Donald Trump, who has routinely peddled conspiracy theories and mistruths from the office of the presidency, sought to question the accuracy of the media on Wednesday by unveiling the so-called “Fake News Awards”.
The president used his preferred medium of Twitter to announce “the winners”, which ranged from minor errors by journalists on social media to news reports that later invited corrections, with the New York Times and CNN the most frequently named.The “awards” were revealed on the Republican National Committee’s website, which swiftly crashed as a result of the attention, and prompted swift backlash, including from his own party.
Much of the list centered around reporting on the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. The president has repeatedly dismissed the inquiry as “fake news”, despite the consensus of the US government and its allies that Moscow worked to sway the presidential election in Trump’s favor.
Shortly after making the awards public, Trump offered mild praise for a faction of the media, tweeting: “Despite some very corrupt and dishonest media coverage, there are many great reporters I respect and lots of GOOD NEWS for the American people to be proud of!”
While Trump’s attacks on press freedom date back to his candidacy, his decision to hold “Fake News Awards” marked a bizarre spectacle even by the standards of an impulsive president.
Trump had initially announced the awards at the start of the new year, with plans to hold them on 8 January. The date was later pushed to 17 January, as White House aides struggled in the interim to explain the event’s purpose or whether it would even take place.
Trump has often used his bully pulpit to highlight errors in the media, even when news organizations have taken steps to correct and apologize for any inaccuracies, and he has labeled the press the “enemy of the American people”. Trump has yet to acknowledge any of his lies, which have been tracked in an exhaustive list by the New York Times and underscore the president’s near daily disconnect from the truth.
The move was nonetheless prime fodder for Trump’s base, which has rallied behind the president’s extraordinary assault on the first amendment. Polling has found Americans relatively split on the issue of trust in the news, with registered Republican voters far more likely to believe in media bias.
Two prominent Republican lawmakers did, however, rebuke Trump’s treatment of the media leading up to his “Fake News Awards”. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both senators from Arizona and among Trump’s most vocal critics, implored the president to retreat from his war against the press.
In an op-ed published Tuesday, McCain said Trump’s attacks on the media “provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit”.
“The phrase ‘fake news’ – granted legitimacy by an American president – is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens,” McCain wrote.
“We cannot afford to abdicate America’s longstanding role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world.”
Flake, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of the year, took aim at Trump in a damning speech from the Senate floor.
“An American president who cannot take criticism, who must constantly deflect and distort and distract, who must find someone else to blame, is charting a very dangerous path,” Flake said.
“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies.”