1. “Newsweek”reporter Kurt Eichenwald reported via Twitter that Iowa supporters of president-elect Donald Trump booed astronaut and former Senator John Glenn when Trump mentioned his recent death. This “news” gave Trump-haters and Trump voter-haters everywhere more to justify their hatred, and the tweet (above) prompted thousands of retweets and likes….
Never mind. It didn’t happen. The crowd was booing anti-Trump protesters, not Senator Glenn. Eichenwald sheepishly retracted the “scoop.”
2.Yesterday morning, MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle claimed on the air that Fox News was holding its Christmas party at President-elect Donald Trump’s recently opened Washington hotel, in the course of a discussion of Trump’s conflicts of interest. What a great example of how the conservative media is in bed with Trump—almost as much as the mainstream media was coordinating with the Clinton campaign!
Unfortunately, Fox News hasn’t held its annual party yet, and has scheduled its actual party at a hotel that isn’t affiliated with Trump. Ruhl had to issue an apology and a retraction.
In response to the recent Ethics Alarms post about the hypocrisy and dubious motives behind the mainstream media’s sudden obsession with the “fake news” crisis, some commenters argued that EA is confounding good faith journalism mistakes with the real “fake news,” a term that should be narrowly used when a source intentionally issues a false story “maliciously.” The spectrum, however, is too seamless to parse this way.
Those two fake news stories were more than mere mistakes, because the only reason the reporters assumed they were true was because of the reporters’ malice—anti-Trump and Trump supporter bias in the case of the booing tweet, anti-Trump and Fox News bias in the MSNBC story. Bias, strengthened by confirmation bias, is at the core of why any false news story is persuasive, and also controls what secondary sources believe it and pass along. Look at the websites that pounced on the John Glenn story. They wanted to believe the story; it shows how deplorable all those racists, misogynists and xenophobes are who voted for Trump.
The Right falls for this kind of fake news too, also because of malice and bias. Last month, before the election, Fox News pundit Sean Hannity reported on his radio show a false article that claimed that Michelle Obama was deleting unflattering tweets about Hillary Clinton. He apologized and blamed “live radio,” but it wasn’t live radio, it was him. The story was ridiculous, and the source, website Gateway Pundit, is infamous, but confirmation bias makes you stupid, or in Hannity’s case, even more stupid than usual.
Meanwhile, The Hill, a more or less respected politics news source, reported the Hannity apology while calling him a “Fox News anchor,” which is false, and called the story on The Gateway Pundit “fake news,” when it can as credibly be termed a “mistake” as the false booing account or MSNBC’s Christmas story fiction. The Hill reported it this way because The Hill doesn’t like Gateway Pundit, Fox News or Hannity, so these biased representations seemed fair, and were published. That was “fake news” too.
As part of the effort to delegitimize the Trump presidency before it begins, the news media is trying to thread an impossibly tiny needle eye here, making the argument that only conservative media false stories qualify as fake (remember the Boston Globe’s fake front page in April…
…describing a Trump Presidency hell?), while left-biased media stories that mislead or deceive are just plain old good faith errors by objective journalists. Incredible stories on Facebook like the one announcing that the Pope had endorsed Trump may have turned the election around, but we are supposed to ignore that the New York Times’ deliberately—that was no “mistake”—published a false front page suggestion that Trump somehow cheated on his taxes by using a legal tax reduction device. Nah, that “news” didn’t produce any more Clinton voters.
Besides, it was just a mistake in news judgment. Anyone can make a mistake!
Then there is Elie Mystal this week, alleged journalist, telling his credulous readers (if you read Elie Mystal, you have to be credulous) that George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, and that police officers deliberately “choked” Eric Garner to death….because Mystal wants black Americans to hate and fear white police. Pure malice. But not “fake news”?
Slanted, selectively incomplete, misleading or false news stories—too many to count— from the same sources now caterwauling about “fake news” are often based on malice, confirmation bias, or worse. When the news media points an accusing finger at purveyors of “fake news,” do not forget that they are pointing at themselves as well. Bias made them stupid, and they were already incompetent.