Fake News refers to a term recently coined by President Donald J. Trump in order to denigrate news contrary to his policies. He branded media outlets as “Enemies of the people”. In a country that champions liberties such as freedom of the press. It is an unusual case for the United States to have a hostile policy towards the media.
One of the most outrageous cases of Fake News circulated by Trump would be his views towards global climate change. Not only does he consider it to be false, but he made the claim the theory stems from the Chinese government in order to economically cripple the American economy. A clearly false statement given how the overwhelming majority of scientists have agreed global climate change exists and human activity is primarily responsible for it.
Trump chose to spread the lie in order to appeal to his constituents – One of the biggest criticisms towards adopting renewable energy stems from the fear of economic inefficiency. Trump took advantage of the claim by directing it towards the Chinese,which is convenient given how his campaign has employed the fear tactic of China’s growing influence in dominating the world economy.
Despite how undoubtedly inaccurate the information is, Trump chose to disseminate this in order to serve his interests.
Alternatively, Trump refused to answer Jim Acosta, a CNN journalist, at a press conference because he considered CNN to be Fake News. Previously, CNN had reported that U.S Intelligence had informed Trump on Russia’s motives in compromising him in a declassified report. It is expected of power-hungry politicians like Trump to dismiss media outlets like CNN. The network was tarnishing his image, which is why Trump branded the entire news organization as Fake News. Their content did not suit him. Similarly, he also called BuzzFeed News a “failing pile of garbage”. Previously, BuzzFeed News had published the entire U.S Intel report. It is clear the hostility Trump exhibited towards these media outlets stems from advancing his agenda by vilifying those who oppose or criticize him.
This, however, is not the first time an administration has displayed enmity towards the press. In fact, it is a common policy conducted by repressive governments in the past:
Hitler’s Rise to Power
As a plight of maintaining and extending their control, the Nazis adopted the term, Luegenpresse, loosely translating to the “lying press.” It was originally used by the German Defense Ministry in World War I to denounce foreign propaganda. The Nazis, however, rehashed the term in order to attack views contrary to their ideologies. They vilified newspaper articles and magazines that criticized national socialism or supported other ideologies like Communism. The Nazis branded these outlets as Luegenpresse in hopes of promoting a campaign of fear against a potential Communist uprising. After garnishing enough support, they abolished the multi-party system, destroyed newspapers contrary to their ideologies, and incarcerated political dissenters.
While the Trump administration has not adopted these tactics, they have railed against media outlets, specifically liberal platforms, by labeling them as “Fake News.” Alarmingly, some Trump supporters, including white supremacists, have adopted the exact phrase Luegenpresse in order to attack outlets which preach ideologies contrary to their beliefs.
Mao Zedong’s Classification of Others
Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), utilized the same term of classifying others as the “enemy of the People”. According to Zhengyuan Fu’s “Autocratic Tradition and Chinese Politics,” Mao indoctrinated primary schools to believe in two classes of people: The People and the Class Enemy.
The People generally consisted of peasants, workers, and soldiers. The Class Enemy referred to virtually anyone who opposed the State, including intellectuals, artists, and journalists. Mao described the People as good, courageous, and friendly while the Class Enemy was described as cruel and evil. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao censored books deemed contrary to Communist ideology. He promoted pamphlets in favor of the State i.e, the Red Book, and imprisoned intellectuals and journalists that were not willing to promote his ideology. The concept of the Enemy of the People is clearly not a foreign concept in history, as it has been used in repressive governments in the past.
Soviet Parallels and its Controversy
While the phrase “Enemy of the People” predates the Soviet Union as far as the Roman Empire, Mitchell Orenstein, a professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, has said the phrase contains incredible controversy in Soviet history. Vladimir Lenin first introduced the term in order to denigrate those who opposed the communist revolution. Joseph Stalin advanced the Soviet policy on its constituents by sending them to labor camps or executing them. If somehow one were to survive, they would still be denied education or employment. Stalin’s list ranged from artists to politicians who disagreed with them. More importantly, both Stalin and Lenin dehumanized intellectuals and journalists; they were considered “the most hated enemies”, according to Serhiy Yekelchyk, a professor at the University of Washington.
It is clear that repressive regimes have utilized the phrase, “Enemies of the People,” which has also been adopted by Trump. It is important to note however, despite Trump’s widespread usage of the phrase, Fake News is not limited to ideas antithetical to Trump’s ideals. In fact, the motive of Fake News is to spread misinformation.
Macedonian teens are able to profit off of click-bait by setting up inaccurate websites on misinformation which appeals to a growing populace. Politicians and their constituents, including liberals, spread misinformation in order to garnish support for their cause. For example, social media shared a quote allegedly made by Trump – he mentioned how he would run for the Republican Party since their database are largely comprised of incompetent voters. Trump never said this, yet this quote has been widely circulated on predominantly liberal platforms.
It is clear Trump is not Hitler, Stalin, or Mao, but his revival of the phrase is disturbing. Trump chose to adopt the phrase in order to serve his political interests, but the phrase could also be used to confront the issues behind spreading lies in order to serve one’s interests. Unlike Trump, we should actively fact-check and question information to ensure it is authentic even if it benefits us. The spread of misinformation is not a problem found in just the Trump Administration, it’s rampant across the internet. Spreading lies about anyone, irrespective of who they are, is objectively wrong and defeats the purpose of exposing the truth.
Fake News raises the issue of spreading fabrications to suit one’s interests. By critically examining any information presented, society may avoid granting legitimacy to outlets which propagate falsehood, or Fake News, even if it clashes with their interests.