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Report card on the state of the nation’s free press reveals dueling realities. President Trump’s attacks on the media and the actions of his administration have emboldened journalists to pursue watchdog and accountability reporting. At the same time, perceived biases among media outlets have eroded the public’s trust.
President Trump’s campaign to discredit the news media has spread to state and local officials, who are echoing his use of the term “fake news” as a weapon against unflattering stories and information that can tarnish their images. The term has become ubiquitous as a signal to a politician’s supporters to ignore legitimate reporting, as a smear to the dwindling local press corps and as a way for conservatives to push back against what they see as media bias.
The rise of social media as a main conduit for news and advertising offers dark spaces to political candidates where journalists can’t observe their campaign activities. Much of what is packaged as campaign-related news on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is false, and the platforms so far have not disclosed who pays for online ads. News and ads can be highly targeted to specific audiences, making it difficult for journalists to even know what information is being spread.