the news that is being considered is phony, false, ersatz, or otherwise manufactured. It may refer to parody, satire, or utter lies.

2. Punctuation encompassing both words: We are dealing with “fake news.”

This sentence makes clear that there is such a phenomenon as fake news, per se, and that what we are being asked to consider is something that has been created with the intention of passing itself as news (i.e., as coming from a reputable news source) but is in fact phony, false, ersatz, or otherwise manufactured. It is not parody or satire, but it entails utter lies with a dishonorable agenda behind its creation. It is a declaration typically made by those who decry what has been reported.

3. Punctuation around the first word: We are dealing with “fake” news.

This sentence suggests that we are dealing with real news that has wrongly been labeled as fake by those seeking to discredit that which is, in fact, reputable news reporting.

4. Punctuation around the second word: We are dealing with fake “news.”

This emphasizes that we are not in fact dealing with a reputable news source, and what is being presented under the guise of news is indeed fake and untrustworthy. The implication is that its creation is specifically intended to fool people into thinking that it is the presenting truth.

Today, for example, the CNN website used the following headline:

Pope warns against ‘fake news’ and likens it to ‘crafty serpent’ in Genesis

While CNN is lifting specific phrases from the Pope’s speech (“fake news” and “crafty serpent”), the title in fact does NOT make clear that the Pope is warning against fake “news”–the fourth option above. The Pope is absolutely not warning against the phenomenon of reputable news sources manufacturing falsities and attempting to pass them off as actual news, but the very opposite.

The current President of the United States is, in fact, the one who decries “fake news” and the Pope’s position is in striking juxtaposition and opposition to that of Mr. Trump.

Something to keep in mind…


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