Fake News: Hot off the Macedonian Press
In the month since Donald Trump has taken office, his administration has provided a seemingly innumerable amount of sound bites and phrases. There is one, however, that pervades more than most: Fake News. In his first solo press conference Trump’s continual attack on the media and fake news was considered by most viewers as extraordinary.
The president’s subsequent declaration of the media as America’s ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ left many incredulous. The situation is equivalent: a money-making scheme born in a sleepy town in Macedonia, now a political cornerstone of the world’s greatest power.
- Trump’s ‘extraordinary’ press conference
- In Macedonia there’s money to be made
- Administration pushing limits of First Amendment
In the earliest days of the Trump presidency, there were more than a few omens as to the unhealthy relationship that the media could expect with the White House. The President himself had spoken of a “running war” with the media, perhaps in light of their coverage of his campaign. His closest adviser was more direct:
“I want you to quote this,” Steve Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump the president of the United States.”
Trump’s anti-press conference
During his unprecedented press conference last week, Trump railed against various news outlets and shouted down reporters who wouldn’t offer him ‘soft’ questions. In defending his recently departed National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, he said “The leaks are real; you’re the one that wrote about them and reported them. The leaks are absolutely real… The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”
He then derided the controversy surrounding his alleged Russian links: “Russia is fake news.” His concurrent spouting of falsehoods would leave people gawping at their televisions if they hadn’t become accustomed to such hyperbole from this administration. An example that stood out? A claim about his ‘record’ electoral votes, which was called out by a reporter within minutes.
The humble origins of a now infamous term
In the aftermath of the election, it was reported that much of the questionable news that had been complained about during the election could be traced to a small town in former Yugoslavia. The Macedonian town of Veles, with a population of 45,000, experienced a explosion in online business as locals launched at least 140 US politics websites.
These sites had American-sounding domain names such as WorldPoliticus.com, TrumpVision365.com, USConservativeToday.com, DonaldTrumpNews.co, and USADailyPolitics.com. Almost every one of these sites published aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at the conservatives, Trump supporters and the alt-right in the US.
The teenagers found to be responsible had no political agenda, however. Ironically, their MO was that most American of pursuits – money. In Veles, with unemployment at 24% and few jobs with any scope of progression or career, young tech savvy individuals saw that money could be made posting, in many cases unoriginal, content and watching the money trickle in through Google AdSense.
The reason for choosing US readers? The average American web-user is worth 3 times the amount in advertising revenue of their European counterparts. In one case, a teenager from Veles is said to have made $16,000 off his two pro-Trump websites in 3 months. The average monthly salary in Macedonia is $371.
While the intention may be purely economic for the fake news purveyors, the effects are being felt keenly by those in the US.
Trump hijacking of fake news: an attack on the constitution
Trump’s attacks on the media and declarations of anything that works against his interests are not going away anytime soon. The fact that the fake news has been verified and a major source found only validates his claims in the eyes of his almost religious support.
This represents a truly worrying time for the mainstream media and those who hold the freedom of the press as one of the integral parts of the US constitution. There is no real discourse between the President and a media that is seeking to call his actions into question. Trump is able to sign his controversial executive orders and disregard any scandals that come his way, in his mind, with impunity.
The media clearly must do it’s utmost to continue its coverage of any and all of Trump’s lies. Now it must be asked, how far the Republican party itself is willing to let the administration go in it’s flouting of the First Amendment.