Why won't Donald Trump do something about "fake news"?

  • Donald Trump continues to smash fake news on rallies and speeches, meanwhile news (whether fake or not, you can decide yourself) are slamming the president with one story after another. I personally believe some of them were quite accurate and others were quickly debunked.

    But why can't the president enforce some laws for news agencies so every story that was proven to be misleading/wrong/fake/dis-informative has to be either retracted and apologized for (not by adding one correction line, but running a whole new correction story) or fined accordingly for disinformation of general public? The process has to be organized and everybody should have the right to issue a claim on the falsehood of the story and depending on the story the fine either goes to falsely accused people or government.

    I guess Trump will lose a huge political advantage (because you can't say that something is fake with this kind of law in place), but wouldn't it give him a bigger advantage since every fake story will have too big consequences to run it before fact checking it? His whole campaign was about politicians "All talk, no action", so why not do something about it?

    The reason is that you don't want politicians meddling with the press, picking and choosing what is 'true' and 'false'. That's the whole point of a independent press, to be able to tell people what the politicians don't want them to hear.

    The paramount importance of a free and independent press for a functioning democracy is expressed in German by calling the press the "Vierte Gewalt (Fourth Power)". I believe a similar term exists in the US (Fourth Branch of Government).

    @JörgWMittag: In my experience we usually say "the Fourth Estate" . . . which is weird, because we don't actually have the first three estates (clergy, nobility, commoners). The phrase "the Fourth Branch of Government" does exist, but doesn't have any specific standard denotation -- it's more like "the Eleventh Commandment" or "the 51st state".

    It may be worth trying to reframe the current administration out of the question as it is increasingly the case that their definition seems to be 'news they do not like, catches them out in a lie, or otherwise portrays them unfavorably' rather than any more recognisable definition of news items or editorial policy.

    Surely the USA has well-defined libel laws?

    Libel laws could be used to root out fake news, the problem is that they require *someone to initiate legal action* before anything will be done about what was printed. Initiating legal action is not free, and it needs to be done for each story separately. (I believe there's also something about the aggrieved party needs to have suffered actual damages for it to hold up in court. *"Hey! This guy lied!"* isn't going to do the trick all by itself.)

    As I understand it you can actually sue an anonymous source. The editors know who they are and they can actually go through the court proceedings anonymously.

    *Which* 'laws for news agencies' are you suggesting the President enforce? Or are you suggesting he should *pass* some laws? Congress does that.

    @RedSonja, The USA has well-defined libel laws, but they're not very strict (and actually much less strict than the libel laws you'll find in the UK). That is why, everytime there is defamation/libel suit against an American author, that lawsuit is usually started in the UK. http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/03/21/394273902/on-libel-and-the-law-u-s-and-u-k-go-separate-ways

    "I guess Trump will lose a huge political advantage (because you can't say that something is fake with this kind of law in place)". That's not the only political advantage Trump will lose if that were to happen. Because some would argue that Breitbart News, Fox News, and RT (Russian Sponsored News) are some of the biggest supporters of President Trump and are also some of the biggest purveyors of fake news (under the banner of real news, or under the banner of news that is fair and balanced).

    In the Trumper-verse, anything which makes Donald Trump look like a fool is fake - but many of the things which Donald Trump says make Donald Trump look like a fool; therefore, Donald Trump is fake. QED.

    On a side note, I'd argue said "fake news" works to Trump's advantage as it helps/has helped him establish a counter-narrative in which it's "Us vs. The Media" or "Us vs Big Government". While consistently railing against such organizations reinforces said narrative, eliminating them would eliminate a valuable avenue of distraction.

    @DanteTheEgregore True, but as Bush said in his interview to host "You mattered more when I was president". It basically allows him to avoid criticism from people when media report something bad about him. Yes it's dangerous undermining BUT I have to admit it's pretty good strategy for his style presidency.

    Why would he want to? It's like a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gives him the ammunition to label everything he doesn't like as "fake news", and on the other hand it gives freedom to the pro-trump to report whatever they like with relative impunity. The combination of these is great for the style of politician he is - a kind of loud-mouth who gets support from controversy. If he was a more reserved, demure and calculated politician then what you suggest would make more sense for him.

    With regard to libel laws, there is a different standard for public figures vs private citizens. With a public figure it must be true that the person reporting had at least a good reason to suspect that the information was false, before libel can be charged. With private citizens the reporter must have reasonable evidence that the statement is true, or libel may occur. (There are other terms to describe this better, but I don't recall them.)

    Who decides which news is fake? After some deep reflection, one will discover that the ultimate judge is none but the reader himself. Fake news does far less harm than censorship and, given sufficient time, it cultivates the most desirable habits of mind.

    "I guess Trump will lose a huge political advantage (because you can't say that something is fake with this kind of law in place), but wouldn't it give him a bigger advantage since every fake story will have too big consequences to run it before fact checking it?" No. His allegations of "fake news" aimed at the legitimate media are dishonest. If he passed a law prohibiting those networks from broadcasting fake news, then it would offer virtually no effect, at least when applied to the networks he is criticizing. It would do a lot more to punish Fox News.

    If you take into account the various counts of Trumps own lies, he is a major source of fake news himself. That'd make something like that somewhat difficult.

  • Philipp

    Philipp Correct answer

    4 years ago

    Because of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    (emphasis mine)

    This constitutional restriction makes it extremely difficult for the United States government to exert any control over the media.


    Besides, you can also spread false stories without lying. For example, take this story:

    An anonymous source just told us that Politics.SE moderator Philipp kicked his dog.

    That didn't say that I did do that. Just that an anonymous source said I did. Can you prove that no anonymous source said this? No? Then you cannot prove that this statement is false.

    Now you could prove that the information that I kicked a dog is false, so the news network is guilty of spreading a piece of false information. But what about this news:

    President Donald J. Trump just said that the murder rate in the United States is the highest in 47 years.

    It turns out Trump was wrong and it isn't. Is the news network guilty of spreading misinformation? It's the exact same situation. They reported on a statement being made, and that statement turned out to be false.

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    Interesting answer. Isn't there any law against defamation that Philipp could use to sue the journal?

    @Taladris According to this defamation made simple article, the statement must be proven "false". So I think this falls into the same boat of "you can't prove the anonymous source didn't say this so you can't prove the statement is false" boat. So I suppose you could sue the anonymous person if you found they made the false claim, but they are of course anonymous.

    @DasBeasto, it's not that simple; multiple judges have ruled that you can't simply print libelous claims made by unnamed sources, so you're on the hook if the claim itself is shown to be false. On the other hand, Trump is a public figure, and in that case you need to prove that there was actual malice, not just that it's false.

    @AndréParamés Note that "actual malice" is a legal term of art with a definition that isn't the same as the everyday one.

    I'm not sure bringing up the constitution really matters here. IF it didn't exist, it is unlikely that the main benefactor of 'fake news' would go out of his way to put a stop to it.

    @chrylis I think he's aware of that. The legal distinction he made there is correct. The standard of proof for public figures in libel in the US is distinct from other legal persons, requiring actual malice. Which is what he said.

    and even if he could sue for defamation, it'd give the impression he's vindictive. Much better to change the public opinion of the media by showing THEM to be untrustworthy and vindictive. Which is exactly what he appears to be doing (and with increasing success).

    Uh I can prove the statement is false: any statement is false when it's not independently repeatable. You should be able to "falsify" any statement and the burden of proof lays with the one who makes a statement.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM