OPINION: The problem with “fake news” and Trump’s reality
Throughout Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the beginning of his term as president, he has made numerous claims against “the media” for spewing “fake news” in poorly- veiled attempts at supporting his own agenda. His administration has so far mirrored that attitude, with Sean Spicer cutting off direct media access from the White House to multiple news stations, including CNN and the BBC, instead favoring the formerly-led- by-Steve- Bannon media platform Breitbart.
The problem with this approach towards media is the ever-increasing division in perceived and accepted realities and how that may affect the nation politically. When our president and his administration claim that stories are “fake news” without evidence supporting their claim – but the claim is still accepted and absorbed by millions of Americans across the nation as the truth – reality itself is being toyed with. One man can decide the accepted realities of a significant portion of Americans without having to provide anything but his own words. Agendas rise to the forefront of the issue: all sides of sociopolitical thought have media platforms that support their side, and most people on any side tend to only consume the media they desire to hear or just simply agree with outright. This has led to the perceived realities of Americans to be divided along party lines, in that the different groups have radically different sets of facts based on the media they consume – and this has led to any political discourse to be mired in the shortfalls of this division: without the ability to agree upon what is happening in the world, how can any progress be made in addressing what is or might be happening? The answer is none. And this is the point we have reached in modern American politics.
When a political conversation must first traverse the issue of bringing both sides to simply agreeing upon what they believe is reality, the fight on both sides has been lost. When news is broken that disagrees with the agenda one agrees with or supports, it cannot be simply dismissed without further exploration. Truth is – or should be – the goal of any news story, and for the reader to accept that truth, sufficient evidence must be presented. When it is lacking that evidence, it must be approached with skepticism – at least until further evidence is uncovered. We can also not simply assume that journalists have any legal or reasonable way to discover the whole truth.
As a writer, I know I am limited in my ability to fully flesh out any story, but it is my responsibility to present enough evidence – either through my direct experience with the story’s content or another’s – to construct a story without factual pitfalls or misleading direction. Sometimes, I am unable to contact someone who might have a valuable take on the story, or cannot investigate further due to simply being constrained within the law. It is absolutely unreasonable to expect every writer to have explored each and every facet of a story because they oftentimes just can’t. But lacking every angle of any given story does not mean the story is dismissible as “fake news,” it simply means that more work and exploration must be done into the story. Skepticism is accepted and should be encouraged for even the most well done stories, but evidence must be presented for it to be either credible or disproven. By dismissing stories disagreeing with one’s agenda without any evidence to support the dismissal, all necessary further work on the story is shut down – or disregarded by many despite any further-revealed evidence.
This isn’t just a one-sided issue, either. This problem is multifaceted and is intertwined within all aspects of our daily lives, for Republicans and Democrats alike. I hear people say “the media” all the time, despite the fact that “the media” is not one entity, it is hundreds of newspapers and websites and journals and magazines, covering anything and everything on one side or another. And these news platforms are not prospering: the news industry has been on the downfall for several years and has pushed all media to adapt to the modern age – conforming to the different constraints and social circles of social media platforms simply to stay in business.
This must be expected. We live in a free market society, in which news platforms can only exist when it makes the money to. It is a business, just like most everything else in the U.S., and it depends on readership and viewership to sustain itself. That’s an unavoidable fact of American life. In this ever-reshaping environment, it should only be expected for news platforms to rely on sensational headlines and the like; it is simply not perfect. Regardless, the free market is still essential for the truth to be heard: government-sponsored news leads to news being entirely controlled by the government and the established, and individuals writing news have no form of accountability other than other individuals – and then everything becomes personal and small circles and echo chambers become significant political forces (like the Alt Right). There is no convenient, all-encompassing solution. There is nothing that can be done immediately to change the system. All that we can do is be accepting of facts from either side and try to find more to fully explore any issue. And we can’t expect each individual journalist to be able to capture every facet of the truth within a 900-word article.
Journalism is a collective effort from a thousand different sources in an effort to bring the truth to the people, and that can’t be forgotten.
Everyone wants to know the truth. So we have to work together to find it, no matter what the truth may be.