Jeanette Strong: Fake news and genuine lies
“Four in 10 Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be ‘fake news,’” says Gallup-Knight Foundation Survey, 2018.
President Donald Trump loves to talk about fake news, claiming that any story putting him in a negative light is fake, no matter how accurate. Before we can discuss “fake news,” we should define our terms, clarifying the difference between fake news and differences of interpretation.
Fake news means a story is totally made up with no basis in fact. A difference of interpretation means analyzing an actual event in different ways; that’s not fake news.
In August 2017, a rally called “Unite the Right” was held in Charlottesville, Va. The rally was organized and sponsored by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, KKK members, and other far-right groups. On Aug. 11, 2017, these white supremacists marched, carrying tiki torches and weapons, chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan. On Aug. 12, 2017, James Fields Jr., a white supremacist who had marched the night before, drove his car into a crowd of protestors, murdering a young woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others.
On Aug. 15, in response to this violence, Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.” Many took this to be a defense of the white supremacists. A relative of mine insisted that any interpretation claiming Trump was calling white supremacists “fine people” is fake news, that Trump was referring only to those people objecting to the removal of a Confederate statue.
The facts are that white supremacists organized the rally, they marched and chanted, and one of them murdered a young woman. When Trump made his comment about “fine people,” he didn’t distinguish between those who wanted the statue preserved and those pushing a racist agenda. Whatever Trump intended, concluding that he meant the white supremacists were fine people is a difference in interpretation, not a fake news story.
A prime example of a fake news story is the allegation that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. This story started in 2004 and picked up steam in 2008. Originally, both political parties had questions, but after Obama released his short form birth certificate, the only people continuing the accusation were right-wing “birthers.” Donald Trump became a leader of the birthers, even claiming falsely that he’d sent investigators to look into the issue.
Overwhelming evidence proves Obama was born in Hawaii, part of America. Some irrefutable facts are that the governor of Hawaii in 2008, Linda Lingle, was a Republican. She’d been Republican State Party chair from 1999 to 2002. She was elected governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. She spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention, praising John McCain, saying she was “the same breed as McCain and Palin.”
Hawaii was being bombarded in 2008 with requests to see Obama’s birth certificate. Gov. Lingle had full access to Hawaii’s state records. If she had publicly announced that Obama’s birth certificate was a fake, that would have ended Obama’s candidacy. Instead, she publicly verified that the birth certificate is genuine. Despite these facts, birthers are still spreading this fake story, a story with no factual basis, the kind right-wingers seem to love.
Another fake story was the claim that Hillary Clinton was running a devil worship and child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. Sadly, one man who believed this story went to the restaurant with a rifle, believing he was rescuing the children. This malicious lie could have ended in tragedy; fortunately, no one was hurt.
It would take a book to list the endless fake stories being spread by right-wingers. These stories are not different interpretations of actual events. They are flat-out lies.
Some Trump followers are so lost, they are unable to tell fact from fiction if any part of a story disparages Trump. They also relish the lies Trump tells about his perceived enemies. But for those who care about truth and basic American values, please remember: Fake news can be extremely dangerous and does none of us any good.
During this election season, we will be flooded with fake news stories. Those who spread these stories are harming those who may believe them. If a position is valid, it won’t need lies to support it. We should be basing our decisions and our country’s future on facts. For anyone claiming to be a patriot, that shouldn’t be a tough decision.
Jeanette Strong is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.