The Mantra of 'fake news' and self-serving narratives

Ros Astengo - Monday 9th November

Joe Biden is set to become the USA’s 46th President.

Major US channels made the decision to call the long-drawn out election on Saturday night, four days after the polls closed.

When America votes, the world awaits the result with bated breath.

The incumbent will become, supposedly, the leader of the free world. The most powerful person on earth.

Now, every election tells its own story, but this time, something was different.

It wasn’t just about the politics; it was about the person.

The issue is profoundly complex and no doubt many a thesis will be written on the 45th US President – some favourable, some not so much.

And while there are many bigger topics to ponder at this juncture - as a journalist - I wish to focus a moment on just one: Fake News, or rather Trump’s fondness of the term.

Because the irony is, he has been the biggest propagator of this narrative, and in the end it became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Washington Post’s fact-checker column claims to have identified a ‘tsunami’ of 20,000 untruths while Donald Trump has been in office (and that’s only as far as July).

Of course, Fake News does exist, but Trump consistently used the term to undermine real news - or rather news he considered undesirable or inconvenient.

In the dying embers of his controversial Presidential term, as Pennsylvania propelled Joe Biden beyond the 270 electoral college votes needed to win, Trump was at it again, tweeting that he had won the race to the White House ‘by a lot’.

Fake news!

Claims of voter fraud are largely unfounded or trivial, and have even been denounced by senior members of his own Republican Party.

The truth is, Fake News has now become an easy mantra for anyone who doesn’t like the narrative. It’s used as an effective tool to shut down debate.

If the story doesn’t suit, it’s fake!

It’s become a 21st Century zeitgeist.

Then, as the hours of US election coverage turned into days, something seemed to finally snap in the mainstream Media. They appeared to become emboldened by the fact that the man who had called them “enemies of the people” and “Fake news media”, who turfed them out of press calls for asking “nasty” questions, was clearly on his way out of the Oval Office.

Journalists I’ve watched on the TV for years with their polite and carefully-worded reports, were suddenly outright calling Donald Trump a liar.

Twitter began deleting his tweets where claims were “unsubstantiated” or “false”.

TV Channels cut him off in the middle of his ‘election fraud’ speech.

And sweet revenge came for one particular CNN journalist, Jim Acosta, who famously once had his press pass suspended. He tweeted “Trump puts out statement saying he doesn’t accept Biden has won. (Not attaching statement here)”.

Journalists are definitely not above scrutiny, but most do not deserve the contempt Trump has directed at the profession, in particular towards those who have had the temerity to challenge him.

I have certainly felt the Fake News backlash here in Gibraltar, as have my colleagues. Scrutiny is welcome, but unfounded allegations of Fake News are not.

So, it would be good to hopefully see some respect restored to the White House press room next year, although it’s fair to say the relationship between a journalist and a politician is never an easy one. Hopefully that will also help foster respect elsewhere.

But as Trump continues to cry foul in a car park, somewhere between an adult bookstore and a crematorium, I expect the bitter whiff of Fake News will linger like burnt toast, long after he retires to his golf course.