It seems that, nowadays, whenever somebody doesn’t like what they read or watch in the news, they write it off as fake. That is certainly what our current president is doing.
At his first solo press conference on Feb. 16, President Trump pointed at reporters and told the news organizations that they were fake. The day after, President Trump tweeted: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes @NBCNews @ABC @CBS @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of The American People.”
While fake news is certainly an issue, Trump is merely pointing the finger at any publication that makes him look bad by quoting what he says. As childish as this behavior is, it is also dangerous. Trump is attempting to manipulate the masses by derailing legitimate news and journalism. As the leader of our country, he has a powerful influence over the American people, especially those who believe every word he says or those that benefit from his policies.
We are living in a post-truth era. The Oxford Dictionary declared “post-truth” the 2016 word of the year. The definition of post-truth is: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
While the dictionary’s declaration may not come as surprise to some of you, it should still concern you. Just because you can call Trump’s bullshit from miles away doesn’t mean everyone else can or that they want to. The reason many refer to the present as the post-truth era isn’t just because our president likes to spread lies and combats the truth. It’s also because there is a war amongst media organizations themselves.
A journalist’s job is to report the truth. However, not all publications uphold that value. Breitbart News, for example, spreads misinformation all the time. According to mediabiasfactcheck.com, “content [from Breitbart News] ranges from extreme right-wing bias to conspiracy to racism.” And while Politifacts has only fact checked two stories from Breitbart News — one about the California flag and the other about Loretta Lynch — they declared both articles fake news.
Unsurprisingly, Trump gets his information from Breitbart News; the same organization that gave us Steven Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist who served as executive chair for Breitbart. On his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver showed a clip of Bill O’Riley correcting Trump on his claim that there was no evidence that thousands of Muslims were celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11. Trump answers, “Well, I don’t know that I’m wrong Bill. This just came out from Breitbart.” When O’Riley says that, if it had been true, thousands would have reported on it, Trump responds with, “But this article says [Muslims] were swarming all over the place. So I don’t know what that means, but it means a lot of people.”
Another source that Trump often gets his information from is InfoWars, a news show hosted by Alex Jones. Jones is a man known for his conspiracy theories. If you go on his YouTube channel, you can find videos of him calling tragic events in American history such as9/11, the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting inside jobs carried out by the government to gain tyrannical power.
In an interview with Jones, Donald Trump tells him, “Your reputation’s amazing. I will not let you down. You will be very, very impressed, I hope, and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.” In other words, Trump agrees heavily with Jones’ views and will work to disperse his viewpoints from his position as president.
Like Breitbart News, InfoWars scores low on the mediabiasfactcheck.com factual reporting meter. This fact-checking website described InfoWars as “a radio program and website run by the legendary conspiracy theorist Jones. Non stop over-the-top conspiracies. This is the gold standard for tin-foil hat conspiracies.”
Why does it matter that Trump follows these bogus sources? Well, John Oliver did an excellent job explaining why on his show on February 12. “There is a pattern here,” Oliver said. “Trump sees something that jives with his world view, doesn’t check it, half-remembers it, and then passes it on, at which point it takes a life of its own and appears to validate itself.”
Oliver gave an example of the accusation Trump made about voter fraud. On Nov. 14, 2016, InfoWars released an article that claimed 3 million illegal immigrants had voted and that they were all “likely to have voted for Hillary Clinton.” Despite being debunked by fact-checking sites such as Snopes and Politico, Donald Trump went on Twitter on Nov. 27 to tweet about the millions of illegal votes. He tweeted, “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
After providing viewers a recap about the voting fraud dilemma, Oliver showed a clip of a Trump supporter named Paula Johnson expressing her concerns about illegal voters on CNN. “Voting is a privilege in this country,” she says. “And you need to be legal, not like [in] California, where three million illegals voted.” When the reporter asked where she got her information from, Johnson replied, “From the media.”
There, John Oliver stops the clip and continues to explain why Trump’s sources of information are dangerous. “That right there answers our question; why so many people believe Trump,” he says. “Because, if you get your news from similar sources to him, as many, many, many people do, he doesn’t look like a crank. He looks like the first president ever to tell you the real truth … Trump validated his voters’ belief in voter fraud, and, in turn, they validated his.”
By supporting publications such as Breitbart News and InfoWars, Trump is not only validating his followers’ beliefs, he is trying to dismantle publications that are trying to provide the public with vital information. He isn’t doing this because they don’t like him and are being very mean to him, but because they are trying to uncover the truth. CNN, ABC, NBC News, and New York Times may not get everything right, but they are far more reliable than what Trump’s reading. Politico found that over 70 percent of CNN’s reporting is factual, and on mediabiasfactcheck.com, CNN was high on their factual reporting meter. ABC also received a high factual reporting from mediabiasfactcheck.com, along with NBC News, and the New York Times.
The fact that some of the most reputable and reliable media outlets are under scrutiny should scare you, especially during a time where we have a president who proves time and time again that he cannot be trusted. As Oliver said, “The press is going to be a key element in helping us sort out fact from fiction. And they are under attack. This administration has seized on small corrections in news coverage to paint critical outlets as fake news, attempting to delegitimize all of them. And this is only going to get worse.”
Not all media outlets will get everything right all the time. However, there is a difference between publications that miss a detail or two here and there, and publications that spew out alternative facts for their own political agenda. What we, the people, need to do is defend the publications that do get the facts right. We need to verify that the information we are reading or hearing is correct. We need to be aware of our biases and not deny something just because it doesn’t fall in line with our own personal beliefs. Fake news is a threat, and it is up to us to determine what outlets we can trust. In the words of Oliver, “We all need to commit to defending the reality of facts.”