August 09, 2018
NEW YORK—So I have to admit, I’m one of the people who would wear the “Fake News” T-shirt that was on sale at the Newseum in Washington.
But you can’t buy it anymore.
After 24 hours of press attacks that amounted to “You’re making a mockery—a mockery, I say—out of the profession of journalism,” the museum supposedly dedicated to free speech expunged the “Fake News” T-shirt from their gift shop.
But since the reporting on the “Fake News” fiasco was not quite accurate—No! You’re kidding! How ironic! Really?—let me correct a few of the factoids:
First of all, it wasn’t a T-shirt. It’s what I would call a long-sleeved baseball shirt or rugby shirt.
Secondly, it doesn’t say “FAKE NEWS,” it says “You Are Very FAKE NEWS.” “You Are Very” in small letters above the much larger “FAKE NEWS.” In other words, it’s one of those New York City-style insult shirts.
Just the “You Are Very” alone would seem to indicate that whoever authored the shirt—the unfairly censored genius of this story—was probably not intending the shirt to say, “The American news media consists of a bunch of big fat liars.”
Unfortunately, the person working at the Poynter Institute who first became outraged by the sale of the shirt had not shopped on Amazon, Zazzle, or CafePress lately, because those sites and many others sell shirts with funny, imaginative, meme-worthy, logo-enhanced graphics with taglines like “Fake News Editor,” “FNN: Fake News Network,” and, most popular of all, “You Are Fake News.” (The innovation of the Newseum shirt was to add the word “very” to the more common “You Are Fake News.”)
What I love about “You Are Very Fake News” is that it sets the mind spinning as to who it’s directed at, where it’s intended to be worn, and what particular fakery it envisions as its target. For example, “You Are Very Fake News” could mean…
(1) Here we are at the Trump rally in matching T-shirts where soon we will be portrayed as jerks by the mainstream media.
(2) Here we are on the steps of the Supreme Court, surrounded by animals with $10,000 Sony shoulder-mounted news cameras—let’s give ’em something to photograph!
(3) We are all victims of out-of-control social media.
(4) We are all victims of mainstream media.
(5) I’m wearing this to your speech so you’ll know how much I despise you.
(6) I’m a hipster who likes to wear ambiguous pop culture slogans to craft-beer joints in Brooklyn.
I mean, the possibilities are endless.
But here’s where reporting on the “Fake News” shirt became, itself, fake news. (This is becoming so meta that it’s causing Marshall McLuhan’s zombified body to rise out of some moldy grave in Toronto to lecture in the nearest mausoleum.)
Reporting on the “Fake News” shirt became fake news itself when it proceeded from the assumption that “fake news” is a term coined by Donald Trump. The New York Times called it “a rallying cry for President Trump and his supporters,” and joined in the chorus of critics who said that “the idea that the shirt would be sold at a museum that honors journalists” was an outrage!
This is not how I remember it.
“Fake news” was used by President Obama long before it was used by Trump. It was used to describe websites based in Eastern Europe that pretended to be news agencies but were, in fact, fiction. Pure clickbait.
“FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide.”
Stuff like that.
But the first time “fake news” was used to attack a specific story was when Hillary Clinton used it to attack the Pizzagate hoax. If you’ll recall, sex slaves were being trafficked at a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant—only they weren’t, it was just internet gossip grown to gross proportions, and an unhinged dude burst into the restaurant one day with a rifle and a pistol, planning to bring down the sex traffickers and free the slaves. (Today the armed pizza liberator is where he should be—in prison.)
But in the course of rounding up people willing to be outraged about the Newseum selling a “Fake News” shirt, all roads inevitably led to Jim Acosta, the CNN reporter who is the only person in history to be accused of personifying fake news thanks to that moment when Trump turned to him and said, “You are fake news.” Acosta told the Times that, if the Newseum is “that strapped for cash, I’m happy to make a donation.”
All this resulted in the pulling of the shirt from the Newseum website and gift shop and the following official statement:
“We made a mistake and we apologize. A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people.”