Ashe Schow writes at Observer about four types of “fake news.”
Actual “fake news”
This should only apply to stories that are completely made up.
“Fake news” that is actually satire
Poorly-reported news that fits an agenda
I would say this is the biggest problem the media currently faces. The most recent example would be The Washington Post’s article, originally titled: “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, officials say.”
The author didn’t get a comment from the Vermont facility, but did include quotes from numerous congressmen who wanted to appear tough against Russia and continue to spread a narrative that Russia is trying to harm the U.S. Burlington Electric issued a statement to Vermont’s Burlington Free Press that made it clear the whole story was a nothingburger: “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop NOT connected to our organization’s grid systems.” (Emphasis original.)
The Post eventually retracted the article, admitting that “the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility.” In addition, there may not have even been malware on the laptop in question.
The story was badly reported, but not wholly made up. This was an example of extremely sloppy reporting that appeared to support The Post—and much of the mainstream media’s—narrative about Russia.
Another famous example of this in recent years is Rolling Stone’s article about an alleged gang-rape at the University of Virginia. The story relied on a single source whose tale of sexual assault fit every preconceived notion the author—and, again, the mainstream media—had about the issue: Fraternity members are rapists, college women are in constant danger, and schools don’t care. The author, Sabrina Erdely, not only failed to independently confirm the story by talking to the victim’s friends who were there the night of the alleged incident—she also didn’t confirm the alleged rapist even existed.
The story turned out to be completely wrong—but, again, it wasn’t wholly made up by the author. Instead, she investigated only what she needed to in order to fit her narrative.
Misleading news designed to promote a narrative
This is slightly different, I would say, from the previous category—and the “Russia hacked the election” narrative perpetuated by the media is a perfect example. Reading phrases like this, one could reasonably assume that Russia’s government somehow hacked into U.S. voting machines and altered votes in order to help Donald Trump win the election.
A recent Economist/YouGov poll found that 52 percent of Democrats actually believe this (though let’s not pretend we should start trusting polls based on how they performed in 2016, I point this out merely as an interesting anecdote).
Further, it’s another method by which the mainstream media can pretend that it—and the Left—in no way contributed to Clinton’s loss. Instead they blame Russia, election fraud, “fake news” and James Comey’s decision to continue the FBI investigation into Clinton’s private email server—ignoring the very real possibility that none of these things actually influenced the electorate. It’s hard to imagine a factory worker in Michigan being more upset about Donna Brazile giving Clinton debate questions in advance than the loss of his livelihood due to dwindling jobs or overseas manufacturing.
Because the media will continue to console itself with claims of “fake news,” we should all understand how best to discern between what is fake and what is sloppy, misleading reporting.