“Fake news.” These infamous two words are arguably the most problematic phrase coined by the current United States President Donald J Trump. In the first year of his administration, President Trump has constantly used divisive rhetoric against the mainstream media, often criticizing their coverage of his administration. The consequences of this trend are significant. One of the most fundamental pillars of an effective and strong democracy is a free press. News outlets, although sometimes politically biased, play a critical role in keeping elected officials and bureaucrats accountable for their actions, which would otherwise go unnoticed by the general American public. By decrying networks and stories as “fake news,” President Trump and his followers are able to discredit solid, factual reporting. This can shield the administration from normal political standards of honesty and integrity. A Harvard-Harris poll conducted in May 2017 found that 65 percent of voters believe that there is “a lot of fake news in the mainstream media.” Trump and his aggressive campaign against the mainstream media—especially outlets like CNN and the New York Times—have created this distrust among the American public. Some Americans are so skeptical of media reports that President Trump can easily discredit a story by calling it “fake news.”
A fair and free press has proven throughout US History to be one of the greatest checks of a politicians’ power. The courageous reporting of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon in the infamous Watergate scandal. More recently, the Washington Post’s story detailing Roy Moore’s history of sexual misconduct with minors led to the historic election of now Senator Doug Jones. Apolitically, reporting by New York Times journalists on Harvey Weinstein’s past sexual assaults and misconduct was a main spark for the #MeToo movement.
Whether just or unjust, 21st century news outlets have to be even more extensive and meticulous in their reporting to defend themselves against growing distrust. Errors, which previously would be corrected without a firestorm of criticism, have become more and more consequential. When reporters and newspapers engage in sloppy reporting, especially in stories that shine a poor light on the Trump administration, they hurt not only themselves but also American society as well. The American press has the responsibility and duty to be correct and highlight the truth. Without a hardworking and honest press, America risks descending to a post-truth society that is prevalent in countries with autocratic and oppressive regimes.
Recently, the American press has damaged their credentials by reporting falsehoods against the Trump administration. The first example of this journalism is Michael Wolff’s recent best-seller, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Wolff’s book gave readers a rarely-seen inside look at the current White House and everyday life of President Trump. Wolff claimed that 100 percent of the people around President Trump believe he is unfit for office, which other sources have proven was an exaggeration. While interesting in its nature, Wolff’s reporting was sloppy at best. Wolff seemed more interested in pushing his own narrative about the President than actually adhering to journalistic integrity. Although a large portion of the book is consistent with previous depictions of the President and those around him, many parts of the book are simply false. Although Wolff claims the book was verified by fact-checkers, it seems doubtful that the book was vetted and fact-checked properly. Wolff has thus not only damaged his own reputation, but also the reputation of honest, hard-working reporters all over America. Reporting like Wolff’s, which so clearly ignored facts in order to paint a negative view of the President, hurts the reputation of the press and leads to more and more Americans becoming receptive to the fake news campaign led by Trump and his allies.
A second example of flimsy reporting came recently when the Wall Street Journal leveled the claim that President Trump said, “I probably have a good relationship” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump responded to the Wall Street Journal by tweeting, “The Wall Street Journal stated falsely that I said to them ‘I have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un’ (of N. Korea). Obviously I didn’t say that. I said, ‘I’d have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un,’ a big difference. Fortunately we now record conversations with reporters…and they knew exactly what I said and meant. They just wanted a story. FAKE NEWS!” The Wall Street Journal ended up releasing the tape of the conversation, in which it is fairly clear that Trump said “I’d” instead of “I.” Some recordings can be tough to understand, but this one is straight-forward. This article seemingly tried to create a story to boost readership by reporting a false claim, which hurts journalistic integrity and entire Ameircan press.
The examples of the Wall Street Journal story and Wolff’s book are not the only instances of journalistic malpractice in the Trump era. It is crucial in the age of President Trump that the American media is honest and trustworthy. The first amendment of the US constitution provides protection for free media and it is paramount the media uses this privilege responsibly.