Throughout the duration of the past four years, the term “fake news” has been continuously presented in American politics. And following the phrase’s election as a prominent rallying cry of Donald Trump’s base, the topic has managed to extend beyond politicians. Now, after a full term of Trump Administration leadership, the fake news movement has defined an entire culture of Americans who reject mainstream informational platforms.
The fake news movement began at the start of Donald Trump’s presidency when he adopted the habit of accusing publications who contradicted his statements of distributing false information. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN are among the major publications he has most often accused.
By denouncing these reputable publications, who even have experienced “fact-checkers” on their staffs, Trump has transformed himself into the only information source that a large portion of his followers trust. Trump’s repeated misleading, and sometimes outwardly false, claims have proven this rhetoric, that he is more trustworthy than the media, to be a dangerous one.
Linda Qiu, of the New York Times, is one of the previously mentioned professional fact-checkers who has spent the past four years of Trump Administration leadership diligently trying to spread awareness of his false claims. For example, she fact-checked a Florida rally of President Trump’s in mid-October, where he claimed that Joe Biden wanted to eliminate the child tax credit. In Qiu’s article, she explained the entirely false nature of this comment, along with a multitude of others.
In a previous interview with Qiu, conducted in July 2020, she detailed the process of fact-checking for a group of students enrolled in an intensive journalism course. She placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of unbiased reporting, citing governmental sources, such as the congressional research service, as her primary sources to fact check with. Though she also fact checks a multitude of other politicians, also noting Nancy Pelosi, Qiu has found that over the past presidential term, Donald Trump has most frequently made misleading statements.
Blocking his base off from actual news is very obviously a move to influence political power, as it is horrifyingly reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s “lügenpresse.” This translates to “lying press,” and was the term used by Nazis in the World War II era to describe any media that refuted their message.
Trump has even been accused of admitting to making strides toward becoming his base’s only trusted news source by Lesley Stahl, a host of 60 Minutes. Prior to an interview, Stahl questioned Trump about his continuous attacks on journalists and the media.
“And he said: ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you,’” said Stahl.
Disappointingly, this modern-day delegitimization of journalists has proven to be successful, even earlier on, as seen in a study on registered voters done by Emerson College in 2017. The poll was indicative of a significant amount of trust in President Trump, concluding that 49% of voters felt that the news media was untruthful. These beliefs were also clearly split down party lines, with 9 in 10 Republicans deeming the Trump administration as the most truthful source available.
“I’ve definitely found it to be difficult to have discussions with Trump supporters in the past. And that’s mainly because whenever I try to bring a fact into the conversation, I get asked for my source, and then told that source is ‘fake news.’” said Josie Kelman, a senior who does not support President Trump.
Kelman then noted the frustrating difficulty she found in progressing conversations after the introduction of the “fake news” argument.
Another Masuk senior, Lauren Davis, also chimed into the conversation. She referenced a specific instance of a peer not believing a statistic she provided, simply because it did not coincide with their personal beliefs. Because of the phrase’s weaponization, the words “fake news” can now be used as an escape hatch, a deflection from any counterargument.
And as the United States enters the Biden era, this rejection of meaningful debate and conversation must come to an end. As the administration in the executive office changes, so must Americans’ mindsets about journalism.
While it is important to acknowledge bias and to collect information from reliable sources, the only way to peacefully progress into this new age, is for people to believe these reliable sources, rather than relying on a soon-to-be former president alone.