On Jan. 22, 2017, Kellyanne Conway was asked by MSNBC’s Chuck Todd why Sean Spicer uttered a falsehood about crowd size. Her response was that the White House press secretary used alternative facts. President Donald J. Trump has repeatably stated that members of the media make up stories, calling them fake news.
If the President disagrees with an opinion written by a journalist he immediately retaliates saying it is fake. An opinion in journalism is formed based upon the facts of a particular situation. This is no different than how anyone else forms an opinion.
A news story is the reporting of facts of a particular event. This is done by collecting research from different credible news organizations and fact-checking sources. This does not mean mistakes do not happen.
Alternative Facts and Fake News
According to the Urban Dictionary, there are four classifications of lies, No. 1, lies; No. 2, damned lies; No. 3, statistics; and, No. 4, alternative facts, which are the worst type of lies. This is because alternative facts are intended to trick the listener into believing something that is not true.
President Trump used his Twitter account numerous times since his election to accuse several major news networks of reporting the fake news. He used all capital letters to emphasize his point. Trump has said that CNN did not report the facts of many major events.
The White House even issued a list of major events which they said were never covered by the network. However, CNN went out of their way to prove they had in fact reported on each of those mentioned by the White House, and the reporting was fact-based.
The President has said, “All negative polls are fake news.” There are many people who support the President and believe his definition. According to most language experts, changing the meaning of fake news in this way is a very real threat to Democracy.
A Berkley professor from the University of California, George Lakoff, has actually studied the word fake. This makes him somewhat of an expert on the word, and he has found through his studies the word fake to be particularly troubling.
The primary function of the news is to pass along information based on facts that serve the well-being of the public. Using words like biased, unbiased, good, bad, or liberal in front of the word news does not change the fact that it is news. It is still connected to its main function of being tied to reality, and the intention of being factual.
Using Trump’s modifier implies the news is not serving its main purpose of informing the public well. It says to the reader the writer meant to deceive readers by misrepresenting the facts.
Lakoff’s main concern is by “Calling the news fake, is a way of undermining the function of Democracy by hiding the truth.”
Trump’s Attempt at Changing the Meaning of Fake News
Social media is a big part of the President’s crusade to reshape the meaning of fake news. Facebook and Twitter users’ language that is similar to casual chatter, which is his target audience. Social network sites have billions of subscribers and followers.
Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist, said, “Social media is a major contributor to the increased speed of language being adopted because it gives people the ability to reach out to anyone, at any place, at any time with no limitations.”
Additionally, Trump already has a very receptive following, which includes Republicans and a few independents who previously had little respect for the media, according to some polls.
Trump has shown he is not good at unity, but he has been a powerful voice for a section of the population that feels like the government has forgotten about them and left them behind. He adopted his language to fit his misinterpretation of the facts to create a following.
Facts and Truth
A fact is something that is indisputable. A news story is the reporting of facts of something that has occurred. This is done by first confirming the event really happened. After receiving confirmation, the reporter begins collecting the facts and the timeline of events leading up to the event. Reporting the facts is how journalists bring the truth to the American people.
Alternative facts are not truthful and can be misleading. Reporting the facts inform the public of what is about to or has already happened. Often, there are lessons to be learned and determining whether or not something could or should have been prevented comes from accurate stories.
For example, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, thousands were forced to take refuge in North Texas. Preventative steps were taken to keep a disaster of this magnitude from happening again.
Fake news and alternative facts are lies, not news. Although journalists do sometimes make mistakes, the news is based on facts that are true. President Trump lashes out at unfavorable coverage and defensively speaks out against it calling it fake, but this does not make the news fake.
By Katherine Miller
NPR.org: With ‘Fake News’ Trump Moves From Alternative Facts to Alternative Language
NPRorg: When A Politician Says ‘Fake News’ And A Politician Threatens To Sue Back
The Washington Post: Museums and libraries fight ‘alternative facts’ with #Dayoffacts
Top and Feature Images Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License