Negative News Isn’t Fake News: Trump And His Supporters Need to Learn The Difference


Before starting almost every column, I think to myself “isn’t this sort of an obvious observation?” Believe it or not, most times I end up thinking to myself “yes that’s stupid” and I pass. But other times I think “yeah it may be a mundane idea, but in this political environment, it still needs to be said.”

This is one such occasion.

President Donald Trump started today by revisiting one of his old chestnuts, tweeting out an attack on the media for “Fake News” and the media’s hateful agenda. (Sad!)

Presidential Tweets have often been inspired by his media consumption, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which specific news report led to this tweet. But  judging by cable news coverage from last night and this morning, it could very well be a reaction to the suggestion that the President is considering firing Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.

This was the latest “bombshell” that caused lots of reasonable hyperventilation from the press — including suggestions of “constitutional crisis” and a White House in “mass hysteria” — but does it merit the hackneyed “fake news” label?

Well, the source of this bit of information came from Chris Ruddy, who is not only a longtime friend and confident of President Trump’s, but is also the publisher of conservative news outlet NewsMax. Ruddy launched a firestorm of handwringing after telling PBS Newshour host Judy Woodruff  after he visited the White House earlier yesterday. The White House pushed back (ever so slightly) saying that Ruddy had not in fact met with Trump, but notably, did NOT claim that Ruddy’s assertion was false. Ruddy has doubled down on his report.

Later this morning, Trump did his own doubling down on the now-hackneyed “fake news” meme, tweeting:

Here’s the thing: it seems that the president, along with many of his supporters and surrogates alike, are either intentionally or just foolishly confusing “negative” news with “fake news.”

Yes, the current administration has suffered more than a normal share of negative reports. But, and here’s the obvious part, “critical news” is not the same thing as “fake news,” or “propaganda” by any other name. The negative coverage of this White House IS a thing however, which begs a question. Who is to blame for bad news: the media, or the subject on which the press is focused?

Trump and his base love to point out that the media has produced a majority of negative coverage of his administration, and judging by a recent Harvard study focused on cable news coverage, he is right. They found that all three channels were predominantly negative in their coverage of the White House. This caused the usual gnashing of teeth among right-of-center websites, who often neglected to admit that negative coverage does not equal based or unfair coverage. The media doesn’t like lies or even regular misstatements or flip flops, and according to Politifact, this President and his administration have been unprecedented in that regard. An inability to provide consistent answers to important questions will inevitably lead to negative coverage (think back to Bill Clinton).

There is no question that President Trump has been an anti-establishment and “outlier” president. He ran on the “drain-the-swamp” ethos and got elected for ostensibly painting himself as a patriotic anti-Politician. But as a result — and not at all surprisingly — his first four and half months in office have been unlike any other presidencies in recent history.

While the jury is out if the swamp will ever be drained under President Trump, he has been a bull in a china shop with “politics as normal” much to the delight of his base. But that has also resulted in numerous missteps, gaffes and a slew of what we can charitably call communications inconsistencies between the President Trump (in interviews and on Twitter) and his ever-shrinking Press Department.

Judged by a number of examples, but most notably yesterday’s super-weird Soviet-style cabinet meeting, Trump seems to have a major thing for “loyalty” among those who surround him. But it seems that his demand for loyalty has extended to false expectations for the fourth estate.

A media that does not show fealty to Mr. Trump appears to drive him crazy. But it’s not, by definition fake news. Its just bad news. For the President.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Colby Hall is the Founding Editor of He is also a Peabody Award-winning television producer of non-fiction narrative programming as well as a terrific dancer and preparer of grilled meats.