Who really spreads ‘fake news?’


Sara Entezarmahdi

Edgar Maddison Welch walked through the front door of Comet Ping Pong, a restaurant in Northwest Washington, with an assault rifle in hand and a goal in mind — complete what he later called a “self-investigation.” He fired one or more shots into the restaurant as a response to the “news” he had previously read in an article he came across online: Hillary Clinton was kidnapping, molesting and trafficking several children in the back rooms of that very pizzeria.

Welch had believed the story — the fake story — and ultimately, was deceived by fake news.

Randy Yeip, graphics editor for the Wall Street Journal, points out that “fake news” is not a new term or notion, but has been around for decades. For example, 20 years ago, during Bill Clinton’s administration, conspiracy theorists spread word of a false story which gained popularity: Vince Foster, an associate of Clinton’s, had been murdered by a group of people in the white house.

Drawing on this past example, Yeip defines fake news to be stories that are loosely sourced or not sourced at all, which contain wild allegations without being supported by factual evidence.

Recently, however, there has been an effort to redefine the term. “Fake news” is now being used to refer to stories that one is critical of, a story which doesn’t align with someone’s particular viewpoint.

To Yeip, the most famous example would be President Trump, who has used the term himself various times. On Twitter as well as during public speeches, he refers to stories that are critical of him as “fake news,” even when they’re supported by documentation and actual facts.

Trump TweetOn Twitter, President Trump has linked “fake news” to several publications from the New York Times, NBC, ABC, CNN and CBS, stating that such publications are not his enemy, but rather “the enemy of the American People.”


As a journalist, Yeip believes throwing “fake news” around to describe publications affects the concrete connection between trust and truth. When someone reads an article on the Wall Street Journal, or any other major publication, the assumption is that all stories are true based on the trust people have that these publications prioritize fundamentally factual stories. But, when “fake news” is incorporated into the mix, there is potential for an altercation.


“I think when people use [fake news] to describe stores that don’t align with their agenda, even if they’re well sourced stories and include all the factual information, it puts a dent in the perception of our credibility,” Yeip said. “If people are becoming more willing to dismiss things that we report, … that’s a threat to our profession.”

However, journalism, in it’s rawest sense, embodies the importance of real news: stories supported by factual evidence for the sake of informing the public: through media outlets, where there is room for criticism, context and fact-checking. This is exactly what occurred during the White House’s Press Conference meeting in January. CNN had refused to air the press conference live, later airing relevant parts which were factually accurate.

“CNN’s decision to not air the press conference live illustrates a recognition that the role of the press must be different under Trump,” said Danna Young, an associate professor in the Department of Association at the University of Delaware. “When the White House holds press briefings to promote demonstrably false information and refuses to take questions, then press ‘access’ becomes meaningless at best and complicit at worst.”

While journalistic publications make an effort to ensure their credibility, thus securing the role of the free press within society, journalists, like Yeip, face a tragic, new reality.

In Yelp’s opinion, acknowledging and understanding the press is an essential part of democracy. Modern democracy can not work without a free press, and that very thought is what scares him in regards to where things seem to be heading.

Social Studies teacher Eric Otto shares a similar opinion, perceiving the media as a key attribute to what makes the United States what it is.

“The media’s existence is founded upon one of the oldest traditions of the countries: freedom of speech and opinion,” Otto said. “It’s so heavily regarded as being one of the most important freedoms that we put it in The Bill of Rights. A world without the media — I would see that as living in a totalitarian state. We need the media to help keep our government officials accountable for their actions.”

However the term “fake news” may be redefined today, the reality is that fake news— stories made up from thin air — does exist in several platforms of media.

The cascading shift of news output calls for the public to be more alert to such falsities. What had been demonstrated by CNN had informed thousands about the lies which had been spread in that conference — before they even had the chance to be spread as ‘truths,’ incorrectly.

Though CNN is only one of several news networks, many in which remain unfiltered. Otto explains his concerns in how and where people retrieve their news.

“It really depends on which outlet you’re getting it from as to whether or not the degree of factuality is there,” Otto said. “I talk about that too, with my government students — we have to take a look at who backs the major media outlets.”

However, the detrimental effects of bias sources isn’t what crosses the minds of most, in Yeip’s eyes. As a journalist, he has noticed people have taken sides, labeling lists of media sources as liberal or conservative. The bias in which several publications skew towards draws in viewers accordingly — often, those with similar ideals and opinions.

There are several factors to take into account when analyzing both the reason for false news output as well as the spread of it. The most prominent difference, however, is the contrast between common news transfer compared to decades prior. Not only is it the explosion of the internet, allowing access to various platforms where information can be shared easily, but specifically how the general public decides to make use of the new form of communication.

“When you are giving news through [platforms]that [are]designed for quick consumption, that means that there’s not a lot of time or care that goes into the editing [or fact checking]of that information,” Otto said.

It’s not a radical idea to presume the spread of false information sources back to the accuser or writer — often, that’s the default mindset of how this entire phenomenon arose. Though, it would be quite groundbreaking to state the obvious: Consumers are biased. Consumers have bad judgement. Consumers don’t take the time to factcheck.

And yes, by sharing incorrect and ignorant information, consumers add gasoline to the fiery take-over that is ‘fake news.’