Tribunes of the People 

Let's get one thing straight: There is such a thing as "fake news," but 1) it isn't what Donald Trump says it is; and 2) his claim that he invented the term is itself a bit of fake news.

The term came into being during the presidential campaign of 2016 as a description of misinformation that explicitly favored Trump. The Internet-circulated story that Hillary Clinton was channeling captive juveniles to pedophiles from the bowels of a Washington, D.C., pizza joint was a case in point. That obvious canard, one that ultimately would compel a "self-investigating" gunman to shoot up a harmless pizzeria, was the kind of patently false story that the term "fake news" was first coined to describe.

Donald Trump - PALINCHAK | DREAMSTIME
  • Palinchak | Dreamstime
  • Donald Trump

We now know that thousands of more tales like that, some halfway plausible, others from halfway round a full moon, were created by Russia to poison social media and the traditional media during the presidential race, as part of the "active measures" campaign undertaken by Vladimir Putin's intelligence services to undermine Clinton's chances of victory.

The term "fake news" (or, more accurately, FAKE NEWS!) was first co-opted by Trump in January 2017, shortly before his inauguration, when the now famous Steele "dossier," containing a compilaton of opposition research into his background, gained sudden currency. Trump first used the term against CNN reporter Jim Acosta, who at a press conference attempted to ask the president-elect about the just revealed document.

"No, you're fake news!" Trump countered, borrowing an existent term in declining to recognize Acosta or his network, and simultaneously disparaging a dossier, much of which has subsequently proved out.

Thereafter, Trump has habitually employed the purloined term to represent anything that, as Wikipedia would put it, was "negative news about himself," or, more simply, "accurate news" that he didn't like. 

Meanwhile, Trump himself became the leading practitioner of fake news, beginning with ordering his press secretary to describe his Inauguration Day crowd as the biggest in history, and continuing with multiple lies per day throughout his presidency to date.

In the process, America's Bizarro President has managed to create a shadow universe, one whose inversions of reality would put Orwell to shame. In Trump's world, the free media have morphed into "the enemy of the people," a phrase made famous in the title of a play, An Enemy of the People, by Norwegian realist Henrik Ibsen. In Ibsen's drama, a scientifically minded citizen, Dr. Stockman, discovers that toxins are poisoning his town's public baths and attempts to warn the population, thereby angering the local political establishment, which retaliates by branding the would-be whistleblower as "an enemy of the people."  

In the play, Stockman heroically remains determined to resist the unfair attacks, remaining loyal to the truth. In the reality show that is Donald Trump's America, we of the free media, the tribunes of the people, can and must aspire to be equally steadfast.

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