“You aren’t just Fake News; I’m changing it to VERY fake news.”
-President Trump to Jim Acosta of CNN
We live in an era of Fake News. The term originated on the left, as they tried to use it to delegitimize some conservative news sources, but it was stolen almost immediately by President Trump and flipped over to refer to perceived bias and false reporting by the mainstream media.
Categorizing something as “Fake News” should be simple, to refer to a news report that is factually inaccurate.
It is possible for a report to be factually accurate, and still be fake news.
Read that again.
It is possible for a report to be factually accurate, and still be fake news.
Let me explain what the President means when he calls outlets fake news, because there is an entirely different dimension to the term as he uses it, and as I recognize it. The President calls out blatantly false reporting as fake news, such as in the case of CNN reporting the removal of the Martin Luther King Jr. bust from the Oval Office, or NBC misreporting the timeline on Michael Flynn and his contact with Russians. He also calls out reporting that is “dimensionally inaccurate.” Dimensionally inaccurate refers to news that is reported with an extremely negative frame that can still be interpreted as factually accurate.
“There are no facts, only interpretations.”
Here’s the problem we are running into in the Trump era: most reported “facts” are not facts at all, they are interpretations of events seen through a particular worldview. Let’s look at a little history. As I was growing up, news anchors were mostly well respected, and everyone generally agreed that the news represented at least a modicum of impartiality, but I think we’d all agree that the era of hard news is largely over. At some point, I’d argue relatively recently, say the last 25 years or so, the media figured out that editorializing and having partisan debates drew bigger ratings than just reading off a list of what happened that day. As a result, we started to see the worldview of the anchor imposed over the actual news in a way that hadn’t happened before. However, we didn’t notice it that much, because the anchors didn’t outright hate the person that was President, so they were able to keep their bias at least somewhat in check.
Now, most anchors can barely hide the disdain they have for Donald Trump, and a significant number don’t even try. What Trump means when he says Fake News, is not just false reporting, it’s having every single thing he does be interpreted in the worst possible light. The Martin Luther King Jr. bust is the perfect example of this. Media members were so sure that Trump is a Klansman without the hood, that removing the bust was OBVIOUSLY something he’d do. There was no doubt in their minds that a racist President would eliminate the bust, and they gleefully jumped all over the story before being caught. This story got tens of thousands of shares, and yet the retraction gained one percent of the shares.
The ultimate example of fake news interpretation came in the wake of the Charlottesville debacle. It is still reported to this day, that Donald Trump called white supremacists “very fine people.” I hear this virtually every day from some media outlet or left winger. This an example of the interpreting, not reporting, of facts. I’ve posted the transcript of the press conference below, and it is completely obvious he is not referring to white supremacists as fine people, yet to this day, that is what’s reported. Did he say there were fine people there? Yes, he did. That is a fact. However, no one mentions the fact that he condemned the supremacists, and was talking about a completely different group in the vicinity. That is fake news, despite being factually correct that he called some people there “fine people.” This type of interpretation of the “facts” happens every single day.
Let me explain how to tell what makes a real news anchor. What makes a “real” news anchor is the degree to which they impose their worldview over the reporting of the facts. The further to one side of the political spectrum the anchor is, the more likely their reporting is not objective fact, but partisan interpretation. Before anyone accuses me of giving a free pass, make absolutely no mistake, the right does this too, so it isn’t just the left. It is less prominent on the right, given that the right controls far less of the mainstream news apparatus. It’s important to understand this: there is not one single hard news network in the country. Not one. Right now every single outlet has morphed into opinion journalism. I used to watch CNN religiously because a decade ago, I considered Fox and MSNBC to be too partisan, so I watched CNN, assuming that they were going to be the “down the middle” network. As time passed, I started to notice something:
Republican news items were treated with presumptive negativity.
Democrats news items were always given the benefit of the doubt.
Watch how the anchor or host frames the question or topic on the mainstream news channels. If they are referring to anything about a Republican or especially Trump, you can guarantee it will be framed in the most negative light possible. The reason conservatives hate the mainstream media, is that Obama and Democrats are virtually always given the benefit of the doubt, and Republicans never receive the same. I also started to notice another phenomenon: telling us how to think. I noticed this in the Megyn Kelly-Vladimir Putin interview, and also the Charlie Rose-Steve Bannon interview, where they cut the conversation away from the person, and have a partisan explanation of what we should think, rather than allowing us to interpret for ourselves.
Fake news doesn’t just mean incorrect facts; it means you are imposing your interpretation of the facts onto the viewer. Right off hand, I can only think of one or two that can dodge this reasonably well. I’d say Chris Wallace on Fox, and Michael Smerconish on CNN are the only two I can think of that manage to toe the line, but those two are on one day a week. I get annoyed at both sometimes, but I perceive both as generally fair, and equally distribute the extremely challenging questions to both sides. The dangerous ones are the journalists that masquerade as hard news while being obviously partisan. Commentators like Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow aren’t the real problem because they admit their bias and don’t try to maintain the appearance of neutral journalists. The real problem is people like Brian Stelter on CNN. Stelter purports to be an unbiased journalist, yet routinely pushes conspiracy theories like questioning the President’s mental health, even after having it debunked by a doctor. In all fairness, I’m not sure he even realizes how skewed his perspective is.
We also see right through the bias in their talking points. As we saw during the campaign, the DNC was colluding with dozens of journalists, providing them with questions beforehand, and distributing talking points that are similar down to even having the same words, as I outlined in my article, The Real Collusion Scandal. One only needs to watch a White House press briefing for five minutes to notice the blatant overt bias in the framing of the questions. The point of the matter is this: when we call CNN Fake News, we don’t necessarily mean they got a fact wrong. We mean they twisted themselves into a pretzel to interpret something mundane into something horrific for the President. Or they ran with information they knew was unproven with no evidence, such as the Russian collusion narrative. Or they ran with stories they knew were bullshit in pursuit of ratings.
So yeah, mainstream media, you are Fake News, even if you get the facts right once in awhile.
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Steve is the author of Forging the Iron Mind, and is the founder and CEO of Americana Prime.