Monday, March 12, 2018

Politicians at all levels take up 'fake news' smear; Ohio editor who backed Trump tells journos to look in mirror

Huffington Post graphic
President Trump's repeated attempts to discredit the news media with the term "fake news" have inspired conservative politicians all over the country to copy him.

"An Idaho state lawmaker urges her constituents to submit entries for her 'fake news awards.' The Kentucky governor tweets #FAKENEWS to dismiss questions about his purchase of a home from a supporter. An aide to the Texas land commissioner uses the phrase to downplay the significance of his boss receiving donations from employees of a company that landed a multimillion-dollar contract," Ryan J. Foley of The Associated Press reports.

Denouncing news stories as fake news helps politicians dodge uncomfortable questions in the short term, but experts on press and democracy say the tactic could cause long-term damage by undermining the news media's role as a governmental and political watchdog. The hostility toward the press has already turned violent on several occasions. "In the last year, at least three political figures have been implicated in physical assaults on reporters asking questions, while journalists have been attacked in dozens of other incidents by protesters, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker," Foley reports.

The confusion sown by Trump and other conservative politicians is exacerbated by the proliferation of actual fake news on the internet. Public trust in the media is at an all-time low, especially among conservatives, and even small town newspapers are bearing the brunt of conservative outrage. Rebecca Baker, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, recommends that journalists respond to claims of "fake news" by increasing transparency as much as possible: sharing audio, video and documents that back up their stories.

This story is the first in a series produced by the AP as part of Sunshine Week, which celebrates government transparency and freedom of the news media in the service of democracy.

UPDATE: Editor-Publisher Gary Abernathy of The Times Gazette in Hillsboro, Ohio, finds fault: "It is telling that the story notes that the claim of bias comes from conservatives, which raises the question: Why don’t liberals complain as much about media bias? The obvious liberal slant to the media is typically ignored in favor of journalists adopting the mantle of victimhood. . . . I share the concern over the shaky position of newspapers today, but not for the same reason as many of my colleagues. The attacks by the president and others cannot hurt us. They are merely firing ammunition handed them by media outlets that have too often abandoned their “impartial and steady course” — as Carothers put it 200 years ago — in favor of point-of-view journalism and obvious agendas reflected in tabloid-style, click-bait headlines and sensationalized reporting."

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