With the recent Cambridge Analytica discoveries and the news about anchors from Sinclair news stations reading from the same script denouncing so-called “false news,” it’s no wonder that a recent poll revealed that 77 percent of people believe the mainstream media disseminates ‘fake news’ at least occasionally, and 42 percent think they do it ‘in order to push an agenda.’
As an Emmy Award-winning cameraman and producer for over 30 years, Tim Ortman has covered everything from war, revolution and terrorist attacks to the fall of Communism, Olympiads and presidential elections. He is offering a unique perspective on the debate around fake news in his editorial, which I have included below, “The REAL Fake News.”
Guest Author: Tim Ortman, reprinted with permission
Today, the term ‘Fake News’ is firmly entrenched in our lexicon. It seems everyone from Trumpite retirees, to neo-political millennials, freely toss around the phrase. The term was even recognized as, “The Word of the Year” by UK-based Collins Dictionary.
Candidate Trump didn’t actually invent the term. He copied it from political satirists who were using the term a decade prior to his run for the White House. “The Most Trusted Name in Fake News” was a sort of on-air tagline used by the Daily Show. Jon Stewart and company, would mock some of the unbelievable news stories of the day with their comical brand of Fake News. And this kind of political satire isn’t limited to just the Comedy Central channel. It has even crept into the fringes of network news with the likes of Dennis Miller appearing on Fox News and Mo Rocca on CBS and MSNBC. It was all intended as a joke; a means to illicit a laugh via a political prism.
But the many Trump mentions of the phrase employ an entirely different tactic. Any article or report that casts him in an unfavorable light (given his public performance, this has become a very broad spectrum) he slams as Fake News. The motive here is, with a simple dismissive utterance, to cast doubt onto the facts behind a story and quickly move the focus elsewhere. But, there’s more to it. There is a deeper, more malicious intent at work here where the hope is to discredit the reporter, the organization they work for and even the entire news industry. During the 2016 campaign, NBC’s Katy Tur was a major recipient of Trump’s Fake News vitriol. Because of her unyielding factually correct reporting, she was called “disgraceful” and “third rate.” He then took aim at her employer tweeting, “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their license.” This use of Fake News is a far cry from political satire. There is nothing funny about shutting down a long respected and vital institution like NBC News.
A more accurate description of Fake News refers to the ongoing and sinister efforts of foreign governments, namely Russia, that plant completely fictitious stories online in an attempt to generate a viral, feeding-frenzy of those stories. These are truly artificial news reports devoid of any journalistic research or genuine reporting. They are logarithmically constructed by foreign trolls with the sole intent of creating distraction and disruption within our political election process. It’s estimated that such posts were viewed by 120 million Americans during the 2016 election. It is impossible to determine whether any voters were swayed as a result of these Russian internet bots. But, it is an absolute certainty, verified by the CIA, NSA, and FBI that this was the work of outside agents wishing to sabotage Democracy…OUR Democracy by means of very real Fake News (or opinions viewed as news) postings. Some in Congress have called it an act of war. And, with the recent Cambridge Analytica discoveries, it is becoming clearer that the very real online Fake News is omnipresent and not going away.
It is more than just a mistake to call the accurate reporting of legitimate new outlets fake. There has always been and will always be unfavorable reporting about the President; all presidents. The truth sometimes hurts. The misapplication of the term Fake News is an egregious error on the part of a temperamental President and his ardent followers because doing so conceals the real danger. Cloaked in Fake (internet) News, our Russian enemy is pouring through our porous cyber gates. If enemy planes invaded our airspace, or submarines patrolled our coasts, there would most certainly be a different bipartisan reaction.
When special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted thirteen Russians and three Russian entities, “accused of violating U.S. criminal laws in order to interfere with U.S. elections and political processes”, some choose to look the other way. The apparent main instigator, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, denied the charges saying, “The Americans are very impressionable people; they see what they want to see.” Of course, he did. What else was he going to say? “Yes, I made millions as Putin’s caterer, but my real endeavor was to run the Internet Research Agency, through which I disrupt American democracy by undermining their political process. That might make Putin upset. Simply put, if given a choice and we certainly do have one, I choose to believe Robert Muller over an indicted Russia or Russian dictator. It seems some of us red-blooded Americans sometimes fail to remember that Russia is a failed super power whose system of government collapsed in shambles. They are our sworn enemy and will do anything to regain their lost prominence on the world’s stage, especially if it comes at our expense.
And yet, our President refuses to identify Russia as an enemy. He’s called our own news media the enemy of the American people. It is perplexing, even disturbing that he is so reticent to identify Russia, with all of their very real cyberthreats, as the real enemy of our way of life.
Tim Ortman is the author of Newsreal: A View Through the Lens When…. He spent 35 years working in television news, having worked for all major U.S television news networks and the Foreign Press Corps. As an Emmy-award winning cameraman and producer, his assignments have taken him to five continents, covering everything from war, revolution, terrorist attacks, and famine to Cold War Summits, the fall of Communism, Olympiads and Olympic Park bombings, presidential elections and the occasional press conference. Connect with Tim on Twitter, @TimOrtmanWriter.