Is the term 'fake news' unproductive, when all of our interpretations are constructed?Andy Melton

The term ‘fake news’ is tweeted by Trump, used ironically in memes, and has found its way into our every day phrases. The frequency of its use has detracted from the gravity of the issue and the true misconception of the public, which lies not in believing any and all news, but in believing there can be anything but fake news.

Last term, Peterhouse Politics Society hosted Karen Giorno and her colleague and partner, Christina Minna. Giorno was formerly Director and CEO of Donald Trump’s campaign in Florida, and was instrumental in securing the unprecedented yet, according to her, not unexpected 66 out of 67 county primary victory, paving the way for Trump to become the Republican presidential nominee. Giorno was then made southeast regional director of Trump’s presidential campaign and, following continued success, was appointed as a senior advisor to the Candidate and National Campaign Team, overseeing National Coalitions from the heights of the Trump Tower. Giorno’s job was thus to mobilise groups of voters inclined to support Trump.

She began her talk with a truly gracious statement about how refreshing it was to be able to have a conversation about Trump in the UK, something which she had long since given up hope on. Minna’s role, in her own words, was “to pass the football of truth over the heads of the media into the arms of the public.” As you may imagine, in what was definitely not Cambridge students’ finest moment, this comment was met with barely muffled sniggers and, in some cases, over-exaggerated snorts. While this reaction was, to the audience at least, clearly in response to the entirely non-ironic and stereotypically American romanticised phrasing of Minna’s role in the campaign, she interpreted it rather differently. Her response was, in an attempt to be withering, to accuse the audience of having believed everything Fox News had fed them.

The difference in viewpoint was at no other point in the evening as sharply highlighted as it was then. The audience was not only somewhat insulted to have been accused of lacking the capacity to view news with scepticism or to understand the failings of American media during the presidential campaign. They were also shocked at the speed with which Minna had jumped to this conclusion, instead of pausing to think about what else may have elicited this response. From where I was sitting, in the comfort of the cushioned bench typically occupied by undergraduates hoping to hide away at the back of the Peterhouse parlor, it seemed that such a difference, not of opinion but of entire perception, was barely possible.

“It was not a difference that could be dismissed by culture, religion, nationality or political stance; it was a fundamentally different way of seeing the world”

If two such different viewpoints can stand side by side, then we must question whether a phrase such as ‘fake news’ can be used at all. Giorno and Minna could no further see beyond their own position than they believed we could, and in this sense, they are guilty of all that they accused the American media of doing, as is anyone who believes that there is some way to communicate events impartially. There is not.

Among other such controversial statements, Giorno denied the certainty of climate change, and the culpability of humans in bringing such change about. She also suggested that coal could one day be a clean fuel. When asked about Trump’s comments on preferring the women involved in his campaign to “dress like women”, Giorno emphatically defended him, arguing that Trump expected exactly the same standards from his staff as he did from himself. He wore a suit every day and yes, Giorno therefore wore a dress every day. At the time, I sat there open-mouthed, along with many other people in the room, amazed that such a seemingly backward and ignorant view could be held by a woman clearly of high intelligence who had enjoyed more success in her career than many of us ever will. However, in retrospect, I find it more remarkable that she was able to reply at all.

Giorno and Minna must have regularly encountered views so contrary to their own, otherwise the shock would surely have rendered them speechless. The distinction between their use of phrasing, their beliefs, and the assumptions they made about the beliefs of their audience, was so sharp that it transcended all reasonable explanation. It was not a difference that could be dismissed by culture, religion, nationality or political stance; it was a fundamentally different way of seeing the world. When people can view events with such conviction in such utterly dissimilar ways, why would we ever suppose that there is, as Minna put it, a “football of truth”?

In Syria, fake news goes a lot further than you thought

It must be acknowledged that Giorno remained entirely calm, collected, eloquent and, above all, profoundly interesting throughout her talk and during the heated question time. She should be awarded much credit in light of the crowd of angry and impassioned undergraduates that hailed her with accusations against Trump. My personal belief is that it remains impossible for the rationally-minded to truly understand where views such as Giorno’s come from – no matter how well they are articulated.

In reality, we must accept that throwing around the term ‘fake news’ is extremely unhelpful. It has been acceptable for a long time now that different accounts of the same event can be equally true. It is ultimately differences in perspective that make the news worth reading, as it is always somebody’s interpretation of the truth