Lou's Views

Fake news: a newspaper on fire

One thing I’ve learned as a journalist, op-ed writer and poseur pundit of print: If you want to sound like an authority, just coin a term with the prefix “post” — and all the better if you combine it with “pre.” For according to the Editor In Chief of Qwoted, “We live in a pre-post-pandemic world, one that is post-post-modern and post-truth, though those reporters still working in the realm of true truth have been labeled true liars by truly true liars, including a political figure in his pre-post presidency.”

And Lord help us all, this will result in the era of post-fake news.

Outside the political arena of Blue and Red, I have many bones to pick with the Orange One. Let’s start with the grammatical. Granted, exclamation points were never en vogue for smart writers — just ask Lynne Truss of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” fame — but Trump abuses them in his Tweets to the point where, just like the word “alternative,” they mean nothing. And how about the all-caps thing? Or the word “great”? “I AM A GREAT MASTER of the language. Why doesn’t FAKE NEWS MEDIA cover this!!!”

Which, despite my weak attempt at humor, is where things get serious.

Who, Really, Is the Enemy of the People?

For the first time in recorded history, an American president more resembled a fascist dictator in terms of how he attacked and tried to manipulate the media at every turn. For me, the broadside that broke my heart and stoked my rage came on April 5, 2019, when Trump tweeted that the press was “truly the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

Aside from this sounding an awful lot like Karl Marx declaring that “religion is the opium of the people,” this shot across the Fourth Estate’s bow was more than the usual Trump hyperbole. Many who read it pounced like sharks on chum. They liked it more than 103,000 times. 

And yet, did we do ourselves any favors by covering this? Because yes, we did cover it. And every time we repeated that vile phrase, we cranked up the echo chamber — as in this marquee-level headline in The Hill — and did Trump a tremendous favor.

At our own expense, we blew it.

Think of this way. A kid gets picked on by a brain-dead bully, who calls him “Pumpkinhead!” So what do you do? Even though you have a lot to say about much more important things, you run around telling everyone, “That bully called me Pumpkinhead! Did you hear me? Pumpkinhead!!!”

In no time flat, you’ve got a new nickname.

Nine Out of 10 Dictators Agree

Statistics do not lie, and those reported by Gallup over a quarter century are ironclad. (Though as I have previously written, election polling, another animal entirely, was atrocious across the board this year.) Gallup says that Republican trust in mass media dipped to 15 percent in 2019. Democrat trust clocked at 69 percent, slightly higher than in 1997. Back then, 41 percent of Republicans trusted the mass media, too.

It’s absurd that in this day and age a lot of reporters might feel they have to qualify a statement like the one I’m about to make. But I don’t: There’s a crystal clear correlation between Trump’s ceaseless broadsides at the media and the drastic crash in Republican trust since 2015, when it measured 34 percent.

Meanwhile, “fake news,” as the New York Times noted in 2017, gained a following beyond our borders: “Following Mr. Trump’s example, many of the world’s autocrats and dictators are taking a shine to it, too.” Those included thugs such as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela. Even the Chinese communist apparatchiks gloated:

“If the president of the United States claims that his nation’s leading media outlets are a stain on America, then negative news about China and other countries should be taken with a grain of salt, since it is likely that bias and political agendas are distorting the real picture.”

Which is why I contend, irrespective of party loyalty and entirely from a freedom of the press perspective, President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will be a breath of fresh air and a sigh of relief all rolled into one.

Media’s Wild Ride Back to the Future

There’s a fancy word for the period that bridges one president moving out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the new one moving in: the “interregnum.” And if you’re a reporter, editor or archetypical champion of the First Amendment, here’s your Homonym of the Day: Interregnumb. In fact, it’s just the homonym given Donald’s Trump’s ad hominem attacks on the mainstream media and how they left us breathless … then senseless … then defenseless.

After all, how do you fight back against the fake news broadside? If you report on it, you spread it. If you respond to it, you run the risk of giving it undeserved credence. And if you ignore it, you have to set the bar incredibly high to clear it. Unless, of course, you get help from the very top.

Biden will have his disagreements with the press, and the press will likewise go after him. But that is how it is supposed to work. That friction amounts to iron sharpening iron in a functional democracy. And rest assured, you won’t ever, ever hear that pathetic phrase wielded like a truncheon from the White House for the next four years.

In case you think that’s a political bias, witness Trump’s most recent attacks on Fox News for not telling his story, his way. It’s too bad when your pet propaganda soapbox proves—gasp!—it can also report the news straight up, as it did when it called the election for Biden. (Of course, the non-mainstream far right media attacked this as fake. But there are fringe lunatics in every crowd.)

So in the wake of fake, let’s take a look that the label that’s taken over instead, only in reverse:

“Without evidence.”

Every single claim, every single court case, every single accusation made about alleged fraud in the 2020 presidential election has been thrown out, many in disgust by Republican judges. Now it is time for a new “without evidence” verdict. It is a proud moment for me and I hope us all that “without evidence” has indeed trumped fake news, stop the steal and, who knows, Confederate lives matter. “The press is the enemy of the people” was always a charge without evidence. Fake news? Over-overwhelmingly when applied to the mainstream media, without evidence. Conspiracy theories? The Deep State? QAnon? I’d entertain any of it, I suppose, if given rigorous proof. But it is all without evidence.

Four years. What a nightmare of media discrediting. Was it real? Or was it fake?

Phew. Now, where were we?

Lou Carlozo is Qwoted’s Editor In Chief. All views expressed have tested negative for COVID-19. lou@quoted.com, or look for him on LinkedIn