The Many Species Of Fake News

I should have  compiled this list  long ago; now I’ll be able to cite the exact variety of fake news we are discussing. Right now I have 19, but I will be updating and expanding this post and the resulting list. I’m certain I missed some. Suggestions from readers are encouraged.

1. Outright false stories deliberately published to mislead. This is what supporters of the news media want to be the only news labeled as fake. The infamous report that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump is an example. The category includes hoaxes that the purveyors claim are jokes, when nothing abut their content or presentation is humorous.

2. Fake headlines and clickbait. There is so much of this that I’ll just pick the first one that comes up in my Ethics Alarms search. In May of 2019, the headline “Ciara Accepted Into Harvard University’s Prestigious Business School”  (Ciara is a pop diva.) appeared in several sources. No, she was about to attend aBusiness of Entertainment, Media and Sports programat the B-school that lasted all of three days.

3. Incompetent reporting. This occurs because so many journalists and editors have the IQs of cucumbers and went to school in tents. Here’s a recent one: ABC reported that a third of Australia was on fire.

The story went on:

The size of the fires across the country are twice as large as the state of Maryland and bigger than several other states, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Not just wrong, but hilariously wrong. The actual comparative size of the wildfires to the US was this:

As blogger Stephen Green explained, ABC used  a map its staff didn’t understand. That map  reflects what a Japanese weather satellite picked up as hotspots on the continent. They weren’t fires.

3. News manipulation by omission. This is too big a category to do justice here. Liberal biased news sources bury stories that undermine their agendas; conservative news stories bury stories that counter theirs.

And there are no reliable neutral news sources.

4. Distortion by  hyping and saturation. The MSNBC infatuation with the Mueller investigation will be a case study in this for the ages.

5. Recycled old news. A Facebook friend just posted a story about how a North Carolina town voted against solar panels because it would “suck up the sun.” She did not notice, or did not reveal, that the story was five years old, and the account she linked to was misleading anyway. An old story used to support a general proposition about society now is misleading. Of course, any old story, if true, may illustrate a general principle.

6. Fake history, my special pet peeve. “Clinton was impeached for having sex.””Nixon was impeached.” This , which I’m sure Ethics Alarms readers are sick of me griping about…

7. Appeal to unreliable authorities. The 25th Amendment fake news theme (the Amendment doesn’t apply to Donald Trump, and never did) has been a bonanza for this one. Bandy Lee, a rogue Yale professor who has aggressively defied the American Psychiatry Association’s “Goldwater Rule” by presuming to diagnose the President’s mental state without anything but her long-distance observations and her raging anti-Trump bias., has been repeatedly quoted to advance the “Trump is nuts” narrative, even though she is a pariah withing her own profession.

8. Polls. Almost all news reports of poll results are fake news. Discussed here.

9. Fake news laundering. MSNBC reported an Iranian news source’s false claim that 30 U.S. soldiers had been killed in Iran’s botched revenge for the death of Iran’s terror specialist. The report that Iran’s generally unreliable state news agency said this was true, but MSNBC reported it in a manner that would make a viewer believe that false story.

10. Reporting false and misleading studies as reliable to support a re-established narrative.  Ezra Klein, a ex-Washington Post journalist who founded Vox, tweeted out the link to a nine-month-old Post article stating as fact that counties hosting Trump rallies saw massive spikes in hate crimes compared to counties that didn’t host Trump rallies. It was re-tweeted  more than 7,000 times and had more than 14,000 likes by the Trump Deranged.  That article was based on a study that had been debunked months ago by  Harvard University researchers Matthew Lilley and Brian Wheaton., who tried to replicate it and could not.  They discovered that “adding a simple statistical control for county population to the original analysis causes the estimated effect of Trump rallies on reported hate crimes to vanish. “Given how little scrutiny was required to reveal the flaws in the thesis that Trump rallies cause hate incidents, one cannot help but wonder whether its viral status was aided by journalists predisposed to believe its message,” the researchers noted.

11. Misleading analogies. Writing about the inexplicable case of a NYPD police officer who still has his job despite being arrested, tried, and sentenced in New Orleans to 15 days in jail with three years’ probation after pleading no contest to charges connected to his  kicking in a black woman’s door in a drunken rage, threatening her (“I’ll break every bone in your neck…”)and her sons while calling them “niggers” and showering them with obscenities. So the New York Times compared this case to another one:

The case of Officer Reynolds is again focusing scrutiny on the pace of the Police Department’s disciplinary process. In a prominent example of how it can drag on, five years passed before Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a prohibited chokehold contributed to the 2014 death in police custody of Eric Garner, was fired and stripped of his pension benefits in August.

Terrible analogy. What took the Panteleo case so long to be resolved is that it was not and still is not clear that the officer’s actions were the reason for Eric Garner’s death, and he was one of several officers involved in the Garner arrest. That episode took place in New York City, and roiled the black community, coming on the heels of the Michael Brown controversy. Officials in the Garner case were faced with balancing political considerations with matters of fairness and due process. None of these factors are involved in Reynolds’ case.

12. News that someone has an opinion that, if true, supports a media narrative. Yahoo! ran a story with the  headline: “Trump’s ‘biggest fear is that he gets exposed’: Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”  This kind of story can be ordered up on demand, and has become a plague during the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck. Unless President Trump told the former Chicago mayor (and former Obama aide) what his biggest fear is, this is a story about Rahn Emanuel’s opinions, not Trump’s fears. It is literally as legitimate news about the President as “Trump’s ‘biggest fear is getting gang-raped by giant snails’: Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”

13. Future news. This is another relatively recent plague. What might happen, and especially what is completely unlikely but a journalist wants dumb readers to worry about it anyway, is not news. The stories about how President Trump might refuse to leave office if he’s defeated for re-election are especially odious varieties of this category of fake news. The stories speculating that President Trump will pardon various targets of the Mueller investigation are also examples.

14. Hyping a non-news story into a national controversy to advance a political agenda. Could there be a more blatant instance of this than the Nick Sandmann debacle? An innocent, white Catholic school boy was photographed in a second  without the right expression on his face when he was being harassed by a Native American activist.  This was blown up by the Washington Post and other news sources as a demonstration of the racist proclivities of anyone who would wear a MAGA cap, or protest against abortion.

15. Publishing unsubstantiated reports as news stories. 12-year-old Amari Allen, a black sixth-grader at a Christian, Northern Virginia private school, said that three white boys held her down and cut off some of her dreadlocks. Before her account was investigated, it was reported as national news, with special mention being made of the fact that Karen Pence, the Vice President’s wife, teaches at the school. The child was lying, and the investigation uncovered this very quickly.

16. Dishonest “Factchecks.” Here’s an egregious example from the Washington Post’s “factchecker,” Glenn Kessler.

17. Misleading photographs. We discussed this here...

18. Deceptive editing. Classic example: In 2015, NPR did a hatchet job on Ted Cruz. presenting an interview with him on the air and cutting large segments of his responses to materially distort his views.

19. Quoting out of context. There is no more recurring or egregious example than the repeated media falsehood that President Trump said that the Neo-Nazis at Charlottesville included”many fine people.” He didn’t say that; in fact, he specifically stated that wasn’t true. (“I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally.” ) He was saying that “many fine people” don’t believe statues of Robert E. Lee should be torn down, the false characterization persists.


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22 thoughts on “The Many Species Of Fake News

  1. #18 This should be called Frankenstein reporting. Much like Frankenstein bills that are created by the extremely unethical use of line item veto pen like Governor Dole did in Wisconsin a few years ago where he turned a bill, I think it was, to allocate money to transportation for road repairs into a bill giving all the money to the department of education thus completely overriding what the legislature did and pass a bill that was never voted on – I was advocating for a recall based on this obvious abuse of power.

  2. As a retired newspaper publisher I am saddened to witness journalism dying a very painful death. No, it didn’t die of natural causes, because it was death by suicide, murdered by its own practitioners. What passes for journalism today would have received a failing grade in any first year journalism class 30 years ago. I would have fired any reporter turning in any of these stories.

  3. Thank you for this list. I look forward to it becoming almost as invaluable as your compendium of rationalizations.

    In addition to #3, I am particularly alarmed by numbers 10, 16, and especially 12. Most authors of that muck aren’t just counting on society’s collective inability to discern fact from opinion, they are actively trying to blur the fact/opinion distinction further.

    Placing the word “opinion” next to a byline used to be sufficient. Those days are long gone.

    • “I would add stealth editing. Fixing articles well after facts are established and no one cares anymore.”

      Back when I was on CNN’s website many times a day the stealth editing was going on constantly. I’d read an article and before I could get home to copy the lies they had already changed either the false headline or the false content, by then their loyal followers had used progressive magical thinking and turned the lies into memes and spread them over social media. CNN knows exactly what’s going to happens to anti-Trump bashing news; it’s intentional anti-Trump propaganda spreading in its finest form, no one can prove CNN posted the lies later, job well done by CNN.

  4. #1 One of the most prevalent fake news stories is the claim that Trump has lied over 15,000 times since he took office. Recently, over on Quora, there was a discussion about fake news and this topic came up.

    This is part of that conversation where I wrote in part…

    Carl Cassidy wrote, “And as far as the 15,000 lies, This is a fact, not an opinion. The Washington post has been tracking everything that Trump has been saying and has been fact checking it since he’s come in to office…”

    Fact not opinion? Again you’re parroting fake news, propaganda, or lies; whatever you choose to honestly call it because it’s blatantly false.

    The Washington Post has not, I repeat NOT, compiled a list of Trump “lies.” That is a propaganda twist of what the Washington Post did. I quote the Washington Post, ”In 1,055 days, President Trump has made 15,413 false or misleading claims” (Source: ).

    To prove my earlier point where I wrote ”I’ve looked at the website(s) claiming to track Trump’s lies and over and over again what they are claiming is a lie, false, or misleading is simply opinion.“

    I’ll take the very first claim on the page I inked to and talk about it.

    President Trump said, “To Impeach a President who has proven through results, including producing perhaps the strongest economy in our country’s history, to have one of the most successful presidencies ever, and most importantly, who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness!”

    The Washington Post wrote, “The president can certainly brag about the state of the economy, but he runs into trouble when he makes a play for the history books. By just about any important measure, the economy today is not doing as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson or Bill Clinton — or Ulysses S. Grant.”

    What the Washington Post wrote is veritably false; the stock market is a reasonably reliable, or as they say an “important measure” of how the economy is doing and the Washington Post is completely disregarding that even though they wrote that “By just about any important measure“. FACT: the stock market went above 29,000 and it has never, I repeat NEVER, done that before! In fact the stock market has made one milestone after another since Trump took office and has been on a reasonably steady climb since Trump took office; this is in fact a verifiable indicator that the economy is doing great. Source: Dow Jones – 10 Year Daily Chart Is this an indicator the economy is better than it ever has been, yes, but that is simply an opinion based on the facts chosen to support the opinion. Is this this all because of Trump and his policies? Heck no— the stock market was already increasing before Obama left office (as the chart I linked to shows) but Trump’s policies have had a positive affect on the stock market. Trump is playing the same political game that ALL Presidents and DC politicians play: pick the facts that support your argument and ignore any facts that disprove your argument. Of course when Trump does this (Orange Man Bad!) you and others call it a lie, but when previous Democratic Presidents have done this you ignore it – a typical partisan double standard tactic.

    The Washington Post’s argument is nothing but a contradictory partisan opinion that have been debunked, and there are thousands upon thousands of similar claims in their list of over 15,000 that are simply differing opinions. It’s anti-Trump propaganda, and if you can’t see it that way then you’re looking through industrial-strength weapons-grade thickened ideological blinders (#Corneilus Gotchberg) at the information.”

    “The Washington Post’s “In 1,055 days, President Trump has made 15,413 false or misleading claims” web page is pure unadulterated anti-Trump propaganda put out there to feed the derangement syndrome of fully consumed Trump haters.”

    Of course when I posted that comment it was immediately reported as violating Quora’s policies and I’ve had to appeal the false label. Many people using Quora consider anything that’s outside their belief to be a lie and an abuse of Quora’s policies, they call truth and facts lies if they disagree and report it as such and Quora in-turn blindly agrees and forces you to appeal. There was one comment where I literally quoted the same uncivilized words that another commenter used towards me and they deleted my comment for literally lquoted the words in a list attributing them to the one who wrote them and the originators comments remain visible and mine comment is not visible – Quora got a email about that and they still haven’t fixed it. It’s like being punished for telling a person that’s using the word nigger that it’s not appropriate to use the word nigger. Others on Quora are claiming that the only fake news is coming from the ones yelling “fake news”. It’s absurd how dumbed down our society is right now.

    Fake news is a real problem and will be a serious problem during this election cycle.

  5. As Steve noted in a recent post we are past the tipping point. Truths are lies, lies are truths, disagreement is hate, alleged hate is punishable, allegations are evidence, and on and on. The minds of the formerly rational have been polluted into an inability to think which presents as derangement. When November 4, 2020 arrives, being beyond the tipping will likely create the flashpoint. Why do I think this? Because it is almost certain people on the other side are thinking and saying the same things about people like me. One side is truly deranged and one isn’t, but as a society we no longer seem capable of discerning which is which. What are we left to do?

    • “Because it is almost certain people on the other side are thinking and saying the same things about people like me. One side is truly deranged and one isn’t, but as a society we no longer seem capable of discerning which is which.”

      You’d think the side that sticks to actual facts instead of biased opinions of those facts would be the intellectual winners, but not with how utterly dumbed down some people are by propaganda.

  6. Dr Goebbels would be delighted with all these fake news tactics he could have used. Oh where are the editorial boards with a iota of integrity.

  7. Here is something from Seth Abramson.

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