And words have meaning. And the meaning matters.
We have a problem in this country with fake news. Part of the problem with fake news is that we seem to have become confused about what constitutes fake news versus what constitutes legitimate, if inflammatory, news.
Let’s start by clearing one thing up. It matters not a whit what your political views are. Fake news is news that is FAKE. Fake as in intentionally made up. Fake comes from both satirical sites, and from ill-intentioned real ones. Fake as in it most like came with a screaming headline designed to get you angry, and the story may or may not have much to do with the headline. It is beyond click-bait (although I fault legitimate sites that are prone to click-bait headlines – Mother Jones are you listening?) since those stories may be real enough – but often they are simply old stories that are being used to reignite emotion (sometimes positive, too – it isn’t always anger they’re after). Click bait is a legitimate problem, but it doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of “fake”.
Our President, and those surrounding him, apparently have chosen to define “fake” as something else entirely, though. It seems now that fake news now encompasses news that the White House absolutely disagrees with, there are no anonymous sources, I know who the anonymous sources are and they don’t have any – oh and by the way the leakers should be hunted down and are guilty of treason. Take your pick. But Wikileaks – I love Wikileaks, that was cool when it was shining a light on the DNC. I still harbor a belief that some of the White House leaks are originating with Trump, himself, because he has always seemed to thrive on chaos and putting his team under pressure. Unfortunately, government doesn’t run that way. But more disturbingly, is that President Trump is reiterating his accusations of fake news when referring to “actual” news. And he has chosen to call it a threat to the American people, while listing the names of major, legitimate, outlets – thus conflating the mainstream media with fake news reporting. A bit of Stalin lurking in there? And no, the comparison is not all that hyperbolic – by choosing to repeatedly throw in the names of theses outlets in conjunction with the accusations of fake news, he is promoting the idea that a free press is bad, and that the only thing we should believe it what he tells us. Even when what he tell us has been shown to be demonstrably false.
This past week, though, Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary, did the unthinkable – and unprecedented- by banning several outlets from a press gaggle. Without going into long explanations, a gaggle differs from a normal press conference in that it is not televised, is less formal, and involves primarily pool reporters. It could be argued that it didn’t matter, since the material is shared, anyway. But it has never been done this way before (with the permitted journalists handpicked by the press secretary’s office), and the explanation, such as it was, that Spicer gave, when pressed during the gaggle, implied something disturbing: “We’re going to aggressively push back. We’re just not going to sit back and let, you know, false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there.” Counter that with his statement in December that open access for the press is what makes a democracy instead of a dictatorship. Interesting change in perspective.
And then there were the words thrown about at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Not only did President Trump get to repeat his invectives against the press and “fake news”, but Steve Bannon made a rare public appearance, with Reince Priebus, to lay out his more nationalistic views. Not all of which completely jive with traditional conservatism, since economic nationalism pretty much flies in the face of free market capitalism with tariffs and limitations on labor immigration. But he, too, derided the media and said that they were not going to give the country back without a fight. Interesting view, but the country is all of ours, and certainly not everyone is fully enamored of Mr. Bannon’s nationalistic world view. So I do wonder – who precisely is he planning to fight to take it back for. And perhaps more importantly, from. Certainly the “global corporatist media” that he has long held responsible for encouraging our global economy (something that economic nationists view as unnatural), does not, in fact, own the country. And attempting to shut out, ship up, and sideline the press, flies in the face of the First Amendment to our constitution, the beliefs of our founders, and the sensibilities of most Americans.
As Harry S Truman, our 33rd President, so clearly put it:
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
Words matter & so do how they are used. We need to stay vigilant.