NY Times: Criticize Reporters and ‘Fake News’? You’re Acting Like a Dictator

December 13th, 2017 11:48 AM

President Trump is attacking the media once again, and the New York Times is playing scared, and playing the “dictator” card. The front page of Wednesday’s Times featured Steven Erlanger in Brussels shaming Trump, and suggesting he’s somewhat responsible for foreign dictators acting like foreign dictators, in “Globe’s Autocrats Echo Trump’s ‘Fake News’ Cry.

President Trump routinely invokes the phrase “fake news” as a rhetorical tool to undermine opponents, rally his political base and try to discredit a mainstream American media that is aggressively investigating his presidency.

Do you know who else uses the term "fake news"?

But he isn’t the only leader enamored with the phrase. Following Mr. Trump’s example, many of the world’s autocrats and dictators are taking a shine to it, too.

When Amnesty International released a report about prison deaths in Syria, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, retorted that “we are living in a fake-news era.” President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, who is steadily rolling back democracy in his country, blamed the global media for “lots of false versions, lots of lies,” saying “this is what we call ‘fake news’ today.”


Around the world, authoritarians, populists and other political leaders have seized on the phrase “fake news” -- and the legitimacy conferred upon it by an American president -- as a tool for attacking their critics and, in some cases, deliberately undermining the institutions of democracy. In countries where press freedom is restricted or under considerable threat -- including Russia, China, Turkey, Libya, Poland, Hungary, Thailand, Somalia and others -- political leaders have invoked “fake news” as justification for beating back media scrutiny.

So it's admirable for journalists to criticize Republican presidents, but when those presidents use those same First Amendment rights to criticize back, it’s dangerous?

....But the president’s mantra of “fake news” stirs different concerns among many foreign politicians and analysts, who fear it erodes public confidence in democratic institutions at a time when populism and authoritarianism are returning in many regions.


Helen Newstead, Collins’s head of language content, said that “ ‘Fake news,’ either as a statement of fact or as an accusation, has been inescapable this year, contributing to the undermining of society’s trust in news reporting.”

The problem, of course, is that fake news is a real problem, especially on social media. United States intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia used fake news reports as part of an effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Mr. Trump. The presence of fake news in the globalized stream of media content helps blur the line with traditional, fact-based news.

Actually, the Russian trolling seemed more intent at causing chaos both among the right-wing, and among left-wing supporters of groups like Black Lives Matter!, than in lifting Trump to victory. And Russian Facebook “news” like this (Jesus and Satan in an arm-wrestling match?) weren’t going to influence many undecided voters anyway.

Erlanger warned, criticize us, and you could hurt democracy movements overseas:

The fake-news narrative also complicates the work of democracy advocates in countries where democracy is already under assault. Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said that “the sad irony is that Trump’s greatest harm to human rights may not be his infatuation with abusive strongmen but his undermining of the fact-based discourse that is essential for reining them in.”

The Times knows how to hurt a guy (or maybe not): Compare him to Russian dictator Putin.

Some analysts say Mr. Trump’s success at creating an alternative reality and disparaging an adversarial media both copies and augments the tactics of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, noting that Mr. Putin’s propagandists “create a barrage of fake facts” on politically sensitive topics such as the conflict in Ukraine in order to sow public cynicism and uncertainty. Russia and China also create “positive” fake news on social media to inspire patriotism at home.

On Tuesday, Peter Baker and Sydney Ember filed the milder but still paranoid “Trump Escalates His Criticism of News Media, Fueling Partisan Debate.”

President Trump has escalated his fiery attacks on the news media, seizing on a recent string of mistaken reports to bolster his case that he is being persecuted by a left-leaning establishment out to bring him down and fueling a national debate over truth, accountability and a free press.

In a series of broadsides reflecting his own profound grievances while also resonating with his populist conservative base, Mr. Trump castigated ABC News for a “horrendously inaccurate and dishonest report,” declared that CNN’s slogan should be “THE LEAST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS” and insisted that a Washington Post reporter “should be fired.”

While every president has groused about his coverage, Mr. Trump has proved to be the most vocal and visceral news media critic in the Oval Office in at least a generation. In recent days, news outlets have provided him ammunition with reporting errors. But the barrage has deepened concern among media executives about what they see as a concerted campaign to discredit independent journalism.


While news organizations targeted by Mr. Trump have corrected factual errors and in one recent case suspended a reporter, Mr. Trump has never backed down, for instance, from unsubstantiated claims that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower or that millions of illegal immigrants cast votes last year, swinging the popular tally against him.

The story evolved from “Trump criticizes reporters” to “Trump is a dictator.”

Analysts said Mr. Trump’s criticisms represented an effort to undermine faith in journalism. “It is a common thing in the authoritarian playbook to discredit the media so that they are the only source that can be trusted,” said Indira Lakshmanan, who holds the Newmark chair in journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute. “Making it so there is no objective truth is the most dangerous thing of all of this.”

Baker did admit:

The raft of recent reporting errors made that easier. During a rally on Friday in Florida, Mr. Trump berated news outlets. “Did you see all the corrections the media has been making?” he asked. “They’ve been apologizing left and right.”


Mr. Trump’s supporters said that he has a point -- that such mistakes stem from a predisposition by reporters to believe the worst about him. Rather than complain when Mr. Trump points out flawed stories, they said, the news media should be more searching about its responsibility to provide balanced coverage of the president.