Media Madness! Ranking the Worst #FakeNews Stories of 2017

March 14, 2017

by Joshua Pinho


While March is normally the month reserved for madness here in the U.S., since the election of Donald Trump last November, the mainstream media has made losing one’s sanity seem like a year-round occurrence. Journalists have been plagued by an inability to discern fact from fiction when reporting on the new president and his administration, the result being a whole collection of laughable #FakeNews stories which have been debunked over and over again.

So which #FakeNews story has been the worst? In keeping with a venerable March tradition, we’ve decided to hold a competition. Below are 8 stories run by mainstream media outlets which represent the most egregious #FakeNews since Election Day. This week, we’re leaving it to you — our readers — to decide which was the worst. Be sure to vote in the poll below for which story you think deserves to be the “winner.”

And now, here are your top contenders:

1.) Russia Hacked the 2016 Election

There is, quite simply, not one shred of evidence that Russia distorted the election results in any way, shape, or form. The use of the term “hacking” when referring to the election implies that the Russians were somehow able to interfere with the voting process itself. The very misleading choice of terms appears to be an attempt to undermine the legitimate election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.

Andrew McCarthy at the National Review broke down the media’s Russian election-hacking narrative into three parts. First is the notion that the election itself was tampered with by Russian agents. Then:

[T]he press and the Dems injected a second explosive allegation — or at least an explosive suspicion that they’ve wanted us to perceive as a credible allegation meriting a serious investigation. The suspicion/allegation is: Not only did Russia hack the election, but there are also enough ties between people in the Trump orbit and operatives of the Putin regime that there are grounds to believe that the Trump campaign was complicit in Russia’s hacking of the election.

Finally:

[T]he third prong, without the support of which the stool would collapse: the impression that the FBI has been feverishly investigating what is said to be the Trump campaign’s collusion in what is said to be the Russian hacking of the election.

However, there is no solid evidence of an ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump campaign despite leaks that may claim otherwise. In fact, McCarthy notes that even the New York Times article that appears to confirm such an investigation contains the following disclaimer:

It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself. It is also unclear whether the inquiry has anything to do with an investigation into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and other attempts to disrupt the elections in November.

Russia did not “hack” the 2016 election. That is fake news.

2.) Sudden Increase in Transgender Suicides After Election Day

In the wake of President Trump’s Election Day victory, unconfirmed rumors of a spike in transgender suicides swept through social media. Daniel Payne at The Federalist traces the rumor to Zach Stafford, a writer The Guardian, who initially tweeted the rumor, which was “retweeted 13,000 times before [Stafford] deleted it.” Payne writes:

Meanwhile, PinkNews writer Dominic Preston wrote a report on the rumors, which garnered more than 12,000 shares on Facebook.

At Mic, Matthew Rodriguez wrote about the unsubstantiated allegations. His article was shared more than 55,000 times on Facebook.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, at Reason Magazine, was unable to find any data or solid sources to substantiate the rumors. She was unable to find a single story to substantiate any of the alleged victims, and, as she puts it, “teenagers in 2016 don’t just die without anyone who knew them so much as mentioning their death online for days afterward.” Despite the lack of actual facts in this story, it received “at least nearly 100,000 shares on Facebook alone, contributing to the fear and hysteria surrounding Trump’s win.” Fake news.

3.) MLK “Bust-gate”

On January 20th, the same day that the first family moved into the White House, Time reporter Zeke Miller penned an article in which he casually stated that the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr., had been removed from the Oval Office:

More decorating details: Apart from the return of the Churchill bust, the MLK bust was no longer on display.

In making such a claim, Miller insinuated that the removal of the likeness of a civil rights icon was a top priority of the not-even-twenty-four-hour-old administration. In their retraction, Time said that Miller didn’t see the bust, didn’t confirm the removal with White House staff, and then made the claim that was then repeated throughout the mainstream media without any confirmation. President Trump did not remove the bust of MLK. Fake news.

4.) Steve Mnuchin Forecloses on an Elderly Woman Over Pocket Change

On December 1st, Politico published Lorraine Woellert’s article, which has since been corrected, in which she claimed that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was in control of a company that chose to foreclose on a 90-year-old woman over a 27-cent error. The story received widespread coverage, and the claim was repeated throughout the media. However, according to some rudimentary fact checking by Ted Frank of the Competitive Enterprise Institute:

The Mnuchin-founded OneWest did file for foreclosure in November 2014 — but dropped the suit once it learned Ossie Lofton had just bungled some paperwork, and did legally qualify for the mortgage.

When CIT Group took over OneWest, another suit was filed and then quickly dropped for similar reasons. Not only did Mrs. Lofton not lose her home, she’ll likely receive a tidy sum for the legal trouble she was put through. Secretary Mnuchin did not foreclose on an elderly woman. Fake news.

5.) Secret “MI6” Dossier on Trump’s Russia Connections

In early January, BuzzFeed News published a dubious document that was supposedly created by “a former MI6 counter-intelligence official.” The document details Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia which range from the unsubstantiated to the downright bizarre. In a rundown of the dossier, aptly titled “Thirteen Things that Don’t Add Up In the Russa-Trump Intelligence Dossier,” Newsweek writer Owen Matthew states:

On the one hand, it contains lots of Kremlin-related gossip that could indeed be, as the author claims, from deep insiders—or equally gleaned from the politics pages of Russia’s Kommersant or Vedomosti newspapers or political gossip sites like agentura.ru, compromat.ru or Sean Guillory’s Russia Blog.

And yet, there are several places where the author seems weirdly ignorant of basic facts about Russia.

The article goes on to list a multitude of statements made within the dossier that simply don’t add up. Despite the inconsistencies and lack of corroborating information, not only did BuzzFeed choose to publish the document, but the dossier received widespread coverage on CNN. Fake news.

6.) Kellyanne Conway’s “Couch-gate”

Late last month, a photograph of Kellyanne Conway kneeling on a couch in the oval office sparked a furor of manufactured internet outrage. When one considers the context behind the photo, it becomes vastly less outrageous. Conway was merely trying to get the correct angle in order to take a picture of President Trump and a large group of African American business leaders who were gathered for a meeting with the president. Chris Cillizza summed up the controversy quite succinctly at The Washington Post:

The simple fact is that this is a totally contrived “controversy” born of some people’s blind hatred for Conway and, by extension, Trump and his White House. There is simply no “there” there.

Conway was on the sofa to try to get a good angle to snap a photo. It’s not indicative of anything, or revealing of anything. It’s just someone trying to take a photo.

Sometimes taking pictures of large groups just isn’t the most dignified process, but it’s hardly evident of any disrespect for the White House. Fake news.

7.) Rick Perry Doesn’t Know What the Department of Energy Does

Shortly after being offered the position of Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry was the target of the fake news machine. The New York Times published a story titled, “’Learning Curve’ as Rick Perry Pursues a Job He Initially Misunderstood,” which accused Secretary Perry of being ignorant of the function of the Department of Energy. According to Alex Pfeiffer at The Daily Caller, the Times interpreted a quote from Michael McKenna, an energy lobbyist and advisor on Perry’s 2016 campaign, in a manner that painted Secretary Perry in a negative light. Pfeiffer reported:

McKenna, though, told TheDC that the “headline” and lede of the story “don’t really reflect what I said.” He added that “of course” Perry understood the role of the Department of Energy when he was offered the job. Two-thirds of the DOE’s budget is devoted to maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpiles. The nation’s primary site for the assembly and disassembly of  nuclear weapons is located in Amarillo, Texas, a state Perry was governor of for 14 years.

On the basis of this misinterpretation of a single quote, reporters from a variety of outlets perpetuated the false story about Perry. Fake news.

8.) Sinatra Family Upset with Use of My Way at Inaugural Balls

Following the inaugural balls, CNN published an article, which has now been corrected, original titled “Nancy Sinatra not happy Trump using father’s song at inauguration.” Nancy Sinatra responded to CNN by tweeting:

That’s not true. I never said that. Why do you lie CNN? @CNN

Enough said. Fake news.

VOTE BELOW:


Joshua Pinho is a Digital Communications Associate for the American Principles Project.

Archive: Joshua Pinho

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