Journalists, media types, reporters, you have two choices: you can fix these problems, or you can watch your profession go down in flames.
By Daniel Payne
Since at least Donald Trump’s election, our media have been in the grip of an astonishing, self-inflicted crisis. Despite Trump’s constant railing against the American press, there is no greater enemy of the American media than the American media. They did this to themselves.
We are in the midst of an epidemic of fake news. There is no better word to describe it than “epidemic,” insofar as it fits the epidemiological model from the Centers for Disease Control: this phenomenon occurs when “an agent and susceptible hosts are present in adequate numbers, and the agent can be effectively conveyed from a source to the susceptible hosts.”
The “agent” in this case is hysteria over Trump’s presidency, and the “susceptible hosts” are a slipshod, reckless, and breathtakingly gullible media class that spread the hysteria around like—well, like a virus.
It is difficult to adequately sum up the breadth of this epidemic, chiefly because it keeps growing: day after day, even hour after hour, the media continue to broadcast, spread, promulgate, publicize, and promote fake news on an industrial scale. It has become a regular part of our news cycle, not distinct from or extraneous to it but a part of it, embedded within the news apparatus as a spoke is embedded in a bicycle wheel.
Whenever you turn on a news station, visit a news website, or check in on a journalist or media personality on Twitter or Facebook, there is an excellent chance you will be exposed to fake news. It is rapidly becoming an accepted part of the way the American media are run.
How we will get out of this is anyone’s guess. We might not get out of it, not so long as Trump is president of these United States. We may be up for four—maybe eight!—long years of authentic fake news media hysteria. It is worth cataloging at least a small sampling of the hysteria so far. Only when we fully assess the extent of the media’s collapse into ignominious ineptitude can we truly begin to reckon with it.
Since Trump’s election, here’s just a small sampling of fake news that our media and our journalist class have propagated.
Early November: Spike in Transgender Suicide Rates
After Trump’s electoral victory on November 8, rumors began circulating that multiple transgender teenagers had killed themselves in response to the election results. There was no basis to these rumors. Nobody was able to confirm them at the time, and nobody has been able to confirm in the three months since Trump was elected.
Nevertheless, the claim spread far and wide: Guardian writer and editor-at-large of Out Zach Stafford tweeted the rumor, which was retweeted more than 13,000 times before he deleted it. He later posted a tweet explaining why he deleted his original viral tweet; his explanatory tweet was shared a total of seven times. Meanwhile, PinkNews writer Dominic Preston wrote a report on the rumors, which garnered more than 12,000 shares on Facebook.
At Mic, Matthew Rodriguez wrote about the unsubstantiated allegations. His article was shared more than 55,000 times on Facebook. Urban legend debunker website Snopes wrote a report on the rumors and listed them as “unconfirmed” (rather than “false”). Snopes’s sources were two Facebook posts, since deleted, that offered no helpful information regarding the location, identity, or circumstances of any of the suicides. The Snopes report was shared 19,000 times.
At Reason, writer Elizabeth Nolan Brown searched multiple online databases to try to determine the identities or even the existence of the allegedly suicidal youth. She found nothing. As she put it: “[T]eenagers in 2016 don’t just die without anyone who knew them so much as mentioning their death online for days afterward.”
She is right. Just the same, the stories hyping this idea garnered at least nearly 100,000 shares on Facebook alone, contributing to the fear and hysteria surrounding Trump’s win.
November 22: The Tri-State Election Hacking Conspiracy Theory
On November 22, Gabriel Sherman posted a bombshell report at New YorkMagazine claiming that “a group of prominent computer scientists and election lawyers” were demanding a recount in three separate states because of “persuasive evidence that [the election]results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked.” The evidence? Apparently, “in Wisconsin, Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots.”
The story went stratospherically viral. It was shared more than 145,000 times on Facebook alone. Sherman shared it on his Twitter feed several times, and people retweeted his links to the story nearly 9,000 times. Politico’s Eric Geller shared the story on Twitter as well. His tweet was retweeted just under 8,000 times. Dustin Volz from Reuters shared the link; he was retweeted nearly 2,000 times.MSNBC’s Joy Reid shared the story and was retweeted more than 4,000 times. New York Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman also shared the story and was retweeted about 1,600 times.
It wasn’t until the next day, November 23, that someone threw a little water on the fire. At FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver explained that it was “demographics, not hacking” that explained the curious voting numbers. “Anyone making allegations of a possible massive electoral hack should provide proof,” he wrote, “and we can’t find any.” Additionally, Silver pointed out that the New York Magazine article had misrepresented the argument of one of the computer scientists in question.
At that point, however, the damage had already been done: Sherman, along with his credulous tweeters and retweeters, had done a great deal to delegitimize the election results. Nobody was even listening to Silver, anyway: his post was shared a mere 380 times on Facebook, or about one-quarter of 1 percent as much as Sherman’s. This is how fake news works: the fake story always goes viral, while nobody reads or even hears about the correction.
December 1: The 27-Cent Foreclosure
At Politico on December 1, Lorraine Woellert published a shocking essay claiming that Trump’s pick for secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, had overseen a company that “foreclosed on a 90-year-old woman after a 27-cent payment error.” According to Woellert: “After confusion over insurance coverage, a OneWest subsidiary sent [Ossie] Lofton a bill for $423.30. She sent a check for $423. The bank sent another bill, for 30 cents. Lofton, 90, sent a check for three cents. In November 2014, the bank foreclosed.”
The story received widespread coverage, being shared nearly 17,000 times on Facebook. The New York Times’s Steven Rattner shared it on Twitter (1,300 retweets), as did NBC News’s Brad Jaffy (1,200 retweets), the AP’s David Beard (1,900 retweets) and many others.
The problem? The central scandalous claims of Woellert’s article were simply untrue. As the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Ted Frank pointed out, the woman in question was never foreclosed on, and never lost her home. Moreover, “It wasn’t Mnuchin’s bank that brought the suit.”
Politico eventually corrected these serious and glaring errors. But the damage was done: the story had been repeated by numerous media outlets including Huffington Post (shared 25,000 times on Facebook), the New York Post, Vanity Fair, and many others.
January 20: Nancy Sinatra’s Complaints about the Inaugural Ball
On the day of Trump’s inauguration, CNN claimed Nancy Sinatra was “not happy” with the fact that the president and first lady’s inaugural dance would be to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” The problem? Nancy Sinatra had never said any such thing. CNN later updated the article without explaining the mistake they had made…Continue Reading →
This article (16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won) was originally published on The Federalist and syndicated by The Event Chronicle.