Words don’t always mean what they mean

I learned a long time ago that management gobbledegook doesn’t work at newspapers. If someone asks whether their story is going to appear, a straight “no” causes far less trouble in the long run than “We’ll take a look and see whether we’ve got space for it”, (which in newspaper-speak means “not a chance”).

As far as news goes, we have to deal with waffle all the time. Some is simple: any company Press release that contains phrases such as “re-structuring our organisation” or “optimising our resources” can generally be rewritten to include the word “redundancy”. Poor people used to live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged merely live in substandard housing.

Other language use is more subtle. “Pro-life” means “against abortion”, while pro-abortion campaigners are pro-choice, though neither group is actually anti-life, except pro-lifers who favour the death penalty.

Now newspapers are having to deal with a whole new lexicon surrounding fake news, written in the post-factual or even post-truth world that has evolved in the wake of Brexit and Donald Trump. (At least Brexit was just straightforward lies; Trump is taking it all to a new level).

Most people would agree that there is an objective truth that cannot be countered, though you may interpret it differently to someone else. Trumpworld, however, does not even adhere to basic facts. The run-up to all this started with the birther movement, the people who believed Barack Obama was a Muslim born in Africa.

Even though Obama had produced a birth certificate in 2008 and, even more credible, a local newspaper cutting announcing his birth, Trump insisted as late as last year that Obama’s birth certificate was a fake.

Being Trump, when he did eventually concede the birthers were wrong, in 2016, he claimed it as a victory for himself: “I finished it, President Obama was born in the United States.”

Now he’s obsessed with fake news, which as far as I can tell is news produced by journalists doing their job, holding those in power to account. He doesn’t like being held to account.

There is a basic dishonesty about all this that Trump’s followers on the alt-right are too blinkered to question which is this: Trump wakes up early and starts Tweeting, knowing that the media will react and he can set the day’s news agenda to his own advantage.

While telling his supporters it’s “fake news” from the “lamestream media”, he’s using the power of that media and the respect it commands to retain his support.
His supporters compare the “lamestream media” with Wikileaks, overlooking that Wikileaks operates through the “lamestream media” — it doesn’t release reports through extremist news sites because no-one believes a word they write. Doubtless when Wikileaks releases Trump’s tax returns it, too, will be dismissed as fake.

Thanks to his use of words, and his denigration of the media and the judicial system, people are comparing Trump to Hitler, which would seem to be ridiculous. Hitler was evil and is a caution against giving power to one man in times of trouble, but those times are not these times and Trump is more of a clot than a killer. The Economist recently described his business empire as “mediocre”, so he’s not even good at what he claims to be good at.

But ignoring the fact that post-WW1 Germany and modern America are completely different, the language used by Trump lacks the rigour of the Germans. Trump might talk about the working man, but that can’t compare to the specific loaded concept of the Nazi’s Volk (“the people”). Trump’s “special treatment” for criminal illegal immigrants means deportation not execution.

I raise all this not because there’s any point to it, but just because it’s all very interesting, at least as a journalist. But Trumpworld will have an effect locally, you can be sure, and it won’t be long before we start getting letters that refer to “fake news”. There’s none of that round here, of course.

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