President Donald Trump keeps charging the media with propagating ‘fake news’. But what exactly is fake news?
Because it is a very complex issue and hard to explain (actually, neither is true, but there we have it, fake news in action) perhaps it would help if I gave you a few samples:
— Barack Obama was not entitled to be elected president because he was born in Kenya.
— More people, far more, attended Donald Trump’s inauguration than went to Barack Obama’s.
— Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Donald Trump’s New York City office in Trump Tower.
I could cite any number of additional examples, but the three that I’ve just mentioned are enough, I think, to put you in the picture.
And the source of these accusations is who?
Why, Donald Trump.
First, let’s clear the air by answering the question: are the accusations true?
In the first instance certainly not; in the second evidentially not; in the third probably not – though to be fair there may an investigation to find out.
That means, of course, that all three qualify as fake news – or, if you prefer the ingenious coinage employed by that relentless seeker of the truth, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, ‘alternative facts’.
I happen to prefer a third definition: lies.
Now, why would the president of the United States – any president of the United States – tell lies?
Why, for that matter, did Richard Nixon do it? Or Bill Clinton? Or, for all I know, when he was in office, the saintly George Washington, famous for his childhood admission, after chopping down a cherry tree, with the phrase, “Father, I cannot tell a lie”.
They lie because they are politicians, whose innate sense of self-importance and preoccupation with personal destiny means that they consider themselves so important as to be morally permitted, even obliged, to lie; to say anything to seize power and continue saying it in order to retain power. In some cases, lying in the White House became instinctual, reflexive – a habit, like smoking, very easy to take up and very hard to give up.
That some White House occupants have lied more than others is too well known to need qualifying. Most have done it because their tenure was threatened.
Clearly that does not apply to the current resident, who has been in the job less than three months. I think he may do it just for a bit of fun. A little pre-breakfast banter, delivered by Twitter, and requiring no more than 140 characters, works wonders for the metabolism first thing in the mornings. He probably does it while at stool.
Doing it for a laugh is one explanation. There is an alternative one, for which psychologists have a fancy name, and which may be too uncomfortable to contemplate at this time.
What about the organs of the media? Have they, too, as charged, not indulged from time to time in peddling a few ‘alternative facts’?
There can be no denying that there are many recorded instances of stories being published without adequate sourcing, and even some which turned out to be made up. But those were, thankfully, the exceptions rather than the rules.
There are rotten apples in every barrel; the cure is to remove them before they poison the rest.
The fact is that the press, as I prefer to call the Fourth Estate, has a far less compelling reason to be economical with the truth than the politicians whose activities they examine on behalf of their viewers, listeners or readers. Yes, many journalists I have known were unreconstructed liberals, and none that I have known would have consciously allowed their political preferences to infect the objectivity of their reporting. And many of them worked for right-wing owners whose editorial writers would have insisted on balancing the books.
But who knows? With ratings and circulations to be maintained, perhaps even the ladies and gentlemen of the media now stoop to conquer.
We live in troubling times, and in politics as in much else nothing seems sacred any more, least of all The Truth.
It is a point of which the present occupant of the White House reminds us just about every day of the year.