The “fake news” accusation – popularized by President Trump and now embraced by many Americans disenchanted with the mainstream media – is not easily characterized.
To be sure, it suggests that reporters – and certainly commentators and pundits – spin and sometimes make up facts in promoting a particular fictive reality. But it is also useful to consider that “fake news” comes in many forms – ranging from subliminal messaging to blatant fabricating. In other words, perceiving “fake news” is not always that simple.
Sometimes, though, it really hits you in the face. A recent editorial in the New York Times is one such example.
In its August 22 issue, the Times sharply criticized President Trump for his reaction to the bank and tax fraud convictions of Paul Manafort, who served briefly as his campaign chairman. In a tweet, Mr. Trump compared Manafort to Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, who pled guilty to violating federal elections law and implicated the president. (It should be noted that whether what Cohen pled to is actually a crime is questionable and has never been adjudicated in a court of law).
The editorial, in pertinent part, read as follows:
While criticizing Mr. Cohen on Wednesday, the president tweeted that, by contrast, he had “such respect for a brave man” like Mr. Manafort, who “refused to ‘break’…to get a ‘deal’” The president, in other words, felt moved to praise a convicted felon for refusing to cooperate in the pursuit of justice.
Problem, though, is that the president actually wrote: “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. ‘Justice’ [the Department of Justice] took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’” [emphasis added]
The Times conveniently omitted the key words “make up stories,” which completely change the meaning of the sentence. Without them, it sounds as if Trump is praising Manafort for refusing to tell the truth. With them, though, Trump is clearly praising Manafort for refusing to lie to save his own skin.
The difference in meaning is so obvious that we find it hard to believe that the Times wasn’t exactly aware of what it was doing when it decided to substitute “make up stories” for an ellipsis.
Nor was the Times editorial the only major fake news story last week. We learned that Michael Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, admitted to making up his claim that Cohen possessed evidence that President Trump knew in advance about the infamous Trump Tower meeting between members of the campaign and some Russians (not that there was anything nefarious about that meeting in any event) and the hacking of Democratic e-mails.
Davis, of course, is a well known fixer for the Clintons and his initial story should have been suspect from the get-go. But it was uncritically embraced across the mainstream media and treated as fact and the prelude of an impeachment drive. Turns out it was all fake news. It was based on a lie. Yet, the mainstream media didn’t even bother apologizing for getting what it called an “explosive” story so terribly wrong.
In a logical world, journalists would regard anti-Trump accusations with a proverbial grain of salt. But this is the world of the anti-Trump “resistance,” a whole different planet.