The narrative of “fake news” has undoubtedly been at the forefront of every political commentators mind in the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election. Many believe that these so-called “fake” news stories had enormous real world repercussions, and, to a certain extent, they are correct. In the “Pizzagate” case, unsubstantiated claims that a pizza shop in Washington DC was the front for a child sex ring lead to barrages of angry phone calls and even an angry citizen storming into the restaurant with a rifle. Hillary Clinton, in a post-election interview, even called the surge of fake news an “epidemic,” and expressed what she believed to be its horrible effects.
The general perception of fake news is that it is specific to non-mainstream, alternative media news sites. Lists of sites condemned as being fake, such as the list published by Melissa Zimdars, a Merrimack College graduate, are widely circulated, and almost always show websites such as Infowars, Inquisitr, and Breitbart. Unfortunately, a common theme tends to reveal itself in these fake news lists. While some of the sights are without substance or are genuine click-bait, the majority are somewhat reputable and respected news sources, and news organizations deemed fake are almost always conservative. While Infowars, an alt-right news website, made the fake news lists, its liberal counterpart, The Young Turks, was seen as reliable and legitimate, and never appeared on a fake news list. The quality of programming is undeniably similar and both sources cite plenty of evidence for their videos and articles. Both news sources are very openly and admittedly biased, catering to specific audiences, but only Infowars was seen as fake. This theme of attacking alternative conservative media was recurring, and liberal fallacies and even downright lies were completely ignored and even endorsed by mainstream liberal media outlets.
There’s no doubt that during the election, you saw one of Hillary Clinton’s many ads attacking Donald Trump, especially for his making fun of a disabled reporter. This message was widely distributed, and the short clip of him using exaggerated hand movements and voices against the reporter went viral, becoming one of the go-to arguments for his obvious moral and ethical inability to lead us. What most people still don’t realize however, is that Trump’s behavior had nothing to do with the man’s disability, and that used similar motions and voices to make fun of several other people on the campaign trail, including Republican candidate Ted Cruz (here’s a YouTube video of a compilation of some of the times he has used these motions and voices https://youtu.be/CsaB3ynIZH4). He was in no way insulting a man for his disability. For whatever odd reason though, these facts were never addressed, and the story is still widely regarded that he was making fun of a man for his disability. Another real example of fake news in the mainstream media, seen on CNN and massively popular among protesters and the Tuck Frump movement, was that he called all Mexicans rapists. Again, this is false. It refers to his speech where he announced his candidacy for President, and said in regards to illegal immigrants, “They bring crime, they’re rapists, and some of them, I’m sure, are good people.” Although perhaps not eloquently worded, his message is still relatively clear. His stance on fighting illegal immigration has always been strong, and in this quote he points out the fact that although some illegal aliens are good people, there are many who bring crime, and he references the many documented cases of illegal immigrants raping US citizens. But this message was not spread. Political figures molded his original statement that some illegal immigrants are criminals or rapists into a fake narrative that he believed all Mexicans, regardless of citizenship or residence, were rapists, which succeeded to a point that most people still don’t know his actual stance, and assume that he truly believes all members of the Mexican race are rapists.
Most recently, Donald Trump refused to accept a question from a CNN reporter during a press conference, even going so far as calling CNN “fake news” to the reporter’s face. Immediatley, the story exploded. Liberal activists and actors like Patton Oswalt took to Twitter, saying that the attack was unprovoked and undeserved, or that free speech itself was on the cusp of total destruction. The truth? On that very day, CNN had published what is now known as the “Golden Showers” story. Originally published on Buzzfeed, from a British anti-Trump author who described his sources as “anonymous,” it told the story of an alleged trip to Russia by Donald Trump, where Trump visited a hotel room where the Obama’s had previously stayed, and paid Russian prostitutes to urinate on the bed where Barack and Michelle had slept, which invoked personal and sexual pleasure on his part. Obviously this story seems ridiculous, and a lack of any evidence to support it, coupled with the sheer specificity and outlandishness, would lead any logical reader to believe it is fake. But despite all of this, CNN ran the story. They chose to spread propaganda that was ridiculous and disgusting in nature, with no regard for its truthfulness. The recent hunt for fake news has given the mainstream media far too much power. Major networks are able to publish skewed truths and outright lies, and blindly brand any dissidence as fake news. There is little regard for truth, and in their need to push their own biased agendas, they have become the fake news they sought to destroy. But because of their prominent status, far too many people listen to these large scale media outlets, and accept whatever they say as the truth, without double checking or cross referencing with news sources that express different viewpoints. They have successfully created a nation of sheep, who will follow along with any message or narrative as long the right people say it. Unfortunately, this is a losing battle on our part. Media outlets measure success in viewership, not in content. We cannot change what they publish, but we can strive to be more politically aware. If CNN publishes a story that seems ridiculously damning to Trump, maybe head on over to Snopes or Fox to see what they have to say about it. If Breitbart publishes an article talking about the many reasons they believe Hillary Clinton should be imprisoned, maybe step back and do a little bit of research on their points. We cannot fix the spread of fake news from the top, and we have a moral obligation to fight censorship, should it be proposed as a solution, but we as a people can work to seek the truth on an individual scale, and spread it as we care, encouraging others to in turn double check us. Political awareness is the only way to truly combat fake news.