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We can’t talk about ‘fake news’ if we can’t agree what it means

CNN’s Brian Stelter says the media needs to be more explicit about what it knows and what it means.

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Before you can learn to spot “fake news,” and before companies like Google and Facebook can root it out, we have to make sure we know what that phrase means, CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter says.

“It’s been exploited, it’s been misused by people to mean, ‘Oh, anything I don’t like, anything I disagree with is fake news,’” Stelter said on the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. “And I think Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post is right. We shouldn’t be using the term ‘fake news’ so much anymore. We should let that one go and use more specific language.”

The term rose to prominence during the 2016 election in reference to everything from Hillary Clinton’s health to the notorious Pizzagate conspiracy theory. But since the election, President Trump has taken to calling his fact-based critics, including Stelter’s CNN, “fake news” to delegitimize them.

“I’m finding myself, sometimes, getting into a cab or walking into a building, [hearing], ‘Oh, CNN! Fake news!’” Stelter said. “The other half of the time, people are saying, ‘Oh, CNN! Why is the president picking on CNN? CNN’s the best!’ It’s created this dividing line in the culture that’s not healthy for the democracy — that you’re either with a news outlet or against it.”

On the new podcast, he offered some tips for verifying what you see scrolling down your Facebook feed. When people get so confused by what’s real and what’s not that they stop trying to tell the difference, that “benefits people in power, whether they’re Democrat or Republican or whatever,” he noted.

Stelter also wondered how the media might change its approach when prominent political figures like President Trump spread blatant falsehoods.

“I like bluntness,” he said. “I appreciate when the anchors on other channels and on CNN are very blunt about it, and take the side of the truth, the side of the viewers, the side of the facts. That’s my personal preference, but I find myself wondering about alternatives.”

“Maybe part of the answer is, instead of saying 'Donald Trump falsely said x, y and z,’ we ought to start saying, ‘x is x, y is y and z is z. Today, Donald Trump falsely said otherwise.’ I wonder, in other words, if we have to reframe the coverage so that we’re not just reinforcing the misinformation that we’re hearing.”

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