There were moments, such as when he predicted that the United States will rejoin the Paris climate accord, that French President Emmanuel Macron divided a joint meeting of Congress along party lines during a 50-minute speech on Wednesday.
But this invocation elicited a standing ovation from the entire chamber: “To protect our democracies, we have to fight against the ever-growing virus of fake news, which exposes our people to irrational fear and imaginary risks.”
It seems that everyone agrees fake news is bad. Not everyone agrees on what fake news is, however.
Macron appeared content to let all listeners imagine that his definition matches their own.
As lawmakers from both major parties applauded, Macron gestured and winked toward his left, in the direction of President Trump's Cabinet. When the cheering died down, he added a rhetorical nod to Trump.
“And let me attribute the fair copyright for this expression, ‘fake news,’ especially here,” he said, drawing mild laughter.
In reality, Trump did not coin or even popularize the term “fake news.” Before Trump commandeered the phrase to besmirch any news coverage he does not like, his detractors used it to describe online hoaxes that supported his presidential candidacy in 2016.
But in crediting Trump with a “copyright,” even in jest, Macron lent credence to Trump's usage — or, at least, that is one interpretation. A Trump supporter could easily hear “irrational fear and imaginary risks” and picture CNN chyrons about the president's “tantrums” and extra ice cream scoops.
On Twitter, Fox News highlighted Macron's remark.
“He's talking about CNN obviously,” one respondent wrote.
“Exactly,” agreed another. “CNN and NYT have to be destroyed.”
Other Twitter users asserted that Macron was, in fact, talking about Fox News and outlets that tend to cover Trump favorably.
Concluding his message about fake news, Macron said: “Without reason, without truth, there is no real democracy, because democracy is about true choices and rational decisions. The corruption of information is an attempt to corrode the very spirit of our democracies.”
In zeroing in on truth, Macron did not endorse Trump's “fake news” parlance but rather fired a shot at Trump-led attempts to obscure objective realities — or, at least, that is one interpretation.
NBC's Kasie Hunt heard in Macron's comments a narrow view of fake news that is antithetical to Trump's.
The fact-checking website PolitiFact, apparently convinced that Macron was standing up for its kind of reporting, thanked the French president for the “shout-out.”
By sending mixed messages about fake news, Macron gave all listeners something to like.