Donald Trump and Fake News


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In November 2016, Oxford Dictionaries announced “post-truth” as its 2016 International Word of the Year, defining it as, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” A fitting word, considering the controversy surrounding a highly polarizing presidential election so rife with “fake news” to the point some even blamed it for influencing the results of the election.

According to Politifact, “Fake news is made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports that are easily spread online to large audiences willing to believe the fictions and spread the word.” According to President Donald Trump, some sources of fake news include The New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. On February 17, Trump tweeted on his personal account that they were, “the enemy of the American People!” Moreover, sources such as Politico, the Los Angeles Times and BuzzFeed were barred from attending a White House briefing days later. Interestingly enough, these are also the media outlets covering and debunking each false statement Trump makes ranging from his claim he never mocked a disabled reporter to vaguely stating there was an immigrant-linked incident in Sweden (that never took place).

Trump’s tweet was quickly met with backlash including a response from Carl Bernstein, an investigative journalist who was the first to suspect that President Richard Nixon was involved with the Watergate burglary in 1972. Bernstein tweeted, “The most dangerous ‘enemy of the people’ is presidential lying, always. Attacks on press by Donald Trump are more treacherous than Nixon’s.” However, in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump stresses he was referring to just the “fake news media.” He states, “A few days ago I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people,’ and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources. They just make ‘em up when there are none.’” In light of this, why does Trump target news sources generally known to be reliable? One could argue that the mainstream media does in fact have a bias against Trump due to the amount of negative coverage he receives. However, one could also see his negative coverage as a way to access criticism on things Trump has actually said and done.

There are plenty of news sources with obvious political bias in their reporting such as Breitbart that produce wildly false stories such as one story that claimed, “At New Year’s Eve celebrations in Dortmund (a town in Germany) a mob of more than 1,000 men chanted ‘Allahu Akhbar’, launched fireworks at police and set fire to a historic church.” However, no such incident actually occurred and the local newspaper said Breitbart had combined and exaggerated unconnected events. Despite this, the article on Breitbart’s website remains unedited. Moreover, Breitbart has not released any article that has challenged Donald Trump in a similar fashion to other major news sources, if at all. Trump should be no stranger to Breitbart either, seeing as how his chief strategist Steve Bannon and deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka are former employees of the conservative commentary website.

The reality of the situation appears that Trump just does not have the temperament to be held accountable for his actions. He seems to only take issue with sources unsympathetic to his administration. David Axelrod, former Senior Advisor to Barack Obama wrote, “Every president is irritated by the news media. No other president would have described the media as ‘the enemy of the people.’” Some have interpreted Trump’s wording to be reminiscent of other authoritarian leaders in the past who condemned the press after taking power. Comparing Trump to a despot may still be a bit arguable, but it is worth noting his inability to receive criticism from a free press without firing back with inflammatory statements. Trump has accepted a job position known for receiving criticism and blame from any person for any reason, and if he is to continue being a leader, he needs to show he does have “very strong, very thick skin,” as he so claimed during the course of his election campaign.

“The press is the only institution holding President Trump accountable on a daily basis and that’s exactly why he’s trying to destroy it…No matter one’s political leanings, supporting members who are holding Trump accountable is a matter of patriotic necessity,” says Evan McMullin, former operations officer of the CIA.

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