This is not what “fake news” or “free speech” mean.
At the 100-day mark of his nascent presidential administration, Donald Trump commemorated the occasion by
actually accomplishing something of note assembling what has to be the saddest, silliest, limpest thirty seconds in the history of political advertising. Over a series of stock clips of people doing Real American Jobs Things like building cars and working on assembly lines, a narrator proudly touts the confirmation of the first Supreme Court nominee in history who needed the nuclear option to get there; job growth that was already in progress when the president took office; and a “tax cut plan” that, as far as we know, still doesn’t exist outside of a one-page, many-fonted set of bullet points.
My favorite moment of the entire ludicrous production is its reference to President Trump’s greenlighting of the Keystone XL pipeline, which consists literally of just the words “KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE” sourced to his favorite failing media outlet.
What’s interesting about this vacuous bit of nonsense, though, is the reason you probably haven’t seen it before now. The Trump campaign—yeah, that is a thing that’s happening already—apparently tried to buy airtime for the ad on CNN, but the network rejected that request because of this charming scene contained therein:
That would be NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Scott Pelley, and…CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Yes, the Trump campaign wanted CNN to run an ad that referred to CNN as “fake news,” a term that originally referred to objectively false stories spread primarily via social media, but that President Trump has since commandeered to denigrate objectively true stories that happen to contain information he does not like. The Trump campaign’s press release denouncing CNN’s decision may or may not be elaborate performance art:
“It is absolutely shameful to see the media blocking the positive
message that President Trump is trying to share with the country. It’s
clear that CNN is trying to silence our voice and censor our free
speech because it doesn’t fit their narrative.”
I cannot believe we have to explain this again, but the Constitution protect citizens’ speech from being restricted by the government. The Trump campaign remains perfectly within its rights to produce vapid, misleading propaganda, and CNN remains within its rights to decide not to air said propaganda on their airwaves. The network, for its part, quickly issued a withering response explaining as much:
The campaign, not to be outdone, put out another press release that somehow managed to be even more incoherent than the first one. I’ve inserted commas where I think they’re supposed to go:
This is censorship pure and simple. By rejecting our ad, CNN has
proven that it supports censorship[,] is biased[,] and fears an opposing
point of view. President Trump’s loyal supporters know the truth: The
mainstream media mislead, misguide, deceive, and distract. CNN
epitomizes the meaning of fake news and has proven it by rejecting our
paid campaign ad.
Again, a major news network’s decision to not air an advertisement that falsely characterizes it as a bunch of Macedonian hoax traffickers does not, in fact “epitomize the meaning of fake news,” but also, it seems doubtful that the Trump campaign really believed that CNN would air such a disingenuous assertion in the first place. By his own measure, the first hundred days of Donald Trump’s presidency have been a failure, so he’s moved on to manufacturing reasons to tell his followers that the fault lies with the news media instead of his own rank incompetence. It’s hard to imagine this strategy proving sustainable over the long term, but it appears to be the only move he’s got.
Keith Olbermann on the Actual War on Free Speech
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