Ger Ball looks at Trump's relationship with 'alternative facts' and what that means for us.
Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, is never far from the limelight, politically or otherwise. Following on from his crushing Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton on November 8th and his official inauguration on January 20th, the Trump presidency became what few ever thought it would; a reality. However, barely a month in, the Trump administration has continued to follow the rules established by itself in the recent elections by peddling and championing a most troubling and deceptive thing; fake news.
Fake news, or as Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway likes to say ‘alternative facts’, is news that has one agenda; to deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda and disinformation purporting to be real news. The Trump administration often ridicules those who publish facts that paint Trump in a bad light as being proponents of fake news. For instance, speaking about CNN, Donald Trump at a recent press conference said; “The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Very fake news”.
Are CNN, for example, proponents of this fake news phenomenon as the Trump administration seem to think? He and his supporters often cite CNN’s ‘Hilary bias’, the fact that CNN (and most everyone, including Trump’s favourite, Fox News) predicted that Clinton would crush Trump in the elections or how CNN is fabricating the reports that call into question that Trump and his administration have illegal ties to Russia. The trend here is simple; Trump and his team have disdain for prominent news sites that report on the things he says and does without putting a positive spin on his many transgressions.
So, no, I don’t believe CNN or ‘the failing New York Times’ as Trump likes to call them, to be ‘fake’ organisations. They are only considered ‘fake’ as they refuse to toe the line, like conservative network Fox News does, and because of this, they will continue to get the ire of Trump, his team and his many supporters.
The real proponent of post truth isn’t CNN or even Fox news which is often referred to as ‘faux news’ by the left for their relationship with the truth. No, It’s Donald Trump, his team and U.S Republicans as a whole. Proof? Where to begin? Ah yes, Sweden.
On Saturday the 18th of February, Donald Trump, whilst attending a rally in Florida said the following; “We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden”. Last night in Sweden? What was this big event that happened? Well, according to Sweden’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Catarina Axelsson, the Swedish government wasn’t aware of any ‘terror linked major incidents’.
So no terror linked activity, it seems. Oh but that’s not what President Trump was referring to, apparently. According to the White House, Trump’s Sweden comments were referring to the ‘rising crime’ rates. Interesting, because according to the 2016 Swedish Crime Survey, crime rates in Sweden have stayed relatively stable over a period of 10 years, with minor fluctuations. In 2015, there were 112 cases of lethal violence in Sweden, an increase of 25 cases compared with 2014, but assaults, threats, sexual offences, car theft, burglary and harassment all reduced compared to the previous year – as did anxiety about crime in society, according to the report.
So, Trump’s claim about Sweden was a lie – a blatant one at that. Instead of owning up it, though, he said “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden”. Not only are his claims demonstrably false and easy to fact check, he admits to basing his argument around a talk show section of a conservative broadcaster that echoes much of Trump’s sentiments regarding immigration, to name but one.
This is but one example of the Trump administration’s attitude towards the truth. Directly following Trump’s inauguration, Press Secretary Sean Spicer came out in defiant mood telling journalists that Trump’s inauguration had “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”. He went on to accuse the media of reporting inaccurate crowd numbers and using misrepresentative photographs to “minimise the enormous support” that Trump apparently enjoyed.
Whilst it’s hard to accurately determine crowd sizes, images and estimates all put Trump’s total of attendees at approximately 1/3 that of Barack Obama’s in 2009. So, another lie.
Let’s not forget Kellyanne Conway’s now infamous ‘Bowling Green Massacre’ revelation. In an attempt to justify Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban, Conway stated that the Bowling Green Massacre should be reason alone to justify the merits of the contentious ban. There was only one problem with that train of thought, though, such a massacre never materialised. It was completely fabricated, just like Trump’s Sweden comments and Sean Spicer’s crowd comments. Also like the aforementioned Trump administration lies, Conway, instead of owning the lie, stated that she misspoke. Apparently, she misspoke and somehow managed to falsely create a faux massacre. I don’t think so.
The next question to ask is a simple one, and in actuality, it has a simple answer; why? Why do these people, amongst the most influential people on Earth, actively spread fake news and blatant lies knowing full well that they will be vigorously fact-checked by those who don’t support a Trump Presidency? They do so, in my view, because that’s what won them the election in the first place.
Trump’s run for the presidency was marred by constant lying. To name but two of the countless examples, Trump stated he never mocked the appearance of a disabled reporter despite video evidence proving that he blatantly and unapologetically did and also, at no stage whatsoever was he ever for the Iraq war despite, once again, blatant evidence showing otherwise. Trump claims that it is these ‘fake news’ organisations that are spreading these lies in an attempt to discredit him and his supporters, by and large, lap it up.
In many ways, it’s a smart strategy but it also relies on a certain level of ignorance amongst his republican voters – something that republicans are famous for.
There are many damming repercussions to this administration’s proclivity for spreading lies. Such fear mongering rhetoric is baseless and agenda-filled. It leads to a break-down of international cooperation such as what has happened with the U.S/Mexico relationship following Trump’s offensive and often baseless rhetoric. One fact remains amongst the sea of misinformation; that the Trump administration – as the biggest accusers of ‘fake news’ are, in fact, also the largest proponents of it. We should all be horrified.