THE BLOG

My Name Is Chris And I Am Fake News

Looking back at one year of reporting Trump, possibly the most-exciting-in-a-can’t-quite-believe-your-eyes-and-ears moment in modern history

19/01/2018 17:46 GMT | Updated 19/01/2018 17:46 GMT
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images

My name is Chris, and I am fake news. Apparently.

I may not have been a winner of an official White House award and I haven’t had a personal shout-out like CNN’s Jake Tapper, but as a writer for a MSM (mainstream media) outlet and recipient of many tweets saying as much, I can safely assume I fit President Trump’s definition.

When it became apparent Trump was going to win the election and there would be a need for coverage with a UK slant, I ordered a couple of books to help explain the intricacies of things like the Supreme Court and Congress.

These have been, for the most part, useless.

Instead, I’ve found Trump’s various biographies and books about psychological phenomena such as the “backfire effect” far more helpful in interpreting and attempting to explain, possibly the most-exciting-in-a-can’t-quite-believe-your-eyes-and-ears popular movement in modern history.

Right now it’s difficult to imagine the news landscape without Trump. I guess we’d just be concentrating almost entirely on Brexit instead, but knowing what we’ve witnessed over the last 12 months makes me think a world in which Hillary won, would be, well... boring.

Scandal and intrigue are what reporters live for, but I guess the difference with Trump is that even being on the other side of the Atlantic isn’t distance enough to feel separate from them. 

When a Watergate or a Monica Lewinsky rolls around it’s sit-on-the-sidelines-and-watch-the-show time, but when what you perceive as a scandal involves revoking someone’s rights or decreasing the chance of submerging half the land on the planet, it’s a different beast.

His presidency is unprecedented.

But at the same time, his Presidency, based not on facts but on personality, was inevitable.

This blog was supposed to be a kind of “view from the UK”, but when I actually sit and think about it, my fundamental experience of covering Trump has been the same as any other major and long-running story.

On all the major news topics today - Brexit, Trump, refugees, whatever - nobody has an opinion anymore that could be summed up with a simple “meh”.

We all seem to be either fully for or fully against something. The middle ground is now a deserted landscape not visited by humanity since social media invaded our lives.

Reporting on something like Trump often feels like a combination of preaching to the converted and screaming into the void. Only it’s not a void. It’s a space inhabited by (largely) anonymous Twitter accounts armed with links to obscure websites and a level of verbal courtesy normally associated with a Tarantino movie or an actual war zone.

If you’re an anonymous Twitter account who hopes I “marry a beautiful woman who dies of cancer” (a genuine tweet I’ve received), then you’re part of the problem. 

When it became apparent Trump was going to win the election and there would be a need for coverage with a UK slant, I ordered a couple of books to help explain the intricacies of things like the Supreme Court and Congress. These have been, for the most part, useless.

I grew up comfortably reassured by the assumption that upwards of 95% of people were logical, right-thinking individuals, and the tiny minority were the sort who spent their screaming at their TVs whilst furiously soiling themselves. 

But since the advent of Facebook, Twitter and the Daily Mail comments section, I often think I got this the wrong way round. Or maybe I’m in the minority and I don’t even realise? Who even knows anymore?

I guess at this point I should clarify I have never screamed at a TV whilst soiling myself (furiously or otherwise) but I digress...

Don’t get me wrong - this happens on both sides, left and right can be as bad as each other and the only thing we can agree on is that we’re never going to agree.

The only universal truth in a post-truth world is that anything can be true.

Want to believe Michelle Obama is actually a man? Infowars has your back. The White Helmets are actually terrorists, not saviours? ‘Independent’ journalists are who you should be listening to.

Anything you want to believe in can be backed up by someone, somewhere purporting to have definitive proof of it.

And no-one is immune. I very recently had a (very civilised) exchange with a professor at one of the UK’s most prestigious universities after they described the findings of a report about a secret US chemical weapons programme as “deeply disturbing”.

Rightly so - this is a story that should be read far and wide and shock the world.

Only it wasn’t true. A quick (literally 10 minute) examination of the “investigative journalist’s” sources and assertions showed that absolutely none of it stood up to the slightest scrutiny.

And this happens time and time again with people who, to varying degrees, agree with Trump’s idea that the MSM is “fake news” and can’t be trusted, who then turn to “alternative” media sources.

Of course I’m going to defend the MSM, I’m part of it. And in a world in which the President of the United States makes regular attacks on the people whose job it is to hold his actions to account, this becomes even more important.

And it’s telling that Trump’s recent ‘Fake News Awards’ was a very short list of stories that although initially incorrect, were followed by retractions and apologies (Trump still owes 2,001 and counting of those). 

Trump and the topics I listed above are the most important events of our time and we owe it to ourselves to be as informed as possible and this means considering and evaluating the points of view of others and perhaps more importantly, not taking anything at face value simply because it fits what you want to believe.

We can either all be grown-ups about this or continue shouting at the TV and making a mess.