“Fake News”

It’s the hip new PR trend of 2017! I present to you “Fake News”: the miraculous magic wand that can make any inconvenient or embarrassing public revelation disappear in a flash!

Yeah. Bad trend. I hope I’m not just being optimistic when I observe that it only seems to work on people who just want something to stick in their earholes before they clap their hands tightly to the sides of their heads and start humming loudly. To everyone else, it comes across as an act of eye-rolling desperation.

That’s not to say that “fake news” (let’s define it as “clearly non-newsworthy reporting, crafted in the service of impact and manipulation rather than actual journalism”) doesn’t exist. But the more powerful and influential you become, the less entitled you are to use “fake news” as a two-syllable dismissal of reporting.

I’ll use Apple as an example. They had a problem on their hands in the form of a deeply-negative Consumer Reports headline: “New MacBook Pros Fail to Earn Consumer Reports Recommendation.” CR had tested the new MacBook Pros and concluded that the battery life of all three models were insanely inconsistent.

Response Option 1: Apple calls the report “Fake News” and dismisses Consumer Reports as “failing, sad, and pathetic.” Next question.

Response Option 2: Apple disagrees with CR’s findings and tries to substantiate their results. An examination of CR’s testing methodology — done with the publication’s help — reveals no fudging, but identifies many quirks in the test protocol that probably contributed to a suspicious result.

Apple did exactly the right thing. If the original CR review was totally screwy, it shouldn’t be hard to demonstrate why, and Apple certainly has the resources to put in that kind of effort. Moreover, doing so indicates that they want to earn the trust of their customers, instead of demanding it.

The MacBook Pro didn’t emerge from this completely clean. Many MacBook Pro users have been complaining of disappointing battery life. And I’ve never been 100% sure that I’ve tested a MacBook fairly. Apple’s doing its customers a favor by shipping a web browser that’s engineered to conserve battery life, but Google doesn’t seem interested in applying those same platform-specific optimizations to Chrome. It’s important that a reviewer explain his or her findings and the methods that produced them.

Nonetheless, Apple emerges from all of this looking great, and everybody (Apple, Consumer Reports, and consumers) walks away with a better understanding of the issue. Apple’s reached out to me when I’ve written a review or opinion that they didn’t understand. It’s not manipulative. I fancy myself an Actual Journalist™ and as such, I’d much rather learn something new and admit that I was wrong than add another layer to my protective shell of ignorance.

Anybody who tries to use “Fake News” as a magic wand of Controversy Dispersal isn’t taking the issue of “trust” seriously. Or they’re trying to hide one hell of a huge problem.

We here at the PR Trends Desk of Ihnatko.com approve of the “dump an enormous pile of file folders with random papers inside them on a table behind the speaker” dodge, however. It’s an effective power move that sends the message:

  • “I recycle” or
  • “I promise you that the hard evidence you’re looking for is somewhere among these 7,000 sheets of paper. I’m betting you don’t care enough about this issue to want to spend days wading through this mess.” (Fair enough.) or
  • “Push me too far and I swear, I’ll set this whole stage on fire and take all of you to hell with me!!”

What do I think about Buzzfeed and CNN’s Stunning Revelations?

Well, I think the intelligence report must be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny (by journalists, ironically enough) before its details can be accepted as likely fact. The mere fact it’s been circulated so heavily among so many people at such high levels of so many government organizations makes it newsworthy regardless of its veracity.

Public reaction to the report will be just as interesting as the vetting. How many people are reading it and thinking “It’s probably rubbish. But I can totally believe that Trump could have done all of these things”?

(I totally believe that Trump could have done all of these. And the “paying prostitutes to pee on a bed that the Obamas once slept in” is at the very bottom of the list of things I’m worried about. Assuming that the aforementioned act wasn’t paid for with money earmarked for other government services, the entire sex industry was given access to a period of open bidding for the contract, and the contract was awarded without prejudice to a fully-unionized shop, I’ve no reason to complain.)

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.