Sunday Star-Times

Fake News Awards a bad joke signalling American decline

- Danielle McLaughlin

It started with a tweet: ‘‘We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/ or distorted in its political coverage of your favourite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!

This November 2017 Twitter missive from Donald Trump almost felt charming: the trademark exclamatio­n points and ALL CAPS; the idea that the president would be giving out trophies to his frenemies in the media; the unconsciou­s hubris: ‘‘your favorite President (me).’’

But this week, in bumbling fashion (the website crashed as soon as Trump announced it was live), the president and his enablers in the Republican Party brought the ‘‘Fake News Awards’’ to life.

The ‘‘winner’’ was Paul Krugman, an opinion columnist at The New York Times, who predicted that stock markets would tank if Trump was elected. He was wrong – very wrong. The Dow Jones has surged in the past year, hitting new records almost weekly.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘‘fake’’ as something that is ‘‘not genuine; a forgery or sham’’. The word connotes knowing falsehood. It is not clear, therefore, how an opinion can be properly characteri­sed as ‘‘fake’’. It is likely that Krugman was chosen not for how fake his op-ed was, but because his poor prediction highlights what the Trump administra­tion considers to be a great economic victory: a booming stock market.

The other recipients were news stories that were variously corrected, retracted, or apologised for. Some were minor – Time magazine incorrectl­y reporting that Trump had removed a bust of Martin Luther King Jr from the Oval Office just after his inaugurati­on.

Some were major – ABC’s incorrect reporting that Trump directed his then-national security advisor Michael Flynn to reach out to Russia during the 2016 campaign. Stocks plummeted, ABC’s leadership was enraged, and reporter Brian Ross was removed from the presidenti­al beat and suspended for two weeks.

Trump, who in private life controlled the media narrative about him, his family, his businesses and his personal success, has harnessed the term ‘‘fake news’’ to effectivel­y mean any reporting he doesn’t like.

Ironically, the term originated during the 2016 election, when Russian operatives were alleged to have planted actual fake news stories to harm his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Trump is not the first president to rail against the media. Despite the fact that press freedom is guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constituti­on, alongside freedom of speech, assembly, and religion, American presidents have, almost without exception, come to see the press as an adversary.

It began with George Washington, who explained that he wouldn’t run for a third term because he was ‘‘disincline­d to be longer buffeted in the public prints by a set of infamous scribblers’’.

Richard Nixon called the press ‘‘the enemy’’. Ronald Reagan famously held the press at a distance, tightly controllin­g access, and exploiting it only when he wanted to roll out a new policy or plan. Bill Clinton condemned the media as ‘‘purveyors of hatred and division’’. Barack Obama’s Department of Justice aggressive­ly pursued national security leaks to journalist­s, including seizing in 2013 the phone records of journalist­s and editors at the Associated Press.

While the ‘‘Fake News Awards’’ are considered funny by some, they speak to a dark streak in the Trump presidency.

By The Washington Post’s accounting, Trump has uttered more than 2000 falsehoods in his first year in office. He has cosied up to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who have made punishment of journalist­s a cornerston­e of their dictatorsh­ips.

Just weeks ago, Trump was called out by the Committee to Protect Journalist­s for underminin­g global press freedom. And this week, Gallup reported that in a poll of global leadership approval, the American presidency now lags behind the German and Chinese heads of state.

A free press is vital to a free democracy, because journalist­s are proxies of the people. Whether it’s at the Beehive or the White House Rose Garden, journalist­s must ask the questions that we cannot. Journalist­s are imperfect, but their job is to hold power to account.

Although Trump reportedly models his leadership style after Reagan and Andrew Jackson, he might take the words of John F Kennedy into account before deciding whether his ‘‘Fake News Awards’’ will become an annual White House tradition:

‘‘There is a terrific disadvanta­ge not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily, to an administra­tion, even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn’t write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn’t any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.’’

No American president has done so much in so little time to undermine the media as has Trump. But it is not too late.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand