Kimmel’s Jab at Pence’s “empty box” joke illustrates a bi-partisan #fakenews problem

If, like pollster Matthew McDermott, you shared (or at least chuckled at) that Jimmy Kimmel clip of VP Pence joking about delivering empty boxes because it confirms what you already believe about Pence; or, if you feel the C-SPAN clip that unfairly makes the VP look bad confirms your attitude about the lying America-hating media, then you (like so many of us humans) are part of the #fakenews problem.

Like Donald Trump, Jimmy Kimmel is not a journalist, so he’s under no obligation to be fair and balanced in his public statements; however, part of what good journalists are supposed to do is fact-check what public figures say.

Kimmel recently narrated a clip showing Pence carrying boxes, then asking if he should carry empty boxes for the camera. According to Kimmel, the video reveals Pence as “a big box of nothing, delivering another box of nothing.”

Remember, Kimmel is an entertainer, not a journalist, so the criticism he deserves for manipulating footage which bears the C-SPAN logo doesn’t reflect on C-SPAN itself.

The full video, available on C-SPAN, shows Pence wheeling multiple loads of boxes of PPE from a vehicle parked at a nursing home. When he goes back after the last trip, he’s told that the remaining boxes are empty. He jokes about carrying them anyway, “for the camera” — but the clip shows that he doesn’t do so.

Kimmel manipulated legitimate journalism to make an unfair attack on Pence; this unfair clip is not evidence that journalists are liars.

Having said that, a CNN columnist and reporters from NYT and CBS are among the many viewers who accepted the clip at face value, according to an article in the National Review.

Kimmel has deleted his tweet and posted a kinda-sorta apology. “[I]t would appear that @vp was joking about carrying empty boxes for a staged publicity stunt. The full video reveals that he was carrying full boxes for a staged publicity stunt. My apologies. I know how dearly this administration values truth.”

The #fakenews mindset has two components. The first part involves uncritically amplifying memes that confirm your deeply-held views (“Even if it’s not true, it’s the kind of thing [public figure] *would* say, so I’ll share it”). The second is involves uncritically rejecting evidence that contradicts your values (“I’ll stick with my feelings instead of considering those facts, because that source is biased, unlike the sources that align perfectly with what I already believe”).

And, by the way, the National Review posted an addendum to its own story, pointing out that they were wrong to blame a CBS reporter for accepting the Kimmel clip as fact — the person who did that worked for NBC.

Humans can say awkward things without being evil; comedians can take jokes too far without being part of a conspiracy; news organizations can take too much delight in pointing out when their competitors blunder; and public figures of all sorts (including entertainers, politicians, and journalists) earn our trust not by being perfect, but by taking responsibility for their own actions (good and bad).