“How’s that for fake news?” Kellyanne Conway rhetorically asked Fox & Friends hosts this morning while responding to the latest form of Democratic denial. Responding to Hillary Clinton’s warning yesterday that “fake news” costs lives and hinting that it cost her the White House, Donald Trump’s campaign manager advised the erstwhile Democratic nominee and her allies to look closer to home/ “A little self-awareness,” Conway said, “would do for a team that is blaming everybody but themselves for this”:
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) December 9, 2016
Conway told Fox News that “I take seriously what she’s saying in terms of people spreading rumors or saying things that aren’t true and possible harm coming to people.” But she added that attempts to pin the fake news phenomenon onto Trump or the Republican Party have become a “cottage industry” that must be stopped.
“The most fake piece of news I heard all along, up until Election Day and still hear from some people, is that Donald Trump couldn’t win. How’s that for fake news, misleading news?” she said. “The fake news certainly was that Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were all sewed up, that we couldn’t bust through the blue wall.”
In the clip above, Conway wonders aloud what message Democrats thought they were selling during the campaign. “I don’t know what her message was to America,” Conway says, “other than ‘I’m not Donald Trump and you shouldn’t vote for him’.” Conway also argues that Hillary didn’t do much to move the needle with women, scoring 54/41 in exit polls, almost identical to Barack Obama’s 55/44 over Mitt Romney in 2012. How did she fail to leverage that advantage, Conway asks?
The near-hysteria generated by advocates of this latest social panic has reached almost ludicrous heights. In the past 48 hours, we have now been lectured about “fake news” by Hillary Clinton, former NBC News anchor Brian Williams, and outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Hillary’s reliance on lies and half-truths in the campaign was well documented, especially when it came to her e-mail scandal and the slow unfolding of contradictory facts that exposed those lies — let alone Hillary’s claim to have been in New York City on 9/11, “Tuzla Dash” claims in 2008, her supposed rejection by the Marine Corps over her gender, and especially the attempt to slough off the planned terror attack on our Benghazi compound in 2012 as a spontaneous reaction to a YouTube video when speaking to the families of those killed in the attack. Brian Williams lost his position as anchor for repeated instances of fabulism, including in on-air remarks. And Harry Reid bragged that he had no regrets for lying about Mitt Romney’s tax returns from the floor of the Senate in a McCarthyite smear that should stain his name for all time.
Where can we find fake news? Well, Newsweek gave us a little peek at that last week. When Trump surprised the national media with his win, Newsweek recalled the version that proclaimed Hillary Clinton as “Madam President.” However, a few of them managed to leak out anyway, becoming instant collectors’ items – and providing a peek into the kind of coverage that might have resulted. As Fox News host Tucker Carlson discovered, its tone was “Soviet in its devotion to Hillary Clinton.”
“No stranger to trudging through the mire of misogyny in her career as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State,” the cover article declared, “President Clinton managed to push for an issues-based campaign, even as a handful of Trump’s deplorable supporters, seeing the wide margin she held among female voters, called for repealing the 19th Amendment.” Later, the article decried “fear and hate-based conservatism,” and alleged that “President Hillary Clinton ‘went high’ when her opponent and supporters went even lower.”
To put it mildly, that reads like a dispatch from an alternate universe. Both candidates spent most of their time launching personal attacks on the other. The Newsweek article engages in a common fallacy of using fringe figures to paint an entire campaign and its supporters, precisely what Clinton did with her “deplorable” comment, which wound up backfiring badly. It reads like a partisan rant in a comment section rather than a news report or professional analysis.
“The writing on this is, shall we say, not up to the editorial standards of Newsweek,” the magazine’s political editor Matthew Cooper explained, for a good reason: “No one on our staff wrote it,” Cooper told Carlson. Newsweek outsources commemorative issues to Topix Media, which produced the two versions of the election issue.
Still, Carlson pressed, there had to have been some reaction to the content internally. “When you read it before it went out,” he asked Cooper, “what did you say?”
“Well, no we didn’t,” Cooper replied. “It’s sort of been done on a separate track, and we did not review it before it went out.”
That’s actual fake news, and yet hardly anyone has commented on it in the mainstream media, not even to ask the obvious question of why anyone should read Newsweek when its own editors don’t bother to do so before publication.
That hasn’t kept Newsweek from covering the “fake news” epidemic, however. In fact, Newsweek’s editors seem obsessed with the “fake news” social panic. A search on their website turns up dozens of articles on the supposed threat to order and rationality, including a few explanations of Facebook’s failures in policing its social-media content, a “secret task force” created by the site to deal with fake news, and questioning the legitimacy of the Brexit vote in light of this emerging threat.
Perhaps most tellingly, Newsweek’s links include a recent article that uncritically relates another questionable study of only 203 subjects that found 82% of middle-school students unable to distinguish between “fake news” and the more legitimate output exemplified by Newsweek. The report notes that the study’s authors “claim the findings illustrate the threat to democracy that disinformation poses,” without any skepticism about the size of the sample, no discussion of its methodology, and not a single word about the expected level of sophistication in preteens without the Scourge of Fake News to benight them.
Maybe the study should have asked: How many of them read Newsweek?
Update: Harry Reid is the outgoing Senate Minority Leader, not Majority. I’ve fixed it above.