Wednesday evening in the United States. US President Donald Trump unveils the publications that are the winners of the Fake News Awards – in an event met with levels of interest ‘far greater than anyone could have anticipated’. Well, given the fact that the GOP site which hosted the award winners crashed shortly after Trump announced it was live, he’s not wrong there. The ‘importance’ of the awards, however, is subjective, and is primarily according to him – subjectivity being the crucial word at the heart of Trump’s relationship with ‘fake news’.
To begin with, Trump’s attitude towards the media is an intricate chain of perceptions and beliefs that stem from his own characteristics. With a strong aversion to criticism (as demonstrated by his pulling out of a UK visit last week) and an isolationist approach to foreign policy, the two combine to paint the press – in his eyes – as the enemy. In pursuit of the truth and the latest goings on in Washington D.C., journalists pierce the White House bubble in which Trump resides.
However, it’s not just the initial process of breaking the separation between the public and the President – through the media – which is of concern to Trump. As the awards show, it is also the coverage that follows which the businessman disagrees with, too.
Latching on to a phrase the majority of people didn’t know until the President’s usage of it, Donald was quick to label reports as ‘fake news’. By one of its many definitions – in this case, Collins English Dictionary – the term means: “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting”. Yet, with the word still being quite ‘young’ and ambiguous (to some) in terms of its word usage, the question of what makes an article ‘fake news’ is often subjective unless it has been clearly disproven or it is a satirical article-level of obvious.
It’s a type of subjectivity which means that we can choose for ourselves what stories we want to believe, and who to listen to. Coupled together with the fact that we live in a society where the media is so heavily distrusted as ‘the arbiters of truth’, the rise of subscription news, echo chambers and freedom of choice over narratives, influential figures like Trump pose a very big threat in terms of ‘fake news’ and journalism.
It’s especially concerning when one considers the lens which Trump uses when consuming news and communicating on sites like Twitter. Known for his role in The Apprentice, the President has predominantly earned his fame through the reality TV machine. As a result of being in an industry packed full of sensationalism, he now views negative press as sensationalist ‘fake news’, and decides that certain words in his tweets warrant ALL CAPS like your typical right-wing newspaper.
“Despite some very corrupt and dishonest media coverage, there are many great reporters I respect and lots of GOOD NEWS for the American people to be proud of,” President Trump stressed on Twitter. It’s a tweet which subtly suggests once again that Americans should only support news if it has the ‘Trump seal of approval’. Such a statement does not excuse the unnecessary targeting of the mainstream media.
In addition to the sensationalist lens in which he views the media, it is clear that upon adopting the term ‘fake news’ to use for his own benefit, it was not a case of him knowing the original definition and deciding to twist it. As other outlets (like The Telegraph and The Guardian) have reported, most of the reports cited in Trump’s awards – post-publication – were corrected or led to much harsher consequences for the reporters in question.
In this regard, the President has confused fake news (that is, content deliberately designed to mislead) with the basic journalistic principle of announcing when one has made a mistake. Even if he fails to admit that, surely the fact that reporters are actively correcting themselves – and telling the public when their articles are erroneous – nullifies the claim that they’re being misleading and producing ‘fake news’? Crying out ‘fake news’ and saying that something’s misleading when the individuals themselves point out the ‘deceptive’ part of the story is like saying you’ve been tricked by a magician after they’ve revealed the secret.
We have always been surrounded by metanarratives or ‘belief structures’ such as religion and science, but we must now all accept that we have new versions of metanarrative which we can choose to follow – that being truth. Now, more than ever, we must consider whose ‘truth’ we believe.