Greg Sargent of The Washington Post says all of us in the media should stop spreading Donald Trump’s fake news.
At a rally on Wednesday night, President Trump accused Hillary Clinton of conspiring with Russia to try to swing the 2016 election. “There was collusion between Hillary, the Democrats, and Russia,” Trump said, adding that there was “a lot” of such “collusion.” As always, the crowd chanted: “Lock her up!”
This claim is based on an absurd and convoluted theory about the genesis of the Russia investigation that has been flatly debunked as a massive lie.
Incredibly, even though Trump has made more than 5,000 false or misleading statements as president, major news organizations’ social media feeds continue to inject his unadulterated lies into the political bloodstream without clearly informing readers that they are just that — lies.
Yes, NBC’s story on this new lie did say it’s “evidence free.” But the fact that the social media feeds themselves are regularly awash in Trumpian falsehoods represents a serious institutional failing. As Brian Beutler notes, this “should be the easiest problem in the world to solve,” but instead, we’re getting “abject professional failure after abject professional failure.”
On Wednesday, USA Today published a piece by Trump in which “almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or a falsehood,” as Glenn Kessler put it. All these went initially uncorrected, and USA Today’s feed featured multiple tweets spreading its falsehoods and distortions. We have seen this again and again.
This may seem trivial — who cares about single tweets? — but they all add up to a gushing Amazon River of disinformation.
Sargent argues those who quote Trump’s many lies without immediately telling readers that the president is lying, over and over, are instead helping him spread his own “fake news.”
Too often, the problem begins in the headlines.
Sargent quotes Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed:
The importance of headlines is arguably even greater now in the social media era, because a lot of people are in passive consumption mode. When people see stuff on social media, what they often see is only the headlines. If you are restating claims that are false or misleading in headlines, you are spreading misinformation. And social media is pouring gasoline on that fire.
Sargent’s arguments are valid. Good, objective journalism is more than simply reporting what happens and what is said. It should also provide insight into whether or not someone is lying.
A good journalist is a professional skeptic, someone who approaches information that must be verified or, if necessary, disproven.
A city editor early in my career told me that “if your mother says she loves you, confirm it with a second source.”
As a newsman for the last 55 years, I have doubted, by nature, anything that a candidate or elected officials says. They routinely lie to serve their own preconceptions or a hidden political agenda.
Trump, however, towers over elected officials I have encountered over the last five and a half decades — including Lyndon Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — when it comes to lies, exaggerations and flights of fantasy.
Trump uses the proven propaganda tactics of Adolph Hitler by ignoring the facts that disprove a lie and repeats it over and over until it is accepted by his cult-like following, which then floods social media with the lies while claiming they are truth.
Sadly, media contributes to his con.
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