Editorial: In age of ‘fake news’ we must hold the president accountable



Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade film a segment of “Fox & Friends” in March 2017. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Fake news is like a bad game of telephone — one source reports their truth, then everyone else runs with it, imparting their own spin upon it. Serious problems arise when people get their news from just one source, because that source could be the last person in the line.

And when the president gets involved, whose Twitter feed reveals that he seems to get almost all his news from Fox, things can take a turn for the worse.

President Trump took to Twitter on Monday to accuse former FBI director James Comey of leaking classified information to the media, which he called “so illegal!”

Trump tweeted his accusation after retweeting a “Fox and Friends” segment analyzing a report from The Hill — but Fox got it wrong.  In the video, “Fox and Friends” claims that the documents that Comey gave to a friend of his with the intention of them being distributed to the media contained “top secret information.”

But The Hill’s report says otherwise. The Hill merely states, according to officials familiar with Comey’s personal memos, that four of the seven memos may have contained classified information. It’s also not currently known what level of classification the memos were, as there are multiple levels of classified information — such as confidential and secret — with top secret being one of them.

What The Hill does not report, however, is which of the seven memos were shared with Comey’s associate and whether or not the memos leaked contained any classified information. In fact, Comey’s friend Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia University, told POLITICO that to the best of his knowledge the memos Comey gave him were never classified.

The issue is not yet ripe to be discussed — there is too much uncertainty surrounding the true contents of Comey’s memos, their classification level at the time of their release and which of them were leaked.

The larger issue at hand is that the president is so eager to criticize his opponents that he doesn’t even wait to find out if his sources are accurate. “Fox and Friends” issued a correction to reflect what The Hill actually reported, but the president did not.

When a clearly partisan news program such as “Fox and Friends” is more truthful than the president, there’s obviously a problem. And almost all of that problem stems from the tendency to get news from only one source — it all goes back to the game of telephone.

And it’s not only an issue with President Trump, nor is it only an issue with “Fox and Friends.” It would also be dangerous for a liberal politician to blindly listen to MSNBC, and it is just as dangerous for the average voter to get their news from any one source.

That’s why this is part of a broader argument regarding accountability and truthfulness, not one merely against “Fox and Friends” or Trump. The problem is that both “Fox and Friends” and Trump jumped to conclusions to support their viewpoints. This is a natural occurrence when so many people are involved in the delivery of information, and the best way to combat it is to seek news from multiple sources that report on either side of the political spectrum.

But above all, we should be able to hold our president to a higher standard of accountability. It’s time for him to take his thumbs off the screen and wait until information is confirmed before relaying it to his over 33 million followers. Eagerness like this could result in disaster — and the only way to combat it is with patience, due diligence and a commitment to relaying the truth.