BREAKING: A 2,400 year-old Greek immigrant was reported to be amongst the casualties of the Bowling Green Massacre today. Ms. Aletheia, who had been suffering from a serious degenerative condition over the past several decades, sadly never fully regained consciousness. Mr. Pseudos, who claimed to be a close relative, said in a statement to the Daily Mail that he would be taking over the family business, and that his aunt had taken the news of the Swedish Incident extremely hard.
In the past, authoritarian regimes and unscrupulous governments have gone to great lengths to engineer actual events in order to justify their subsequent actions in the eyes of their people. But today, in the world of alternative facts and fake news, where the media is portrayed as the enemy of the People, fictional atrocities can be created at will - and the faithful will believe that they really happened.
After Kellyanne Conway's fictitious Bowling Green Massacre was debunked, The White House didn't retract but doubled-down. They said that a biased media was deliberately concealing such terrorist attacks. They published a list of these incidents, and aside from ignoring the majority of attacks where Muslims were the victims, did not even mention an actual massacre at a Mosque in Canada the week before. All the events had in fact been covered by the international media, sometimes in great depth. The list also listed incidents that were not terror attacks, which caused distress to the families of the victims.
Even though there was demonstrably no Bowling Green Massacre, despite the claim about deliberately censored media coverage being shown to be false, a poll revealed that more than half of Trump supporters believed that that the massacre was a real event.
At his first re-election campaign rally in Florida (only 1 month after inauguration), in the middle of further denigrating the press and the judiciary and seeking to justify his Muslim Ban, Trump invented another fictional incident that took place "last night in Sweden." There was no such incident, and the Swedish press was left scratching their heads trying to figure out where this idea could have come from.
Trump seems to have no concept of the truth, continuing to repeat the same lies (biggest crowd, biggest electoral win, highest murder rate, etc.) even after he has been directly challenged. But the message to the faithful is that his version of reality is the true one - it's the media that tells lies, that has an agenda, that is "the enemy of the people". Sean Spicer's first unhinged press briefing revealed the attitude of the Trump administration to the truth - "This was the biggest inauguration crowd ever - PERIOD". The truth is what Trump says it is, and there will be no debate, no question, no dissent, even when it that version of the truth is demonstrably and sometimes pre-eminently false.
We have the new term alternative facts, but what is much more damaging is the pejorative Trumpist newspeak, fake news. Originally coined to describe the clickbait that infects mostly US social media, studies showed that this fake news in some instances was being deliberately employed to influence the election. The biggest story was one that led to an armed attack on a pizza restaurant - the bizarre fiction that the Comet chain was a front for a paedophile ring linked to Hilary Clinton.
Now fake news is being used daily by Trump and his supporters to attack any story or argument that they don't like. It has become an immediate dismissive non-response. Trump and his surrogates now don't even have to think about spinning an answer or responding with a no comment. Simply saying fake news not only evades having to answer, it classifies the question - and to some extent those that pose it - as being beneath contempt.
In the UK, the brexit campaign managed a similar spin. When facts were presented either about the contribution to the economy provided by immigration or the catastrophic effects that brexit would have on the economy and local communities, they were branded as project fear. The word expert became a pejorative term, so that scientists, economists and academics could be immediately removed from any debate, their reasoning and opinions, though based in methodical analysis of facts, could be immediately discarded. Even as more and more of these predictions are coming true, this attitude remains. The warnings are still disregarded, blame being apportioned to either the previous Labour government or vindictive EU states.
Trump is attacking the press in order to ultimately control it. He is putting himself forward as the only reliable source of truth, and his followers believe it without question. After all, they say, he is the President. He gets the intelligence briefings and the top secret documents that the people never see and are protected from. Trump knows best. There are without doubt Trump supporters out there that firmly believe that there was an Islamic terror attack in Sweden, but it is being covered up by a media conspiracy.
Trump will not make the kind of attacks on the press that the UK government has in the past few years. The FBI will not be smashing up newspapers' computers with sledgehammers. They won't be criminalising journalists for doing their jobs. Trump will silence the media and remove their power by removing their credibility. And he will do this by making them defend the truth against his lies.
Some pundits have said that Trump is the super-troll, a narcissist who feeds on the attention their continued offensive messages and tweets causes. The best way to get rid of a troll is not to feed it, and so they've gone so far as to suggest that they don't send correspondents to the White House anymore, or they send second string or probationary staff, and news media should no longer invite Trump surrogates and staffers onto their programmes.
However, Trump is the President of the United States. His job in some respects is to set the agenda. All the media can do is continue to do their jobs as if this was business as usual. But now, every time a correspondent gets fake news yelled at them, is told to be quiet, to sit down, or is deliberately ignored, Trump wins, and a little more respect for the free press is whittled away. The more desperate the correspondents get in order to be heard, the easier it becomes for Trump to say that he is being barracked and harangued. The more that the press stands together to support each other, the easier it is for Trump to say that they are conspiring against him. In victimising the press, Trump has succeeded in painting himself as the victim. The bully becomes the bullied.
It seems that Truth is the first casualty of this war. But when our opponents never had any regard for the truth in the first place, perhaps we need to employ other tools to retake the initiative.