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On fake news and journalistic neutrality

In the brave new world of our president Donald Trump, all news he does not like is Fake News. The term was originally used to describe fraudulent websites that baited Trump supporters into clicking on and sharing sensational and utterly false stories like “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning Pledge of Allegiance in Schools.” But in a cruel bit of irony, Trump has successfully reappropriated the term to discredit any publication that challenges the Trump-ian narrative or tarnishes his personal image. According to our president, some of our most read and trusted news sources are actually just peddling lies; The New York Times, CNN, ABC, NBC — all Fake News.

We can no longer even agree on the basic, objective information with which we construct our worldview. Fittingly, we now have Alternative Facts: things that are true in the parallel reality inhabited by Trump supporters and false in the real world. In Trump-land, his inauguration was the most well-attended in history and the Bowling Green massacre was something that happened. A lot of post-election talk at Kenyon has been about how we need to “have dialogue with the other side.” Unfortunately, this idea ignores the fact that this is, quite frankly, impossible when both sides have different constructions of reality.

The phenomenon of Fake News isn’t something that came about just because of Trump — it’s a symptom of capitalism’s effect on journalism. The advertising-based models that many publications depend on, especially online, mean that news organizations’ primary concern is how many people they can get to click on an article. And as social media allows us to insulate ourselves in personal information bubbles, we are only likely to click articles that reinforce our existing beliefs. The concept of Fake News is a natural extension of these ideological bubbles; the term becomes a convenient way to explain away anything that contradicts one’s beliefs.

So in this world where journalism can no longer claim universal objectivity, what role does it have? In my view, publications that stubbornly cling to claims of neutrality are being irresponsible. Both nationwide and at the Collegian, it’s time we started being more mindful of the real impact journalism has. The most productive thing we can do is use journalism as a tool to resist injustice, especially right now.

When you organize people against power structures, there is an automatic imbalance. The goal of resistance is not to convince those in power they are wrong — the goal is to take back power to remedy injustice. Institutions like newspapers can either stand for or against hierarchies; trying to appear neutral is merely just an acceptance of the status quo.

The Collegian might not have much leverage to directly take on Trump, but in the past we’ve put pressure on the administration regarding AVI, Title IX, tampons and other injustices caused by a hierarchy that has little direct accountability to us. This idea that journalism exists not just for its own sake always needs to be at the forefront of what we do. The things we publish can have real effects on our community and we should strive for those effects to be positive.

And like it or not, Trump and his ilk now control the biggest power structure in our lives: the government. Trump’s favorite label is telling — Fake News is really just any news that challenges his absolute authority. Being afraid of the label is an act of deference to his power.

We need to resist with any and every way we can. Get your news from reputable sources, even (or especially) if Trump calls them fake. Support good publications, especially ones not dependent on ads to make money. And go beyond just sharing articles on Facebook, posting angry tweets or even writing opinions articles.

Stopping Trump from destroying our country will require action in the real world: Organize and attend protests, call your senators and representatives and bring other people into your activist network. Journalism is important, but journalism alone is not going to save the world.

Tobias Baumann ’19 is a religious studies major from Mount Vernon, OH. Contact him at baumannt@kenyon.edu.

Tobias Baumann

Tobias Baumann is Opinions Editor of the Collegian.

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1 Comment

  1. Evan Reply

    Seems balanced.

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