‘Fake news’ is dead

February 14, 2017

“Fake news,” a term for a specific brand of media fabrication that provided endless fodder for journalistic navel gazing since the presidential election, died on Monday. It was less than a year old.

The catchphrase had long battled chronic overuse by subjects of hard-edged news coverage, rendering it effectively meaningless. Despite clinical trials by journalists attempting to contain its usage, “fake news” finally succumbed on Monday when Wall Street Journal Editor Gerard Baker reportedly employed it at a staff meeting to describe criticisms that the paper’s coverage of President Donald Trump was soft.

Made for virality, “fake news” was the subject of numerous BuzzFeed headlines and appeared in multiple Reliable Sources segments, becoming journalists’ favored stand-in for misinformation crafted to influence public opinion or cull digital advertising dollars. CJR traced its ancestry all the way back to the early days of the American republic, when forebears permeated a hyperpartisan media in the form of misleading, politically motivated attacks on public figures.

The moniker’s battle with linguistic rot began as partisans wielded it to cudgel stories and outlets they deemed unfavorable in the wake of the presidential election. Its condition deteriorated as news organizations showed unwillingness to own up to their own shortcomings. And it quickly metastasized to the highest levels of the federal government.

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In early January, then-President-elect Trump famously used it during a news conference to lambaste CNN for its report that intelligence officials had briefed President Barack Obama on Russian efforts to compromise the reality TV star. This week, former Apprentice villain and current Trump aide Omarosa Manigault used it to rebut a Washington Post story alleging she tried to intimidate a reporter outside the White House.

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Journalists’ efforts to preserve the essence of the term proved palliative.

“Fake news” was preceded in death by “telling it like it is.” It leaves behind two sisters, hoaxes and propaganda; a cousin, bad reporting; and an adopted son, Alex Jones.

Services will be held at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, where the Trump administration will daily honor the life of “fake news” by continuing to lob it as an insult toward any journalist who dares cast the White House in a negative light.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to CJR.

David Uberti is a writer in New York. He was previously a media reporter for Gizmodo Media Group and a staff writer for CJR. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.