From the creators of “alternative facts” and the Bowling Green massacre, the Trump administration now presents to you their latest hit: terrorist attacks in Sweden.
During a campaign-style rally in Orlando, Florida on Saturday, Feb. 18, CNN reported that President Trump implied that Sweden had been the victim of a terrorist attack the night before, setting the media — and Sweden — ablaze with questions about the validity of the remarks. Though the allusions were proved untrue, there remains a question of why the Trump administration always has their facts one step removed from the truth.
Perhaps the answer rests in the erupting fake news trend that packages news in varying shades of grey — from the blatantly outrageous to the only somewhat false — and sells it to audiences as true, using manufactured photos, phony quotes and even the logos of real news outlets. These fake news stories offer a vision of truth that can often go unquestioned, leading readers to believe the story at face value. The Trump administration’s “alternative facts” function in a similar way: they sound just true enough to be believed, and may slip through the cracks if left unchecked.
This is not the only way the current White House is trying to obfuscate reality; they are also trying to create their own reality. According to Vox, Trump’s team sent out a “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey” following his press-conference-gone-rogue on Thursday, Feb. 16. Claiming in the email sent to the campaign’s email list that the American people are the “last line of defense against the media’s hit jobs,” the survey went on to press participants on the media’s purported “unfair” treatment of the administration as well as the role political correctness plays in creating biased news coverage.
While these sound like innocent questions on the surface, such survey questions can end up creating a parallel political universe in which all of the facts are in favor of President Trump. First, the questions are excessively leading. One read, “Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?,” which plays directly into the administration’s labelling outlets like CNN and The New York Times as fake or failing news organizations. Another asked if participants believed that the media “purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats?” — yet another question that directs participants to recall the long-held notion that the media holds a liberal bias.
Setting the questions aside, it is also important to consider the audience to which these questions were given: they are all Trump supporters. The 25-question survey was emailed to those on his email list from his presidential campaign, so their responses will naturally align with those of their leader — after all, their votes placed him into the highest seat of American government. By sending out a survey to followers who share similar views, the Trump administration will get the responses they want, which are responses that agree with their own outlook and agenda.
There is no question that the manufacturing of truth to further one’s own agenda is wrong. However, it seems here that there is more going on than just the president trying to create a filter bubble of news, praise and agreement that is pleasing to him; instead, it is not only an attempt to blur the line between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy. It may just be a means through which to distract the American people from covert policy decisions, insider dealings and concrete actions made by the administration with which the vast majority of Americans would likely disagree.
This only follows the media sideshow Trump consistently performed that distracted from the main tent of his campaign circus. The Nation summed up his tactic — and news outlets’ contribution to his growth — this way: ”The always-controversial Trump was irresistible for ratings-driven news outlets, and their endless profit-seeking helped legitimize a dangerous politics [sic]…Trump’s screen-to-screen exposure during the campaign provided bait to capture advertiser’s most coveted product: our attention. To keep our attention, media must entertain us. And Trump delivered — especially for media’s bottom line.”
Trump rose to political prominence by spewing egregiously wrong or heinously controversial statements — look no further than to his claims that Obama was not an American citizen or his mocking of a reporter on the campaign trail for proof. The media reported every single one of them; in fact, the more eye-popping the statement, the better it was for news outlets’ ratings and in turn, their advertising revenue, especially for cable news. As president, more of the same continues. Except now, Trump has in his hands the power to make and enforce decisions, ones that may be lost in a media frenzy of fact-checking and verification.
Consider this most recent move by the administration: CNN reported on Thursday, Feb. 23 that the FBI “rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign.”
Not only did the administration seek to dispel negative press on their alleged contact with Russia pre-election, they also authorized the immigration raids carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), touting it as a “military operation,” according to The Washington Post.
Yet, while we were laughing at Sweden’s reaction to their purported ill fate, Trump and his team commissioned these acts. These casual media missteps of falsified or exaggerated information are just an extension of Trump’s campaign tactic to remain front and center in media coverage, with commentary on one outrageous comment or act replacing its predecessor in the news cycle.
While this may leave citizens feeling helpless or at the mercy of a man who doesn’t care much for the truth, this should serve as a call to act, a call to become invested in the news coming out of this White House, a call to identify falsehoods and spread the truth at every turn.