The truth about fake news
US news editor Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson finds the roots of distrust run deep in Kentucky
Filmed and produced by Ben Marino. Graphics by Russel Birkett. Archive footage by Getty.
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Kentucky's Trump country A largely rural area known for his bourbon, thoroughbred horses, and coalmines, voters here chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in last year's election by almost 60% to 35%. It was a famously bitter campaign, and one in which the role played by the country's increasingly polarised media came under more scrutiny than ever.
As the US news editor for the Financial Times. I watched how my industry became part of the story. But sitting at a news desk in New York, I struggled to understand the animosity levelled against my fellow journalists in much of middle America. One year on, President Trump is fuming about the way he's being covered by most journalists, routinely branding outlets from CNN to The New York Times "fake news."
We will never be intimidated by the dishonest media operations, who will say anything--
--and do anything to get people to watch their screens or to get people to buy their failing papers.
According to one recent poll, almost half of all Americans and more than three-quarters of Republicans now believe the media routinely makes up stories about President Trump.
CNN, ABC, Fox-- I'm going to say 75% of the stories are true. But the facts aren't in the story. It's personal opinion.
For any journalist, this is hard to hear. So we've come to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to ask why Trump's fake news message has been so successful. We chose Bowling Green because in the early weeks of the Trump administration, it became an unwitting byword for fake news. Kellyanne Conway, counsellor to the president, defended his controversial travel ban by telling a TV interviewer it would keep out the kind of people who perpetrated the "Bowling Green massacre."
President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee programme after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalised, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people don't know that, because it didn't get covered.
The massacre never happened. But even in Bowling Green, many mistrust reporters more than they do White House spin.
Chris Karraker, the owner of Blue Collar Brewing Supplies, says he doubts that much of the journalism he consumes is true.
It's really hard to believe something that's not believable. You've heard the old saying, "it's too good to be true, it's not true." Common sense goes a long ways, and the problem is, is common sense just isn't that common anymore.
But if there's a consensus around the bar, it's that too much news coverage is negative, sensationalised, and overly opinionated.
Our kids are growing up bigger and stronger every year because we have food available. If you go hungry, that's your fault, because there's a government programme implemented that can get you food. We don't have to worry about being prosecuted because we believe in a certain god. We don't have to-- all these things are wonderful, and people don't want to focus on that anymore. They want to focus on all the negative, and all the bad stuff, and that's what people eat up.
Down the road from Karraker's bar, the family-owned Bowling Green Daily News has a solidly conservative editorial page, but Joe Imel, its director of media operations, battles to persuade some readers its news coverage is as straight-down-the-middle as possible. Imel discovered firsthand how sceptical some readers are about the news after Kellyanne Conway's misleading comments on Bowling Green.
There was a gentleman in Louisville, called up, and he said, I'm trying to reach somebody here that covered the Bowling Green massacre. And I said, sir-- I said, you've reached him. I was here, covered it as a photojournalist. And there was no massacre. There was no violence. Nobody died that day. It was-- He said, well, you know, are you sure? Really? And I said, sir, please.
Confidence in the media and trust in the media is won at our level, is every day, one on one, my reporter going out and talking to the mayor and talking to the city commissioners and talking to the man on the street. We're the ones sitting down covering the day-in and day-out things.
But Joe Imel isn't the only journalist in Britain who's fighting for his industry's credibility. A short drive from the Daily News presses, we met a group of journalism students at Western Kentucky University who are contemplating careers in a profession that finds itself under attack.
Here I am, trying to get a degree, and I'm trying to help people. And they're accusing me of just lying to them. But I'm like, I'm not. You've got to understand, I'm just got to get down the facts first.
I asked Chuck Clark, who oversees the student paper, whether he thought his young reporters could change the fake news script and earn back the trust American journalism has lost.
I think that war is winnable, because ultimately, this country will rise and fall on whether journalism survives, because there is no other independent check on power.
There's little doubt that Donald Trump has managed to elevate conservative suspicions about mainstream national news coverage. A 45-minute drive north from Bowling Green in deep red Ohio County, Lee and Dustin Bratcher see another sobering message for journalists in Donald Trump's success. The two sons of a coal miner founded a hyper-local news site called the Ohio County Monitor. Journalists may like to think of themselves as great communicators, but they tell me the media has simply failed to connect with middle America in the way the president has.
Donald Trump tapped into something that really sucked people in. And like I said, it could be that he was one of the first politicians in a long time that really spoke to them. And when you hear someone that really kind of speaks to you and tells you what you want to hear, and you're fired up, and you're into it, it's almost like a religious experience, so to speak, I think. A lot of people were converted to Trump.
For many people in Kentucky and beyond, their problem with the media's coverage of President Trump is simply how much of it there is, and how febrile it can make America feel some days.
I mean, it's something every day.
Oh no, not at all.
And yes, it's his fault, but it's like, news people are outside in the bushes waiting to jump out and go, all right Who got my new one! And then you run up the flagpole, see if it-- see if people salute, and then, oh, well, we can talk about this for three days!
As Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election gathers pace, America's most partisan media outlets are telling starkly different stories about the Trump presidency and the campaign that preceded it. Voters' confidence in the facts, what happens next, will depend in large part on which of those narratives they believe, in Bowling Green and beyond Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, Financial Times, Bowling Green