There’s nothing wrong with fiction. From Homer to Hemingway, and from Shakespeare to Shaw, storytellers have entertained us for millennia. There’s also nothing wrong with non-fiction, aka factual narratives. Non-fiction books are some of the most successful on the market, and documentaries by the likes of Ken Burns and Martin Scorsese can be both entertaining and informative.
When it comes to news, however, we expect our journalists to be focused strictly on non-fiction; factual narratives. Whether we read the New York Post or the New York Times, turn on Fox News or NBC News, we do so to become informed. To understand reality. If we want fiction, we can pick up a Steinbeck novel or turn on Netflix. But the further we progress into the 21st century, and as our so-called journalists lose credibility on a seemingly daily basis, the more difficult it is becoming to distinguish between the two.
Four years ago in 2017, shortly after the unfortunate events in Charlottesville, Virginia, a man by the name of Rev. Robert W. Lee IV gained national attention after appearing on the MTV Music Awards where he railed against Confederate General Robert E. Lee, his purported relative. Rob Lee, as he is apparently known, was advocating for the removal of statues of the general, of whom the reverend claimed to be a fourth great-nephew. The preacher became a media darling as he followed up that gig with an appearance on ABC’s The View, various newspaper interviews, and a pro Black Lives Matter book in which he referred to General Lee as ‘Uncle Bob.’ He was even invited to testify in front of Congress. There’s only one problem: Rev. Rob Lee’s story was fiction. It wasn’t true. He’s no more related to Robert E. Lee than he is to Ulysses S. Grant.
The Washington Post, which had reported on Rev. Lee at the time and bought his story hook-line-and-sinker, published a fact-check by Glenn Kessler recently which explained, “There is no evidence that Rob Lee, who was born in North Carolina, is related to Robert E. Lee, according to The Fact Checker’s review of historical and genealogical records.” As President Joe Biden might say, Rev. Rob Lee is full of malarkey.
The surname ‘Lee’ is fairly common. Not as common as Smith or Williams, perhaps, but common nonetheless. There are likely tens of thousands of people named Lee who have no connection whatsoever to the general, but apparently that’s all that the geniuses in our media needed; a name. If we are to believe advertisements for offerings such as Ancestry.com and TV shows such as PBS’ Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, we live in a day and age in which one’s genealogy and lineage can be accurately determined without much effort. A mouse click here, and a typed URL there, and voilà. Facts. It would not have been difficult for an intellectually curious journalist, one with just a little integrity of course, to have dug into the pastor’s claim when he was pushing his fifteen minutes of fame four years ago. But they didn’t. Instead they just regurgitated the claims of a conman, and were duped.
How could this happen? Why would media members so readily toss aside basic standards? Because that conman was saying things they liked. That fraud was woke and was in favor of destroying statues of historic figures they don’t like. Journalistic principles were disregarded, activists disguised as journalists helped prop up Lee’s lie as they promoted their America-is-bad narrative, and once again our mainstream media’s credibility has been severely damaged. These people are simply terrible at what they do.
The Rev. Robert W. Lee Hoax is only the latest incident of an increasingly common phenomenon. The Jussie Smollett hoax from 2019 is probably the most notorious, but there are many others. In February we found out the estimable Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) had blatantly lied about her whereabouts during the Capitol Riot on January 6th, having claimed to be in the actual Capitol Building when she was in fact over a quarter-mile away. We’ve had the hoaxes of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rachel Dolezal pretending to be of minority races. We’ve had the Covington Catholic Hoax, and the Duke Lacrosse Hoax, and the Tawana Brawley Hoax. And what did all of these hoaxes have in common?
Each of these charades fit leftwing narratives, which means they each conform with the media’s agenda. Warren and Dolezal are women, and therefore victims who might be racial minorities, so we should listen to them because they support our worldview. Those Covington Catholic kids are white and conservative, so they must be evil and we should chastise them. That B-rate actor is gay and black, so he must be telling the truth about Donald Trump supporters so let’s play along. And even though we don’t really like religious people, that preacher is woke and wants statues torn down of a Confederate general, so we don’t need to do research.
The press has often been called the Fourth Branch of Government, and for good reason. The three official branches – judicial, legislative, and executive – are critical to maintaining government’s balance of power. The checks and balances which protect us from tyranny. It is for that same reason that we need an effective and vibrant media. To ensure power is balanced, and to apply proper checks and balances, we need to be informed, all of us.
This runaway deterioration of our mainstream media’s credibility is destroying the efficacy of that Fourth Branch of Government. It needs to be fixed, and it can only be fixed internally by self-policing, but the problem can indeed be corrected. Until this nonsense is rectified, we must question everything the mainstream media tells us. Their trustworthiness is an all-time and sinking fast.
P.F. Whalen is a conservative blogger at TheBlueStateConservative.com. His work has appeared in multiple publications, including Human Events, the Western Journal, and American Thinker. Follow him on Parler @PFWhalen.