Adopting a tactic deployed by conservatives in the United States to dismiss credible mainstream reporting, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected a report that showed “evidence of torture and mass hangings in one of his military prisons” by calling it “‘fake news.’”
Assad spurned “a new Amnesty International report estimating that between 5,000 and 13,000 [Syrian] prisoners were killed in a ‘calculated campaign of extrajudicial execution,’” telling Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff that the “biased and politicized” evidence was “fake news.” Assad also claimed that the “propaganda” from Amnesty International calls “into question the credibility of” the international human rights advocacy organization.
Isikoff also reported that Assad “appeared to lend support” to President Donald Trump's Muslim ban by claiming that there "'definitely'" are “terrorist sympathizers embedded among Syria's 4.8 million refugees.”
Like Assad, conservative media figures, as well as Trump and his White House press secretary Sean Spicer, have been calling negative reporting from credible mainstream outlets “fake news.” Since his inauguration, Trump has derided media outlets and journalists as “fake news” at least ten times. Spicer said a New York Times article about Trump’s adjustment to living in the White House was “‘literally the epitome of fake news,’” and Trump deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka warned that the White House will continue to attack media outlets as “fake news” until “the media understands how wrong” it is “to attack” Trump.
The trend of strongmen delegitimizing unfavorable but legitimate reporting as “fake news” is disconcerting: Russian propagandists working on behalf of President Vladimir Putin also reportedly undercut evidence of carnage in Aleppo as “fake news.”
Misappropriating the term “fake news,” to mean anything Trump and his allies in both the White House and conservative media circles disagree with, helps Trump degrade the mainstream media, which, in effect, helps chip away at the biggest barrier to his effort to gaslight his way through his presidency. Dismissing legitimate reporting as “fake news” effectively opens a space for disinformation to compete with objective fact and for propaganda to thrive. If multiple top world leaders are misappropriating the concept of “fake news” to push their own agendas, perhaps the war on information is bigger than we thought.