Stop calling news “fake" (Hint: find other words)

Dec 11, 2017
Stop calling news “fake" (Hint: find other words)

Every time news reporters repeat the slogan, fake news, they breathe fresh life into President Trump’s most popular battle cry against them.

From a messaging standpoint, the president has effectively co-opted a vast network of social and news media into using his favorite phrase to arbitrarily slander all kinds of news reports. Conjure an image of thousands of people robotically repeating the same, exact slogan millions of times. They are collectively ridiculing an unending stream of stories and in the process blurring the lines between all efforts, sincere and insincere alike, to differentiate truth from falsehood.

Remember those Macedonian teenagers who raked in thousands of dollars making up dreadful yarns about Hillary Clinton? Wired said they “Mastered Fake News” but does their thoroughly dishonest handiwork truly deserve any aspect of the “news” label?

A recent Washington Post headline typifies the all-too-common usage of this incredibly sticky, viral-like phrase "Why fake news is a problem for Wall Street."

A New York Times headline similarly showcases its omnipresence, "Facebook is Ignoring Anti-Abortion Fake News."

46 percent of voters believe the media falsifies stories

Unexpectedly, the phrase, fake news, has demonstrated the astonishingly high value of name-calling as a propaganda tool, and our society is paying dearly for it.

A recent poll of voters by Politico/Morning Consult indicates that trust is eroding in all news media:

  • 46 percent think media make up stories about Trump

  • 37 percent of voters think the media do not fabricate stories

  • 17 percent are undecided

No matter where you stand, these percentages indicate vast disagreement and misunderstanding about what is truthful and what is not.

Not long ago, CNN launched a “Facts First” branding campaign to counter President Trump’s Fake News attacks against their network. CNN’s first commercial used an apple and a banana to illustrate the difference between falsehoods and reality. Ellen DeGeneres and Stephen Colbert made fun of the commercial. That’s their job. Then again, fruit metaphors make for pretty large targets.

The most effective way to halt a slur

For those who are wondering how the legitimate news media can effectively defend themselves against a virtual Mount Everest of slander, there is a classic bit of public relations advice.

Historically, the most effective way to halt the spread of a slur is to stop repeating it.

An op-ed piece published on CNN’s website titled, "Ban the term 'Fake News'” argued that the term should be banned because it is being used to describe information that people don’t like. The authors, Hossein Derakhshan and Claire Wardle, suggested using other phrases in its place.

Significantly, Fox News covered their piece, and made fun of “Liberal CNN” in the process. Still, Fox effectively tossed the message (“Ban the term, Fake News”) over the wall that tends to separate Americans with opposing opinions. Few others paid as much attention to Derakhshan and Wardle’s article.

Successfully banning the term will require self-awareness, restraint, and may be driven by self-preservation.

The slogan lowers credibility of the good ones along with the bad ones.

Sandy Bodner is a long-time specialist in media relations with an independent public relations practice, (Sandy Bodner Strategic Communications LLC) that serves clients in healthcare and human services.

Photo via Pixabay

About the author

My consulting practice develops educational marketing strategies and 3rd party validation programs for healthcare and human services organizations.

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