Let’s be clear on something once and for all time. News isn’t “fake news” simply because a particular politician dislikes its content or conclusions. Watergate was never a fake news story just because Richard Nixon happened to dislike any reporting on the topic. Fake news, according to 60 Minutes producer Michael Radutzky, consists of “stories that are provably false, have enormous traction in the culture, and are consumed by millions of people.”
Contrary to popular belief, “fake news” was not a pejorative invented two years ago as a means to help people in social media distinguish between true and deliberately planted false stories, and later co-opted by Donald Trump to describe stories and networks he happens not to like. Fake news is a concept as old as Mesopotamia and has been around in its current form at least since the fifteenth century.
On Friday, during a news conference at Chequers with British Prime Minister Theresa May placidly standing on his left and the world watching, Donald Trump called Kristen Welker of NBC “dishonest” and refused to take a question from a CNN reporter saying, “CNN is fake news, I don’t take questions from CNN.” He instead took a question from John Roberts of Fox News, saying, “John Roberts of Fox, let’s go to a real network.”
To his credit, John Roberts later defended his colleagues at CNN and NBC. He said he used to work at CNN, that it is most certainly not fake news, and that he knew Kristen Welker of NBC personally and that Welker was “as honest as the day is long.”
At the same news conference Donald Trump, who just the previous day had criticised Theresa May and her Brexit compromises to the British tabloid The Sun – an interview that was recorded so we know it to be absolutely true – stated, “I didn’t criticise the prime minister, I have a lot of respect for the prime minister.” Now that’s fake news. Get the difference?
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.