The Left is Trying to Eliminate the Phrase ‘Fake News’
President Trump likes to use the phrase “fake news” to label biased news stories by the left-leaning media. That’s changing how the public views the media. The negative association has resulted in an increase in distrust of the media.
Nearly all Republicans (92 percent) now believe the media publishes fake news, according to a new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll. More than half of Democrats (53 percent) believe so. The phrase has hurt the credibility of esteemed publications like The New York Times.
The term first described stories internet trolls made up to sound real. When it first became popular in the fall of 2016, it mainly referred to false stories put out by Russians and others trying to interfere with U.S. elections. The left used it to describe right-leaning news sources like Breitbart and RedState. Trump adopted the term to describe left-leaning news sites.
Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor at Merrimaack College in Massachusetts, compiled a list that contains some leading right-leaning sites. Breitbart it describes as “political” and “unreliable.” It describes Redstate as “political” and “clickbait.” The list also includes the leftwing Daily Beast, though it describes it only as “political.”
It’s an Effective Phrase
Trump started using the phrase in 2016. He used it a couple of times a week, often in tweets. The media had to report on it, increasing its use. Collins Dictionary found last fall that the use of the phrase had risen 365 percent since 2016.
And it’s become almost entirely a term applied to the left-leaning media. “Trump supporters, and eventually Trump himself, coopted it as a derogatory epithet for mainstream news sites whose political coverage they found to be flawed or biased,” complains Slate magazine. It is now “a handy cudgel for people who want to criticize the media for a wide range of failings.”
“Fake news,” says the journalism site Poynter, “has been weaponized by politicians.” George Washington University professor Nikki Usher observed, “The speed with which the term became polarized and in fact a rhetorical weapon illustrates how efficient the conservative media machine has become.”
John Lloyd, a senior research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, laments its use. It portrays the mainstream media “as the tool of an arrogant, out-of-touch elite, who use that tool to keep down the marginalized.”
The Left Reacts
The left sees the damage the phrase is causing. They want people to stop using it. Trump calls The Washington Post fake news more than almost any other news outlet. Fighting back, Margaret Sullivan declared, “It’s Time to Retire the Tainted Term ‘Fake News.'” She complains that people use the phrase to describe left-leaning political views.
CNN is another outlet Trump often labels fake news. Hossein Derakhshan and Claire Wardle want to “Ban the Term ‘Fake News.'” They attack Trump’s tweeting. The phrase, they say, has “become weaponized by politicians who use it to undermine independent journalism in an effort to reach the public directly through their own channels.” They bemoan that “that people in three other countries increasingly believe that the ‘mainstream’ media peddle fabricated stories.”
Slate notes that targeting those two news outlets is working, at least on more conservative Americans. “Ask someone what ‘fake news’ means today, and depending on their political orientation, they may be more likely to mention CNN or the New York Times than the sort of hoax sites to which the term was previously applied.”
In an attempt to discredit the phrase, The New York Times published an article listing dictators and other disreputable world leaders who have used the phrase “fake news.” Although there are plenty of democratic world leaders who have used the phrase, The Times focused only on the unpopular leaders.
The Frustrated Left
The left is also frustrated that mere mistakes are being labeled fake news along with biased journalism. This creates an appearance that the left-leaning media is churning out a lot of fake news. But too many of those mistakes seem to express a bias against those on the right. They don’t all appear to be innocent gaffes. Media framed photos of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration in such a way to minimize the size.
Facebook, run by those on the left, has already stopped using the phrase. A spokesperson told Slate magazine the term “has taken on a life of its own.” Facebook uses phrase “false news” instead.
There is one way the left could succeed in reducing the conservative use of the phrase. The AP Stylebook could discourage its use. That would be in keeping with its left-leaning rules. The stylebook often discourages the use of words and phrases conservatives prefer, such as banning “illegal immigrants.”
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