The undisputed king of fake news has been tweet-bragging about holding his own “awards” show: Giving out “THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR.”
Too bad a real group beat him to it. Now Donald Trump has been given a new title of his own in one of the “Press Oppressor” categories from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Trump has won the competition in (drum roll, please):
“Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom.” Congratulations, America.
The CPJ announced the awards in advance of Trump’s giving out his fake news awards, if he ever gets around to it. Since Trump is so bad at follow-through, he has already postponed his fake news “awards ceremony.” He first tweeted (how else?) that his “awards” would be given out on Jan. 8. Then, for no apparent reason except that he likely had an overload of “executive time,” the awarding of the dubious honors was postponed until Jan. 17.
To paraphrase Hamilton, tweeting is easy; governing (and award shows) are harder.
So the U.S. president, who is always so willing to throw the First Amendment in the dumpster, has joined the ranks of some of the world’s worst despots and dictators in tamping down journalistic freedom. That’s Trump—he always finds new ways to lower the bar. I guess #MAGA really means “Make America Goose-step Again.”
As described on its website, the Committee to Protect Journalists is an “independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. We defend the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.” Its 40-person committee is composed of journalists and experts on five continents. When a reporter is threatened, the committee mobilizes correspondents “who report and take action on behalf of those targeted.” For more than 35 years, the committee has kept track of journalists who are imprisoned, kidnapped, and killed. Nearly 1,300 journalists have been killed since 1992, and 44 were killed in 2017.
In the wake of Trump’s announcement about his “fake news awards,” the CPJ published a blog post to announce its own “Press Oppressor” awards. Trump is now in such non-august company as Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, and China’s Xi Jinping.
All the winners of the CPJ awards are “world leaders who have gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media,” said the committee in its announcement. “From an unparalleled fear of their critics and the truth, to a relentless commitment to censorship, these five leaders and the runner-ups in their categories have gone above and beyond to silence critical voices and weaken democracy.”
Erdoğan was a winner in two categories: “Most Thin-Skinned” (Trump was the runner-up), and “Most Outrageous Use of Terror Laws Against the Press.” “Turkey is the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with at least 73 behind bars,” the committee said in its explanation of its choices for Erdoğan.
Here’s the reason why Trump was chosen for “Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom.”
The United States, with its First Amendment protection for a free press, has long stood as a beacon for independent media around the world. While previous U.S. presidents have each criticized the press to some degree, they have also made public commitments to uphold its essential role in democracy, at home and abroad. Trump, by contrast, has consistently undermined domestic news outlets and declined to publicly raise freedom of the press with repressive leaders such as Xi, Erdoğan, and Sisi. Authorities in China, Syria, and Russia have adopted Trump’s “fake news” epithet, and Erdoğan has applauded at least one of his verbal attacks on journalists. Under Trump’s administration, the Department of Justice has failed to commit to guidelines intended to protect journalists’ sources, and the State Department has proposed to cut funding for international organizations that help buttress international norms in support of free expression. As Trump and other Western powers fail to pressure the world’s most repressive leaders into improving the climate for press freedom, the number of journalists in prison globally is at a record high.
What Trump is doing is dangerous and despicable, but it’s nothing new. While the 2016 election was awash in actual fake news on social media, much of it spread by Russia, Trump criticized attempts at legitimate reporting at every turn and brainwashed his Trumpinista followers into believing him.
Elections in other countries such as France, the United Kingdom, and Germany also were on the receiving end of actual fake news electoral assaults, again mostly sponsored by Russia. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron plans to introduce a law to ban online fake news during French election campaigns. According to a story in The Guardian:
New legislation for websites would include more transparency about sponsored content. Under the new law, websites would have to say who is financing them and the amount of money for sponsored content would be capped.
For fake news published during election seasons, an emergency legal action could allow authorities to remove that content or even block the website, Macron said. “If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules,” he added.
It’s unclear how that idea would fit into U.S. law, but it will be interesting to see how it affects French elections if the proposal is enacted. Another way to combat actual fake news is to use one of the many tools to sniff it out, such as this field guide by publicdatalab.org. The guide “explores the use of digital methods to study false viral news, political memes, trolling practices, and their social life online,” and can be downloaded for free. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies calls it a cookbook for investigating fake news.
In the meantime, Trump will keep touting his fake news claims. Late-night comedians in the U.S. decided to nominate themselves for Trump’s dubious honors, and get in a little fake news trash-talking at the same time. Stephen Colbert of The Late Show took out an actual “For Your Consideration” billboard in New York’s Times Square, just as movie studios advertise for film honors during awards season:
— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) January 4, 2018
Who wouldn’t be proud to earn the “Eric Trump Memorial Award for Disappointment”? “Best Sound Mixing”? “Best Chex Mixing”?
Colbert labeled these awards #TheFakies. “Nothing gives you more credibility than Donald Trump calling you a liar,” he said in one of his monologues.
Well, take that, Colbert. Trevor Noah of The Daily Show launched a fake news awards campaign of his own with a full-page ad in The New York Times:
The Daily Show is running a full page Oscar-style Ã¢ÂÂFor Your ConsiderationÃ¢ÂÂ ad in the New York Times today, aimed at winning President TrumpÃ¢ÂÂs upcoming dishonest media awards… pic.twitter.com/iVO8avtPlE
— Eamon Javers (@EamonJavers) January 5, 2018
The Daily Show also touted itself as “Fake News You Can’t Believe In.”
And what does Samantha Bee of Full Frontal have to say about all of this?
— Full Frontal (@FullFrontalSamB) January 4, 2018
A story on Vox about Trump’s fake news awards also described the reaction from ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel.
“The ‘Stupid People’s Choice Awards’ is what they’re calling it,” Kimmel said. “This is a real dilemma for the president, because on the one hand, he loves awards and trophies, but will he be physically able to give a trophy to someone other than himself? I don’t think so.”
Added a story from Slate: “After all, what could be a greater honor than being crowned the best liar by the world’s most famous liar of all?”