Investigative journalist reveals origin of 'fake news'

Friday, February 16, 2018
Steve Jordahl (

Sharyl Attkisson (journalist)If you think the concept of "fake news" started with Donald Trump, you'd be wrong. As it turns out, so-called "progressives" got the ball rolling – and it came back to bite them.

It didn't take long for the mainstream media to start trying to dismantle President Trump. On Inauguration Day, TIME Magazine reporter Zeke Miller tweeted that Trump had removed a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office. He was wrong and quickly admitted it, but the tone was set. Since then, there have been dozens of examples of certain news outlets giving facts short shrift if they see a chance to damage the president.

Trump calls those reports "fake news" and is largely credited – or blamed – for coming up with the term. But investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson says not so.

"I did a little digging and I traced the effort to a non-profit called First Draft, which appears to be about the first to use the phrase 'fake news' in its modern context," she explains in a TedX Talk (see below).

First Draft, she says, was birthed at the start of the latest presidential election cycle and run by a multimillion-dollar donor to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. A month later, President Obama used the term when he said someone needed to approve the news before it went out. Attkisson recounts that event:

"He insisted in a speech that he, too, thought somebody needed to step in and curate information in this wild, wild west media environment. Nobody in the public had been clamoring for any such thing – yet suddenly, the topic of 'fake news' dominates headlines on a daily basis. It's as if the media had been given its marching orders. Fake news, they insisted, was an imminent threat to American democracy."

But, Attkisson says, somewhere along the way the tables turned.

"The anti-fake news campaign backfired. Each time advocates cried 'fake news,' Donald Trump called them fake news until he'd coopted the term so completely that even those who originally promoted it started running from it.

"In fact, it's now commonly misreported that it was Donald Trump who thought up the phrase – actually it was just a hostile takeover."

So how do you spot fake news – from either side of the aisle? When everybody's on the same page, using the same phrase, emphasizing the same politically biased story, Attkisson says, it may be "the result of an organized campaign."

The journalist says when "connecting the dots" behind fake news, she suggests "follow[ing] the money" – finding out who's funding the sources. And typically, she adds, those who most loudly denounce fake news are the ones most aggressively disseminating it.

"When interests are working this hard to shape your opinion, their true goal might just be to add another layer between you and the truth," Attkisson concludes.

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