Side Note

Most Americans think traditional news outlets publish fake news

In the halcyon days of 2016, “fake news” was a buzzy new term used to describe a get-rich-quick scheme by Macedonian teenagers who made up completely false stories so they could reap the ad revenue. But now, more than 75 percent of Americans believe traditional media outlets, including both newspapers and cable news stations, report “fake news,” according to a Monmouth University poll published Monday. In other words, the concept of fake news has evolved into a catch-all term for anything a viewer deems biased or inaccurate, even if it’s true.

Caricature of United States President Donald Trump reading the paper.

Caricature of United States President Donald Trump reading the paper.

The 803-person poll found that just over half of respondents — 58 percent — think mainstream outlets are intentionally publishing false stories to push an agenda. Additionally, 65 percent of those polled think the fake news label applies to not only fake stories, but also “to how news outlets make editorial decisions about what they choose to report.” Seeing as it’s literally the job of every single person who writes, edits, or publishes news to “make editorial decisions about what they choose to report,” this would suggest that a majority of Americans basically think all news is fake news.

Of course, it’s good that people are questioning what they see and read — and also undeniable that America has a fake news problem to some degree. Why else would so many people believe that the survivors of the Parkland shooting are “crisis actors”? But the poll suggests that outright falsehoods aren’t the kind of fake news people have a problem with. Instead, Americans appear to be concerned about reporters and news commentators being biased or partisan, in the same way that our president tends to dismiss his critics as purveyors of fake news. If you ask me, that’s the poll’s most disturbing revelation: for the average American, fake news is simply any news that contradicts what you believe to be true.