After Hillary Clinton's historic loss to Donald Trump, her staffers found themselves in a serious bind. A loss to one of least liked candidates in history would seriously affect their future job (or lobbying) prospects. So something had to be done...but what?
Well, there were a few targets to blame: James Comey and the Russians, both of whom may actually have affected the election. But those had been talked about ad nauseam before November 8th and still hadn't really caught on -- they weren't likely to catch on now.
There was, however, one thing that had not been talked about previously: the rise of verifiably incorrect information spread online -- "fake news." "Fake news" has been around forever, and there was no change in the amount of fake news online over the past year, but suddenly on November 9th, "fake news" became one of the most talked about stories in the country.
Why? Because it was part of a narrative that absolved the Clinton team from any responsibility for their candidate's loss. It was an easy distraction: There had been all kinds of demonstrably false statements about the candidates spreading on the Internet. Possibly the worst was an election result site (falsely) claiming that Trump won the popular vote. And this made a compelling story. With talking points in hand, the Clinton team spread the "fake news" narrative far and wide...and it began to work.
Soon, news sites were pointing fingers at each other regarding fake information. Google and Facebook suddenly changed their algorithms to hide lesser-known sites. And users and viewers were calling out sites with false information like never before. It was working perfectly until Clintonites realized that once you squeeze the tube, you can't put the toothpaste back in.
As the right often does, they took the term "fake news" and with pinpoint targeting, redefined it. Suddenly fake news was anything someone didn't like. The term became meaningless, and they had a valid argument: what actually defines "fake news?"
There are some things that any rational person would agree are fake -- like the election results showing Trump's winning the popular vote. But what about everything else? Is denying climate change "fake news? " Almost every scientist in the world agrees on the existence of climate change, yet most major publications will feature pundits denying its existence.
Is The New York Times "fake news?" It published Judith Miller's stories touting "evidence" of WMDs in Iraq, which of course, helped cause a disasterous war. Nevertheless, Facebook announced a partnership with them instead of punishing them. Ahd should we be forcing outlets like Infowars to shut down? As crazy as it may be, the site has broken a few significant, true stories. And what about Breitbart? It's one of the President-Elect's preferred news sources, yet it regularly publishes demonstrably false information. What should happen to them?
In their rush to protect their resumes, the Clinton team unleashed a monster that simply can't be contained. And now it has turned on them and the entire Democratic Party. But it's too late now.
Today, during a press conference, President-Elect Trump decided to attack CNN by calling them "fake news." Few journalists stood up for CNN; most simply tried to distance themselves from it. Of course, instead of standing up to the attacks, CNN decided to point the blame at another journalism outlet: Buzzfeed. And so it goes.
We have already seen Internet giants censoring publishers that they consider "fake news." Will it be long before the mega media conglomerates do the same? When everyone has called everyone else "fake news," there are no reliable sources. And that's exactly what Donald Trump wants.
The time to stop the "fake news" witch hunt is now. But will anyone have the courage to do so?
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