Fake news became a buzz word in the waning hours of the 2016 election.
By February of 2017, it has lost all meaning.
The term originally described stories created and shared virally that have no reporting at all. They are fiction that is shared to influence opinions without facts.
The electronic media made fake news a viable weapon in opinion alteration. In the 1990s, everyone had that crazy uncle or friend who always sent around the nuttiest partisan rants you could imagine.
Fake news really became relevant through social media as every person with an account became a news source by sharing things they see online. Of course, people comment on stories after reading only the headlines and they share stories that sound “good” to them even if they don’t sound “true” to them.
Because of this, some people as a joke and some people with the intent to bend the opinion of gullible readers began producing fake news stories.
President Donald Trump's administration is trying to redefine the term as anything they don't like. This administration isn't a month old yet but they have already done more to destroy the dissemination of information than any of the 44 presidents who came before.
This is not a problem in reporting. A news story is only as credible as its sources. These aren't nefarious unnamed sources. These are high-ranking members of the administration and the even President himself.
Take Gen. Michael Flynn’s resignation as National Security Director as an example. Gen. Flynn, of course, is known for retweeting multiple fake news stories during the campaign. But for this example, just look at how his resignation was reported by the sources themselves. Flynn resigned after it was learned that he had not truthfully informed the administration and especially Vice President Mike Pence about his dealings with the Russian government before Trump’s inauguration.
Kellyanne Conway was President Trump’s campaign manager and is now a counselor to the President. She also coined the term “alternative facts” about how the administration deals with the media.
Here is Conway’s take on what happened with Gen. Flynn.
“The president is very loyal. He’s a very loyal person. And by nighttime, Mike Flynn had decided it was best to resign. He knew he became a lightning rod, and he made that decision,” Conway said. “And I spoke with the president this morning. He asked me to speak on his behalf and to reiterate that Mike Flynn had resigned.”
Conway knows Trump is loyal. She went unpunished for turning a press briefing into a QVC show for Ivanka Trump’s product line last week.
She claims she spoke directly with the President who made a clear statement.
Somehow Press Secretary Sean Spicer heard a different message.
Within hours of Conway’s bold statement, Spicer told the White House Press Corps, “Whether or not [Flynn] actually misled the vice president was the issue, and that was ultimately what led to the president asking for and accepting the resignation of Gen. Flynn.”
So the very loyal President accepted Gen. Flynn’s voluntary resignation, only it came after the tough President demanded the resignation for lying to the Vice President.
Of course, the only reason any of this happened at all is that the members of the Department of Justice made information public that they had shared with the President and his administration weeks ago about Flynn possibly being compromised by information Russia possessed about him.
Since the administration is obviously peddling two completely different and mutually exclusive sets of facts about Flynn’s resignation, good reporting forces you to go to another layer of sources with knowledge of the events in question.
That brought House Speaker Paul Ryan to the podium for questions.
Speaker Ryan decided to be on “team tough Trump” instead of “team loyal Trump.”
“You cannot have a national security adviser misleading the vice president and others,” Ryan told reporters. “So I think the president was right to ask for his resignation.”
But Conway said she spoke with the president and he specifically asked her to say what Spicer and Ryan said is not true. A Senator who served with Vice President Pence in the House of Representatives also seemed to contradict Conway’s version of events.
“Obviously the president made the call," Sen. Bill Cassidy said. "Folks understand that Gen. Flynn served at the discretion of the president, and the president decided to make a change."
The big problem here is that I don’t believe this is a matter of Conway or Spicer or Ryan or Cassidy or the President himself being grossly incompetent and unable to develop and disseminate a message.
This is purposeful propaganda and disinformation. They leak and speak different versions of every story for two reasons. It damages the credibility of reporters who can never get to the bottom of a story because the “facts” continually change depending on who you ask. That keeps bombshells like finding out the Trump campaign worked closely with Russia less damaging because who knows when the story will change just like the last three major bombshell stories did.
It also allows Trump supporters to believe anything they want. Is Trump a kind, loyal man? Sure, just ask Conway. Is he tough and running a tight ship? Sure, just ask Spicer. Whatever version of Trump you want to see can be found in a story that can easily be shared on social media pages.
If a woman asked her husband’s friends where he was at 2 a.m. when she couldn’t find him, you better believe those friends better have their stories straight or that guy would be in trouble. Somehow, those who support Trump seem to enjoy the fact that no straight stories exist.