When Deadspin, a sports orientated news network, randomly uploaded a minute long video exposing the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, murmurs about fake news and honest journalism rippled throughout the internet. In the video, TV reporters from 49 different stations were compiled, reading from an identical script that focused on fake news and how other stations often spread misinformation.
These 49 local news stations all had one thing in common — they answer to Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the owner of many local news stations in America. As part of a must-run script, these reporters spoke directly to their regional viewer base about how hard it was to find truthful reporting, all uttering the unfortunately ironic statement, “This is dangerous to our democracy.”
Over the past year and a half, the term “fake news” has become the catchphrase of Trump and his supporters. Trump has put effort into exposing the worst perpetrators of this in his “fake news awards.” Posted on his website, it listed the top ten mistakes major networks made that reflected the president in a negative light. The post, however, was just that — mistakes — many of which had been fixed long before the “Fake News Awards.”
The overall winner wasn’t even an error at all: it was a prediction by the New York Times on the economy in the coming months, and as months progressed, it was found to be incorrect.
Here’s the thing about fake news: it exists, but not in the way Trump articulates. CNN and the New York Times, while biased, are far from the villains of the free press that Trump describes. Truth is, the worst of media is much more elusive. It comes from sites you’ve never heard of: Rilenews and the Dc Gazette, LinkBeef and News Examiner. Their stories often go viral, reaching millions who unconsciously swallow lies. Some are meticulous in their facade, either claiming to a part of a bigger, more trusted network or mixing factual articles with fabricated ones so you can’t tell which is which.
But these sites aren’t the ones Trump’s attacking. He’s attacking CNN and the Washington Post, names we have heard of. This is when the rhetoric behind “fake news” becomes more clear; it’s not meant as a way to call out lies presented as truth, as the name would imply. Instead, it has become a catchall term for “News I Don’t Like.”
Every network can be placed on one point of the political spectrum. Some may be radical in their position while others are more centered. But all of them still exist on the spectrum; not a single one is wholly apolitical. Every news article, feature, or photo shows some form of favor to a certain argument. Word choice even, the difference between cottage and cabin express a different view, despite them representing more or less the same idea.
The problem of fake news highlights a much bigger discrepancy in America: we’re not willing to listen to each other. In the Sinclair case, the term was for their own benefit. They wanted to argue that they were the only network safe from fake news. More importantly, however, fake news has been used as a barricade between the right and left.
It is more favorable today to deny the credibility of an article that threatens your worldview than to do the work to wholly dismantle the argument it promotes. That willingness to not understand is best represented through the fake news phenomenon, which is truly dangerous to our democracy.