Journalism in Jeopardy

By Charlie Vargas

The 2016 presidential election brought forth a new machine of misinformation often referred to as fake news. Fake news is the latest post-truth instrument that continues to inflict hysteria in the public. In November of 2015, President Donald Trump tweeted a fake infographic that depicted inaccurate statistics of deaths caused in and by the Black community.

At the same time there was a captioned photo of Trump being circulated that stated if he ever ran for president he would run Republican because they are “the dumbest group of voters” and that was also false.

These shams proved to be dangerous in December, when Comet Ping Pong in Washington D.C. came under fire after a man from North Carolina went to “self- investigate” an alleged pedophile ring full of celebrities and Democrats.

These are just a few examples of fake news perverting information in the political spectrum, yet both the left and the right claim no responsibility for the infiltration and spreading of misinformation.

Last month in a small interview with Reuters, Trump was asked about the last sanctions Barack Obama implemented on Russia, to which he said, “I think we ought to get on with our lives,” and “I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on.” It is important to consider that Trump does in fact know the severity of this issue.

After all, it was his chief strategist Steve Bannon, a board member of Cambridge Analytica, who targeted conservative micro groups on Facebook with a flurry of fake news. Cambridge Analytica, a data mining website that monitors social media users was strategically used to Trump’s advantage throughout the Presidential race in measuring voter mentality.

The company utilizes specific audience targeting and on their website state they are “building a future where every individual can have a truly personal relationship with their favorite brands and causes by showing organizations not just where people are, but what they really care about and what drives their behavior.” This strategy was pivotal in political campaigning for Trump’s narrow focus on voter groups on the web. The algorithms used by data mining sites are ideal for the future of political pandering, especially in a world where according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center last year, 62 percent of adult Americans get their news from social media. If fake news continues to be a problem then that 62 percent of Americans may be compromised with misinformation.

The election was proof that media distortion is an issue that often goes without accountability. In Trump’s reckless race to the top he manipulated his supporters not only with populist rhetoric but by prying psychological information off of Facebook users, something that should be worrisome for the American public now that he commands the oval office.

It was simple for sites like Cambridge Analytica to mine a Facebook for information considering the vast majority of adults who use the site. Facebook currently does not have any monitors to prevent fake news from spreading but has partnered up with the Associated Press, and a few others to help dismantle the rise of fake news. The infiltration of fake news is dangerous to the credibility of news publications.

"It’s pure authoritarianism when a political leader also becomes the only source of information that the population trusts."

The Washington Post suffered an immense blunder in November when the news outlet published an article that deemed websites of libertarian and left wing critics of the Democratic Party, as compromised sources of information because they were believed to be in alliance with Russian Propaganda. To make matters worse this was spread throughout the internet and was only given an editor’s note at the top of the article, meanwhile Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post stayed silent despite the error of the newspaper.

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for The Intercept, was critical of the newspaper’s silence, “It’s the kind of behavior we saw in 2002, where American media outlets are willing to publish anything that the U.S. government tells them to publish, to inflate and expand the threat posed by Russia, to raise fear levels to the highest possible degree.”

With media continuing to be viewed with more and more animosity from the public and now the president, journalism is left in a dangerous peril. The distaste of media by Trump and the American public allows this post-truth era to bolster and thrive. This animosity towards the media prevents journalists from providing one of the most indispensable assets to democracy, which is checking those who are in power, especially those in governmental office.

With the press conference Trump gave in the beginning of this month where he lashed out against evidence that proves Russia influenced the election, he with no hesitation called it fake news. While Trump deems the media as liars, the experts as frauds and the opposing politicians corrupt, he empowers himself as the only credible source in the world of information. As Greenwald put it, “It’s pure authoritarianism when a political leader also becomes the only source of information that the population trusts. But, unfortunately, his biggest allies in that are media outlets who have done the kinds of things that I just explained The Washington Post having done and journalists having helped them. They’re the reason why people are losing faith in American media outlets.”

In this era of post-truth, this democracy cannot afford to be driven and manipulated by false information. In order for journalistic integrity to recover from its current defamed state, it must reinvent itself and find a new approach to Washington’s outsider. In the presidential race Trump proved his savviness over media outlets with a simple formula.

He understands that the spotlight shines on him every time a controversial remark is made and he continues to use it to his advantage. With the uncertainty of information growing it is up to the media to continue to hold factual evidence to par and ask Trump and his administration to provide evidence against the contrary that is presented before them.

The media must also learn to take accountability for their mistakes and actions that brought Americans to this point and recognize that if they keep deflecting accountability, they are sinking to the level of Trumpism, an area where he is an expert leaving no room for competition for the media. The power of journalism is vital in democracy and in a post-truth era it is essential for it to adapt and evolve to provide its fundamental purpose.