Dear media: If you want to combat the rise of fake news, the surest and most effective way to do this would be to reestablish your own credibility.

The most counterproductive thing you could do right now would be to double down on the sort of stuff that made audiences seek out non-mainstream sources of news information in the first place — like twisting peoples’ words out of context and publishing sensational and misleading headlines.

Unfortunately, it looks like we’re going to get more of the same from the press. Some journalists aren’t quite ready yet to break old habits.

Amid all the recent media handwringing over the prevalence of fake news on social media, some reporters got all bent out of shape Tuesday over a two-year-old headline suggesting Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., wants to go to war over school lunches.

Here is what Ryan actually said in 2014 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland:

The Left isn’t just out of ideas. It’s out of touch. Take Obamacare. We now know that this law will discourage millions of people from working. And the Left thinks this is a good thing. They say, “Hey, this is a new freedom—the freedom not to work.”
But I don’t think the problem is too many people are working—I think the problem is not enough people can find work. And if people leave the workforce, our economy will shrink—there will be less opportunity, not more. So the Left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach—and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.
This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
That’s what the Left just doesn’t understand. We don’t want people to leave the workforce; we want them to share their skills and talents with the rest of us. And people don’t just want a life of comfort; they want a life of dignity—of self-determination. A life of equal outcomes is not nearly as enriching as a life of equal opportunity. The party that speaks to that desire—that tries to make it concrete and real—that’s the party that will win in November.

And here is how Time magazine framed the congressman’s speech that year: “Paul Ryan Says Free School Lunches Give Kids ‘An Empty Soul.'”

The story resurfaced for whatever reason Tuesday morning, and some in the press held nothing back as they blasted the Speaker for his supposed Dickensian beliefs.

“F—k this guy. Kids have to eat. Full disclosure, at various times as a kid I got free or reduced lunch and milk at school,” said the Chicago Tribune’s Peter Nickeas.

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Another Chicago Tribune writer, Matt Lindner, added elsewhere, “Paul Ryan, a rich white guy, opining about free school lunches giving hungry kids an ’empty soul.”

Others in media weighed in on the matter with variations of the sentiments expressed in the above (some more explicit than others).

Put aside for a moment the fact that some in the press decided to raise a fuss over a two-year-old story. Also, put aside the fact that Anderson appears to have lifted her anecdote about the small boy directly from the pages of Laura Schroff’s 2011 book, “The Invisible Thread.”

The issue here is Time’s absurd and disingenuous framing of Ryan’s speech. It’s not a question of agreeing on the role the government should play in the lives of its citizens. The Time’s headline is flat-out inaccurate. It is as simple as that.

There’s a reason why the press is almost as disliked and distrusted as Congress. It is because of stuff like this silly headline and the press’ apparent willingness to go along with it.

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