A Bad Step Forward for Fake News

The Trump presidency got off on a bizarre foot the day after he was sworn in, back when he had his press secretary swear up and down that Trump’s inauguration was the most attended inauguration ever, despite the fact that photographic evidence clearly disproved that claim. I couldn’t believe someone would just look at the proof against the argument and then dispute it as “fake news,” but that’s what happened.

That’s been a trend Trump has followed since then. His supporters don’t seem to mind. They tend to dismiss anything that disagrees with their views as “media bias” and “hit jobs.” Not that this is anything particularly new. Right wing pundits have been poking at the “lame stream media” for years now. But Trump really dialed that up to eleven, basically saying something was black when it was white, and not caring if anyone disputed him, confident that his supporters just wouldn’t mind.

The next step was to start accusing media of doing the things the Trump campaign has been doing. Of lying, or at least doctoring the truth. Essentially, the approach was to first have the media make a big hullabaloo about “fake news” to the point that it really enters the common lexicon, and then to use that same argument and all the furor around it as a weapon against the media itself.

This all took a very negative step forward with the recent events around the CNN reporter being banned from the White House. If you haven’t heard about it, he was essentially asking Trump a series of hard questions in an press briefing. Trump didn’t like it, so he asked for someone to come take the reporter’s microphone away. The reporter didn’t back down. It’s all on tape. The aide that tried to take the mic was a female intern.

Trump has since used the “we need to stand up for women” argument to justify why they revoked the reporter’s credentials to visit the White House. They don’t tolerate reporters “placing [their] hands on a young woman just trying to do her job.” And to prove their point, they highlighted a video of the event.

Except the video they highlighted was doctored, a fact multiple experts are now coming forward to prove.

I have no doubt the Trump administration will deny it. “Fake news.” But I also don’t doubt they’ll start to use this same argument (“videos can be doctored”) against anything that comes out against them. It’s part of the pattern they’re following, and I’m not sure what we can do to stop it. (This is especially important as video doctoring becomes more and more sophisticated. Right now it’s relatively easy to tell what’s been done to a video, but in an age where video cameras are ubiquitous on cell phones, we’ve been relying on that video evidence more and more for “proof.” But when that proof suddenly is debatable . . . )

It’s a very discouraging development in my mind. I wish this weren’t the world we live in, but I don’t know what to do to fight back against it. I would like to see both sides of the political spectrum reject it, but I think slowly but surely, the argument will worm its way into our debates.

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