Americans rate Trump as less trustworthy than each of the three major cable news networks despite the widely held belief that mainstream news outlets “occasionally” or even “regularly” report fake news.
On the surface, it seems that Trump's “fake news” attacks might be working, but it depends on your definition of “working.”
Actually, it depends on your definition of “fake news,” which is not universally agreed-upon.
Monmouth pollsters, like others before them, found that most Americans do not adhere to a dictionary definition of “fake” but rather apply the term loosely. A news report need not be fabricated or even contain an error to be “fake,” in the eyes of roughly two-thirds of Americans; Negativity, bias or other “editorial decisions” might be enough to qualify.
This is a significant finding, because it suggests that although Trump has popularized his terminology, many Americans are simply using the word “fake” in place of other, more precise language such as “slanted” or “lacking context.” While about three-quarters of U.S. adults accuse the media of reporting “fake news,” the poll indicates that Trump — who claims many reports are “pure fiction,” based on “phony and nonexistent sources” — has persuaded far less than three-quarters of his position.
We don't know exactly how the 77 percent of Americans who complain about “fake news” define the term, but we can infer that they do not define it strictly. Democrats, in the Monmouth survey, were more than twice as likely as Republicans to say that “fake news” should apply only to factually inaccurate reports; Democrats were also more than three times less likely than Republicans to say the media “regularly” reports fake news.
In other words, people who use a narrow definition of “fake news” claim to encounter it less frequently than people who use a broad definition — which is logical. If your definition of “good pizza” is confined to authentic Chicago deep-dish, then you will claim to encounter good pizza less frequently than someone who defines it as anything but Hawaiian.
Thus, there is probably a lot of overlap between the 25 percent of Americans who say a news report must be factually inaccurate to be “fake” and the 21 percent of Americans who say the mainstream media does not report fake news. And there is probably a lot of overlap between the 65 percent of Americans who say “editorial decisions” can render a news report “fake” and the 77 percent of Americans who say the press “regularly” or “occasionally” reports fake news.
Trump has a lot of Americans crying “fake news” along with him. But he has failed to convince most that news reports about him are untrue, as opposed to unfair in some way, and he is losing the battle for public trust.