Lying about Lying: Why We Must Revisit the Definition of ‘Fake News’
By Ramzy Baroud
The phrase ‘fake news’ is constantly being used in US politics. In a polarized political atmosphere, both Republicans and Democrats trust media organizations affiliated with other parties. This means that most of what CNN says or writes is ‘fake news’ for Republicans, and much of what appears in the Republican-affiliated media is ‘fake news’ for Democrats.
The phrase has become so common and has multiple meanings that it is impossible to agree on a common definition. Even ‘fact-checking’ organizations or news desks contribute to the troubling phenomenon of ‘fake news’ by selectively fact-checking news and information affiliated with one side of the political spectrum, while ignoring the other. another.
Some traced the ‘fake news’ story to a small town in Eastern Europe called Veles, in Macedonia. This particular claim belongs to Craig Silverman, media editor at Buzzfeed. “We managed to find a small cluster of news websites registered in the same town,” the BBC quoted Silverman as saying. The purpose of these websites appeared to be financial, so-called ‘clickbait’, to lure unsuspecting users to unlikely headlines.
Later, the term became very political. It was the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, who popularized the term, making it the most popular phenomenon today. However, Mike Wendling from the BBC claimed that it was Trump’s staunch rival in the 2016 US Presidential elections, Hillary Clinton, who used the term for the first time in a speech in December of the same year.
Actually, ‘fake news’ existed before both Clinton and Trump. When I first moved to the USA more than twenty years ago, I remember my complete shock when I saw the headlines of the printed tabloids, always in the middle of the major grocery stores in the United States: Oh famous unfounded scandals, to ‘breaking news’ about aliens flooding humans. females before returning to their home planet. Even as a newcomer to the country, it was clear to me that this rubbish was also ‘fake news’. Sadly, these tabloids have often outsold the legitimate newspapers, suggesting that the biggest challenge to ‘fake news’ is our perception and willingness to deal with it.
In the modern definition, ‘fake news’ has expanded to include those who hold opposing views, whether those views are based on facts, selective facts or complete fiction. Many of us, as journalists, are caught in this impossible labyrinth. No matter what we do to demonstrate the authenticity of our sources, we are still dogged by allegations of ‘fake news’.
The generational struggle for independent media organizations and journalists is a constant push to create as much space as possible between them and the whims of politics and politicians. Recently, however, this distance has shrunk to the point that previously respected news organizations in the United States have since become synonymous with political party pamphlets.
In 2018, Trump announced his “Fake News Awards”, to be ‘awarded’ to journalists in liberal media organizations who opposed him. The fact-checkers of these organizations have ridiculed him, ever since. His intelligence and often exaggerated statements made him a perfect target. Joe Biden is hardly held to the same standards, not only for allegedly making false statements but, at times, for what appears to be more gibberish than proper English. While funny Biden memes, based on assertions made in various public appearances, are a constant on social media, they are rarely examined by respected news outlets.
But can we trust the mainstream media when they apply the phrase ‘fake news’?
Noam Chomsky, one of the most outspoken critics of the US mainstream media and author of ‘Manufacturing Consent’, defined the mainstream media as “essentially tyrannical, hierarchical corporations, controlled from above. If you don’t like what they are doing to you, get out. The mass media is only part of that system.”
Chomsky’s analysis suggests that those who make allegations of ‘fake news’ can be purveyors of ‘fake news’, if that information conveniently serves those who control these organizations “from above”, especially since “most of them are linked to, or wholly owned by, much larger corporations”.
For us in the Global South, falsified information did not come from the small town of Veles in Macedonia, or from Clinton’s speech or Trump’s ‘awards’. The ‘fake news’ has been an integral part of western colonialism, since it began hundreds of years ago, until recently neocolonialism.
Back then, the lies that were often called wars, invasions and military occupations were not called ‘fake news’ but ‘false flag’ operations. Many historians now understand that the casus belli behind the Spanish-American war of 1898 – the explosion of the US warship USS Maine – was based on a lie, or ‘fake news’. The non-existence of so-called weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which led to the 2003 invasion of the once-mighty Arab country, was also fake news, with stories made up of uranium yellowcake from Niger and the dodgy ‘secret British file’, and other fibs.
Zionists invaded Palestine based entirely on ‘fake news’, claiming that there were no inhabitants on the land – historical Palestine – – “Land without a people ..”. The ‘fake news’ linked to Palestine is arguably the most powerful of all colonial lies. CNN fact checkers hardly bother to prove that God did not make a ‘promise’ to Palestine to the Zionists and that it is not the Palestinians who attack, but the victims of the settler-colonial Zionist-west.
It is incumbent upon all of us to expand the definition of ‘fake news’ beyond US-centric political definitions of Republicans versus Democrats and vice versa. Lies, lies, half-truths, misinformation and outright ‘fake news’ have been the driving force behind corporate reporting in the media for decades. It is becoming increasingly clear simply because those who are manipulating the media discourse “from above” are losing control of their own narratives.
– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out”. Dr is a Senior Non-Resident Research Fellow. Baroud at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). There is a website www.ramzybaroud.net