Journalism In Peril: The Dangers Of Howling Fake News

The following is an editorial by PoliticusUSA’s co-publisher Sarah Jones.

You can’t post a story people don’t like without someone crying “Fake news!” The latest round of “Fake news” have come from the Kellyanne Conway and Fox News “innocent” journalists shouldn’t be shot articles.

Concern trolls on “fake news” patrol do nothing but enable Trump’s continued attacks on the press. If you can’t disagree without calling context “fake news,” you are the clown.

“Fake news” is the chant Trump started to generate hatred toward journalists, along with saying they are the enemy of the people. So when the White House repeatedly includes “innocent” as qualifier to who shouldn’t be shot, it’s not meaningless. Context matters.

This all started when Trump began his “Fake news!” smear to intimidate reporters and supply his supporters with a reason not to believe the very true and very bad things being reported about him in the mainstream press.

But not long after he won the 2016 election, many people decided to appoint themselves “fake news” arbiters- an irony that should be lost on no one who understands the complexities of free speech. One of these people, and I’ve been holding this in for over a year now because it seemed foolish to reply to it, went viral with an ironically unvetted, non-peer reviewed and unfinished chart of “fake news” publishers that she had at least partially “borrowed” from a blogger who seemed to have his own agenda. Our own site was not listed as fake news on her chart, but got put into a Facebook meme that went viral as fake news because it was on her list as “uncategorized.”

We have ironically been linked to as a fact-check on fake news and taken off the list by people who actually understand publishing, but the viral meme continued to be shared and treated as gospel, even though the assistant professor eventually took down her list and apologized PRIVATELY to us. How’s that for irony – a private apology without a public correction from the person who wrongly accused so many outlets of being fake news, and a public who took an unsourced, inaccurate meme as gospel.

While most mainstream outlets who fact-checked her chart found it inaccurate, and she herself admitted to us in an email that she had not even read our site before tagging it, it went viral and for a year after that people used this UNVETTED, UNSOURCED chart from an associate professor to delegitimize news with which they didn’t agree or with whom they were trying to compete.

PoliticusUSA places a high premium on accuracy. When fact-checked, we were found to have ZERO factual inaccuracies (the real issue here is that if you have an inaccuracy, you are transparent about correcting it, which we do when we make mistakes). The criticism of our site is that our headlines can be hyperbolic and we sometimes use words that are loaded with ideological bent.

These criticisms are subjective. I would say that they are not ideological or hyperbolic in OUR MINDS because we believe very strongly in what we write. We are not trying saying things to get hits or make money (the people who say things like this are so clueless about publishing that it leaves me slack-jawed. Hint: No one is making big money in non-corporate digital news). Sadly, we are a troop of true believers in a government for the people, some of whom have given up good jobs to do this. We are far from perfect, but we do our best every day to bring you accurate news you can trust that addresses the issues that impact your lives.

We believe our job is to stand up for the people and sometimes what is happening is so outrageous that it appears we are being hyperbolic. In my own estimation, I actually believe sometimes we are not being hyperbolic enough given what is going on. But I understand those criticism and believe they are fair, even if I don’t agree with the reasoning behind them.

At any rate, we are not subject to the perils of access journalism and are free to say what we really think is going on, and sometimes that is ugly and sometimes it can be seen as hyperbolic. But it is not “fake news.”

No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, the most dangerous thing to our democracy is not news that you don’t agree with; it is silencing news with cries of “fake news.”

When this fails, they accuse a site of being “spammy.” Spam sites copy other people’s work without attribution or links, engage in widespread, deliberate plagiarism, steal logos and work to make themselves look related to a site with credibility, do not pay for images, and put up really invasive ads.

In contrast, we are a Reuters partner (meaning we pay for the hard work behind their content and images), we are on the White House press list and many Congressional Representatives’ and Senators’ lists and we are not running anything near what qualifies as spammy ads. A person would have to know the basics about publishing to understand these things. (Speaking of spam, Dartmouth made a list of fake news here — note that “World Politicus” or “politicsusanews.com,” which are 100% unrelated to this website. We are also unrelated to another allegedly liberal blog that borrowed our layout and logo, presented themselves as affiliated with us and plagiarized our work. While I’m at it, I have not written anywhere but here and the Huffington Post.)

The “fake news” cowardly canard is so stale, misguided and anti-American it’s truly frightening to see how well it’s worked to silence dissent.

Maxine Waters is dealing with a very serious death threat after the President threatened her. Katy Tur had to have Secret Service escort her out of a Trump rally due to his attacks. These things are real, and they add context to the power of Trump’s relentless attacks on the press.

Most people who use the “fake news” term are ever so ironically people who have no understanding of the importance of not silencing the free press, and who think somehow they should be the arbiter of what is real. Who does that? Dictators are who does that. This is why Facebook and other social media have resisted cutting off actual fake news, as in things that never happened. Because it takes some real ignorance to assume you alone are in charge of what’s real.

However, a panel of experts in publishing and journalism can easily determine something that never happened is not real. A panel is vital, because transparency is obviously important as is being peer-reviewed when you are deciding what is real.

Let’s not allow Trump to drag us all down to his level of ignorant destruction of the values that actually make this country great.

Trump’s howls of “fake news” are dangerous and undemocratic. They are meant to do exactly what they are doing – undermine readers’ faith when reading accurate accounts of what this White House is doing.

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