- Getty/ Steve Pope
“Fake news” is everywhere. Even, evidently, at the places trying to disprove it.
Here is a curious tale in how it can be spread. Public Policy Polling – a Democratic firm with a good track record – conducted a poll that actually provides a pretty fascinating window into supporters of President-elect Donald Trump.
But one stat in particular stood out to at least a few news sites: 14% answered “yes” to the question of whether they think “Hillary Clinton is connected to a child sex ring being run out of a pizzeria in Washington, DC.” The majority of self-identified Trump supporters (54%) say she’s not.
And then there are the 32% who are “not sure,” which could mean a number of things. Most likely, it is that they haven’t heard much, perhaps, about the story that led an armed man to show up at the DC pizzeria last weekend because, as police said, he wanted to “self-investigate” it. They don’t feel they have enough information to make a definitive judgment.
Another interpretation was put forward by a story at Recode: “An astonishing number of people believe Pizzagate, the Facebook-fueled Clinton sex ring conspiracy story, could be true.”
“Especially if they’re Trump voters,” the story’s deck read. It posited that if you are a Trump supporter, “there’s a decent chance” you think the story is true, and that it was evidence of such deception having a “depressingly receptive audience.” Several other left-leaning sites, including Salon, ran with similar stories.
Yet the same poll showed that by the same logic, supporters of Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein were about as likely to think the story “could be true” – even though, according to the poll, exactly 0% of Stein voters answered “yes” to the question (43% said they were not sure).
“I agree that the ‘not sure’ respondents are probably a mix of people who think ‘could be true’ with others whose reaction was more like ‘huh?’ and thought the question seemed totally out of left field if they weren’t familiar with the story,” said Tom Jensen, the director of Public Policy Polling.
This is a different kind of “fake news” than the one we’ve been talking about at large in the media since the election – and that Hillary Clinton addressed Thursday. But it prompts the question: What, exactly, is “fake news?”
Versions of this phenomenon have popped up a few times this week. On Wednesday, for instance, Time magazine was forced to update a two-year-old story that had taken comments from House Speaker Paul Ryan out of context.
On Thursday, meanwhile, Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald mistakenly reported that Trump supporters had booed the late John Glenn, who died earlier that day. He corrected his error, but not before the original tweet had garnered thousands of retweets. And on Friday, a story went around about Trump shrugging off comparisons to Hitler. The story was actually from 2015, which led The Washington Post to add an editor’s note to the piece.
These types of inaccuracies, distortions, and obsolescence are problems that predate the “fake news” phenomenon – or whatever you want to call it – of this election cycle. But they are arguably as big of a problem, if not bigger, for the news media to reckon with in the days, months, and years ahead.