“Fake news” has currency among people of all political stripes. Donald Trump uses it to attack unfavorable reporting, and Donald Trump’s critics use it to explain why Trump won. “Fake news” has been used to describe legitimate reports, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, satire, and reporting errors. While it’s best used to describe a false story that becomes widely shared because it confirms deeply held biases, it has largely become a floating signifier.
But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t worked up about it. Archetypal CNN host Chris Cuomo went on archetypal CNN pundit Michael Smerconish’s radio show to discuss the human cost of being called “fake news.” It didn’t go well.
The only thing that’s bothersome about it, is that I see being called “fake news” as the equivalent of the n-word for journalists, the equivalent of calling an Italian any of the ugly words that people have for that ethnicity. That’s what fake news is to a journalist. It is an ugly insult and you better be right if you’re going to charge a journalist with lying on purpose and the president was not right here and he has not been right in the past.
This is so wrong and misguided that it’s pretty funny. Given the violence (often state-sanctioned) against the ethnic groups that Cuomo mentions—and the racial hierarchies that racial slurs often enforce—there is obviously no comparison here at all. Journalists, especially ones in privileged positions like Cuomo’s (it should be added that his father was governor of New York and his brother is governor of New York), face nothing even approximating the kinds of discrimination Cuomo is referring to here.
The point that Cuomo is trying to make is not a terrible one, but he made it in literally the worst way possible. Also, the Smerc-man either didn’t realize there was a problem with what Cuomo said or straight up ratted him out on Twitter for the retweets.