This article initially appeared in Salon.com magazine, where it can be read in full.
These are tough days to be a serious journalist. Report a story now, with your facts all lined up nicely, and you’re still likely to have it labeled “fake news” by anyone whose ox you’ve gored — and even by friends who don’t share your political perspective. For good measure, they’ll say you’ve based it on “alternative facts.”
Historians say the term “fake news” dates from the late 19th-century era of “yellow journalism,” but the term really took off in 2016, a little over a year ago during Donald Trump’s run for the presidency. It described several different things, from fact-free, pro-Trump online media to sensationalistic and largely untrue stories whose only goal was eyeballs and dollars. During the primary season, Trump himself began labeling all mainstream media stories about him as “fake news.” The idea that there could be different truths, while dating at least back to the administration of President George W. Bush, when his consigliere Karl Rove claimed that the administration “made its own” reality, gained currency when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, caught making stuff up in a TV interview, claimed that she was relying on “alternative facts.”
The corporate media have responded to being called liars and “fake news” fabricators of news by promoting themselves as “the reality-based community” (NPR), or claiming they are fighting the good fight against ignorance, as demonstrated by the Washington Post’s new masthead slogan “Democracy dies in darkness.” The NY Times has stuck with its hoary “All the news that’s fit to print” slogan, but has added a page-three daily feature listing “noteworthy facts from today’s paper” and has taken to calling out Trump administration whoppers as “lies.”
Last December Congress passed a new law, promptly signed by then-President Barack Obama, that added an Orwellian amendment to the Defense Authorization Act of 2017. Called the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, this measure tasks the State Department, in consultation with the Department of Defense, the director of national intelligence and an obscure government propaganda organization called the Broadcasting Board of Governors, to establish a “Center for Information Analysis and Response.” The job of this new center, funded by a $160 million, two-year budget allocation, would be to collect information on “foreign propaganda and disinformation efforts” and “proactively advance fact-based narratives that support United States allies and interests.”
This might all seem laughable, but as a journalist who has worked in this field for 45 years, in both mainstream newspapers and television and in the alternative media, and as a long-time freelancer who has written for publications as widely varied as Business Week, the Nation, the Village Voice and a collectively run news site called ThisCantBeHappening.net, I have watched as this obsession with “fake news” has turned into an attack on alternative news and alternative news organizations…
For the rest of this article by DAVE LINDORFF, please Salon.com magazine.