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The danger of the term ‘fake news’

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The recent White House Correspondents’ Association dinner saw Donald Trump as the first president in over 36 years to skip the event, which is an annual meeting of the media, politicians and celebrities for one night. His absence was well-known in advance, but the surprise was due not solely to his announcement of refusal to attend but instead due to his jarring disregard of the entirety of media.

Trump’s latest go-to-catchphrase, “fake news,” seemingly applies to any news source that dares to question or challenge his own viewpoint or decision. His newest ad is a 30-second rundown of his first 100 days in office that outlines his confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch, his attempts at bringing companies and jobs back to America, regulations and tax slashes and the continuation of the Keystone Pipeline. It also demonstrates that his use of the term, “fake news,” is here to stay.

While Trump outlines his own perceived accomplishments with the large, blue bolded word, “FACT,” he takes a swipe at the “fake news” media by stamping “fake news” over the faces of established journalists like Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and George Stephanopoulos of ABC and claiming that his accomplishments wouldn’t be known from watching these outlets.

The advertisement insults the news outlets of this country and seems to clearly advocate for the dismantlement of the source of the opposition’s voice. To add insult to injury, the Trump campaign wanted to air the ad on CNN, another target of the ad’s “fake news.” CNN refused, stating that it would only air the ad if the “fake news” graphic were to be deleted from the video. The network stated that “the mainstream media is not fake news, and therefore the ad is false and per policy will be accepted only if that graphic is deleted.” The Trump campaign responded, ironically stating: “It’s clear that CNN is trying to silence our voice and censor our free speech because it doesn’t fit their narrative.”

But unfortunately, even if the label disappears from one ad, the damage has already taken its toll on the press by painting news sources as untrustworthy or incompetent. Trump’s largest piece of evidence for this claim, which he wastes no time touting, is the result of the election itself: Many news outlets and their polls were completely off the mark. If the news was wrong, then, what else could they be wrong about?

Trump has capitalized on that piece of uncertainty and has taken hold of the narrative surrounding his presidency and the status quo, effectively establishing himself as the sole source of information for his supporters.

And with the omnipresence of social media, Trump has his own megaphone loud enough to drown out the sounds of media and to address his supporters directly: Twitter. Each tweet serves to glorify the accomplishments he wishes to be highlighted while attacking critics he wants discredited. His term “fake news” can easily be stamped on anything, person or establishment within tweeting range and then retweeted en masse.

And, in regards to his retweets, he can selectively and subconsciously gear his supporters toward news outlets of his choosing by repeatedly commending and retweeting sources of “reliable news” like Fox News, a seeming personal favorite of Trump’s, whose perspective matches his own.

Trump has, as evidenced by his absence at the Correspondents’ dinner, successfully created an “us vs. them” mentality around his presidency, paving the way for an era of hostility that will lead to a head-on collision, permanently damaging the relationship between the press and the presidency. Let it not be mistaken: It is the duty of the press to hold the president accountable for his actions, not to conform and to coddle the president.

 

Contact Juliet Okwara at jokwara ‘at’ stanford.edu.