Trump invokes ‘FAKE NEWS’ at press conference
President-elect Donald Trump brought his campaign against what he considers fake news to his first major press conference since winning the election.
What played out could suggest contentious times ahead for mainstream media outlets while covering the incoming administration. At one point, the president-elect shouted down CNN reporter Jim Acosta, labeling the News network as “fake news” for its report that U.S. intelligence agencies had briefed the incoming president and President Obama with allegations that Russian operatives claim to have potentially compromising personal and financial information about Trump.
Getting worse criticism was BuzzFeed, which published the 35-page classified document on its site as part of its coverage. Trump described the classified report as “false and fake and never happened” and called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage. Writing it, I think they are going to suffer the consequences.”
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In getting publicly called out by Trump, Acosta and CNN “was somewhat suffering for the sins of BuzzFeed in this case,” said Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review.
The faceoff, in what was Trump’s first press conference in more than five months, portends things to come. “The bigger picture here is that this is going to be a deeply combative relationship between this president and the press,” Pope said. “
Ed Wasserman, dean of the graduate school of journalism at the University of California-Berkeley, found the televised event “fairly demoralizing and disappointing,” he said. “I had hoped for a more substantive and spirited exchange where he would actually submit to questioning by answering the questions.”
Instead, Trump’s engagements with the press will be “kind of a ritualized interaction in which Trump reiterates his contempt for the press and the press once again re-earns its reputation for being hypercritical and adversarial.”
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When the stories broke Tuesday night, Trump took to Twitter calling the reports “fake news” and a “witch hunt.” He followed that up Wednesday morning with another tweet: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”
During the press conference, the president-elect complimented many news outlets about their handling of the report, including The New York Times, which did not reference or link to BuzzFeed in its initial story. “I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press and all of that, but I will tell you there were some news organizations … that were so professional, so incredibly professional, that I’ve just gone up a notch on what I think of you,” he said.
Regardless, coverage of the classified briefing is real news, not fake news, and Trump should have expected this story to come out between the briefing and the earlier circulation of the classified document, said Nsenga Burton, digital editor for Grady Newsource and an instructor at the University of Georgia’s Cox Media Institute for Journalism, Innovation & Management. “CNN could not not have a story about that briefing that was circulating and call itself a news organization,” she said.
About BuzzFeed’s publication of the document, “we can argue if that is news or journalism. At least they provided some context and said they were in the process of vetting it. … But that is news. Not (what is in) the document, but the fact the document exists.”
As a business person, Trump should know that it would be more helpful to have “a working relationship” with outlets such as CNN, she said. “You can’t call someone from CNN a liar and think that is going to end well for your administration,” Burton said.
Pope wondered whether other reporters should have come to Acosta’s aid and asked a question for him or ceded their time to CNN. “The challenge for the press is the media basically has to come to grips with the fact they have a president who is going to do absolutely nothing to help them and is going to put as many roadblocks in front of them as he possibly can and also is going to do all he can to discredit them and undercut any trust they have between them and their readers.”
Some came to CNN’s defense later in the day. During his afternoon broadcast Fox News Shep Smith said, “CNN’s exclusive reporting on the Russian matter was separate and distinctly different from the document dump executed by an online news property. Though we at Fox News cannot confirm CNN’s report, it is our observation that its correspondents follow journalistic standards and that neither they nor any other journalists should be subjected to belittling or delegitimizing by the President-elect of the United States.”
National Press Club President Thomas Burr called it “dangerous and unhealthy to declare a news item as ‘fake news’ to distract from facts that you may not like or don’t favor your perspective,” in a statement issued about the president-elect’s press conference. “Our incoming president must treat the news media as the vital cornerstone of our democracy that it is,” he said. “To label something as ‘fake’ in an effort to undermine news outlets endangers the trust granted journalists by the public and is antithetical to our country’s values.”
In another oddity from the press conference, Trump was asked about his Wednesday morning tweet questioning “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” His response was that it was a “disgrace” that the intelligence agencies leaked it. “That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do,” Trump said. “I think it’s a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public.”
Ironically, that tweet came very close to invoking an iconic Internet meme known as Godwin’s Law. First coined in 1990 by attorney and author Mike Godwin, it says “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.”
The theory is that once someone in a discussion begins comparing anything to Hitler, the discussion is over and whoever had invoked the Nazi comparison has lost the debate.