For the last two years, Donald Trump has relied heavily on the term ‘fake news,’ claiming that the mainstream media reports unfactual news. His tactics propagated a general distrust of the media. But with Trump often using the term to describe any news that was not favorable to him or his views, fake news as his standard response became a stale, cop-out for the president of a nation.
Trump not only legitimized but weaponized the term to discredit many of the popular news outlets that provide coverage on national and international events. His accusations that legitimate sources of news are purveying illegitimate facts damages the credibility of these organizations. Worse yet, Trump’s Twitter temper-tantrums are beginning to have a real-world effect internationally.
While Trump has claimed that negative election polls and details of a conversation with a prime minister were all just part of a political witch hunt, other leaders are now following his example, using fake news as a way to cover up horrific injustices to humanity.
The Rohingya persecution in Myanmar — fake news.
A long-persecuted community, the religious minority of Rohingya Muslims have faced unspeakable horrors at the hands of soldiers and the Buddhist majority. According to The Hill, these people have endured “scorched dwellings and entire villages, extrajudicial and summary execution, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and attacks on places of worship.” Forced to find refuge in neighboring Bangladesh, the Rohingya are stateless.
And now, with attribution of fake news from top officials, they are denied their identity.
“There is no such thing as Rohingya,” said U Kyaw San Hla, an officer in Myanmar’s western area of Rakhine’s state security ministry. “It is fake news.”
Not only was an entire history erased by claiming that a group of people simply do not exist, but labeling this issue as fake news contributed to the coverup and perpetuation of inhumane practices. It leaves the Rohingya to face a looming genocidal ethnic cleansing alone.
The Libyan slave trade— also fake news.
Libya’s splintered government and influx of refugees from Nigeria flooding the country has led to these people being sold into slavery and prostitution. CNN recently reported on the issue, handing over video footage of the alleged modern day slave auctions to Libyan officials.
However, Trump’s vicious tweets accusing CNN of spreading fake news internationally have been cited by Libyan media outlets to discount and deny what is occurring in their country. Aside from being deprived of their dignity as human beings, the estimated 400,000 to one million migrants trapped in Libya are subject to robbery, rape and murder. Untouched by any rule of law across much of the country, these modern slave trades are allowed to occur.
This should not be an argument between the left and the right because this is indicative of something larger— an assault on human rights and its defenders, justified by the term fake news.
One would hope, journalists especially, that Trump’s overuse of ‘fake news’ would make it a hackneyed term, that people would see it as unacceptable that the president of this country uses two words to diminish the credibility of outlets reporting facts that he does not agree with.
President Trump grounded his campaign in hate and now his unwarranted attacks on media outlets are being used to undermine and eliminate the public’s understanding of unjust and ongoing crimes like those in Myanmar and Libya. He needs to recognize that his declarations have broad implications and impacts on both the media and the international political landscape, and that ‘fake news’ is not an adequate or appropriate response from the leader of the United States.