Steve Zansberg: ‘Fake news,’ ‘the lying press’

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Donald Trump has repeatedly demonized the news media, aka the free press, labeling them “fake news” and even “the enemy of the American people.” Last month, Trump’s press secretary excluded respected members of the mainstream press — The New York Times, CNN, Los Angeles Times, Politico, the Hill and Buzzfeed — from a press briefing. These actions are not only un-American, as CNN’s Jake Tapper appropriately dubbed them, they are extremely dangerous.

To understand the gravity of the threat, recall the words of our Founding Fathers: Thomas Jefferson recognized that “our liberty depends on the Freedom of the Press, and that cannot be limited without [our liberty] being lost.” Jefferson also famously quipped “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

George Mason, the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights on which our Bill of Rights is modeled, similarly proclaimed that “the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.” And James Madison said, in the same breath that he castigated the “abuses” of the press, that “to the press alone . . . the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.”

Interpreting these men’s blueprint for our democracy, the United States Supreme Court observed that “The Constitution specifically selected the press . . . to play an important role in the discussion of public affairs.” Thus, the Court recognized, “the press serves and was designed to serve as a powerful antidote to any abuses of power by governmental officials and as a constitutionally chosen means for keeping officials . . . responsible to all the people whom they were selected to serve.”

Trump and his team have co-opted the term “fake news” in an effort to lump together credible and well-respected press entities with the Russian-backed promulgators of actual “fake news” reports that were posted on social media sites during the campaign. Among the most well-known (and widely circulated) examples of such completely baseless “reports” were bogus stories alleging that Hillary Clinton ran a child exploitation ring out of a DC-area pizza joint, that the Pope had endorsed Trump and that an indictment had been drawn up for Hillary Clinton.

To thereafter attach the “fake news” label to unfavorable but fact-based reports concerning former NSA Chief Mike Flynn’s and other Trump campaign staffers’ repeated contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, is calculated to achieve only one purpose: to cause the American people to distrust the information they receive from the news media. “Believe me” Trump says. What he means is “Believe only me.”

This is not the first time that political leaders have used this ploy. Germany’s propaganda minister in the 1930s, Joseph Goebbels, famously used the term “Lügenpresse” or “lying press” — as did Hitler at his mass rallies — to persuade his followers to disregard what the papers were reporting and pledge their unwavering loyalty to the version of reality (“alternative facts”) that the Führer uttered.

Responsible and democracy-loving public officials should, or dare I say, must, reserve the “fake news” label exclusively for the type of garbage for which it was created and has come to be understood: complete and utter fabrications that have no basis in fact, and no legitimate sources to support the published allegations. That label is obviously inappropriate for the reports published in The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and other legitimate news outlets that have adopted, and strenuously adhere to, well-established canons of journalistic ethics.

The multiple anonymous sources in The New York Times’ report about Trump campaign operatives’ contacts with Russian intelligence officials may turn out to have overstated the actual facts. But even that potential outcome does not render such a well-sourced news article “fake news.” It is very real news that credible sources within U.S. intelligence agencies are making these claims and assert that there is written documentation to substantiate them.

By all means, government officials should rebut reported factual errors with evidence that disproves those errors, if such evidence exists. But applying the “fake news” label to the legitimate press should be reserved to foreign dictators who seek to make their voice the only one their subjects will believe. Such Goebbels-inspired tactics have no place in our democracy.

Steve Zansberg is a First Amendment lawyer in Denver. This column first ran as a guest editorial in the Grand Junction Sentinel.

Comments

Ken Collins 2 weeks, 1 day ago

Well written, Steve. But by your creds, it is to be expected. When your POTUS lies about 77% of the time and the press rebuts those lies, it is not "fake news". It is journalism. When FOX News either defends the lies or never mentions them, that is fake news (no quotes needed). Space does not allow the listing of the lies, just since Jan. 2oth, let alone the campaign.
When your news comes only from FOX, Breitbart, Alex Jones, David Duke and the like, you're living in a "fake reality". Yes, there are left wing news outlets but overall the majority are professional organizations that want the truth to be written. If your side of the story has no provable basis, you're on the wrong side of the argument. This president and his band of syncophants fit that bill quite well.

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Ken Mauldin 2 weeks ago

Sure, Ken Collins. I suppose your belief that Trump is a liar explains your enthusiastic support for Hillary Clinton. I'll respond in-kind and simply suggest that space does not allow for a full listing of Hillary Clinton's lies. Thank goodness she lost the election.

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Scott Wedel 2 weeks ago

What is the the threat to the press of Trump? He lies. Press says Trump is making statements without factual basis. Trump say press is biased. There is no threat to the press in that. Trump supporters that accept fact contrary realities didn't read or watch fact based media in the first place.

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Don Thayer 2 weeks ago

Exactly the point I intended to make - both sides are giving their opinions. Trump is not preventing freedom to speak or print, he's giving his opinion of the quality of the news.

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Dan Shores 2 weeks ago

C'mon Ken.....you can't possibly be suggesting that Hillary's lies, or anyones for that matter, are anything like what we are witnessing form your new president. Trump is a pathological liar, the likes of which we have never before seen. Nothing even close. And again, why the deflection tactic. The article is referring to Trump and fake news, not Hillary.

Don't forget that Trump began his political career with the lie that Barack Obama's birth certificate was a forgery. He lied during his entire campaign and during the debates at such a pace that fact checkers couldn't keep up. There were so many lies that many of them were simply ignored because of the shear volume of lies coming out of his mouth. This pattern continues as we speak!

Trump makes something up, Breitbart and Fox News then report what he says as news, then the media disputes what Trump has simply made up, Trump calls the media 'fake news" and dishonest and an enemy of the people. It's a vicious cycle and conservatives are buying it. This is, by the way, how dictators begin their regimes, demonize the press, ban then from coverage. The fact that the partisanship is so rampant that conservatives are willing to overlook and or go along with this charade is quite something. These are indeed scary times.

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Ken Mauldin 2 weeks ago

Hi Dan Shores - Yes, I am suggesting that Hillary Clinton's many documented lies are comparable to what we've witnessed from President Trump. The left is apparently incapable of understanding that their candidate was so awful, so repulsive, and so distrusted to lead our nation that she lost to Donald-Freaking-Trump.

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Don Thayer 2 weeks ago

Your comment on Jake Tapper emphasizes the point regarding the press. Trump is simply giving his opinion of the quality of the Press, he isn't preventing or advocating restricting freedom of the Press. His opinion is an exercise of freedom of speech. As a 1st Amendment lawyer you should recognize that. Jake Tapper's comment appears to be an attempt to manipulate and intimidate 'we the people' into denying Trump's freedom of speech.

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Dan Shores 2 weeks ago

Yes Ken...therein lies the problem. Most of the accusations against Hillary were proven to NOT be true. There is simply no comparison to what we are witnessing from Trump. We've never before seen outright lying on this scale ever before. The fact that you refuse to acknowledge that, or that somehow believing that Hillary's lies excuse Trump's lies, is the problem.

I will agree however that the dems are partly to blame for the election of Trump. Hillary is vastly superior to Trump in almost every imaginable way, but she certainly had her baggage and was vulnerable to attack. It's just a shame that she was the best that we could do, and it's a disgrace that Trump was the best the republicans could do and an even greater shame that people actually voted for him. Sad.

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Ken Mauldin 2 weeks ago

Hi Dan S - You think the dems are partly to blame for the election of Donald Trump? I think they're completely to blame. Let me explain. Many American voters during my adulthood have considered Presidential elections a choice between the lesser of two evils. Over the last 40 years of presidential elections, voters have voted 'against' a candidate more than they've voted 'for' a candidate. I would have cast a vote for any of the 16 participants of the GOP primary over Hillary Clinton in a general election and I suspect that you would have voted for any candidate in the DNC primary over Trump in a general election. This demonstrates that many, if not most voters, were voting 'against' a candidate rather than voting 'for' a candidate.

In other words, as a matter of perspective, modern American Presidential elections are a process where the least-liked candidate looses because more people vote 'against' someone than 'for' someone. When the DNC promoted such a deeply flawed and disliked candidate as Hillary Clinton, they handed us Donald Trump on a silver platter. In a contest between the lessor of two evils, the person that looses was demonstrated to be the greater evil between the two (Hillary, in this case.) Trump didn't win because he's good, he won because Hillary was terrible. It wasn't conservatives and bigots that gave us President Trump; it was black lives matter, Dakota Access protestors, the corrupt-to-the-core DNC and progressive liberals that demanded single-payer healthcare and allowing grown-men, pretending to be women, to share private, personal space with our wives and daughters that elected Donald Trump. The DNC, it's donors and supporters are 100% responsible for the election Donald Trump.

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Dan Shores 2 weeks ago

Well ken, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. But the truth is it wasn't all those things you mentioned that led to Trump. You seem to forget that Trump didn't win the popular vote. Most people, who voted, wanted all those things that you detest. Trump won because he blatantly lied to blue collar workers and rural Americans. He conned them. He prayed on their worst fears and scapegoated Muslims and immigrants and blamed all of their problems on these groups. He is a master salesman, marketer and con man. He promised to bring back their jobs, a promise he knew was part of the con. He won over the gullible the blue collar workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, that's how he won.

And you still won't admit to the unprecedented volume of lies coming from Trumps mouth. This extreme partisanship is the problem and I really don't see how we are ever going to come together.

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Scott Wedel 2 weeks ago

I say Ken and Dan are both largely right. Hillary was a terrible candidate. Trump scammed blue collar voters with lies,

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Ken Mauldin 2 weeks ago

Hi - Dan Shores, We'll find out which theory is correct in a little less than 4 years. If liberals continue to call people names (gullible, sycophants, bigots, racists, etc.) and besmirch their character because they have different ideas, I predict a second term for Trump and eight years after that of President Pence. The SCOTUS Justices that will be seated during that run will ensure that progressive liberal erosions of our Constitution will be stymied for 100 years, maybe longer. In fact, we may realize that benefit from only eight years of President Trump.

Since, a) I think my theory is correct, and b) I like Trump and Pence, I would encourage you to continue using insults like "gullible" and "sycophants."

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Brian Kotowski 2 weeks ago

How unfortunate we didn't elect Hillary. To the best of my knowledge, she's the only candidate (certainly the only female contender) to have so bravely dodged sniper fire in service to her nation; whilst also exposing her own child to the same danger - wow! What courage & fortitude in the face of such perilous peril!

I'm just sick we couldn't summon the gumption to elect this bonafide American Badass.

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Brian Kotowski 2 weeks ago

In other news, The Clinton Foundation Shuts Down Clinton Global Initiative

"But as soon as Clinton lost the election, many of the criticisms directed toward the Clinton Foundation were reaffirmed. Foreign governments began pulling out of annual donations, signaling the organization’s clout was predicated on donor access to the Clintons, rather than its philanthropic work. In November, the Australian government confirmed it “has not renewed any of its partnerships with the scandal-plagued Clinton Foundation, effectively ending 10 years of taxpayer-funded contributions worth more than $88 million.” The government of Norway also drastically reduced their annual donations, which reached $20 million a year in 2015."

I guess it's tougher to whore yourself out to foreign pimps, once you no longer have access to the power & influence they want to buy.

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Joe Meglen 1 week, 6 days ago

Fake News? This article is fake news. It is a biased political hit job long on opinion and short on facts.

“…Trump’s press secretary excluded respected (sic) members of the mainstream press — The New York Times, CNN, Los Angeles Times, Politico, the Hill and Buzzfeed…” Respected?? These are members of the establishment media that did everything possible to promote Hillary Clinton and defeat Donald Trump. Some were caught colluding with the DNC and the Hillary campaign.

Let’s see what the CIA has to say about Mr. Zansberg’s “respected” media:

"The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media." -- William Colby, former CIA Director, cited by Dave Mcgowan, Derailing Democracy

For more on fake news the author should research the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird.

The author makes multiply references to “…our democracy, i.e., “In these men’s (the framers) blueprint for our democracy…”, “Responsible and democracy-loving public officials…” and “Such Goebbels-inspired tactics have no place in our democracy.” Mr. Zansberg, the founders never created a blueprint for our democracy for they despised this form of government. The founders established a blueprint for our Constitutional Republic. Didn’t your professors mention this while you were attending your Ivy League schools?

Mr. Zansberg barely made it half way through his essay before resorting to Godwin’s Law, which he does on multiple occasions, in an attempt to support his unsupportable claims.

By the way, it is not Trump. It is President Trump.

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Brian Kotowski 1 week, 6 days ago

Hi Joe

I rarely refer to the 44th President of the United States as President Obama. I generally call him "Preezy" or "Barry" or "44" or "BHO". As to his predecessor, it's usually "W", "Bush", "43", or "Jr". My preferred nics for 42 are typically "Slick Willie" or "Bubba." With 41, I'm known to spout off "Daddy Bush", "Pappy", "GHWB", or "41." As for our 40th chief exec, I tend to go with "Ronaldus Magnus." For 39, it's generally "Jimmah." Do you find any (or all ) of that shorthand objectionable? If not, why?

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Scott Wedel 1 week, 6 days ago

Ken,

Don't need to wait 4 years to figure out if people dislike liberals as compared to just Hillary or what they think of Trump. Soon enough there will be special elections held to fill Congressional seats. Nearly all are safe seats, so political analysts won't be expecting any to flip, but the differences from the general election will be closely watched. Then there will be 2018 congressional elections.

Also, I note how Colorado's elected Republicans such as Gardner, Coffman and Buck seem to be running away from Trump at every occasion. Presumably, they are looking at internal polls showing that Trump isn't that popular in Colorado or their districts. Obviously, they don't think that distancing themselves from Trump is going to hurt them politically.

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Joe Meglen 1 week, 6 days ago

Brian,

Granted, I almost choked on the words during conversation when accidentally referring to Obama preceded by the title President. However, Mr. Zansberg is presented as a guest editorialist in both the Pilot and the Grand Junction Sentinel. As such an author is assumed to have status that is apart from the author of a general letter to the editor or online commentator rant. It is obvious from Mr. Zansberg’s article that he is anything but an unbiased journalist. He is a political animal with an agenda. The establishment, which includes both political parties, most of the media and the massive bureaucracies that have metastasized over the decades, are doing everything possible to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency for he is trying to dismantle the corrupt system put in place the past 70 + years. Not referring to Donald Trump as President is a not so subtle tactic to diminish his legitimacy. Mr. Zansberg may despise the man but when writing a column he should demonstrate respect the office. Given the forum, it is bad form to do otherwise.

p.s. Out of all the people that ran for president Donald Trump was the worst possible choice, with the exception of all the rest.

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Brian Kotowski 1 week, 6 days ago

Hi Joe

Methinks thou dost protest too much. By your own definition, Zansberg (whom I've never heard of until now) is an editorialist - by definition, a writer of "rant(s)" - in furtherance of his own ideological or partisan dogma. Anything but an "unbiased journalist." I'm unclear as to why you expect an "editorialist" to be a practitioner of "unbiased journal(ism)" in the first place.

On a whim, I googled "George Will Obama" - the first hit was this piece from January 4 (while Preezy was still the sitting President), wherein Will refers to a sitting American President as Obama - not President Obama - but merely Obama. Zansberg refers to Trump as Trump. Will refers to Obama as Obama. Is George Will guilty "of doing everything possible to destroy" a presidency because he called the President by his name, but omitted the title? If not, why?

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Joe Meglen 1 week, 6 days ago

Hi Brian,

Given the tone and misinformation in the author’s article I am certain the omission was not accidental. Yes, I may protest too much when chastising Mr. Zansberg’s failure to address Donald Trump as President. It was a distraction from the point of my original comment which was to expose the inaccuracy and/or hypocrisy of many of the author’s comments.

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Dan Shores 1 week, 6 days ago

Agree Scott, we should get a pretty good indication in 2018 of how well Trump's antics, pathological lying and alleged policies are being received by voters. Maybe, just maybe, some of those 50% or 60% of registered voters who decided not to participate in 2016, and outraged liberals will get off the couch, get motivated and show up at the voting booth.

And no, I will never use the name Trump and president at the same time. That would be to legitimize someone who is not legitimate, is completely inept and unqualified and is certainly not a normal human being.

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Jeff Kibler 1 week, 6 days ago

If Trump is a pathological liar, Hillary is obviously a scatological liar.

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Jeff Kibler 1 week, 6 days ago

“This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered,” said David E. Sanger, veteran chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times.

But his administration’s actions have too often contradicted Obama’s stated intentions. “Instead,” New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote earlier this year, “it’s turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press.”

Just more fodder for debate:

https://www.cpj.org/reports/2013/10/obama-and-the-press-us-leaks-surveillance-post-911.php

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Scott Wedel 1 week, 6 days ago

Dan,

The first special election of importance will be in Georgia to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price being appointed to the cabinet. It is a Republican district, but the sort of changing demographics that have been favoring Democrats. Thus, Democrats have a chance. Special elections are always very dependent upon motivated voters so the results will indicate if Republicans are overall not so happy with Trump as president. The Republicans will be expected to hold the seat so if a Democrat wins then it will send shockwaves among elected Republicans.

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Ken Mauldin 1 week, 6 days ago

Tom Price was my US Representative in GA before I moved to Colorado. Price won reelection in November 2016 by a margin of 61% to 38%. Price was preceded by (US Sen.) Johnny Isakson and Newt Gingrich, who held that seat (1979-1999) and served as Speaker of the House from 1995-1999. I would be surprised if the DNC picked-up the GA 6th District.

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Scott Wedel 1 week, 6 days ago

Ken,

Yes, it would be a surprise which is why it would send shock waves. But Dems can look at current demographics of more college educated, etc and say they have a chance. Price could be viewed as an effective popular congressman. Trump won the district by only 1.5 percentage points over Hillary. So Price greatly over performed compared to Trump.

It will send shock waves if Democrats win because if they were to win other congressional seats in which Trump won by 1.5 points then Dems control the House after the 2018 elections.

Though, I think race may quickly turn on each party's candidates. Dems picked an inexperienced guy that who knows if he will hold up under a campaign. Republicans have an 11 person primary and it is hard to predict whom will emerge from a special election primary with probably few voters.

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Dan Shores 1 week, 3 days ago

Well the jobs numbers are out. In the past Trump claimed that the jobs numbers were fake, a hoax. Sean Spicer now claims that in the past the numbers were phony, but now they are real.

What will it take for Trump supporters to finally admit that his entire campaign and presidency is based on lies, that they have been scammed, that they are the victims of a con? Is there any act that would be outrageous enough?

Perhaps we'll get some answers in 2018.

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