Case Study: Donald Trump

The phrase fake news began to take on new meaning in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

During his first press conference, then president-elect Donald Trump publicly called out CNN as “fake news” for investigating his campaign’s ties to the Russian government.

In the years that followed, Trump repeatedly used the term as a way to disparage media outlets that ran contrary to his personal interests and his administration’s political needs and policy agenda. The term became more commonly used by right-wing pundits, politicians, and media personalities to discredit center-liberal and left-leaning news organizations.

While Donald Trump is certainly not responsible for creating our current climate of misinformation, he has served as a catalyzing force. Trump launched his political career trying to spread the “birther” conspiracy, which spuriously claimed that Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery, that he “wasn’t American,” and thus was ineligible to hold public office.

In an effort to consolidate power, and support the right-wing extremists who propelled him to office, Trump spread all manner of misinformation on the stump during rallies, on TV in interviews, and especially on Twitter.

Trump used Twitter a way to communicate directly with his millions of followers and control the news cycle. He shared falsehoods about everything from the subversive power of the “deep state” to the encroaching “hordes of immigrants,” the non-threat of the coronavirus, and, eventually, the “stolen” 2020 election.

The Washington Post Fact Checker team tracked that Trump averaged six specious or misleading claims a day during his first year in office, sixteen claims during year two, twenty-two for year three, and thirty-nine during his final year. At the end of his presidency, the “tsunami of untruths” totaled 30,573.

References Amber Jamieson, “You are fake news’: Trump attacks CNN and BuzzFeed at press conference,” The Guardian, January 11, 2017. Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, and Meg Kelly, “Trump’s false or misleading claims total 30,573 over 4 years,” Washington Post, January 24, 2021. Background theme image from Shutterstock.

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