Trump’s Fake News Awards show a perception of the press warped by his own sensationalism | Liam O’Dell

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’.

US President Donald Trump criticised publications for spreading. Photo: Gage Skidmore (Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode).

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 were corrected or led to much harsher consequences for the reporters in question post-publication.

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.

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Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew d’Ancona (REVIEW)

How does one begin to explain the current social and political climate in the Western world? A chain of unprecedented events has created a plethora of new, futuristic vocabulary (such as alternative facts, fake news and the Oxford English Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016, post-truth) that are yet to be properly defined. Although, that hasn’t stopped some individuals from taking on the mammoth task of providing much-needed clarity. Matthew D’Ancona’s exploration of post-truth delves into existentialism, post-modernism and digital mediums with a final call-to-action which is to be expected from an established British journalist and columnist.

Photo: Penguin Books.
With such a relevant background, one would assume that fake news – as a by-product of post-truth – would be featured heavily in the 150-page book. Yet, save for a couple of small sections on the topic, fake news isn’t mentioned that often. Instead, D’Ancona’s analysis of post-truth acts as a centre-point – a springboard – for him to jump seamlessly from discussions about social media and clickbait to the role of satirists.

Given the short length of the book, Matthew is quick to jump to the heart of his commentary, which appears to be that of post-modernism. To explain such a complex subject (and one which lacks clarity) with a critical perspective that is just as vague and detailed is a bad move, but a move d’Ancona makes nonetheless. Whilst he should be commended for trying to define the indefinable, a couple of sentences is not enough to clarify the main basis for his argument. Long story short, I was thankful that my knowledge of post-modernism from A-Levels hadn’t left my mind completely, but that’s not to say that I didn’t struggle to understand the basis for d’Ancona’s argument. As someone who approached the book with a brief knowledge of what post-modernism entails, one has to wonder whether someone without said understanding would be able to comprehend the more intrinsic aspects of Matthew’s commentary.

Nevertheless, like most works of non-fiction, Post-Truth includes some interesting and thoughtful points about the decline of trust and accuracy following Trump and Brexit. It’s towards the end of the book – the fifth chapter titled ‘”The Stench of Lies”: The Strategies to Defeat Post-Truth’ – where d’Ancona really sells his perspective. Summarising the best bits from previous chapters, the columnist reminds us of the current situation, and attempts to provide some solutions to the post-truth problem the Western world is currently experiencing. Although this section contains the motivational bravado possessed by most successful newspaper columnists, it still feels somewhat disorientating despite D’Ancona stating many options for society going forward.

If anything, Matthew d’Ancona’s Post-Truth raises more questions than it does providing answers, although that is understandable given the complexities of the subject matter. Whilst it is far from the definitive conclusion to the problem of falsehood, the journalist has at least begun to shed some light on an important socio-political issue in this small publication.

#indyref2 was to be expected – a vote for independence will be too | The Friday Article

The Tory Government possesses a dangerous arrogance at present. It’s one that chooses to fight against the ruling of the judiciary (High Court) on Brexit, the Lords’ recommendation that they should secure the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and now Scotland’s plans for a second independence referendum – which was announced by Nicola Sturgeon on Monday this week.

NICOLA STURGEON
Photo: First Minister of Scotland on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

The announcement was always to be expected – the referendum hanging over Theresa May’s shoulder ever since it was found that the Scots voted for remain – but what wasn’t predictable was when the call by the SNP would be made for ‘indyref2’. However, just as Prime Minister May was about to relax in the fact that her Brexit parade could no longer be rained upon (thanks to the Brexit Bill being passed at the start of this week), the Scottish Government decided to announce their plans for the referendum. Oh dear.

You have to be thankful that our Government possesses a different sort of stubbornness to that of Donald Trump. When the latter’s initial ‘travel ban’ was blocked by a judge, he angrily tweeted that ‘THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!’. Yet, when May’s Brexit timetable was thrown into question by the judiciary and the laws, she may not have been happy, but she showed it with professionalism. Although this implies some separation between how the two governments operate, let’s not forget that both are becoming worryingly isolationist. Trump has once again tried to reinstate a travel ban, whilst the UK has to ensure it does not shut itself off when it severs ties with the EU after Brexit.

The Tory government has a dangerous tunnel vision – one obsessed with a hard Brexit that threatens the EU with a no deal despite making no economic evaluations of said deal, and one that is willing to do this without considering the wishes of the Scottish people.

To once again compare to Trump’s administration, there’s cries of ‘fake news’ whenever the US President sees any critical articles about him in the media. Now, as Sturgeon and co. publicly declare their discontent with the UK Government on Brexit, May accuses the SNP of playing a ‘game’ – which is somewhat hypercritical coming from someone who still refuses to secure the rights of EU citizens living here as though they are some sort of bargaining chip.

However desirable a forever United Kingdom may be, one has to understand that the treatment of Scotland by the Tories is more than enough evidence to show why a ‘yes’ vote is entirely possible. David Cameron’s sweet-talking from 2014 where he said: “I speak for millions of people across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and many in Scotland, too, who would be utterly heart-broken by the break-up of the United Kingdom” has apparently gone out of the window with May. She’s resorted to the trusty ad hominem attacks that the Conservatives know and love.

As Trump’s shouts of ‘fake news’ show weakness and do little to stifle the criticism against his administration, you have to consider what the PM’s comments about the SNP ‘playing games’ conveys. Zac Goldsmith’s disgraceful mayoral campaign remains a constant lesson to the Tories about how bad personal attacks are in politics. In that case, it led to people supporting the alternative candidate: Sadiq Khan.

If the Tories maintain their arrogance, ignorance and tunnel vision, it will only benefit the ‘Yes’ campaign even further. Scots, angry at the fact that they are being ignored and mocked by the UK Government, will vote to leave the United Kingdom – and I wouldn’t be surprised.

Donald Trump’s #WatersportsGate: A student journalist’s concern about ‘fake news’

A student journalist complaining about fake news is nothing new. Buzzfeed’s recent article about Trump, dubbed ‘#watersportsgate’ on Twitter, included unverified allegations that Russia has embarrassing information about the President-elect of the United States. It is just the latest in a string of stories which should be double-checked ahead of publication (if it is to be published at all). We’ve been here before, but how we got in this fake news cycle and how we get out of it are the two interesting questions to answer.

The stories about ‘#watersportsgate’ and Donald Trump are just the latest in a string of unverified or fake news making the front pages when they shouldn’t have done. Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.

Journalism and politics have always been closely connected. Most of the time, the latter drives the former when it comes to news stories. However, the media’s commitment to reporting the political climate can also lead to the emotions attached to the stories bleeding through. Cue Brexit.

It was a referendum filled with emotion – fear and anger in particular. Feelings replaced facts (known as ‘post-truth’, which was the 2016 word of the year) because there were minimal, if any, statistics to show what would happen after either result. With limited facts but a whole lot of emotion to cover, the media started to become tempted by post-truth and sensationalism.
That being said, not all of the blame can be shifted onto journalists and politicians. As consumers of news, we want to process information as fast as possible, taking stories at face value before moving onto the next story. There’s no time to stop and think in the world of fast-paced media consumption, but given that we live in a world dominated by social media, that cannot be helped.

On the topic of fast-paced news consumption, this has also led to a push for viral news as well. Today, with Buzzfeed’s article… Are we really surprised that they were the ones to run with it? They are an organisation which thrives on viral content, so what better a story than one which is filled with sensationalism and controversy? It’s to be expected.

We must examine the relationship between journalists and politicians, and both of their responsibilities to share factual information. Whilst politics is slowly moving towards the facts – as and when Theresa May decides to reveal her plans for Brexit – journalists must use their power of manipulating the masses (see the hypodermic needle theory) to change public opinion once more. IPSO must be harsher on organisations breaching the accuracy clause with fake news, and as the British public face uncertainty over Brexit, the news media must come forward offering facts as a form of hope.

Although this article talks about eradicating fake news in the UK, it’s still relevant when it comes to the case with Trump is in the United States. The solutions can be applied in any Western country, at a time where nationalism and emotions are running high. Whilst, of course, these sentiments must be debated in our democracy, we cannot afford to let the emotions embed themselves in Western journalism. What’s concerning for future journalists is this: if the one place where the public goes for the truth becomes untrustworthy, to whom do they turn?