The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Study: 42 percent of Republicans believe accurate — but negative — stories qualify as ‘fake news’

President Trump waves while departing for Camp David on the South Lawn of the White House on Dec. 16. (Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg News)
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All those media-trust studies have a tendency toward the rote. Yes, we already knew that the public had little trust in the country’s journalistic organs. Yes, we knew that finding credible sources could be a harrowing pursuit for the public. Yes, we knew that an increasing portion of the U.S. public felt that the news was biased.

Yet this nugget from a new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey just about knocked the Erik Wemple Blog out of a decade-long media-research torpor:

Four in 10 [or 42 percent of] Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be “fake news.” [The corresponding figure for Democrats is 17 percent.]

Perhaps President Trump’s associates should place that data point in his daily briefing packet so that he can brag about it. There’s precedent for that, after all: Back in September 2016, a Gallup poll found cratering public trust in the media. Asked about that situation, Trump despaired not. “I think I had a lot to do with that poll … because I’ve exposed the media. If you look at the New York Times, and The Washington Post, and if you look at others: the level of dishonesty is enormous. It’s so dishonest. I can do something that’s wonderful and they make it sound terrible,” Trump said in an interview.

Along with tax cuts, Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and a sizzling stock market, Trump can claim credit for hijacking the term “fake news” for his own political ends. Craig Silverman, the BuzzFeed journalist who played a pioneering role in hatching the term, says its redefinition was sealed on Jan. 11, 2017, during that unforgettable transition news conference in which Trump called out CNN as “fake news” — for accurately reporting on a Trump-Russia dossier that was circulating in the upper reaches of the U.S. government.

Consider these points before sharing an article on Facebook. It could be fake. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Since then, “fake news” has performed a jack-of-all-trades role for Trump champions. A negative story with flimsy-appearing sources? “Fake news.” A story that is challenged by Trump appointees? “Fake news.” A story that ends up being corrected? “Fake news” all day long! A true but unflattering story? Heck, that’s “fake news,” too.

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Forget that the term sprang up to describe, essentially, fabrications — or, as Silverman defines it, “completely false information that was created and spread for profit.” The appropriation of the term by Trump appears to be working, which is no surprise in light of his nearly 47 million Twitter followers and his status as the most powerful man in the world. The protestations of folks such as Silverman about the purity of the original definition — well, those will get a few retweets among the Poynter crowd.

On Wednesday, Trump plans to stage his much-hyped “Fake News Awards.” Who knows what sort of travesty is in the works, though a likely result is that more of Trump’s followers will migrate toward the understanding that “fake news” is essentially anything that portrays the president in a negative light. And the cause of body-slamming persistent reporters, the cause of sliming them, the cause of arresting them for doing their jobs — it’ll surely advance.