As you know, President Donald Trump last week released his "Fake News Awards" and, needless to say, I was upset that I didn't make the list.
Trump's awards went to big news outfits with resources that far outstrip ours in the mid-valley, and the competition was fierce: Stephen Colbert, for example, went to the extreme measure of renting expensive sign space in Times Square for a "For Your Consideration" ad. That was funny, but neither Colbert nor his "Late Show" (which has received a substantial boost in the ratings since Trump's inauguration a year ago) came home with any of the coveted awards. (Considering how many Americans now get their news from shows like Colbert's or "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" or "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah," the president might want to consider casting his net wider next year.)
In any event, the awards went about where you would expect: CNN was mentioned four times in Trump's list, The New York Times got two mentions, and ABC, The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek each received one citation.
A couple of points are worth making here.
First: Trump was able to win the Republican nomination for president in large part because he was able to take advantage of considerable (and free to his campaign) news coverage. His remarkable ability to dominate the news cycle essentially shut out his GOP rivals, who never were able to gain much traction in the primaries. But news coverage can cut both ways — and Trump, to put this gently, still seems focused on dominating the news cycle. (And, frankly, he's pretty good at that.)
Second: Take a deeper look at the journalists who were involved in some of the "Fake News Awards." The New York Times' Paul Krugman, for example, was cited for an election-night column (an opinion piece) in which he predicted that the election could trigger a global recession. What you didn't learn from the Trump release was that three days later, Krugman retracted his prediction, saying he overreacted.
Similarly, Brian Ross of ABC News was singled out by Trump for an erroneous report. Ross, of course, was suspended by the network because of his mistake. Three of the CNN journalists involved in a story Trump cited were forced to resign after the network retracted and apologized for a story involving Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci (remember him?).
The point here is that some of the journalists who were singled out by Trump's "Fake News Awards" have faced consequences for their actions. But Trump himself has made waves by questioning for years the birthplace of Barack Obama and claiming that millions of illegal ballots cost him the popular vote in the 2016 election, to list just two examples. You can complete this thought on your own.
There is some good news, however, regarding fake news, and that comes in a new study by three political scientists. While the study suggests that the reach of fake news is wide (1 in 4 Americans saw at least one false story), even those readers who accessed the most fake news consumed far more of the real kind.
The study was performed by Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College, Andrew Guess of Princeton University and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter. The study, noted in a recent New York Times story, analyzed web traffic from a representative sample of 2,525 Americans who consented to have their online activity monitored anonymously by a survey firm in the weeks leading up to and after the 2016 election. The team defined a visited website as fake news if it posted at least two demonstrably false story.
In some ways, researchers found, online consumption of fake news broke down along partisan lines: The most conservative 10 percent of the sample accounted for about 65 percent of the visits to fake news sites.
And even for those users, the fake news stories made up just a small percentage of their total news consumption: Even conservative readers viewed just five fake news articles over a five-week period, the study concluded. The study also found that Facebook was the most frequent site through which people navigated to a fake story. The good news there is that Facebook is taking steps to help its users identify fake-news stories and sites.
That type of critical thinking, to be able to assess for themselves what Colbert might call the "truthiness" of a news story, will be increasingly important to Americans. And it will remain vital long after the current occupant of the Oval Office has left the presidency, taking his "Fake News Awards" with him. (mm)