So-called “fake news” -- a topic on many people’s minds these days -- can take several forms.
You find a lot of it appended to the bottom of various Web site pages on some news sites. This group of items is almost always identified as “paid sponsored content,” although even when those words are prominent, a casual visitor doesn't always notice them.
These clickbait stories always have some kind of provocative headline on them to get you to explore them further. More often than not, you then learn the statement made, or subject mentioned, in the headline is not even addressed in the content you land on. Credible news sites should not have these stories at all.
Another example of fake news is the kind that turns up in social media such as Twitter and Facebook. During the election season, people either made up news stories wholesale, or spread rumors on social media that eventually came to be accepted as fact. The social media sites have been criticized for not policing this, although such an effort is probably near impossible.
Then there is the fake news that stems from actual, legitimate news organizations. These items can stem from information they got wrong, and to their credit, often correct later. Or they can stem from misleading headlines.
A prime example of this was a story on the New York Post Web site Thursday morning that carried the headline " 'Late Show’ checks out LA locations amid Corden takeover rumors.”
A casual reader of this headline could easily form the impression that the story would report that CBS is scouting locations for a bigger, grander theater in which to situate a new Los Angeles-based “Late Show” that would be hosted by James Corden, replacing the New York-based show hosted by Stephen Colbert.
Corden, of course, is the host of the later late-night show on CBS, “The Late Late Show.” He is an exuberant stage and film performer who has become best known for singing duets with music stars while driving in a car.
These “Carpool Karaoke” bits gets loads of publicity and lots of traffic in the viral-video aftermarket known as YouTube. The one Corden aired with Madonna just last night (Wednesday) -- filmed in New York as a matter of fact --- had more than 211,000 looks by Thursday morning on YouTube.
But the story that came after the headline on the Post site largely debunked the idea implied in its own headline that Corden is being lined up to replace Colbert.
The reporter evidently received a great deal of pushback from CBS on this notion, because the story includes statements made recently by CBS Chairman Les Moonves in which he said late-night is more profitable for CBS these days with Colbert and Corden than it had been in the final years of David Letterman followed by Craig Ferguson.
Rumors that Colbert is floundering on “The Late Show” and CBS is thinking about replacing him have dogged him for a while. And the Post story included all of that, including one rumor that I had never heard before -- that CBS is thinking of not only giving Corden the “Late Show,” but then offering Colbert the later show, essentially flipping the two. The Post story has a CBS executive, Glenn Geller, quoted in The Hollywood Reporter saying the idea is “silly.”
Students of the late-night wars might be reminded of the time when NBC tried to figure out a way of putting Jay Leno back in late-night without booting Conan O'Brien from “The Tonight Show.”
Their “solution” was to offer Leno a half-hour show that would air just before “The Tonight Show” -- pushing Conan to a midnight start. Conan refused and then left -- which is what Colbert would likely do too.
A glance at the ratings for Colbert's “Late Show” indicates that he has improved on Letterman's numbers -- not by a huge margin, but enough nevertheless -- coupled with lower production costs for the Colbert “Late Show” (reportedly), to improve the late-night profit picture for CBS (as noted by Moonves).
The Post story also includes a very credible explanation for this “Late Show” location-scouting that the story says is underway in Los Angeles -- simply this, that Colbert is planning a week of shows there.
That rumor sounds pretty credible. The whole thing brings to mind the great Robert Altman movie about Hollywood called “The Player,” in which one character asked another: “Are the rumors true?” And the reply was: “Rumors are always true.”
It is probably more accurate to say that rumors are often true, but not necessarily always.