The advent of the “Fake News” phenomenon that has flourished recently is a very distressing development in the field of public discourse, regardless of particularly topic. The phenomenon has, one suspects, been around much longer, perhaps for as long as the Internet has been in existence, but it has truly become a ‘thing’ since the advent of internet-based social media as a replacement for the more traditional forms of word-based media.
The prevalence of “Fake News” during the 2016 US Presidential Election, as well as the dismissal of unfavourable reportage as “Fake News”, has caused a rift in that particular country and, I would argue, around the world. It has done so particularly among certain elements of that broader world society primarily because they have seen how ‘successful’ the use of “Fake News” and the “Fake News” epithet to perceived unfavourable reporting was in bringing Donald Trump to office as President of the United States.
Since his election win, and particularly during the first few weeks of his nascent administration, the now President of the United States, along with many of his closest advisors, have often rolled out the “Fake News” description for any narrative in the public arena that does not fit with the Administration’s preferred narrative. It has been particularly vociferous when members of the Administration have been challenged by mainstream media on the use of ‘alternate facts’. Particularly within the US arena of public discourse, the mainstream media have a distinctive role to play, whereby they, on behalf of the broader populace, seek to ensure that the Administration is being truthful in its claims and actions. In recent weeks, there has been an almost outright war between the media and the Administration, with the former continuing to fulfil its role in American political and civil life while the latter seeks to brand the media as the purveyors of “Fake News” and as ‘failing’ enterprises that no longer have any relevance.
And then there was this, from the President’s own Twitter account:
Now the President believes that anyone whom he wishes to label as the purveyors of “Fake News” – and the list of those in this particular Tweet is a list of the most professional newsgathering organisations in the United States – is actually doing a disservice to the American People, that they are, in fact, enemies of the American People.
This is a broad and ambit claim made with no provision of evidence – apart from the ‘evidence’ presented by the President during his ‘press conferences’ – and, on the basis of those ‘press conferences’, appears to be more about a venting of ire towards those newsgathering organisations that have dared to ask the ‘wrong’ kind of question or to dare to think for themselves rather than swallow the line handed out by the Administration or, perhaps worst of all, dared to publicly point out that the President has told a bald-faced ‘alternate fact’ in the middle of a press conference or other announcement.
The danger would appear to be that it’s a small step from labelling newsgathering organisations as “enemies of the American People” to the imposition of some form of regulation or control on those same organisations in order to ensure that the only message that is being made public is the one being pushed by the Administration, regardless of factual basis. At the very least, the use of the label “enemy of the American People” is a dog-whistle to his own supporters who, it has to be admitted, may have a genuine grievance against the political establishment of which the traditional newsgathering organisation named by the President are a part. The effect of that dog-whistle will be for the President’s supporters to ignore anything that is reported by the named newsgathering organisations – because they only peddle “Fake News” anyway! – and to rely on organisations that are more sympathetic to the current Administration.
The reality, however, is that it is “Fake News”, and that epithet applied to anything unfavourable, that is the true enemy of the American People and, indeed, the whole of human society. Policy, and therefore public discourse, must be based on fact, not conjecture, on reality, not illusion. It’s very easy to develop sweeping popular (or populist) policy initiatives on the basis of conjecture and illusion. It is, in fact, all too easy to capture people’s attention with such things. It is all-together a much harder proposition to convince people from well-developed, factually-supported positions, largely I suspect because some of those positions might not be popular.
If the resort then is to “Fake News” and the labelling of factually based reporting as “Fake News” then the world is in a dangerous position, where whatever one person says is deemed to be the only ‘truth’ even when it is not.
And there lies the true enemy to be combatted.