The Difference Between Fake News and Bad Reporting

Even if the Trump administration doesn’t see the difference between bad reporting and fake news stories, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t!



On Tuesday Sarah Huckabee Sanders – current Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary for the Trump administration – ripped the White House Press Corps over the recent “fake news stories” regarding the Trump administration. Particularly, Sanders was upset over CNN’s recent retraction regarding a story revolving around a former Trump associate’s ties to Russia.



Now granted, Sanders complaining about fake news while championing a video by conservative journalist James O’Keefe – who has been accused of deceptive editing practices in his videos – is Alanis Morissette levels of irony, but the point she brings up is an interesting one. Does CNN’s retraction of a story constitute in the network participating in fake news?


Short answer, no.


CNN was a participant in bad reporting, not fake news. And before you ask, yes there is a major difference between the two!



Bad Reporting


CNN’s major reason for retracting a story regarding Russia and a former Trump aid revolves around it not meeting their “rigorous editorial process.” What does that exactly mean? In this particular case, it centered on CNN not vetting information from a single anonymous source before publication.


In most news rooms, when a reporter breaks a story, there are multiple checks that happen before a story goes into print. These range from making sure the story can be confirmed by multiple sources to having a separate independent team do a cross-check on the story for potential problems. For the person consuming the news, it might look like most reputable news organizations are blindly reporting on stories at a rapid clip, but in reality, that’s simply not true! There’s a lot of care when media outlets go out to report stories. What CNN practiced was bad judgment and recklessness in pursuit of a story. It was most definitely bad reporting, but that does not make the story fake news!



Fake News


In contrast to bad reporting, fake news stories take a completely different approach to their subject matter. Most fake news stories are either:


  • completely fabricated housing no actual information within it


  • take a small kernel of truth from an incident and create a fabricated narrative around it


The first approach to a fake news story is fairly easy to spot. A prime example of this is the work that Stephen Glass did for The New Republic back in the late 90’s. During his three-year period at the magazine, Glass had fabricated multiple sources and events in his pieces. It wasn’t until 1998 that Glass was found to have been making up entire stories. That of course was before the Internet had proliferated like it did. Today, it would be almost impossible for a reporter at a reputable news organization to pull something like what Glass did in the late 90’s.


However, the second approach to creating fake news stories is much harder to spot. Take the reporting of Minneapolis trying to setup a local hotline to report hate-crimes in the area.


The original story, from local news sources, talks about Minneapolis trying to combat the surge of incidents affecting the Muslim and Jewish communities in the US by setting-up a 311 number so people can report incidents (which makes perfect sense if you consider the large Ethiopian community that currently reside in the Twin Cities). Yet some media outlets, have tried to spin the story in multiple ways that go from claiming the Minneapolis hotline is restricting free speech (Gateway Pundit) to some calling it a “Shariah Hotline” against those trying to protect American sovereignty (Infowars). These are examples of fake news stories.


What both Gateway Pundit and Infowars are doing is creating narratives (liberal communities are restricting free speech for Americans) and framing actual mundane situations (creating a 311 number to report hate crimes) to prove some kind of larger point (liberal ideals and minorities are destroying American values). Though this isn’t just a right-wing media problem, some liberal blogs and sites are just as guilty of this as well (ex. the story of government paying for Mitch McConnell’s polio care being false). These are examples of the fake news stories that you see today!



The Difference Between the CNN Story and Fake News Stories


This retracted CNN story simply demonstrated bad journalistic practices by the network. Instead of going through their regular checks when confirming a story, CNN tried to be the first one to break it and in turn, rushed the story out before it was ready to be published. The problem here isn’t that the story was fabricated – for all intents and purposes, the story very well could still be true – but that the story can’t be confirmed by CNN.


That’s what makes the CNN incident different from fake news and a distinction worth making!



*Important Note: We didn’t want to include links to those fake news stories because we felt that would be only adding to the problem of fake news. However, if you want to see these stories for yourself, this Media Matters piece has links to them.  



(Photo Credits: White House YouTube Channel)


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