Well, the Fake News Awards were announced yesterday, and—SHOCKER—the ten top prizes all went to enormous corporate media conglomerates. Here are the winners by outlet:
Four Awards: CNN
Two Awards: New York Times
One Award: ABC News, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time Magazine
Now, look—I know that defamatory reporting should be its own reward. Those of us in the fake news business shouldn’t be in it for prizes or recognition. We should be in it because we care deeply about discovering the truth, distorting it beyond recognition, and then blasting it out to the American public. And we do! I’m not here to see my name in lights. I’m here because I grew up on stories of men like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein inventing Watergate from whole cloth in order to sabotage Richard Nixon, and I continue to be inspired when I see a film like Spotlight, which shows the tremendous impact a group of journalists can have when they get together and invent allegations against the Catholic Church. The work is what matters—taking the seeds of truth, baptizing them with the watering can of malicious lies, and watching them bloom into the twisted flowers of libelous fabrication.
That’s all true. But what’s also true is that it’s incredibly difficult for small, hard-working, independent outlets like Paste to make a broader impact in a world dominated by rich media giants. The CNNs and New York Times’ of the world have all the money, all the marketing power, and all the big names at their back. When one of their writers or anchors publishes a big fake scoop, it is immediately amplified by a massive PR operation designed to broadcast that fiction to the far corners of TV and the Internet. It’s a rich, coordinated publicity offensive that those of us at Paste can’t begin to match. What do we have? Facebook and Twitter, period, and Zuckerberg has recently changed the algorithms to make sure that our most reliable social media exposure has been cut off at the knees. We could never dream of matching the Times...in terms of delivering our bogus “stories” to a wider audience, it’s the ultimate uneven playing field.
Which is why I was so excited when President Trump announced the Fake News Awards. It’s why I remained excited despite the delay, and why I clicked the link last night with the most anticipation I’ve felt since the “PropOrNot” list of Russian propaganda outlets was released at WaPo. (That ended in disappointment when Paste was not recognized…but in the end, it was fair. We made several overtures to Putin, but our emails were never returned.) This could be it, I thought—the GOP wouldn’t care about who had the biggest payroll, or the most “prestige,” or who could buy the best placement on social media. They’d only care about the damn story, and that’s how they’d judge the winners. “Was the work erroneous to its core?” they would ask. “Was it breathtakingly ambitious in its specious claims? Was the scope of its misleading narrative broad enough to rock a country to its very foundations?” Finally, I thought, the indie spirit of fake news would stand a chance.
Instead, we got the winners you see above. CNN. The Times. Newsweek. The Washington Post.
I guess the GOP is no different from the rest of the world—if it’s not coming from a corporate behemoth, it doesn’t count.
I don’t want this post to be about me, but in a sense it is about me, and about all the writers like me who don’t work at a mega-corporation, but are still utterly devoted to spurious journalism. (Maybe more devoted, since we have to work harder.) I want to point you to a piece I wrote in September about how a big oil company used paid propagandists to discredit protesters and advance the interests of their controversial pipelines. Was it a perfect fake story? No—even reading it now, there are things I could have done better. But did I invent an entire cast of characters and circumstances, and link them seamlessly in order to spin a fraudulent web of lies against the heroes of Big Oil? I sure did. And did I deserve recognition for that feat of narrative sophistry?
Maybe I did. Maybe I did.
But it doesn’t seem to matter, does it? I doubt the GOP even read my unfounded feature while voting on the winners of the Fake News Awards. There was no transparency in the process, and most of the FNA academy members probably don’t even know my name.
Like I said, this isn’t really about me. This is about all of us, toiling away in the smaller corners of the Internet, doing our best to undermine America’s faith in the media. Trump and the GOP had a chance to give us our due, and to bolster the cause of independent fake news everywhere, and instead they played right into the hands of the media-industrial complex that has dominated the game from the start.
Well, you know what GOP? You know what, President Trump? Here’s some real news for a change: You let us down, and that’s a damn shame.