Way back in week two of This Week in the Narrative, I discussed a new term that mainstream media, fresh off being disgraced and exposed during the presidential election, were trying to introduce — a sort of modern version of “conspiracy theory,” a weaponized term intended to discredit and dismiss anything which veered from the official narrative.
The term was “Fake News.”
At the time, I postulated:
“It is balancing on the thin end of a wedge when those without credibility begin to hurl denunciations.”
This week, President Trump revealed his “Fake News Awards,” an attack on mainstream media (Fox News excluded, of course) and the culmination of Trump’s yearlong campaign to appropriate and apply the term.
The weapon is being used as intended, only the entity who wields it is different than its creators expected.
The response of mainstream media, the political establishment, and large portions of the general population to these “awards” has been outrage, as might be expected when the President of the United States is perceived to be flamboyantly attacking the First Amendment.
A stat which keeps appearing in the outrage: in 2017, the United States ranked 43rd in the world on Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index.
What has become of American journalism under Trump?
Interestingly, however, the US ranked 41st in 2016. Prior to that?
2015 – 49th
2014 – 46th
2013 – 32nd
2012 – 47th
… and so on
How about another well-promoted stat? A recent Gallup poll showed that in 2017 only 41% of Americans said they had even a “fair amount” of trust in “mass media.” It is perhaps terrifying to see a deterioration of public belief in institutions which are supposed to “make America great.” Except, in the 2016 edition of the same Gallup poll, only 32% of Americans said they trusted their media. In 2015, 40%; 2014, 40%; 2013, 44%; 2012, 40%, and so on.
I suppose it is up for debate whether or not the usage of deliberately uncontextualized statistics in an attempt to strengthen one’s case — such as in the suggestion that Trump’s buffoonery is eroding the virtuous pillar of democracy that is the American journalistic establishment — should be considered “fake news.” But what I am saying is that whatever Trump is doing, he is certainly not doing it to a virtuous pillar of democracy.
This is not about a defense of Trump. It is about recognizing that a condemnation of Trump should not include a defense of mainstream media.
Consider the news stories which were “honored” at Trump’s “Fake News Awards.” For example:
- “ABC News’ Brian Ross CHOKES and sends markets in a downward spiral with false report.
- TIME FALSELY reported that President Trump removed a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office.
- CNN FALSELY edited a video to make it appear President Trump defiantly overfed fish during a visit with the Japanese prime minister. Japanese prime minister actually led the way with the feeding.
- CNN FALSELY reported about Anthony Scaramucci’s meeting with a Russian, but retracted it due to a “significant breakdown in process.”
The thing is, the stories were factually incorrect, as in untrue, “fake.” Worse, many appear to be incorrect not by accident, but because journalistic standards were ignored in a rush to condemn the President, in a rush to strengthen the narrative.
Whether or not Trump deserves, broadly, condemnation is irrelevant when considering whether or not mainstream media sacrifices journalistic integrity at the altar of narrative creation.
What I would like to see is mainstream media respond to Trump’s “Fake News Awards” with a “Real News Awards,” where mainstream media stories from the past year which displayed exceptional depth and context, the consideration of a variety of opinions, are honored. How many of those do you think they could put together?