Dr Fergal Quinn, a Journalism lecturer in the University of Limerick, recently wrote about Donald Trump and fake news for Cork Independent. The piece was picked up by Journal.ie. In the article, Quinn writes that the media needs to look at itself and remedy the kind of weakness that canny communicators like Trump can exploit:

“Darkness is good,” Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon said a few weeks back. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they (liberals) get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”

Bannon’s comments reverberated again last week, as Trump berated a CNN reporter for having the temerity to try and ask him a question. “Quiet,” he told him. “Your organisation is terrible…you are fake news.”

It was the latest in a string of attacks by Trump on respected news organisations including The Washington Post, the BBC, The New York Times and suggests a pattern more significant than simple annoyance at hostile coverage.

His use of the term “fake news” is a particularly interesting, co-opting of a term that became ubiquitous in recent months in descriptions of the type of false stories which flourished on social media leading up to his sensational win over Hilary Clinton.

Clinton was, at varying times, implicated in paedophile rings and murder, while unlikely public figures such as the Pope and actor Denzel Washington declared their support for Trump.

But the term “fake news” has been used to describe so many types of news content that it becomes almost meaningless. It can be used to describe news output which is deliberately made-up, or accidentally wrong, news which is partially wrong, or simply incomplete.

It is being used to describe news content that is badly reported or corroborated, and news which is thoroughly reported but framed to fit an agenda by a reporter or editor.

As a term, “fake news” is far too all-encompassing to usefully describe and differentiate between what is happening recently, and more existential problems that have always been at the heart of how journalism is practiced.

Consider, for example, the problem of objectivity in journalism, a value increasingly being seen as aspirational, as opposed to entirely achievable.

If you are a white, Irish, middle-aged, middle-class, Catholic woman writing a story, your every word choice and sentence construction betrays your subjective perspective, whether you want it to or not.

Should articles which lack objectivity then, be put under the same banner as deliberately falsified reporting? “Fake news” as a term is just vague enough and specific enough then to be highly useful for politicians who prefer to operate in areas where boundaries are blurred and meaning is unclear. In darkness, so to speak.

If you are a white, Irish, middle-aged, middle-class, Catholic woman writing a story, your every word choice and sentence construction betrays your subjective perspective, whether you want it to or not.

Should articles which lack objectivity then, be put under the same banner as deliberately falsified reporting? “Fake news” as a term is just vague enough and specific enough then to be highly useful for politicians who prefer to operate in areas where boundaries are blurred and meaning is unclear. In darkness, so to speak.

Read the full piece at Journal .ie.

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