Conservative pundits and speech writers have created some catchy phrases. Do you remember the “lame street media” taking liberty with “main street”. Now the focus is around “fake news”. Hmmm.
Fake news has taken on a life of its own. Most people recognized the term when completely made up (nonfactual) “news” articles appeared in social media. Technically speaking, any article which is not properly sourced could be considered “fake”. Fake news, as referenced here is not an accident of weak reporting but an intentional effort to mislead.
Real news is based upon actual reporting with named sources. Sources, however, can be wrong whether intentional or accidental. For example, a report might read, “according Dr Joe Blow, chief scientist at NASA, the moon is in fact made of Swiss Cheese”. This report could be newsworthy because Dr Joe Blow was an eminent scientist or that his statement contradicts accepted theories. In a similar vein, “Senator John Doe claimed today in Congressional testimony that global warming is a myth and scientifically unproven”. Again this report could be news (eg Senator John Doe is chairman of an important Senate Committee). Senator Doe’s comments, however, like Dr Joe Blow’s need to be put in context of other scientifically determined findings if the reporting is to be responsible.
President Trump and his advisors have given new meaning to fake news. The President appears to feel no responsibility to speak in a literally truthful manner. I wonder whether he is taking advantage of the news media since he knows that what ever he says will be considered “news”. As a consequence, President Trump can put in play unfounded assertions and ask the public to consider his statements with the same weight as peer reviewed scientific journals.
But these instances do not fit the President’s description of fake news. President Trump, rather, sees any news as fake, no matter how well the reports may be sourced, if in his opinion, the reporting takes the public’s eye off of what the President wants the public to consider (often a totally different subject). In other words, the President defines “fake” as not a government sponsored “subject”, and not whether the news report is correct or constructive in pursuit of discovering fact.
Fake news is dangerous for several reasons. First, fellow Americans may accept the fake news as real and make decisions accordingly. Second, the fake news report may enter the public space and become a citation someone else will use in the future to “source” an even futher excursion from reality. Third, Americans may learn eventually that the President’s words (or any other news source reporting his misinformation statements) are untrue and misleading. Soon the public will become cynical and distrust these news sources (eg Congress and the Presidency itself). The third consequence presents a dangerous risk for our society.
President Trump’s recent application of “fake news” when the news media does not report (or does not emphasize enough) the President’s agenda, has a 1984 feel to it.
The President is well within his prerogatives to claim the media or certain parts of it are biased. Most people now realize that a steady diet of Fox News, or MSNBC, or CNN, while comfortable, may not provide the whole story (fair and balanced?). People do expect, however, that these organization may lean left or right, but will filter out “real” fake news.
Let’s hope so.