Trump’s Media War And The Rise Of Fake News.

How Trump’s attacks on the media may have helped them and the continued risk posed by fake news

Part of me hopes that Donald Trump is the business and media genius that he claims to be, but empirical evidence seems to suggest otherwise. Unless of course, his ‘war on the media’ is a sophisticated ploy to save struggling mainstream media companies from bankruptcy.

Based on the president’s tweets, the only news outlets that Trump finds reputable are Fox News and the tabloids available at the grocery store checkout. His administration has routinely bashed “the dishonest media,” and attempted to discredit various journalists and publications, but are these heavy-handed tactics having the impact that Trump intends?

Despite his rhetoric, almost all mainstream media outlets are doing far better today than when he was elected, regardless of their political bias. The New York Times, for example, had a market cap of about $1.8 billion on election day 2016, today it is worth $2.34 billion. They also experienced encouraging growth in both print and digital subscriptions in the fourth quarter, despite Trump describing their subscriber numbers as “dwindling.”

On the flip side, the Times only managed an 11 percent gain in digital ad revenue that couldn’t outweigh a 20 percent decline in print ad revenue for the quarter, leading to a yearly adjusted operating profit of $241 million, down from $289 million in 2015.

Matt Drudge, creator of The Drudge Report, recently spoke on Mike Savage’s radio show about how Trump saved the media from spiraling ratings due to public disinterest. Basically, Trump acts like a lightning rod for controversy, bringing back readers who were losing interest in the political process. Still, the risk of going under for a solo news organization is a constant reality in the digital age, which explains why most news outlets are subsidiaries of one of the six mass media companies that control 90% of the U.S. media. Meanwhile, investors and VC firms pump millions into new media ventures, like Vice, Buzzfeed and Vox, creating new competition and sucking viewers away from the traditional media.

The Rise of New Media…

LinkedIn / Aldo Agostinelli

The ultimate goal in this media Game of Thrones is to bypass the traditional media, delivering content both online and on TV, maximizing ad revenue and viewership. It’s a numbers game, regardless of the political slant. For example, Breitbart News Network, one of the most conservative news websites on the internet, was started by the same person who helped create The Huffington Post with Arianna Huffington, both of which were inspired by The Drudge Report, a “populist” news aggregator that reloads itself every few minutes to simulate more users. Here’s how the story went, according to Wikipedia:

In 1995, Breitbart saw ‘The Drudge Report’ and was so impressed that he e-mailed Matt Drudge.
Breitbart said, “I thought what he was doing was by far the coolest thing on the Internet. And I still do.”
Breitbart described himself as “Matt Drudge’s bitch” and selected and posted links to other news wire sources.
Later, Drudge introduced him to Arianna Huffington (when she was still a Republican) and Breitbart subsequently assisted in the creation of The Huffington Post.

Despite not updating the website’s design since the mid-90s, The Drudge Report remains one of the most popular places to click on news headlines. You’ll notice that The Huffington Post also uses a giant, centered picture with a bold headline at the top of their homepage, one of the last recognizable similarities between the two websites.

Headline Examples / Drudge Report

In my opinion, these three people, Matt Drudge, Arianna Huffington, and Andrew Breitbart, inadvertently started us down the path toward Fake News. Drudge pioneered the use of rewritten, vague, click-bait headlines that plague the internet of today. Honestly, I can’t fathom why anyone would want their news selected by one person and made less informative, but apparently millions of people do. From there, Arianna Huffington elevated blog posts to the same level as mainstream news through The Huffington Post. By intermingling major news outlet headlines with blog posts, she elevated bloggers to the same journalistic level as actual journalists, despite the differences in standards and ethics. Finally, Breitbart added political spin into the mix, dividing our news outlets along lines of conservative or liberal.

Bloggers Go Mainstream…

Fast forward a few years and you begin to see the rise of individuals and small groups of bloggers attempting to compete on the same level as major media outlets. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact it’s probably a good thing, It allows me to write an opinionated article on Medium, but it’s important to evaluate the source and context of any given article. To place this kind of blog article on par with a journalist who actually spoke to their sources is fairly naive.

While it may seem foolish to trust a single person as the source for your news over an entire staff of writers, evidence seems to suggest that lots of readers are doing just that. One of the hottest news websites on Wall Street is a renegade blog called ZeroHedge, where every article is authored by the same pseudonym, Tyler Durden — yes, that Tyler Durden from Fight Club. Last I heard, ZH consisted of three guys churning out doom and gloom business articles that typically predict an imminent financial collapse, and it remains wildly popular despite the strong market.

Interestingly, these news providers rarely consider themselves part of the media, often highlighting the failings of the mainstream news outlets and pitting themselves against the media. It’s kind of like when ESPN talks about “the sports media” doing something without realizing they are the sports media.

Top headlines at Danger & Play

My personal favorite is Mike Cernovich, who provides his 264k Twitter followers with “the real news” that the media won’t show you. Predictably, most of his followers are proud “deplorables.” Playing on their distrust of the mainstream media, Cernovich has done a fairly good job supplanting the media, providing his loyal followers with a steady stream of what they consider to be the real news. The ultimate source snobs, they consider almost everything to be either leftist propaganda or “cuckservative” shilling, and he’s not afraid to unleash the alt-right values of his followers onto anyone who crosses him, which recently included the “Fake News” show 60 Minutes.

Mike Cernovich on 60 Minutes / CBS News

Despite castigating the media at every turn, Cernovich often refers to himself as “Cernovich Media,” even though there is no company registered under that name and his website is titled Danger & Play (a reference to his alpha-male roots). Another questionable practice is Cernovich’s persistent use of “we” when writing his own opinions. Obviously employed to mimic a sort-of consensus view style often used by news organizations, despite the fact he’s not working with anybody else on his musings.

National Business Registry


It’s difficult to say how successful Trump’s ‘war on the media’ has been. While he’s certainly contributed to a revival in many news organizations’ subscribers and stock prices, he’s also done considerable damage to Americans’ trust in the media. A recent market research report claims that Americans now trust advertisements more than the media.

Meanwhile, a growing undercurrent of alternative news has developed to cater to people’s distrust of traditional media outlets. Based on my observations, much of the conservative and alt-right news proliferates on Twitter, while the far-left media seems to be more successful on Facebook.

A lot of people dismiss Twitter’s importance, Matt Drudge recently described Twitter as an “echo-chamber for junkies,” but let’s be real, it helped Trump win the election, and almost every news story is immediately posted on Twitter. I say this because, despite Twitter’s struggles as a company, the site has enormous importance currently, like it or not. The news gets tweeted and tweets become the news, just watch an episode of TMZ and see how many tweets they read without citing the source, or how many news articles have a celebrity tweet embedded.

This article is an opinion, and contains a fair amount of generalization and exaggeration. Obviously, three people are not to blame for the plague that is fake news, and this article omits multiple parties that may have contributed, like the TV news outlets. The goal of this article is the underscore the complexity of the news industry and evaluate the impact of President Trump’s crusade against the media. 

Sources & Additional Reading:

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