NYT's Humorless, Fearful, Defensive Take on Trump's 'Fake News Awards': Threat to Press Freedom?

January 18th, 2018 2:32 PM

Thursday’s New York Times was haughtily dismissive of the Trump-inspired “2017 Fake News Awards” posted on the RNC’s website Wednesday night: “May We Have the ‘Fake’ Envelope, Please?” The Times itself scored two of the coveted slots, one for columnist Paul Krugman claiming the markets would never recover (the Dow Jones Industrial Average recently reached a record high of 26,000).

Reporters Michael Grynbaum and Matt Flegenheimer tried to shift the blame to Trump right off the bat, while taking the stunt quite solemnly indeed, seeing a threat to “press freedom” in criticism of false reports:

President Trump -- who gleefully questioned President Barack Obama’s birthplace for years without evidence, long insisted on the guilt of the Central Park Five despite exonerating proof and claimed that millions of illegal ballots cost him the popular vote in 2016 -- wanted to have a word with the American public about accuracy in reporting.

On Wednesday, after weeks of shifting deadlines, and cryptic clues, Mr. Trump released his long-promised “Fake News Awards,” an anti-media project that had alarmed advocates of press freedom and heartened his political base.

They let most of the media mistakes stand, including the accurate shots at CNN’s shoddy reporting, but defended Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel for a false tweet about crowd size at a Florida rally, then dismissed the exercise as a thin attack on “the free press”:

The content of the 11-point list was perhaps less notable than its premise: a sitting president using his bully pulpit for a semi-formalized attack on the free press.


From the beginning, the awards were the sort of Trumpian production that seemed easy to mock but difficult to ignore. Members of the news media joked about the speeches they would prepare, the tuxedos and gowns they would fetch. It would be an honor, they said, just to be nominated.

The Times teased out an international threat to journalists in the term “fake news,” which began as a mainstream media attack on false pro-Trump Facebook posts, but was appropriated by Trump and his supporters, to the media’s chagrin:

And press advocates cringed at the prospect of a gala dedicated to the phrase “fake news,” which has already helped corrode trust in journalism in the United States and around the world. In response to Mr. Trump’s endeavor, the Committee to Protect Journalists this month recognized the president among the “world leaders who have gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media.”

The reporters blamed Trump for American hostility toward the press (news flash: that distrust preceded Trump by many decades). The story went through many iterations and the part that blandly hinted at a liberal tilt to the news media failed to make some editions:

And political affiliation is a major factor in perception of bias: 67 percent of Republicans said they saw “a great deal” of political bias in the news media, and 26 percent of Democrats said the same.