The first use of the tag “fake news” on this website was on March 4, 2015. That’s more than three months before Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President on June 16, 2015; the oft-published claim that Trump launched the term “fake news” to deride the news media for criticizing him and his Presidency is, ironically enough, fake news.
The 2015 piece was about CNBC publishing as legitimate news a press release by an anti-vaxx group, a category of fake news called “Hearsay news” in today’s directory to come. I posted three more articles tagged “fake news” before Trump was elected. One of them was the Mother of All Fake News episodes, when the Boston Globe hit the news stands and front walks on April 10, 2016 featuring a satirical front page with headlines about a fictional, dystopian Donald Trump Presidency. “This is Donald Trump’s America. What you read on this page is what might happen if the GOP frontrunner can put his ideas into practice, his words into action,” went the introduction. I wrote in part…
This is a spectacular failure of professionalism and a journalistic disgrace. A newspaper is pledged to report the news, not imagine it. It is not ethically entitled to morph into Saturday Night Live or the Onion because it really, really, really feels strongly about an issue….No paper published such a “future news” piece about the world under Nazi rule, or the race war if civil rights laws didn’t change. No respectable publication predicted a similar dystopian future under President Huey Long, or Joe McCarthy, or what a U.S. with open borders would look like, or what a Ron Paul style US with heroin for sale off drug store counters would lead to. That is because this means of political advocacy and commentary is reserved for the features and entertainment sections, not where facts are supposed to be, and where readers must be able to expect a reasonable attempt at truth, not a showboating effort to distort it.
The episode marked, as it turned out, the beginning of an epidemic of metaphorical canaries dying in the poisoned mine of American journalism.
The next pre-Trump Presidency post about “fake news” is also worth reviewing. I wrote that one when Carol Costello, now mercifully gone from the scene but also having spawned various clones now spreading her miserable habits, defended the Globe. This was significant in retrospect because she was a prominent voice on CNN, which has since allowed the hatred of President Trump that she displayed to obliterate that network’s objectivity, credibility and trustworthiness. The rationalizations I listed for Costello’s endorsement of another once-legitimate news source devoting its pages to fiction have turned out to be nearly universal across the mainstream news media now, as American journalism has allowed itself to rot. I wrote in part,
Costello was in full defense mode. She began by mischaracterizing where the objections to the Globe’s stunt were coming from, citing only Trump himself as the critic—and we all know how crazy he is, right? Costello played a clip of Trump registering his objections—mostly reasonable and fair, by the way—as Costello gave her audience her trademark “Can you believe this idiot?” smirk, which she flashes virtually any time a conservative or Republican is saying anything. She then repeated portions of the Globe’s defenders’ talking points, and brought on the Globe’s Sunday Ideas Editor Katie Kingsbury to give its own, as if Trump owned the only two hands not applauding. What was offered was a series of rationalizations:
# 1.The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it,” citing “other newspapers” like “The Atlantic,” which isn’t a newspaper!
#13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause,” because apparently Trump is so bad that it justifies throughing all previous standards and ethical principles (like “Don’t print fake news”) out the window
#24. Juror 3’s Stand (“It’s My Right!”), which is the news media’s default argument any time it is irresponsible,
#28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”
#34. Success Immunity, or “They must be doing something right!” Hey, it got everyone talking, and isn’t that a good thing?
#39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?” The Globe defenders claim that other news media that pulled similar stunts weren’t attacked with such intensity, which is a lie: no major paper ever published a fake future news page aimed at a Presidential candidate, using not satire but completely matter-of-fact, false, news stories.
The conclusion of the CNN spot was mutual, head-nodding, smiling agreement from Costello and the Globe’s editor that this is just a case of people being hyper-critical and mean to the wonderful, objective news media, and that the Globe is as pure as the driven snow, as wise as the Buddha, and as ethical as Edward R. Murrow.
(BOY Costello was horrible. Yet she was more professional at her worst than CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon, and Brian Stelter are today.)
One feature of an ethical profession is objective self-policing. The Globe’s use of manufactured “news stories” to attack a candidate should have been roundly condemned within the profession. Instead, journalists are proving how corrupted their profession is by either ignoring the breach of ethics or, like Costello, defending it, if they do not work for conservative outlets or competitors of the Globe. (The Boston Herald, for example, has been very critical.)
This was, as I noted elsewhere in the article, a slippery slope, and one that slid in many dangerous and destructive directions. In its relaxation of basic journalism ethics to “get” Trump, the news media allowed all manner of “fake news” to infect its industry and alienate the public.
The Ethics Alarms Directory of Fake News will identify the many forms this abuse of truth and trust has taken.
I just have to finish it.