Can we make one thing perfectly, crystal-fuckin-clear, please? Not. Every. Story. Is. Fake. News.
It certainly exists, but that does not mean all news is fake by default.
These days, it’s easy to dismiss a story that doesn’t agree with your views as “fake news” (our President-Elect does it all the time!), but that will get you nowhere. News made up of verifiable facts that you don’t like is still real news. News made up of outright lies is fake news. Refusing to face harsh realities because they shatter your beliefs is cowardly. Slapping the “fake news” label on those realities as justification and then calling it a day is beyond cowardly.
Anyway, let’s talk about what happened at Donald Trump’s shit show of a press conference this morning. At one point, Trump refused to take a question from CNN’s Senior White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, who was upset that the President-Elect was criticizing his organization. Trump pointed at Acosta and said, “Your organization is terrible…Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. You’re fake news.”
In case you haven’t seen the video of the exchange yet:
CNN leans liberal. No doubt about it. Every major news outlet leans left or right; it’s not a new phenomenon. But regardless of your political affiliation, you can acknowledge CNN as a legitimate news source. Hell, even Fox News can get along with CNN:
I understand that people simply don’t trust the media (or the CIA, or the FBI, or the banks, or any other major institution…) in America anymore, but this latest craze has brought skepticism to a whole new, ridiculous level.
Let me tell you a little bit about the journalistic process from my time studying Journalism at Washington State: there is a code of ethics that was drilled into my brain for years there. Telling the truth is paramount to that code, whether it be accurately reciting a quote, tirelessly vetting facts, or always labeling someone on trial as “alleged” until a verdict is reached. If anyone who seriously studies journalism isn’t intimately familiar with that code, they must have slept through every class.
Now, let me tell you what I learned in the exhausting, thankless role of fact-checker at San Francisco Magazine: That journalistic process is like constantly walking on eggshells. A typo on a single letter can cost an outlet its reputation and, potentially, millions of dollars. For the most part, journalists are exceptionally careful to be accurate and fair with their reporting. Facts and quotes are checked obsessively to verify their truth. When writing a news story, meticulous records are kept behind the scenes to defend against inevitable backlash and even lawsuits.
Can you imagine how many long, uncomfortable phone calls I had to conduct with people personally affected by this case just to triple-check our story was 100 percent accurate? I mean, I had to ask family members and friends of the people on trial to confirm personal facts while the trial was happening – I was the last person they wanted to hear from. Even things as mundane as “did Prell drive the 5-Fulton line and honk at his friends?” are verified. We did this for every single story, regardless of length.
With these things in mind, what CNN reported yesterday was completely fair and newsworthy. They only shared what they knew to be 100 percent true – that intelligence briefings presented to Trump included allegations that the Russians are trying to compromise him. CNN did its due diligence to verify those claims before reporting. As they should have. They even said they didn’t share the document because they hadn’t confirmed what was in it.
(Now, you can definitely make a case for BuzzFeed acting irresponsibly and unethically because they straight up shared the full briefing document – the “document dump” referenced in the tweet above – without independently verifying the accuracy of its contents. In comparison, what CNN reported was done so legitimately.)
Look, the media pisses me off too. I say that as someone who has been – and in some respects still am – a journalist. I think the premium placed on being the first to report on something, whether fully factual or not, is a dangerous trend. I think writing headlines to attract clicks and ad revenue but mislead the reader is complete bullshit.
There are plenty of things to be upset about and distrustful of, and maybe those things snowballed into what we have now. But what Trump did in his presser and what he continues to do to any media that disagrees with him, is incredibly serious and unprecedented.
Don’t automatically assume a news story from a major outlet is fake. Especially if Donald Trump tells you it is. Make like CNN and do your own fact-checking first.