It came to light this week (Wednesday to be precise) that fake editions of the venerable Washington Post were distributed throughout Washington, DC. The aforesaid fake publication (which at first glance was eerily similar to the legitimate Washington Post) announced Donald Trump’s swift departure from the White House. Upon closer inspection, however, the imposter paper (apparently between 10,000 and 20,000 were distributed to the public) was dated May 1, 2019, and included numerous anti-Trump and women empowerment articles. In addition, stories and a PDF of the fake print edition appeared on a website that mimicked the legitimate Post. However, given the present political climate, it begs the question of faking fake news.
Suffice it to say, the real Washington Post was not amused, “We will not tolerate others misrepresenting themselves as The Washington Post, and we are deeply concerned about the confusion it causes among readers. We are seeking to halt further improper use of our trademarks,” stated Post spokeswoman Kris Coretti.
Yet, the issue goes farther than merely improper use of trademarks, or copyright infringement. In essence, stunts like these are tossing gasoline on an inferno already out of control. We live in an age when the current President of the United States calls legitimate publications such as the Washington Post “fake news”, and has essentially waged war against freedom of the press. Given that fact, faking fake news may be far more problematic than beneficial in our brave new age.
The “trickster activist collective” the Yes Men, later revealed that they were responsible for the fake Post newspapers and website. The duo stated that the stunt was intended to be inspirational, with the fake Washington Post edition a meant as a blueprint to reclaim democracy.
This isn’t the first time the Yes Men have pulled politically motivated stunts. In fact, three different documentaries have been made chronicling the group’s antics. Over the past two decades, the collective has pulled numerous hoaxes including pretending to represent officials from the US Chamber of Commerce at a fake news conference. An even more famous action was creating a fake website impersonating the World Trade Organization. Some international groups mistook it as the legitimate WTO site and subsequently invited members of the Yes Men to speak at high-level conferences, which they did over several years before anyone caught on to the hoax.
In 2008 under the Bush administration, the group passed out thousands of fake New York Times editions, with the headline “Iraq War Ends”. A year later under the Obama administration, the Yes Men distributed bogus copies of The New York Post about climate change throughout New York City.
At the time, the aforesaid politically-charged satirical stunts, where just that – politically charged satirical stunts. They garnered attention from major media outlets, people laughed, people even marveled at the audacity of successfully pulling off such actions. Yet, that was a vastly different time. Now we live in the age of the Trump administration, which is an entirely different beast – An age where misinformation, fake news, and confusion runs rampant. A time where freedom of the press comes into question, and reclaiming democracy in the United States is a legitimate discussion. Faking fake news as a form of political activism under the Trump administration is a delicate endeavor, doing more harm than good.
Yet, all hope cannot be lost. Journalists are working tirelessly, relentlessly, at legitimate media outlets revealing the truth in the name of democracy. Case in point, Buzzfeed News released a bombshell report alleging that Donald Trump directed his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. Likewise, in an interview with CNN, the president’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, inadvertently left open the possibility of collusion with Russia by Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The truth is there, waiting impatiently to be revealed, and it will be journalists from legitimate media outlets who will ferret it out. The very tenets of democracy are dependent on that fact.