Here we are, stuck in a cycle of breathless indignation about fake news, alternative facts and/or lies. Well, there certainly is some of that going on, but for the purposes of context, it’s worth remembering how all this got started. Particularly, let’s remember that the onslaught of “fake news” started with the Democrats and the mainstream media. Without reliving every gory detail, let’s refresh modern political history so we can gain some appreciation of where we are today.
The real deceit in the modern era started with President Bill Clinton and his White House. Dishonesty tainted things both big and small, and crescendoed with “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” I think America really turned a page at that point.
Then we were launched into an era under President George W. Bush when liberals embraced slogans such as “Bush lied, people died” to ferment protests against the Iraq War and Bush’s leadership. To remind, this slogan perpetuated the notion that Bush had lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and in doing so was responsible for the lives of countless American soldiers and others. Perhaps that was the original “alternative fact.” The Democrats pushed fake news stories that Bush had been purposefully deceitful in his claims that brutal dictator Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, ignoring the reality that, at the time, every intelligence service backed those claims. In hindsight, the intelligence was incorrect — but the Bush White House wasn’t pushing alternative facts or knowingly lying to the American people. It was the liberals and the media who followed their lead who were using fake news to advance their own agendas and discredit Bush. And their success in doing so throughout Bush’s presidency is, in my opinion, the dawn of the corrosive “fake news” era. The Democrats realized that an onslaught of fake news served their purposes and could discredit sincere people and policies without much blowback. It became a useful — maybe even central — component of their messaging.
And so, under President Barack Obama, fake news took on a slightly different spin as Democrats worked to promote the sainthood of Obama and the mainstream media ate it up. Journalists couldn’t do enough to help him get elected in 2008. Then, after he was elected, they let him get away with making claims such as “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” and later in his presidency, allowed him to go virtually unchallenged when his administration brazenly blamed the Benghazi attacks on a bizarre YouTube video. There is no better example of how the Obama administration used the concept of fake news to twist perceptions in Washington than the New York Times Magazine profile of Ben Rhodes, the lightweight senior Obama foreign policy adviser who “shaped narratives” and essentially manipulated a willful press into reporting what he wanted it to say, regardless of the truth.
The fake-news phenomenon also made its way to Congress, highlighted by then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) outlandish statements on the Senate floor that then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes. It was patently false, and Reid knew it, but he did it anyway, later saying it was “one of the best things” he had ever done.
The Democrats led the charge to bring fake news and alternative facts into the mainstream, and the only reason they’re upset about it now is because in 2016, fake news worked against them.
It’s no secret the Trump administration has a highly adversarial relationship with the press, and I won’t make excuses for that, nor will I argue that his disdain for the mainstream media is completely unfounded. But I do think it’s worth remembering how we got here, and the Democrats should take the lion’s share of the blame.
So where does this leave us in the world the Democrats thought they were preparing for Hillary Clinton, who needed a lot of alibis and excuses? First and foremost, it’s time for journalists to put aside their personal animosity and just do their job. They need to embrace the responsibility they have and also learn not to overdo it when it comes to blasting President Trump and his White House. Not every miscue is deceit, and not every contrary position is a lie. Washington is boiling right now, and like it or not, the media has an important role to play in keeping things at a simmer and bringing rhetoric back down to something resembling unbiased, factual reporting.