Daily Beast Columnist: The Term ‘Fake News’ Has Become Trump’s ‘Rightwing-Populist Bludgeon’

January 12th, 2017 9:01 PM

Logic and proportion may be non-factors in media coverage of Donald Trump’s presidency, fears The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove. In a Wednesday column, Grove opined that journalism “is in danger of passing through the looking glass, only to land in a menacing, topsy-turvy world, namely the White House Press Room…It’s likely to be [a] place where language will occasionally signify its opposite, and government spokespeople will declare, as Humpty Dumpty famously scolded Alice, ‘When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’”

The key to this process, indicated Grove, is the use of the term “fake news” as the “Trump administration’s rightwing-populist bludgeon to delegitimize the purveyors of real news.” At Trump’s press conference earlier this week, “the future protector and defender of the Constitution, along with Vice President-elect Mike Pence and incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, eagerly hurled the ‘fake news’ epithet at Buzzfeed, CNN and presumably every other media outlet that dares to displease them.”

Grove noted that some journalism bigwigs would like to shelve the term, since it’s been “so effectively weaponized by conservative press critics, and its original meaning so perverted.” For example, Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post (where Grove was a longtime feature writer and gossip columnist) observed that “the label has been co-opted to mean any number of completely different things: Liberal claptrap. Or opinion from left-of-center. Or simply anything in the realm of news that the observer doesn’t like to hear.”

Oddly, the journalist Grove quotes at greatest length is the one and only Dan Rather, who’d be a first-ballot inductee into a Fake-News Hall of Fame. Grove doesn’t mention Rather’s quickly discredited, CBS-career-ending 2004 report on George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service. (“The story was true,” said Rather in October 2015.)

“As a political technique, this is shrewd and cunning,” former CBS anchorman and White House correspondent Dan Rather told The Daily Beast. “When a story appears, and he doesn’t like it, he makes maximum use of it to take away its legitimacy by calling it ‘fake news.’”

The 85-year-old Rather, today the anchor of an eponymous AXS TV cable show, and a journalism blogger on Facebook boasting more than a million “likes,” added: “The best we can do is try to help make sure the public understands what’s going on. I’ve said it before: This is gut-check time for American journalists”…

“Maybe this is asking too much,” [Rather] said, “but what if the next reporter Trump recognized said, ‘I give way to [CNN’s Jim] Acosta and his question’? But solidarity is not a word usually associated with us journalists”…

Rather said the exchange between Trump and Acosta was a harbinger of tough times for the newsbiz in general and the White House press corps in particular.

“It’s a difficult time for the press, and we’ll find out whether we have the guts to meet that challenge,” Rather said. “Donald Trump is an intimidator. And now he’ll be doing his intimidation with the Great Seal of the United States of America behind him, and it will carry extra weight. But good journalists, and owners and managers who have courage, won’t back away, back up, back down, or turn around.”