Meta-Characteristics of Fake News
Over the past few months, Donald Trump has mounted a full frontal assault on the mainstream media, suggesting that much of what they report and many of their opinion pieces are "fake news." Of course, Donald being Donald does little to bolster his accusations—his words are imprecise, his arguments lack depth, and his facts are sometimes muddled, but he is NOT wrong on his overarching contention that the media is doing all of us a disservice.
As a consequence of his upset election victory, Trump has unleashed a level of media bias, not to mention clear media hostility and derision, that is unprecedented in my lifetime. To label it "fake news" is a facile short cut, but it's worth deconstructing exactly what the media has done over the past 3 or 4 months and will likely continue to do throughout Trump's presidency.
What does "fake news" mean? Let's examine a few meta-characteristics of what Trump calls "fake news."
- Promoting one ideological narrative to the exclusion of other competing narratives.
- Emphasizing stories that support one ideological narrative (the progressive narrative) and burying or completely omitting stories that conflict with that ideological narrative.
- Presenting a news event or public policy without appropriate context when that context might negatively impact the progressive narrative.
- Omitting important facts when they conflict with a progressive narrative.
- Parsing every word spoken by a conservative with an eye toward any hint of one of the "isms" or "phobias" that have become an obsession among progressives.
- Taking statements literally, even when it's obvious that the speaker intended something different, but doing this only when an opponent of the Democrats is doing the talking. Progressives speakers are always given the benefit of the doubt.
- Accusing an opponent of the Democrats of dishonesty (lying) using criteria that are never applied for a Democrat politician.
- Condemning an opponent of the Democrats for behavior and or comments using criteria that are never applied to the behavior or comments of a Democrat politician.
- Making hyperbolic claims about policy by suggesting the some group will be hurt, or fearful, or deprived of some right, but never examining the broader reasons for the policy or noting that anecdotal arguments are not always valid.
- Using appeals to authority that suggest that "the debate is over" and/or that those who question conventional progressive wisdom are "deniers" (a purposely loaded term) of some type.
- Investigating every instance of the "isms" or "phobias" that have become an obsession among progressives, but refusing to investigate analogous behavior that might reflect poorly on progressives.
- Conducting "in-depth investigations" only when they are likely to reflect poorly on the GOP, but showing a surprising lack of curiosity when possible wrong doing is associated with Democrats.
- Acting with obvious derision when discussing Trump in a hard news setting, using a inappropriate sneer or laugh, an arrogant comment, or a shake of the head.
- Presenting rumors and innuendo without sufficient investigation as fact when such rumor and innuendo reflect poorly on the GOP, only later to retract when proven wrong.
- Presenting a story by using talking head guests that do not represent the broad spectrum of opinion but are overwhelmingly anti-Trump.
- Refusing to question or rebut outrageously partisan (and often factually incorrect) comments made by progressive guests when copious facts are available to demonstrate the weakness of their arguments.
- Attacking guests who are opponents of the Democrats with a fervor that is not evident for progressive guests.
The mainstream media have become untrustworthy. But because the MSM shapes public opinion, it remains quite powerful. It's laughable to listen to media types play the victim and whine when Trump punches back. They've used conservative politicians as punching bags for decades and finally, one politician has said "enough." Like everything Donald Trump does, his way of approaching this is crass and sometimes unfocused, but he is not wrong in calling out the media. There is nothing dangerous about what he is doing. In fact, he just might be doing a service for the media itself.
If journalists do their job—report fairly and honestly without obvious bias; present all sides of a story, even when it strays from their preferred narratives; and look for wrong-doing, incompetence and hypocrisy of both sides of the aisle, every American would defend them without hesitation and would demand their inclusion in media events as an important balance against government power.
But when journalists act unprofessionally, as evidenced by the meta-characteristics I describe in this post, they are not journalists, they are propagandists. As such, their adversaries have every right to note their blatant and unrelenting bias and dishonesty.