During a recent CNN segment with Don Lemon, panelist Karine Jean-Pierre pointed out that Donald Trump is continuing to profit off his business while in office and noted his hypocrisy in having previously criticized Barack Obama for taking vacations when American taxpayers have been paying for Trump’s weekend visits to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Lemon turned the discussion over to conservative political commentator Paris Dennard, who immediately said, “I think this is fake news. This is not—this is not a news story.”
Don Lemon rightfully cut Dennard off and explained that just because one doesn’t agree with something being reported doesn’t mean it is a fake-news story. Fake news is something that is created intentionally to deceive; that is not happening in any legitimate mainstream media I can see.
As I’ve said before, Donald Trump, as well as those in his administration and those associated with it, continues to use the phrase “fake news” to describe any story that does not report favorably on him, and “fake media” to describe any outlet that is not willing to bow down and serve as his public relations machine. It is an attempt to delegitimize the media for his rabid supporters and anyone else who may not be savvy enough to pick up on his Orwellian newspeak, and in the face of that, we all need to be Don Lemon. We all need to call out Trump and his people for exactly what they are doing: putting out fake information and attempting to deceive the American people.
In other words, propaganda.
Because that’s what he is doing, isn’t it? If he builds himself and his administration up to be the only reliable and trustworthy sources of information for the American people, what does that mean in the long run? It means that he, the president of the United States, is intentionally manipulating and deceiving the American people with his statements.
As an example, Trump tweeted recently that the “FAKE NEWS media” was the enemy of the American people. He then proceeded to name several major news outlets as fake media.
When the tweet was picked up and covered in the media, Trump later came back and said that he wasn’t calling the entire media the enemy, just the “fake media.” He also accused the media of misrepresenting his tweet.
“In fact, in covering my comments, the dishonest media did not explain that I called the fake news the enemy of the people—the fake news,” Trump said. “They dropped off the word ‘fake.’ And all of a sudden the story became ‘The media is the enemy.’”
Every report I saw about the tweet included the phrases “fake news” and “fake media.” His tweet was interpreted in just the way he meant it, since he included the names of several major media outlets in the tweet and he wanted them to be seen as the enemy. It’s only after his tweet got reported that he tried to spin it a different way and give his #AlternateFacts version (read: lie) of what he meant versus how it was interpreted.
It is insidious and diabolical, and it is especially dangerous in the internet age when information spreads faster than it can be corrected or refuted.
The backfire effect is a very real thing, and the more misinformation and outright lies the president and the current administration put out, the harder it will be to combat them.
David McRaney summarized the backfire effect in one sentence: “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”
In other words, it’s not enough to say, “This is a lie.” We have to present the truth instead of simply offering denials. Trump’s supporters believe in everything he says, and they exist in a media vacuum where they are only getting confirmation of their beliefs and nothing to dispute or refute them.
As Craig Silverman notes, the backfire effect makes it difficult for those of us in the media to effectively debunk misinformation because even when we present facts and evidence, it often does nothing to change people’s minds and, in fact, can make them dig in even more.