In the aftermath of the presidential election, the term “fake news” suddenly meant a great deal more than just The Onion. Instead, it was applied to a small subset of hoax websites viewed by very few people that the left either insinuated or insisted — depending on just who you were listening to — had played a major role in denying Hillary Rodham Clinton her rightful spot in the Oval Office.
In spite of some intrepid reporting (and mostly whatever kind of reporting is the diametrical opposite of intrepid), it quickly became apparent that “fake news” played as much as role in the 2016 election as UncleJimmy4146’s conspiracy theory-laden LiveJournal page.
In the interim, however, “fake news” took on a new meaning: It was repurposed by conservatives tired of the liberal bias inherent in nearly every major broadcast and print media outlet.
Now, less than a year into the Trump presidency, CNN — which has not infrequently received the tag in question from various sources — has had enough. It’s crying “uncle.”
The network has published an opinion piece unsubtly titled “Ban the term ‘fake news,’” where Hossein Derakhshan and Claire Wardle lay out why they believe the term needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history.
“When we use the term ‘fake news’ it is not only self-defeating, it oversimplifies a very complex problem,” Derakhshan and Wardle write.
“A year ago, this wasn’t the case. The term actually meant something. It described a particular type of website that used the same design templates as professional news websites but its contents were entirely fabricated.
“But earlier this year, the term started to become meaningless. It became used to describe any piece of information that someone else didn’t like. (emphasis ours) Increasingly the term has become weaponized by politicians who use it to undermine independent journalism in an effort to reach the public directly through their own channels.”
Reading this, I was immediately reminded of a recent column (by David Brooks, of all people), which discussed American political discourse and its coarsening. It came as part of a review of a book by Alan Jacobs called “How to Think.” In it, “Jacobs notices that when somebody uses ‘in other words’ to summarize another’s argument, what follows is almost invariably a ridiculous caricature of that argument, in order to win favor with the team.” (emphasis mine)
“In other words” didn’t appear before the bolded statement in Derakhshan and Wardle’s piece, but it ought to have, since it was a preposterous restatement in other words of what those using the term in reference to the media actually mean. It almost never involves things that are factual but that the receiver doesn’t like. It is, instead, a way to express distrust and alienation at a media that has become increasingly liberal over the past quarter century.
The media was far from a bastion of conservatism before that, but consider this: out of 63 correspondents from the White House press room who were polled by Politico as to their political affiliations, only three said they were Republicans — just 4 percent. Thus, the idea that “fake news” is used to “describe any piece of information that someone else didn’t like” is a grotesque caricature of what the term means to conservatives and why they have decided to reclaim it.
This citation, it’s worth noting, almost equals the number of studies actually cited by Derakhshan and Wardle in their piece.
One report linked near the end and has little to do with the article as a whole. A second report from the Columbia Journalism Review “shows that people in three other countries increasingly believe that the ‘mainstream’ media peddle fabricated stories.” (The study, upon perusal, comes to a conclusion somewhat less tidy than that.)
The other is a 109-page report written by Derakhshan and Wardle themselves, which is somewhat more academically rigorous. Unfortunately, the CNN article borrows heavily from its theorizing and is fairly light on the attribution, at least when it comes to their report.
Instead, the report makes alarmist statements, like: “In countries where a free press is a luxury and free speech is not guaranteed, this phrase is being used as an excuse to clamp down on both. Terminology matters, and using it simply ‘because everyone else uses it’ is no longer good enough.”
That might be true, but it doesn’t actually do anything to back up what Derakhshan and Wardle are saying, in spite of the fact that they are very literally blaming anyone who uses “fake news” in the context of calling out bias for eradicating free speech abroad.
Furthermore, nowhere in this piece do Derakhshan and Wardle — the self-appointed diplomats from media land — acknowledge any failings on the part of the Fourth Estate that may have played into this crisis of confidence in our mainstream media.
Any notion of bias or sensationalism eroding trust in the media goes wholly unmentioned. The media comes off as martyrs, unfairly-tarnished saints whose reputations should be as pure as the driven snow and have been sullied by evil forces. Even a desultory look at the 2016 election coverage — or any of the WikiLeaks emails between members of the media and the Clinton campaign — would disabuse them of this notion.
Alas, no matter how much they wish to “ban” this neologism (good luck with the legislation on that one, guys), the phrase isn’t going away — at least where CNN is concerned — until the problems that prompted it are addressed.
Until that glorious moment, Derakhshan and Wardle, as well as everyone else at “The Most Trusted Name In News,” will likely have to take out a lot more “apple” commercials to rebuild even a modicum of trust with the American viewer.
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H/T Fox News