President Trump’s insistence that he’s the victim of dishonest and slanted coverage has focused attention on the sources and the emphasis of reporting. When the news is bad for Trump, he dismisses it as untrue – “That’s fake news.”
Because of his role and his unusual dominance of the news, even for a president, Trump has somehow given credence to the notion that some news is concocted or distorted by a mainstream press that wants to see him fail. Surely there are many people in the media, just as in the nation, who are worried by Trump’s behavior and his agenda, but that doesn’t mean their reporting is untrue.
Fake news, in the sense Trump uses it, is itself a fake notion. The idea that the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and the major networks are making things up in some conspiracy against Trump, or conservatives generally, is easy to disprove. Much of what Trump disputes is true – and much of what he says is true is simply not.
Yet, regardless of Trump’s accuracy, his attacks have done damage. Among a large segment of Americans, he’s encouraged the idea that journalists are the “enemy of the people,” the manipulators of a free society rather than the evidence of it. Planting such doubts undermines the free press and, by extension, the American idea. And that’s why it’s urgent for the media to protect its democratic role by responding not with anger, but with dispassionate and dogged reporting. And mostly that’s what has happened.
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While Trump is aiming at the wrong target, he’s touching on a real issue. There is a great deal of fake news on the internet and circulated by social media. Some of it is accidental and some of it deliberate. Russia, for instance, has pumped disinformation into democracies to affect elections. And hyper-partisan websites and radio talk shows, especially on the right, have fanned conspiracy theories and repeated false narratives about opposing parties and politicians.
The result is a lack of credibility among news sources and a lack of understanding among news consumers. If a democracy cannot agree on what’s true, it can fall victim to a prevailing lie. The news industry needs to guard its credibility and news consumers need to sharpen their skepticism.
The News & Observer, in partnership with WTVD, is taking on the fake news issue in our next upcoming Community Voices forum, this one entitled: “Fake News – the search for credibility.” The forum’s panel will include a diverse group of people well versed in politics and the news.
Steve Daniels, the co-anchor of ABC11 Eyewitness News. He is also an ABC11 investigative reporter. Daniels joined ABC11 in June 1999. Before coming to WTVD, Steve was a national correspondent for “Dateline NBC.” Daniels is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has also appeared on the “Today” show, “NBC Nightly News,” MSNBC and CNBC.
Rob Christensen has been writing about North Carolina politics as a reporter and columnist for The News and Observer for 44 years. In 2008, UNC Press published his history of 20th century politics, “The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics,” which won the award for the best work of nonfiction that year by the N.C. Literary and Historical Association.
Donna Martinez, vice-president of marketing and communications for the John Locke Foundation, came to JLF in 2003 after freelance writing for Carolina Journal and contributing to projects for the North Carolina Education Alliance. Donna is a graduate of Arizona State University. She and her husband, Rick Martinez, co-host “You Don’t Say,” a daily radio talk show heard on NewsRadio 680 WPTF in the Triangle.
Bill Adair, a journalism professor at the Sanford School for Public Policy at Duke University. He worked in Washington from 1997 to 2013, where he covered Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court. He is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting (shared with the PolitiFact staff).
Join us for the 90-minute forum at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 30 at the North Carolina Museum of History in downtown Raleigh. The event is free and open to the public, but please register in advance at nando.com/communityvoices.
If you’re interested in political news, you need to be interested in how to assess and respond to the issue of “fake news.” It will be an enlightening event. For real.
Barnett: 919-829-4512, or nbarnett@ newsobserver. com