The real originator of fake news is Trump

Nov 9, 2020

We always knew that Donald Trump would be a bad loser. It is not in his genes
to accept defeat by not-so-sleepy Joe Biden with good grace, or even bad grace.

Defiance, deception, desperation, dishonour and just plain deceit are words that come to mind in recalling the president’s actions as Biden cruised past Trump’s early lead to
win five of the six swing states and gain an historic victory.

But the slow-burn count also brought confirmation of something else. The true originator of Fake News, the expression that has defined Trump’s presidency, is none other than the president himself, along with his family and a wide range of acolytes who have occupied positions in the West Wing.

The count had been underway for just 90 minutes when Trump unleashed his first burst of falsehoods, declaring he had unassailable gains in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia, and that he was requesting the Supreme Court to have counting stopped because he had already won. We could hear the gasps of disbelief from the presenters of major networks; incredulity that anyone could make such a claim, let alone the president of the United States.

The coverage that followed over the following three and a half days was to prove something else important: the quality of the much-berated mainstream media when compared with the spurious conspiracy theories and lies trotted out on Facebook and other social networks. CNN, MSNBC and Bloomberg were scrupulous in sticking to the facts, providing a mass of detail from the states most in contention, and avoiding partisanship, insisting that every vote had to be counted.

CNN controversially broke new journalistic ground by refusing to read out Trump’s tweets on the basis that it had an obligation not to spread false information. This is an interesting concept which, if applied by public broadcasters like ABC and BBC, might not square with their declared policies of providing ‘balance’ in political reporting. Even Trump’s favourite network, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, made a reasonable fist of impartiality, actually incurring a verbal blast from Trump for being the first network to call the state of Arizona for Biden, three days before other networks.

The two newspapers Trump hates the most – the New York Times and the Washington Post, carried impeccable coverage, rich in detail and wholly accurate. No fake news there. The press as a whole did a good job, though sadly the main Australian newspapers were a day behind, a factor of time difference.

On Friday evening, realising there would be no significant progress in the counts in the crucial counts in Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, I watched Stephen Speilberg’s outstanding 2017 movie The Post, starring Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, its iconic editor. It told the story of the Post’s brave decision to publish The Pentagon Papers in the face of the threat of criminal prosecution and a trial in the Supreme Court. I worked for the Post at the time, and the tension and threats of those days was reminiscent of what the Jeff Bezos has had to endure during the dismal Trump years. But both then and now the Post prevailed.

For me, the jarring note in all this is that a number of MPs in Australia’s governing Coalition saw fit to retweet some of Trump’s lies, despite an official warning from Twitter as to their accuracy. George Christiansen and Matt Canavan were among those who republished Trump’s misleading information, but the worst culprit was former treasurer and ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey. He described the American electoral system as a `complete dogs’ breakfast’ and suggested there might be electoral fraud, without providing the slightest shred of evidence. Labor leader Anthony Albanese called on Scott Morrison to repudiate these remarks, but the prime minister chose to do nothing.


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