Mainstream media very upset conservatives won't let them own the term 'fake news'

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Monday January 09th, 2017

Because they invented it in order to discredit everyone but them.

I'm taking the unusual step here of dealing with a two-week old piece of work, but I'm doing it because the topic is somewhat evergreen and the issues it presents remain very much at the forefront of our national discourse. You will recall that it only took a few days after the election of Donald Trump for the mainstream media to suddenly start carping about "fake news."

The implication was that Trump won in part because gullible people posted false news stories from unreputable web sites that made all kinds of crazy claims about Hillary or other things. One claimed the pope had endorsed Trump. Another claimed Hillary had some deadly disease. I remember one that claimed to have quotes from Hillary's actual doctor, on the record, exposing some sort of scandalous health issue.

All this was little more than the digital-age equivalent of the Weekly World News or The Star, but it's easier now for fools to share it on social media so the self-important institutions of the Fourth Estate felt they had more reason than ever to wring their hands over it. They also believe, to no one's surprise, that most voters are morons and they need to be lectured to read only the "reputable" media and not these dumb sites.

This was all a bunch of self-serving nonsense, of course. The media tried everything it could think of to instruct the country to elect Hillary, and when it turned out the media had little or no influence on anyone's decisions, they tore their cloaks and found themselves wallowing in sackcloth and ashes, wondering why oh why the public didn't follow their directive.

The whole "fake news" storyline was really the media's way of castigating the public for not doing as it was told. And the conclusion the public was supposed to draw from all this was that the establishment media was trustworthy and truthful - the antithesis of the "fake news" purveyors who were out there conning all the suckers.

But a problem arose. Conservatives sniffed out this game quickly, and weren't about to let the MSM position itself as the arbiters of fact and truth by hanging the label of "fake" on everyone other than themselves - especially when there is no shortage of fakeness coming out of the MSM on this or any other day.

That brought about an indignant piece of work on Christmas Day from Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times, who wants you all to know you're once again not doing as you're told . . . specifically you're not defining "fake news" as the MSM wants you to:

Journalists who work to separate fact from fiction see a dangerous conflation of stories that turn out to be wrong because of a legitimate misunderstanding with those whose clear intention is to deceive. A report, shared more than a million times on social media, that the pope had endorsed Mr. Trump was undeniably false. But was it “fake news” to report on data models that showed Hillary Clinton with overwhelming odds of winning the presidency? Are opinion articles fake if they cherry-pick facts to draw disputable conclusions?

“Fake news was a term specifically about people who purposely fabricated stories for clicks and revenue,” said David Mikkelson, the founder of Snopes, the myth-busting website. “Now it includes bad reporting, slanted journalism and outright propaganda. And I think we’re doing a disservice to lump all those things together.”

The right’s labeling of “fake news” evokes one of the most successful efforts by conservatives to reorient how Americans think about news media objectivity: the move by Fox News to brand its conservative-slanted coverage as “fair and balanced.” Traditionally, mainstream media outlets had thought of their own approach in those terms, viewing their coverage as strictly down the middle. Republicans often found that laughable.

As with Fox’s ubiquitous promotion of its slogan, conservatives’ appropriation of the “fake news” label is an effort to further erode the mainstream media’s claim to be a reliable and accurate source.

“What I think is so unsettling about the fake news cries now is that their audience has already sort of bought into this idea that journalism has no credibility or legitimacy,” said Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters, a liberal group that polices the news media for bias. “Therefore, by applying that term to credible outlets, it becomes much more believable.”

The passage in bold pretty well sums up the complaint of Peters and the Times: Conservatives have "appropriated" the term when the MSM intended to use it to establish its own position as the only "reliable and accurate" source of news. In other words: Hey, "fake news" is our term, to be used for our purposes! No fair using it in any other way!

But the concept of fake news wasn't invented by the MSM in the days after Trump was elected. Fake news simply means news that lacks a basis in fact, credibility or believability. They may not like the fact that they have their own critics who believe the term can apply to them as well, but too damn bad. Far too much of the MSM's own performance has been characterized by a lack of accuracy and credibility. Just because you're not a phony web site claiming Elvis endorsed Trump doesn't mean you're up to the standards people have every right to expect from you.

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A major problem with Peters's argument here is the way he attempts to distinguish between out-and-out fake news and mere matters of detail or opinion. Peters asserts that an outlet shouldn't be tarred with the "fake" label for writing stories that might get a detail here or there wrong, or that make assertions open to dispute, when the real label of "fake" belongs to those who intentionally make things up that they know aren't true.

But that still leaves some serious problems to deal with.

Writing out-and-out false stories is one thing. That's not really the MSM's great sin. What they do is use based-in-fact stories to craft narratives, by emphasizing themes in the stories that help them sell these narratives.

A perfect example is the narrative that claims racist white cops are running wild everywhere, shooting innocent black men just because they're black. How do the media push this narrative? By keeping an eye out for actual incidents they can re-package to suit their narrative. Out of all the incidents that involve police force against suspects, some of them - just by the law of averages - are going to involve white cops and black suspects. The media keep an eye out for those incidents, and when they happen, they play them up as major news and put the races of the respective players right at the top.of the story - dropping the implication that race was the primary factor in what happened, when in reality it might have been no factor at all. Time and time again, in story after story, the MSM push this narrative. Eventually you start to convince the public that there is a rash of racist cop incidents, when in fact there may be nothing out of the ordinary going on at all. But because of the manner in which these everyday incidents are reported, people have the impression there is.

Is that "fake news"? It's true that the incidents really happened, but it may be totally false that the nature of the incidents are what the media want you to think they are. Certainly the conclusion they're trying to lead you to is fake.

What about the supposed rash of "hate crimes" we heard about after Trump's election, many of which turned out to be hoaxes?

What about the terrible danger that Trump would imperil our democracy by refusing to accept the results of the election?

What about stories about unemployment that don't mention the problems with labor force participation?

What about stories about ObamaCare that only mention how many people got "covered" but whitewash all the problems with the insurance market?

What about all the media "fact-check" articles that do little more than offer the opinion of the "fact-checker" while claiming the authority to arbitrate truth from falsehood?

When someone is trying to convince you of something that may or may not be true because it fits their larger ideological agenda, they may very well be leading with facts. But they may be using those facts not to inform you, but to lead you down a logical path that the facts on their own don't really justify.

The media created this whole "fake news" narrative because they want you to believe that they, and only they, are above any questions of credibility. They're upset now because their critics are turning the notion back on them and making it known that they certainly don't have their hands clean on the matter. So they want to assert, as Peters tries to do in his piece, that they own the term and no one can use it in any way other than that which supports their narrative.

Bolshevik. These people have been using their position to push false notions on the public for decades. People shouldn't be trusting web sites that push nonsense, but if the MSM were actually trustworthy, people wouldn't be so inclined to see out alternative sources of information. Their version of fake news may be more subtle and sophisticated, but it's just as fake.

So no wonder they want to be the only ones talking in this conversation. That's what people usually do when they have something to hide.

Dan's new novel, BACKSTOP, is a story of spiritual warfare and baseball. Download it from Amazon here!