Conservative media continued to use the phrase “fake news” incorrectly in an attempt to delegitimize news that does not fit their agenda -- in this case reports about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In doing so, conservatives are fueling President-elect Donald Trump’s effort to stymie credible news as well as trying to undermine the real concerns about the spread of actual false information packaged as legitimate news.
Right-wing media sought to dismiss news that the CIA concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to actively help Trump by claiming that the report is merely “fake news.” On the December 12 edition of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh asserted, “This whole business of Russia hacking our election is fake news with the imprimatur of intelligence agencies and the CIA, and it's brought to us by the same newspapers that took out, tried to take out Richard Nixon.” Fox News host Sean Hannity also drew the same conclusion, saying on his radio show that “this is another liberal fake news story that they’re all falling for, and it’s politically motivated.” Right-wing outlets Breitbart and InfoWars ran headlines dismissing the reports as “fake news.”
Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer and Trump adviser and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich have also tried to hijack the term “fake news,” claiming that reports from legitimate news outlets such as The New York Times were “fake news” in an attempt to delegitimize pieces that did not fit their agenda.
While there is no standard definition for fake news, a variety of outlets and experts have defined these types of pieces as entirely fabricated stories seeking to imitate the style of legitimate news outlets to fool readers. This definition certainly does not apply to the several reports highlighting the CIA’s findings that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump, which was reported in The Washington Post and did not seek to intentionally mislead readers.
As The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus wrote, “there is a difference between inevitably flawed and intentionally false. To deliberately blur this distinction is to seek to undermine the central role of media in a free society.” This pattern from conservatives and right-wing media follows Trump’s use of “demagogic techniques,” as former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey argued on CNN’s Reliable Sources, to “inoculate” himself from thorough, investigative reporting. It is also an attempt by purveyors of fake news such as InfoWars to try and whitewash the meaning of “fake news” and downplay the dangers that come from spreading it.
Trump has waged a long term war on the press; it appears that this is just another attempt from his allies in conservative media to delegitimize news they don’t like.