The art of the real: Fighting fake news

The first one we blocked was Breitbart, the alt-right website built to infamy by President Donald Trump’s principal adviser. None of the money The Saturday Paper spends to advertise online will feed through the hyperpartisan source.

Breitbart is not a fake news site, if that term has not been rendered useless by Trump’s adoption of it to mean anything with which he does not agree. But the site is so warped by ideology, so driven by omission and conspiracy, as to disgrace the most basic notions of journalism.

This is the website that writes: “Gabby Giffords: The gun control movement’s human shield”. And: “Planned Parenthood’s body count under Cecile Richards is up to half a Holocaust”. And: “Roger Stone: Huma Abedin ‘most likely a Saudi spy’ with ‘deep, inarguable connections’ to ‘global terrorist entity’ ”.

Since blacklisting Breitbart from online display advertising, The Saturday Paper has blocked a further 904 sites. More will be added. Many of these are fake news sites in the genuine sense of the term – websites with no interest in truth, producing partisan fantasies from Veles in Macedonia or bedrooms in Long Beach, California.

These sites had an uncanny effect on the American election. They rely on display advertising and to deny them this stream of revenue is the only way to properly combat them. Facts alone, as Trump has proved, are not enough.

Journalism is a loathed profession. Frequently, journalists rank poorly for trust. International polls put us behind bankers and real estate agents. In Australia, newspaper journalists sit somewhere behind financial planners and talkback radio announcers.

It is also a profession that has done itself significant disservices. The vulgar stupidity of Trump has made some in the press vulgar and stupid. Respectable outlets have given themselves over to mockery of his appearance. Unverified dossiers have been recklessly published, the reporters thrilling on allegations of sexual compromise. Perhaps the greatest failing: until November, readers of the most storied broadsheets had no sense Trump’s election was even a possibility. He was there simply to be ridiculed, his voters ignored.

But this is a profession that must be defended. Trump’s imperviousness to truth does not make truth any less important. If anything, it makes it more important. Serious people must seek out and support serious news.

Already, the White House is silencing credible news outlets. It happened in Trump’s first press conference as president-elect, when he refused to take questions from CNN. “Not you. Your organisation is terrible,” he said. “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news.”

The network is being frustrated in other ways. Officials refuse to appear for interviews. As one reporter said: “They’re trying to cull CNN from the herd.”

In the age of Trump, it is not just CNN that is to be culled. It is fact. Trump wishes to operate in a world divorced of information. Fake news is a part of this. Distorted partisanship is another, just as dangerous here as it is in the United States.

The Saturday Paper is ensuring its advertising budget does not help rogue “news” outlets. It is hoped others do the same. It is up to readers to support real news, to pay for the necessary act of journalism, to embrace truth and stare down disinformation.

Facts alone won’t stop Trump, but they will ensure he is forced to govern in the open.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 4, 2017 as "Flake news".

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