The Scene: In yet another controversial tweet, President Trump remarked on the results of the Russia summit, writing: “The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media.” This tweet joins a long list of moments when the President and his staff have criticized, if not attacked, the press. Just this week, members of the White House press corps tried a new strategy in an attempt to get Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to answer a question. When one journalist was denied the opportunity to ask a follow-up question, the second journalist Sanders called on yielded his time in order to get an answer to the first question. Where do students stand on the “fake news” issue, and the Trump administration’s attitude toward journalists?
Luke Phillips: “Is “fake news” more a question of pernicious, slanderous and factually questionable (but not necessarily falsifiable) narratives informed by very specific worldviews, especially ones peddled by radical publications with an axe to grind? Breitbart News, The Blaze and the Drudge Report come to mind on the right; Truthout, CounterPunch, and Alternet come to mind on the left.”
• “But if you want to use the literal definition of “fake,” these websites aren’t “fake news.” They might not have the same sense of journalistic propriety as CNN or Fox News or MSNBC, but they’re not made-up events and yellow journalism. They’re more describable as entertainment sites that cater to particular ideological audiences by picking up unimportant tidbits of information, including unverified rumors, and spinning them into stories bigger than they really are. These stories happen to align with particular world views and get repeated until they’re generally accepted as true.”
• “Sure, maybe it’d be better if we all had rational Socratic discussions based on Associated Press reports. But let’s not kid ourselves — a lot of our own news-reading is a reading of opinion and analysis that suits our preferences and is designed to shape or justify or develop or inform our basic world views, not challenge or change them.”
Owen Colby: “The [Trump] administration’s remarks — along with conservative media sources, like Breitbart and Infowars, which often propagate fake and polarizing news — have led many liberals to believe that fake news is a primarily Republican problem. But that isn’t the case. While Democrats aren’t flagrantly spreading mistruths like Trump, false news and narratives arise from the left, too, more than many liberals are willing to admit.”
• “Right wing publications receive extensive coverage because they spread far more divisive and egregious lies… It is true that the lies pushed by conservative outlets can be far more offensive, and ultimately dangerous, than the fake assertions of liberal outlets. But, while the fake news reaching Republicans is more extreme, progressives should still be vigilant about the fake news arising in their own circles and take care to avoid the corrosive impulses of their conservative counterparts.”
Michelle I. Gao:
• “However, eradicating egregiously “fake news” should not be the end of our efforts to reform American media. The news that is not “fake” is presumably “real.” But something that is “real” is not necessarily “good.””
• ““News” may be a slight misnomer for what programs on channels like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox air. “News analysis” is a better descriptor of their activities. These popular shows are still technically sources of information, since they have to establish the facts before analyzing them. But the news commentators on these shows have no obligation to be unbiased, as they discuss and debate the facts at hand.”
• “The most popular figures in television media can help distinguish the genres of their shows by being clearer about their own positions. Are they journalists or talk show hosts? Journalists are held to a higher standard of accuracy because their job is to report the news and to leave their opinions out of their work. Talk show hosts or commentators, in contrast, have more leeway because they are explicitly being paid to share their opinions.”
The Bottom Line: There is a difference between news that is not factual and news analysis that people disagree with. The popularity of social media has made it easy for fabricated stories to go viral, but it is even more common for stories that cherry pick facts in order to achieve a partisan “spin” to become popular. When we talk about fake news, many do not distinguish which category they are speaking of. The reason the president doesn’t like CNN is not because they are telling untruths - rather, they are telling the truth in a way that makes the president look bad. Whether he deserves constant criticism or not is supposed to be up to the viewers, but to the president it must look like CNN is anti-Trump, all the time. Change “fake news” in any Trump tweet to “bad news” and you’ll have a more accurate statement. Then we can get to work on stopping the spread of misinformation, which is the real fake.