One of the main things that Donald Trump seems to do when he gives a press conference is complain about the press. He called CNN “fake news” during a press conference. And this mentality isn’t exclusive to the President himself. In fact, a distrust and disdain for the media seem to be one of the hallmarks of his administration. An aide being interviewed by the BBC are attacked, along with other “mainstream media” outlets for allegedly painting the administration in an anti-Semitic light, before going on to say that, during the interview, Evan Davis, “has committed fake news.” This mentality reaches up to the highest echelons of Trump’s administration, with Steve Bannon going so far as to call the media “the opposition party.”
Bannon goes on to say that the media should be “embarrassed and humiliated,” and that they have “no power.” If the media has no power, why call them an opposition party? Surely some degree of power is needed to oppose the regime of a President?
So, if the mainstream media is somehow simultaneously the opposition, while also being fake and powerless, what can be done about it? Either from the perspective of the President or from media organisations themselves.
In a recent press conference, Trump called the media “out of control,” calling the press so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people.”
Trump clearly thinks that, whether or not the mainstream media is as powerless as Bannon claims (and the emphasis should be placed on mainstream), that they have an axe to grind with him, that they’re going out of their way to make him look like any number of things, from incompetent to anti-Semitic.
Trump’s focus on calling news fake, does shine a light on one of the major problems with the term. Fake news has a very real meaning and poses a very real problem. However, it’s already accurately being described as “common shorthand to describe anything an individual or organisation disagrees with.”
This description of fake news, and Trump’s frequent and vocal comments about the “mainstream media,” have been described as being overtures to something more troubling. A reporter for the New York Times described it as “how the muzzling starts […] not with a boot on your neck, but with the fear of one that runs so deep that you muzzle yourself.” After all, if Trump thinks the media is really the opposition party, then it isn’t impossible to imagine him trying to do something to muzzle them, and to stop them from reporting on his administration in the way that they have been.
What Trump is doing is capitalising on what’s been called a “lack of faith […] on the media’s ability to properly report on politics.” Trump sidesteps this media by regularly making announcements on Twitter. With a recent study showing “falling levels of faith in traditional media, down from 48 per cent to 43 per cent in a year,” Trump’s platform of announcing things on Twitter, and attacking the press during conferences, will be more effective.
This lack of faith in the media means that they have their work cut out for them, not just in opposing the President (which is by no means a bad thing for the media to do), but also in having their messages reach the public.
Now more than ever, news and media organisations need to focus on fact-checking, verification, and effective journalism in order to “prevail over the fog of fake news.” But news being called fake just because it presents a point of view that anyone, including the President, disagrees with, doesn’t make it fake. Just like something being printed or posted in a paper or online doesn’t make it true. The media need to rise above fake news, and focusing on reporting the reality of any given situation, especially now, when everything seems to become more unreal by the day.