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The Daily Beast reports that Facebook donated more than $120,000 to the American Conservative Union’s annual event the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Mark Zuckerberg’s donation comes after he held a meeting with conservative media personalities such as Glenn Beck and Fox’s Dana Perino following allegations that the website had been suppressing conservative views.
During the meeting, Zuckerberg lauded President Donald Trump for having “more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate” and Fox News for driving “more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world.” Following the accusations of bias, Facebook laid off its entire editorial team and replaced it with an algorithm, a move which The Washington Post reported led to the rise and prominence of “fake news” trending on the website.
According to The Daily Beast, Facebook continues to court conservatives with its “six-figure contribution to CPAC,” which includes a cash donation and “in-kind support.” From The Daily Beast:
Sources with direct knowledge of the matter tell The Daily Beast that Facebook made a six-figure contribution to CPAC, the yearly conference for conservative activists which will feature President Donald Trump, White House advisor Steve Bannon, NRA president Wayne LaPierre, and other right-wing favorites.
Facebook’s contribution is worth more than $120,000, according to our sources. Half of that is cash, and the other half is in-kind support for CPAC’s operations. Facebook will have a space at the conference for attendees to film Facebook Live videos, and will also train people on best practices for using the social network and Instagram.
The Wall Street Journal reported in October that Trump’s own Facebook posts fueled intense debate within the company about what kind of content was acceptable——particularly his calls for a ban on Muslims from entering the U.S. Mark Zuckerberg himself had to determine that Trump’s posts were okay, according to the paper’s report. And The New York Times reported that after Trump won the election, some company employees worried the spread of racist memes and fake news on the site may have boosted his candidacy.
“A fake story claiming Pope Francis—actually a refugee advocate—endorsed Mr. Trump was shared almost a million times, likely visible to tens of millions,” Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina who studies the social impact of technology, told the Times. “Its correction was barely heard. Of course Facebook had significant influence in this last election’s outcome.”
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In what were described by National Public Radio’s David Folkenflik as “explosive allegations,” former host Andrea Tantaros claimed Fox News conducted “electronic surveillance” and potentially “violated securities laws by not reporting [lawsuit] settlements to the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
The allegations of surveillance and securities fraud originate from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in 2016 by Tantaros naming Fox News, Ailes, and on-air personalities Scott Brown and Bill O’Reilly, “alleging retaliation by Ailes after she tried to complain about harassment.” Tantaros has spoken out about the “pervasive … culture of misogyny and sexism” at Fox News, and claimed that she was sexually harassed by Ailes “numerous times.” Moreover, the allegations of “electronic surveillance” come on the heels of Fox News’ parent company News Corp’s 2011 phone hacking scandal, and reports that Fox News even “hired a private investigator in late 2010 to obtain the personal home- and cell-phone records of” Media Matters’ own Joe Strupp.
Now, according to The Washington Post, Tantaros’ lawyer is accusing Fox of electronic surveillance and sought “to amend the suit by adding racketeering and electronic surveillance charges,” although, “The judge told Burstein that he could not so amend the complaint.” Fox News dismissed the latest claims as “histrionics.” From the February 15 article:
A lawyer for former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros told a New York State Supreme Court judge that he had received a subpoena from federal prosecutors in relation to the sexual harassment scandal that forced the ouster of longtime Fox News chief Roger Ailes last July. “Once I saw it, I knew what was happening,” attorney Judd Burstein said in the proceedings, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “They were investigating whether Fox News violated securities laws by not reporting settlements to the Securities and Exchange Commission.” The subpoena did not concern Tantaros, but rather another client Burstein is representing.
The occasion for Burstein’s statements was a hearing for Tantaros’s lawsuit filed last August against Fox News, Ailes and top network executives. In that civil action, Tantaros claimed that Ailes made offensive comments about her and otherwise mistreated her, all with the complicity of his lieutenants. Though he was not named as a defendant, top host Bill O’Reilly comes under fire in the filing for pursuing a romantic relationship with Tantaros, who had worked on the daytime programs “The Five” and “Outnumbered.”
In the hearing, Burstein expressed his wish to amend the Tantaros suit by adding racketeering and electronic surveillance charges — a reference to the intelligence unit once operated by Ailes to spy on Fox News talent and critics. The judge told Burstein that he could not so amend the complaint.
As far as the network’s settlements go, there may be some material for inspection. Just last month, news broke that Fox News months ago had reached a pricey, hush-hush settlement with former on-air personality Juliet Huddy over sexual harassment claims against O’Reilly. At that time, veteran New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman noted that the network had inked settlements with at least four women since the departure of Ailes.
The Federalist Papers Project is a hyperpartisan right-wing website that traffics in clickbait headlines, racist content, and misleading stories. And one of its authors just got to ask a question at the White House press briefing.
Jason Stevens, author at The Federalist Papers Project, asked a question via Skype to White House press secretary Sean Spicer on February 14 about regulatory reform. The Federalist Papers Project has, until now, not had a seat in the White House press briefing room.
The hyperpartisan right-wing website regularly pushes outlandish articles that border on fake news. Similar to websites known as fake news purveyors that share a combination of fake news and other types of content -- like real news or misleading information -- the Federalist Papers Project publishes its stories with exaggerated clickbait headlines, out-of-context quotes, and racist themes.
In addition to the various Federalist Papers Project stories that have been rated as half-true, or “mixture,” statements by fact-checking site Snopes.com, here are some other problematic headlines that the site has published:
Throughout the election, now-President Donald Trump and his associates frequently peddled lies and pushed fake news stories and conspiracy theories, and they were in regular contact with conspiracy website InfoWars. Since his inauguration, Trump and his cadre of aides have continued parroting fake news stories. The Gateway Pundit, a website that regularly publishes false stories and conspiracy theories, has also been given a press briefing credential, and InfoWars’ Alex Jones claims that he has been offered White House credentials.
White House Correspondent April Ryan Claims Omarosa Manigault Admitted To “Dossiers” Being Compiled On Several African-American Journalists
The Washington Post reported Omarosa Manigault, “who is now a communications official in the Trump administration,” had “physically intimidated” White House correspondent April Ryan and “made verbal threats, including the assertion that Ryan was among several journalists on whom Trump officials had collected dossiers’ of negative information.”
While Donald Trump’s “war on the press” has been documented throughout his campaign, the revelation that the White House has compiled “dossiers” of “negative information” on reporters represents a frightening escalation. From the February 13 Washington Post report:
Manigault, who is now a communications official in the Trump administration, got into a heated argument with a White House reporter just steps from the Oval Office last week, according to witnesses. The reporter, April Ryan, said Manigault “physically intimidated” her in a manner that could have warranted intervention by the Secret Service.
Ryan also said Manigault made verbal threats, including the assertion that Ryan was among several journalists on whom Trump officials had collected “dossiers” of negative information.
Manigault, a onetime friend of Ryan’s, declined to address Ryan’s accusations on the record, offering only this emailed statement: “My comment: Fake news!” She did not specify what she considered false.
The encounter between Manigault and Ryan took place outside White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s West Wing office late Wednesday. Among the witnesses were White House press office staffers and a Washington Post reporter, Abby Phillip.
Phillip said she didn’t hear every word of the women’s exchange but said Ryan told her afterward that she felt Manigault’s behavior was so threatening that it was “Secret Serviceable,” meaning that it rose to the level of law enforcement intervention.
Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, used the same phrase repeatedly in an interview. “She stood right in my face like she was going to hit me,” Ryan said. “I said, ‘You better back up.’ . . . She thought I would be bullied. I won’t be.”
During their altercation, Ryan said Manigault told her that she was among several African American journalists who were the subject of White House “dossiers.” Manigault has previously said that Trump is keeping “a list” of opponents, though at the time she was referring to Republicans who voted against Trump.
In an interview with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder said the threat posed by President Donald Trump means “we have at most a year to defend the Republic” and highlighted the role chief strategist Stephen Bannon is playing in that threat, including the administration’s interaction with the media.
The Trump presidency has created no shortage of concerns about the stability of the republic. Trump has waged an unrelenting war on the press for more than a year, personally attacking dozens of journalists, falsely decrying entire news organizations as “fake news,” and even going so far as to shout down CNN’s Jim Acosta for asking a question at a press conference. It’s not just Trump, either -- Bannon, formerly of Breitbart.com, attacked the mainstream media as “the opposition party,” demanding that media “keep its mouth shut” and listen to Trump. Bannon is also known for formerly running a website that pushes pro-white nationalist viewpoints, dog-whistling to neo-Nazis, and infecting the current administration with anti-immigrant policies.
In the February 7 interview, Snyder commented on Bannon’s interaction with the media specifically, noting that he “says in essence that he misleads the public and the media deliberately” and that Bannon’s goal is “the extinction of the whole political system.” Snyder also says the media is “worse” in America now than it was during Nazi Germany, because it is “very polarized and very concentrated.” In addition, Snyder explains that Bannon’s use of the term “opposition” when describing the media is an indicator of talk about an “authoritarian state” because it suggests some type of regime change:
How similar is the situation between Germany of the 1930s and today’s United States?
Of course, not everything is similar. Some things are better now than they were in the 1930s but some things are worse. The media is worse, I would say. It is very polarized and it is very concentrated. In Germany before the state shut down German newspapers, there was authentic variety that we don’t have now. People in the 1930s generally had longer attention spans than we do. On the other side, the United States is a larger country, with pockets of wealth distributed widely, and it is more connected to the world. The main advantage that we have is that we can learn from the 1930s. Again, it’s very important to stress that history does not repeat. But it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance.
President Trump’s political strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that he wants to „make life as exciting as it was in the 1930s“. The first two weeks have shown how big his influence is, it seems much bigger than Reince Priebus’s or Jared Kushner’s.
I can’t speak to intra-White House conflicts. I can only say that Mr. Trump’s inaugural address was extremely ideological. During the campaign he used the slogan “America First” and then was informed that this was the name of a movement that tried to prevent the United States from fighting Nazi Germany and was associated with nativists and white supremacists. He claimed then not to have known that. But in the inaugural address he made “America First” his central theme, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s.
When Bannon calls himself a „Leninist“, do Americans know what is he talking about?
No, they usually have no idea. It is a good question. Americans have this idea that comes from Jefferson and the American Revolution that you have to rebel every so often. And they sometimes don’t make the distinction between a rebellion against injustice and the extinction of the whole political system, which is what Bannon says that he is after. The American Revolution actually preserved ideas from Britain: the rule of law being the most important. The whole justification of the American Revolution was that the British were not living up to their own principles, were not including Americans in their own system. In a broad way that that was also the argument of the civil rights movement: the system fails itself when it does not extend equal rights to all citizens. So there can be resistance and even revolution which is about meeting standards rather than about simple destruction. What Bannon says correctly about the Bolsheviks was that they aimed to completely destroy an old regime. We can slip from one to the other very easily, from rebelliousness to a complete negation of the system. Most Americans had a rule of law state for most of their lives, African Americans are an exception, and so most Americans think this will be there forever. They don’t get that a “disruption” can actually destroy much of what they take for granted. They have no notion what it means to destroy the state and how their lives would look like if the rule of law would no longer exist. I find it frightening that people who talk about the destruction of the American state are now in charge of the American state.
The White House statement for the Holocaust Day on January 27 didn’t mention Jews. At first it looked like a mistake but now it is official that it was intentional.
The Holocaust reference is very important on our side of the Atlantic. If Americans have a reference point in world history, it is precisely the Holocaust, the Holocaust and let’s say Normandy, the Second World War, are the one aperture into a broader history, one where republics fall and extremes triumph. So if Steve Bannon turns the Holocaust into talk about “A lot of people have suffered” what is happening is that he is closing that aperture. The next step is to say that mainly Americans are the victims. History then dies completely and we are trapped in myth.
When Bannon calls the press the main „opposition party“ that should make everyone concerned. This is not only intended to cheer up Trump supporters.
When you say that the press is the opposition, than you are advocating a regime change in the United States. When I am a Republican and say the Democrats are the opposition, we talk about our system. If I say the government is one party and the press is the opposition, then I talk about an authoritarian state. This is regime change.
Last week Trump called those who take part in demonstrations “thugs” and “paid protestors”. This doesn’t show respect for First Amendment right, it sounds more like Putin.
That is exactly what the Russian leadership does. The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the Republic. The point is to bring down the Republic. You can disagree with them. but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: „We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.“ When the president says that it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the Republic. You are also seducing people into a world of permanent internet lying and [away] from their own experiences with other people. Getting out to protest, this is something real and I would say something patriotic. Part of the new authoritarianism is to get people to prefer fiction and inaction to reality and action. People sit in their chairs, read the tweet and repeat the clichés: “yes, they are thugs” instead of “it is normal to get out in the streets for what you believe.” He is trying to teach people a new behavior: You just sit right where you are, read what I say and nod your head. That is the psychology of regime change.
Today’s media environment is very different from the 1930s, everything happens so fast.
This is part of what contemporary authoritarians do: They overwhelm you with bad news and try to make you depressed and say with resignation: “Well, what can i do?”. I think it is better to limit yourself. Read the news for half an hour a day, but don’t spend the whole day obsessing about it. Americans have to pick one thing to be confident about, and then act on it. If you care about and know about refugees, the press, global warming – choose one and talk with people around you about it. Nobody can do everything but everyone can do a little bit. And people doing their little bit will meet others doing the same, and the depression lifts.
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Sean Spicer: “This Is More Fake News. It Is About Time CNN Focused On The Success The President Has Had”
A CNN report that multiple US intelligence and law enforcement officials had independently corroborated “some” of the details in the dossier on President Trump’s connections to Russia was dismissed by White House press secretary Sean Spicer as “fake news” who then insisted CNN instead cover good news for the administration.
The White House has repeatedly used fake news to support their political agenda, in addition to his family and campaign surrogates’ documented consumption of fake news. The Trump White House has repeatedly attacked unfavorable news coverage and news outlets, especially CNN, as “fake news;” the president even insisted that “any negative polls are fake news.” Trump’s team has also threatened CNN reporters for doing their jobs and previously banned members of the administration from appearing on the network. The administration’s response to unfavorable coverage seems to be to attack it as “fake news,” echoing misuse of the term in conservative media.
On February 10, CNN reported that US investigators had “corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier” about Trump’s Russian ties, specifically details relating “to conversations between foreign nationals.” CNN reported that “the corroboration ... has given US intelligence and law enforcement ‘greater confidence’ in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier.” When reached for comment, Spicer lashed out at the network and replied that the White House was “disgusted by CNN's fake news reporting.” Spicer later called back to again assail CNN’s report, which cited “multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials,” as “more fake news.”:
For the first time, US investigators say they have corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent, multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials tell CNN. As CNN first reported, then-President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the existence of the dossier prior to Trump's inauguration.
None of the newly learned information relates to the salacious allegations in the dossier. Rather it relates to conversations between foreign nationals. The dossier details about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs.
The corroboration, based on intercepted communications, has given US intelligence and law enforcement "greater confidence" in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its contents, these sources say.
Reached for comment this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, "We continue to be disgusted by CNN's fake news reporting."
Spicer later called back and said, "This is more fake news. It is about time CNN focused on the success the President has had bringing back jobs, protecting the nation, and strengthening relationships with Japan and other nations. The President won the election because of his vision and message for the nation."
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.
The weaponized fake news stories that have emerged of late are certainly not confined to just one end of the political spectrum and are dangerous to political discourse regardless of partisan tilt. But a recent spate of articles trumpeting the so-called “rise of progressive ‘fake news’” omits the context necessary to understanding why the right-wing fake news ecosystem is so uniquely destructive, and in doing so collapses the collective understanding of fake news into a trite and distracting argument about “both sides.”
During the presidential campaign, fake news purveyors -- by and large right-wing, hyperpartisan fringe websites -- unleashed a blizzard of politically motivated lies packaged as legitimate news largely designed to undermine Hillary Clinton and boost Donald Trump. The onslaught of fabrications was effective: Fake news stories outperformed real ones on Facebook in the final campaign stretch, and most Americans who saw fake news during the election believed it.
But as it becomes clearer how and why right-wing fake news stories proliferated and succeeded, media outlets are now beginning to document an ostensible “uptick in fake news … with a distinctly liberal bent,” as The Guardian’s Sam Levin describes it, and to compare it to the flood of conservative fake news stories shared during the election.
The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer similarly writes that progressives have recently embraced fake news just like “conservative Facebook users [shared] stories that had nothing to do with reality” during the election, in what Meyer calls a “funny reversal of the situation from November.” And a BuzzFeed article claims that progressive “alarm, paranoia, and genuine outrage” are ushering in an increase in “ the left’s own distinct brand of the online phenomenon known as fake news.”
Some examples these outlets point to indeed fit the mold of weaponized fake news and are cause for concern. There are also other recent cases of unsubstantiated claims rocketing through the liberal blogosphere. Yes, fake news-purveying websites that cater to progressive audiences do exist and do, as BuzzFeed contends, “undermin[e] legitimate causes for outrage on the left.”
But these and other outlets hyping the rise of progressive fake news point to what The Atlantic calls a liberal “panoply of wishful thinking” as evidence of the nascent trend of fake news on the left. Included in their examples is the famous bunch of “rogue,” anti-Trump Twitter accounts and a series of conspiratorial Medium posts about an impending coup d'etat; neither of which fits within Media Matters’ operational understanding of fake news, which is clearly and demonstrably fabricated information deceptively packaged as legitimate news, and is either motivated by profit or ideology. BuzzFeed highlights a parodical story about Trump’s “plan to turn the USS Enterprise into a floating casino,” which comes from an explicitly satirical website. Satire, though damaging when weaponized politically, is in its most basic sense also not fake news. The Guardian points to several-months-old fake news stories as evidence that progressive fake news is a post-election phenomenon.
But weak examples notwithstanding, this all-too-common lunge toward “both sides do it” analysis not only muddies the understanding of what fake news actually is, but also more critically ignores or even whitewashes how and why fake news on the right thrives in a way that it never could on the left.
Essentially, there is a larger conversation here than “the rise of progressive ‘fake news’” -- one in which the story isn’t how the fake news universes on the left and right are the same, but rather how they are different. Conflating right-wing, hyperpartisan fake news with left-wing “wishful thinking” glosses over both the vast infrastructure of fake news on the right and the audience pool that cultivates, enables and validates it.
Conservative fake news flourishes because of the right-wing media infrastructure -- both mainstream and fringe -- that has been cultivated for over a decade. A vast constellation of fake news-purveying websites have long lived in the dark corners of the internet, and mainstream conservative news outlets have fomented a toxic alternate reality in which venomous lies can and do thrive -- neither of which the left has.
Fake news is fertile on the right because of the sea of lies that have been fed to conservative audiences all throughout President Barack Obama’s administration. Years of misleading, out-of-context, unjustified, racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical, and outright false attacks on Obama and the left by the right-wing noise machine have, naturally, paved the way for weaponized conservative fake news to take hold.
That’s why a fake news story about Obama banning the pledge of allegiance in public schools can take off -- because in the context of Fox News and other conservative media outlets bellowing for years that Obama was anti-American, that story simply makes sense to the conservative masses. The left has no such equivalent to the might of the right’s loudest conservative voices or the warped worldview they have sold their audiences.
Moreover, the coalition of extreme right-wing websites like Infowars, Drudge Report, The Gateway Pundit, LifeZette, and Breitbart that serve as bridges between the radical fringes of the internet and the conservative mainstream media are long- and well-established, which consequently helped facilitate the spread of fake news into the mainstream during the election. These direct pipelines by which lies slide from obscurity into the mainstream also do not exist on the left.
The sophisticated level of coordination among right-wing fake news purveyors also enables fake news -- and the left does not have a similar set of complex and coordinated pathways. Fake news stories on the right typically don’t grow organically; rather, fake news purveyors create a facade of credibility by all publishing the same untrue stories on their sites. Thus, when a dozen right-wing sites are reporting the same lie, its chance of going viral, piercing the mainstream, and being noticed by public figures grows.
This far-reaching, enduring infrastructure that both creates and boosts conservative fake news took years to build and has credibility in the eyes of millions of political observers. It would be misguided to suggest that progressives have created a similar ecosystem at all, let alone in the last three months.
Comparisons between left- and right-wing fake news that fail to examine the media consumption habits of the Republican base and those (including the president of the United States) who enable fake news on the right are also insufficient.
Trump is a serial liar. But more than that, he is one of the loudest, most powerful purveyors of fake news around, who both feeds into and draws from the fake news universe. Democrats have no such validating figure.
Since his election, Trump has peddled false claims about widespread voter fraud; an immigration ban instituted by Kuwait; and thousands of bikers traveling to D.C. for his inauguration. Before November 8, Trump came to be known as the “King of Whoppers” for his unmatched, unrestrained, and disturbing penchant for lying about any issue, great or small. Not to mention that Trump sources his lies regularly and terrifyingly from disreputable fake news purveyors like Alex Jones, Roger Stone, and Russian state-sponsored media.
Supported by a cadre of aides who also propagate fake news, including social media director Dan Scavino and Brad Parscale, Trump himself has become one of the greatest validators of fake news and, relatedly, a prominent catalyst in the breakdown of objective truth. As debunking site Snopes’ editor Brooke Binkowski emphasized in The Atlantic:
[T]here’s no equivalence between the falsehoods coming from the American left and the right in the past two weeks. Individual Democrats on Facebook may cling to pleasant stories and wishful thinking, but the Republican White House press secretary spouts off lies beneath the presidential seal.
Additionally, by repeatedly attacking credible news outlets as “fake news,” Trump is attempting to redefine “fake news” in his own terms. Conflating honest mistakes in reporting with fake news (which, to be sure, are clearly distinct issues) helps Trump degrade the Fourth Estate, which, in effect, helps chip away at the biggest barrier to his efforts to gaslight his way through his presidency. Trump’s appropriation of the term “fake news” also effectively validates the worst fake news purveyors out there -- because if The New York Times is fake news, then who isn’t?
So, when the person carrying the mantle of the Republican Party unabashedly spouts nonsense and bullshit, the idea that “both sides do it” becomes moot.
Trump’s success in peddling fake news largely stems from the way that conservatives seek out and digest their news. With a greater tendency than liberals to believe false information that plays into their own confirmation biases (facilitated, as aforementioned, by the bitterly hostile alternate reality the right-wing media has created for its base), conservatives are essentially primed to receive fake news in a way that liberals are not.
As documented by The Washington Post, psychologist John Jost of New York University found that liberals are “slightly more predisposed to think critically than conservatives,” and Stefan Pfattheicher of Ulm University “found that individuals who identified as more conservative were more likely to be duped by nonsense than liberals.” As the Post explains:
Conservatives may be perfectly able to do the kind of critical thinking and cognitive exploration that would lead them to be more skeptical of nonsense and fake news -- they just choose not to, preferring instead to seek out information that allows them to make quick decisions that reinforce their existing views.
Take it from one of the most prolific fake news creators, Paul Horner, who claims that “Donald Trump is in the White House because of me”: “Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it.”
And, as conservative commentator Charlie Sykes wrote in The New York Times, conservatives have been “conditioned to reject reporting from news sites outside of the conservative media ecosystem,” which in turn “essentially destroy[ed] much of the right’s immunity to false information.”
So yes, fake news does exist on the left. Progressive fake news is dangerous and misguided, and Democrats should absolutely not try to build a parallel fake news universe for the sake of electoral success. But the burgeoning media hype about “lefty” fake news is being oversold, and it’s glossing over the reality of the multifaceted conservative media ecosystem at large, which is unique and unmatched in the way it encourages and rewards right-wing fake news. Myopic, one-to-one comparisons of left- and right-wing fake news stories are leading us to miss the forest for the trees.
Conservative media and President Donald Trump have repeatedly misappropriated the term “fake news” to attack journalists and news organizations that publish stories Trump views to be unfavorable to him and his administration. Despite the accusations leveled against these news outlets, they are not putting out “fake news,” which involves an intent to deceive for political or profit-driven purposes.
Last month, CNN reported that Trump and his staff were briefed on a dossier that alleged Russia had “compromising personal and financial information” that could be used to blackmail him and his confidants. In response, Trump declared the report to be “fake news.” Later that week at a press conference, Trump attacked CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta when he tried to ask a question. Trump told Acosta that he would not take his question because his “organization is terrible” and because he was “fake news.”
In another instance from early February, after public opinion polls found that a majority of Americans opposed the Trump administration’s travel ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, Trump tweeted that “any negative polls are fake news.”
Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2017
Most recently, Trump shared a link to an article by right-wing website The Federalist that listed “16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won,” which falsely equated reporting errors and misinformation with fake news.
Trump’s use of the phrase "fake news" to criticize journalists and outlets builds upon conservative media attempts to delegitimize the term and use it to attack credible news outlets. And that has the effect of downplaying the unique threat that fake news actually poses to the public information ecosystem. By repurposing fake news in his own terms and claiming that reporting from The New York Times and CNN, for example, constitutes fake news, Trump continues conservatives’ efforts to delegitimize responsible news sources and their reporting, opening a space for disinformation and propaganda to thrive.
Media Matters has defined “fake news” as involving a specific phenomenon in which fabricated information is packaged as news items and distributed among the public with intent to deceive its audience -- often for political or monetary gain. None of the examples Trump labeled “fake news” adhere to this practical definition.
In a telling exchange reported by CNN’s KFile, Trump deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka told conservative radio host Michael Medved that the Trump administration will continue to use the term “fake news” regarding critical news outlets “until the media understands how wrong that attitude" of attacking the president "is, and how it hurts their credibility.”
As Gorka confirmed, Trump's use of the term “fake news” to delegitimize and attack outlets he disagrees with is the newest weapon in his concerted effort to attack and shame any news outlet that criticizes him or his administration.