Fake News. Image: Guido Rosa/Getty Images/Ikon Images, via NPR.

Fake ‘fake news’ versus real fake news

By Varghese K. George

Spreading ‘fake news’ is something that he has been accused of all along, but President Donald Trump is proving that two can play at that game. It was he who propagated the textbook example of fake news, that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., but over the last five months, he has turned the table on his critics with considerable success. “Fake news,” he routinely responds to any news that questions or exposes his administration. “Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH,” he said this week after outlets roasted him for disparaging the Mayor of London following the terror attack in the city.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer accused reporters of spreading “fake news”, leading to a furious exchange between them last week. “Can you give an example of fake news,” he was challenged. “Sure,” replied Spicer. “…the President was having a great discussion at the G-7 and somebody from the BBC and ultimately an incoming reporter for the New York Times , tweeted that the President was being rude by disrespecting the Italian Prime Minister when, in fact, you all… watch the President with that one earpiece.” The context: The BBC’s James Landale, who was covering Mr. Trump’s Europe tour, could not spot the small headphone that the President was wearing and tweeted: “A short clip that sums up this G-7 summit: look who has chosen not to hear a translation of his Italian host’s speech.”

Several other journalists retweeted it. After Mr. Spicer countered him on Twitter, Mr. Landale corrected himself on Twitter. Reporters told Mr. Spicer they might make mistake and demanded more examples. “I didn’t come here with a list of things!” Mr. Spicer said, before abruptly ending the briefing. Critics are accusing the President of pushing fake news. “The $110 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia is fake news,” said the title of an article written by Brookings scholar Bruce Riedel on the much hyped deal that Mr. Trump inked during his visit to Riyadh.

Russian propaganda

American media began reporting about fake news, allegedly spread by Russian operatives, during last year’s election campaign. Many reports floating around cyberspace about Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton — about her health, links with corporations and numerous other conspiracy theories — were fake news pushed by Russian agents, the mainstream media reported.

But the mainstream media’s enthusiasm to hold Mr. Trump accountable has led to multiple missteps, fulfilling the President’s characterisation of them as fake news. For instance, when four State Department officials resigned in January — a routine course when a new administration takes charge — the Washington Post ran a story with the headline “The State Department’s entire senior management team resigned”, which was “part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers”. The story went viral but turned out to be based on a flippant premise and shaky facts.

Early last month, CNN refused to carry a TV ad issued by the Trump campaign that characterised all mainstream channels as ‘fake news’. “The mainstream media is not fake news, and therefore the ad is false,” the network said, while the President’s campaign said it was censorship. “President Trump’s loyal supporters know the truth: the mainstream media mislead, misguide, deceive, and distract,” said Michael Glassner, executive director of the campaign committee. Therein lies Mr. Trump’s success. For his team, there is fake fake news and real fake news.

Published by The Hindu

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