It’s produced and distributed by both sides of the US political spectrum. Occasionally it will be the focus of a Presidential tweet. It has ignited distrust from the American people with the same magnitude as a corruption scandal but those responsible can almost always get away with it. Let’s delve deeper into fake news.
While the phrase is used as a broad, umbrella term, there are two distinct forms of fake news. The first, which encompasses erroneous lies, is the easiest to detect and shut down. When Brian Ross of ABC News claimed that candidate Trump ordered Michael Flynn to contact the Russians when in reality the event in question occurred when Trump was president-elect and Flynn was part of his transition team, that was fake news. Ross received a measly four week, unpaid suspension despite the fact that this mistake was not the first screw up in his career or how it caused a drop in the stock market. America witnessed fake news when CNN ran a false story, also about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, that led to the three journalists at fault resigning. These two examples are only drops in the bucket of fake news that can also include incorrect quotes, fabricated material, unverified information, or manipulated data. Factually untrue reporting is extremely irresponsible and harmful and it’s hard to predict how the malefactors involved will be sanctioned. Fortunately, it can be discredited swiftly and therefore rarely leaves a lasting impression on public opinion.
The other class of fake news is when the press releases accurate media that is deliberately meant to mislead people. Surprisingly, this is the more dangerous of the two since it is a widely accepted practice in the industry. Unsurprisingly, it is much more common than the aforementioned journalism, predominantly employed by the left. This is not to say that the right produces news free of bias or exaggeration. It is inevitable that media outlets will incorporate some partisanship into their news. But the left, who dominate the media landscape in terms of viewership, excessively exercise their right to report through a lense of prejudice in a variety of ways. They can, perhaps, omit substantial sections of a quote and present it in a way that changes its meaning. When Donald Trump announced his candidacy in June of 2015, you’ll remember that all the major liberal news networks bashed then-candidate Trump for saying this on illegal immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” To generalize all Mexican immigrants as deviant thugs would be racist. By that token, Trump is a racist, right? That’s exactly what the left wanted you to think. The quote itself is true, but what constitutes it as fake news is how many leftist anchors and journalists ignored the line of the speech immediately following when Trump says, “And some, I assume, are good people.” With ease, the press had conveniently transformed candidate Trump’s reasonable wording into racially motivated hate speech. They did so knowingly, within the law, and in order to make you vote blue.
The media can also engage in fake news by selectively reporting on what they deem worthy, at the cost of informing the American people. To call the week leading up to this year’s State of the Union address as eventful would be an understatement. Between a vote to declassify a controversial FISA memo in the House Intelligence committee, to developments in the FBI texting scandal, to a bipartisan proposal on immigration reform, the media had a multitude of topics they could cover. Yet, some publications opted to report on the hefty cost of replacing refrigerators on Air Force One. In the wake of the significant breaking news, the left never fails to criticize Trump for a minuscule and irrelevant activity. It’s just as easy for organizations to ignore news stories that go against their prejudice. When a photo surfaced of Barack Obama standing with Louis Farrakhan, who once called Adolf Hitler a “very great man”, they were silent. When Trump posted a photo of himself enjoying his KFC dinner with a fork and knife, it made its way to the headlines. Go ahead. Look up “Obama Farrakhan photo” and try to find an article from a mainstream left-leaning news outlet. Then, do a search for “Trump eats KFC” and you’ll be able to find in-depth pieces from CNN and the Washington Post, amongst others.
The action of conflating opinion and reporting without clear distinction also serves as an example of fake news. After all, opinions can’t truly be debunked. When Chris Matthews draws parallels between FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s ousting and the Nixon-era Saturday Night massacre, it can be hard to determine whether or not his anti-Trump sentiments are influencing his coverage or if the President is guilty of obstruction of justice and subject to impeachment. An eventual removal of President Trump by impeachment is the subject of leftist fantasies, but as of now, it is fake news. When Congressional Democrats say that tax reform will only benefit the highest earners, are they drawing that conclusion after a thorough examination of the proposed bill or are they speaking based on a utopian desire to eliminate income inequality that can only be achieved through redistribution?
By now, you know what fake news is and how to recognize it. The next step is to fight back. Unlike the Trump impeachment effort, the resistance to institutional media partiality must not be divisive or extreme. Be prepared to call out particular instances of fake news and arm yourself with the facts. Whatever you do, do not let the offenders continue to indoctrinate you and your fellow citizens.
Austin Khai Bui