Whose lie is it anyway?

The writer argues that "fake news" happens on more networks than one might think. (Josh Hallett/Flickr, Creative Commons)

By now, most Americans have probably heard one or more of the Commander-in-Chief’s rants against “fake news.” The President reserves that term mostly for CNN, which, in June of this year, published and retracted a specious story about Donald Trump’s ties to the Russian government. Three of the employees involved in creating this story resigned, including editor Eric Lichtblau, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for his research into the NSA’s use of wiretapping. More recently, Lichtblau was involved in a small scandal at the New York Times in which he is alleged to have manipulated a news story about Russian interference in the 2016 election, this time to demonstrate that Donald Trump had no connection to the Kremlin.

    It is fair to say that some CNN reporters and executives are not dedicated to the truth. Lichtblau, as an example, also contributed to a CNN story which claimed that erstwhile CIA Director James Comey would affirm in his Senate hearing that Donald Trump was under FBI investigation. Comey affirmed the opposite. After a Reddit user posted an innocuous .gif of Donald Trump wrestling with the CNN logo, CNN managed to weave a narrative of the .gif being an incitement to violence. They then verified the identity of the Reddit user who made the .gif, who apologized, deleted all of his posts, and explained that he had no intention of bringing anyone to violence. As if CNN’s course of action did not stink of harassment enough, they then claimed they reserved the right to publish the Reddit user’s identity if he crossed them again, committing to record their affinity for blackmail.

In short, conservatives and Trump supporters are not wrong to call CNN’s impartiality and journalistic standards into question. Yet, they forget that the right-wing corner of news media has its fair share of crooks and prestidigitators as well. Seven days before the 2016 election, Fox News reporter Bret Baier claimed FBI sources informed the network Hillary Clinton was in danger of being indicted in relation to a federal investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Baier apologized days later, calling the “phrasing” of his statements “inartful,” lamenting that “indictment is obviously a very loaded word, especially in this atmosphere." Something more than an apology is warranted when cable’s most-viewed news network reports FBI officials are likely to indict a presidential candidate for a criminal offense.

As one would reasonably expect, this is not the first nor the most egregious example of Fox News flirting with incendiary mistruth. Gavin McInnes of Rebel Media said at the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign that half of Texas murders were committed by illegal immigrants, a claim for which I can find no supporting evidence other than a copious amount of contradictory evidence. From Gavin McInnes to the Tim McVeigh appreciator Ann Coulter, to the peddler of religious hatred Todd Starnes to waterboarding enthusiast Sean Hannity, to the pseudo-veteran Bill O’Reilly to the inept documentarian and one-time campaign finance felon Dinesh D’Souza, it is difficult to throw a stone in a Fox News studio without hitting someone with talents for sectarianism and legerdemain.

Let me backtrack and say that there are respectable people who work for all the aforementioned organizations, such as the comedian Ben Kissell, who is a frequent collaborator with Greg Gutfeld on Fox News. Regardless, this does not exculpate the news outlets for permitting and promoting unethical behavior. Newsmakers, from Fox News to Breitbart and from CNN to MSN and the Huffington Post, deal in lies. While some sources may be more trustworthy than others, it is best to keep one’s wits handy when it comes to reading any news piece from any entity.


Alex Klein is a campus correspondent for the Daily Campus and can be reached via email at alex.klein@uconn.edu.