How Fake News Should Inspire Media Accountability

Aaron Ochs
7 min readMay 8, 2019

If you live in San Luis Obispo County and consider yourself an active news reader, chances are you’ve heard about the controversial online tabloid, CalCoastNews, and its penchant for churning out InfoWars-style “reporting.” If you’re interested in learning more about them, their “reporters,” methods and activities, check out my book.

CalCoastNews is a great reason why our local media should hold other media outlets accountable. We see that accountability on the national level. Why not here?

Brian Stelter is CNN’s chief media correspondent and host of CNN’s Reliable Sources. Stelter’s job is to assess and discuss the national media landscape, review the anatomy of popular and trending news, and give viewers an inside look into the news-reporting process. He’s also the same age as me, so I can appreciate the fact he demonstrates a comprehensive mastery of the subject matter early in his hopefully long and fulfilling journalism career.

Recently, Stelter had a segment covering a failed right-wing smear campaign against South Bend, Indiana mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. The smear campaign, which was first uncovered by The Daily Beast, involved two right-wing operatives soliciting men to falsely accuse Buttigieg of sexually assaulting them. These operatives allegedly created a fake Twitter account impersonating one of Buttigieg’s so-called “victims” and published a blog post on detailing the accusation. The post reached more than 12,000 Facebook impressions. Some websites ran these allegations without checking the facts. The segment credited Buttigieg’s fast response for defusing the smear campaign’s momentum.

The also segment featured a rather timeless quote from CNN political commentator Alice Stewart who said, “In this day in age of social media […] a lie can get all the way around the world before the truth puts its pants on.”

A discussion ensued after the segment aired, which touched on the mainstream media’s skepticism over the story. But there’s a noted difference between showing skepticism — and reporting on why there’s good reason to be skeptical — and being non-responsive about the scandal’s false nature. Stelter and Reliable Sources were one of the only news broadcasts to report on the failed…

Aaron Ochs

Author, artist, advocate and entrepreneur from Morro Bay, California.