There has been a back-and-forth going on for the past several days between traditional mainstream media and web-based news sites, with both sides accusing the other of being arbiters of “fake” news. It has gone far enough to elicit comment from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, pledging to purge fake news from Facebook, and Twitter has recently begun a purge of “alt-right” accounts in its attempt to crack down on “hate speech”. Though the back-and-forth has been going on for quite some time now, in the wake of Trump’s victory, the debate has made its way to the front pages of the news cycle in both the MSM and web-based media. It is appropriate to provide some back story as to who has said what, before any analysis on which news sources to trust.
The saga began when Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of communication at Merrimack College, posted a list of “fake news” websites which quickly became widely circulated. Mainstream media picked up on the list, and began publishing it, advising others to avoid believing stories from the outlets listed. Though Zimdars has taken down her list, it has been reproduced below:
Though Zimdars included The Onion and several fake mirrors of real websites (Drudge Report, MSNBC, ABC), the list is mostly comprised of sites that lean to the “right”, notably ZeroHedge (of which Free Market Shooter is a contributing author), Breitbart, and The Blaze, among many other respected conservative and libertarian websites. It is difficult to deny the bias in Zimdars’ list, as it did not include any progressive news websites I could recognize, and instead focused its attention almost entirely on conservative media, with a nod to fake mirrors and parody news.
Several of the websites in the list issued rebuttals to mainstream media’s coverage of the Zimdars list as absolute fact. One of the listed websites, World Net Daily, posted a scathing takedown of Zimdars, and Paul Joseph Watson of Prison Planet, another site in the list, turned around and accused the outlets that published the Zimdars list as fact of being the true proprietors of fake news. Listing a series of “journalists” that had colluded with the Clinton campaign, this list was subsequently recirculated by Ron Paul and many other libertarian and conservative media outlets, and has been reproduced below:
What we are witnessing is mainstream media’s attempt to battle back at the outlets that are opposing its coverage. Technology, notably the internet, has enabled a slew of competitors, and the increase in cord-cutting has also led to an increase in those who are no longer reliant on which TV channels they get to choose their news sources. As more people consume news via nontraditional media, there will be more websites available providing news. Naturally, people will have a tendency to view the news where the provider is in line with the viewer’s particular way of thought. All news sources, though they may try to remain unbiased, have some sort of bias, as it would be impossible to present a view without any opinion coming through in its presentation. Free Market Shooter is just another example of a long list of blogs and news aggregators that have popped up as a result of the internet, and there is little if any attempt to hide any bias displayed here.
No matter what the bias is of the reporter or author, no one will view the news at an outlet that consistently presents false facts or falsely objective content. Mainstream media has recently been caught numerous times colluding with the Clinton campaign, from Donna Brazile at CNN feeding Hillary debate questions in advance to Debbie Wasserman Schultz working behind the scenes with CNN to undermine the Bernie Sanders campaign. Though mainstream media still has a stranglehold on regular and cable news channels, with a massive legacy audience and network, they also have antiquated revenue models and legacy liabilities related to their overhead costs, notably the staff that they employ. Recent layoffs at the NY Times and Huffington Post, as well as many other traditional print newspapers, are endemic not just of their false reporting, but of their inability to compete with the recent startups.
The reason they have been unable to compete is that the startups are questioning the facts in their reporting, and doing so has undermined their credibility, driving its audience right to the “fake news” websites that have become the bane of their existence. Traditional mainstream media is used to presenting the news with minimal competition outside of itself. Unable to fathom that anyone would question its reporting, they continue to operate under the same business model, unable or unwilling to accept the obvious – in today’s world, if the story put forward is demonstrated to be false, it must be corrected immediately, or the outlet in question will lose credibility almost instantaneously. And, with the ease of changing to a different outlet and the multitude of providers available, consistent false reporting will only lead to a reduction in viewership.
Meanwhile, every online-only news outlet has begun in this paradigm. They simply would not continue to get views if their content was demonstrated to be false. The second a post is published, it is vetted and approved/denied by its viewers. If it is not corrected, an outlet will lose credibility. Though mistakes are made by everyone and false stories will be published, mainstream media has been able to get away with it for far too long without correcting themselves. More importantly, the MSM is shown that it often does so maliciously, and there is no better example of this then their recent coverage of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Recently, I published a story that was in small part based on a fact that was false. Rather than risk my credibility and turn viewers away from Free Market Shooter, I corrected the story as soon as I knew the fact in question was fiction, and issued a corresponding correction. If I just ignored my mistake, as the MSM so frequently does with their own false reporting, no one would continue to come to Free Market Shooter.
Mainstream media has no choice but to adapt to this as the new normal. They can’t go on parading news websites as “fake”, and have to adapt to the fact that now they are facing real competition. The next phase of competition will involve channels specifically devoted to “alternative” news, and will either 1) be made available via traditional cable networks, 2) contribute to the demise of mainstream media via cord-cutting and reduction in viewership if they are blacklisted, or 3) some combination of 1 and 2. It no longer requires a journalism degree and a seat at a major network to report the news; anyone with an internet connection can do it, and this very website is a firsthand demonstration of that fact. Major networks are actually going to have to prove that they provide a quality product for a change, and intransigently dismissing the competition as “fake” will only contribute to said competition’s voice getting louder and louder.
And, if you’re going to call the competition “fake”…
…you’re going to have to provide some real analysis behind your proclamation, and not just the word of a progressive liberal arts professor, who has only been a professor for 15 months.
UPDATE: After this article was posted, Trump had an “off the record” sitdown with several MSM bigwigs, and apparently it ended up being a total disaster… for the media execs. Though the NY Post isn’t always a source that can be counted on as “reliable”, scolding the media personally for biased coverage throughout his campaign is not out of character for Trump. They have been quoted as saying that “It was like a f**cking firing squad”, among other putdowns from Trump himself. Still, we need to take this with a grain of salt, given that CNN has said the meeting was low key and Kellyanne Conway is disputing the “firing squad” claim.
“Trump started with [CNN chief] Jeff Zucker and said ‘I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed,’ ” the source said.
“The meeting was a total disaster. The TV execs and anchors went in there thinking they would be discussing the access they would get to the Trump administration, but instead they got a Trump-style dressing down,” the source added.
“The meeting took place in a big board room and there were about 30 or 40 people, including the big news anchors from all the networks,” the other source said.
“Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong.’ He addressed everyone in the room calling the media dishonest, deceitful liars. He called out Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar, and CNN was [a] network of liars,” the source said.
“Trump didn’t say [NBC reporter] Katy Tur by name, but talked about an NBC female correspondent who got it wrong, then he referred to a horrible network correspondent who cried when Hillary lost who hosted a debate – which was Martha Raddatz who was also in the room.”
Perhaps Trump could end up being the catalyst for the demise of mainstream media?