What is fake news? Professor weighs in following Trump news conference

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KNOXVILLE (WATE/AP) – During his press conference Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump fielded many questions about an article published Tuesday night by BuzzFeed News about his alleged ties with Russia. Trump denied all claims in the report and said it was “fake news.”

Trump denounces ‘disgrace’ of reports of Russian ties to him

Coming hours after news reports revealed intelligence officials had presented Trump with unsubstantiated and salacious allegations regarding his relationship to Russia, Trump and his team opened the news conference by condemning news organizations that disclosed details, calling out CNN and BuzzFeed as “disgraceful.”

He later refused to let CNN reporter Jim Acosta ask a question, saying, “Your organization is terrible” and demanding that he be “quiet” and allow another reporter a turn.

“I am not going to give you a question,” Trump said, ignoring Acosta’s requests. “You are fake news.”

Trump isn’t the only one questioning BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the material. The dossier contains unproven information largely attributed to anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not authenticated any of the claims and Trump has strongly denied all of the accusations.

A CNN spokesman said in a statement: “We are fully confident in our reporting. It represents the core of what the First Amendment protects, informing the people of the inner workings of their government.”

BuzzFeed News’ editor-in-chief said in a statement that the online outlet published the document because its mission is to be “transparent in our journalism.”

In turn, Trump was transparent in how he plans to deal with this press corps.

When he called on the Breitbart reporter, he was asked his thoughts on media ethics and so-called “fake news.”

“Some of the media outlets that I deal with are fake news more so than anybody. I could name them, but I won’t bother, but you have a few sitting right in front of us. They’re very, very dishonest people, but I think it’s just something we’re going to have to live with,” he said. “I guess the advantage I have is that I can speak back.”

Nicholas Geidner with the University of Tennessee’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media says people should remember that “fake news” should only be used for news items that the publisher knows are fictitious, rather than just news that a person disagrees with.

“That’s really different than what CNN or BuzzFeed did yesterday, where they released information that was unverified. CNN verified what they released and BuzzFeed released a 35-page dossier. That was unverified information, but the dossier was real. That was a thing the intelligence community had looked through and they said it was credible enough to take to the president and president-elect. I think that is very different than thinking of it as fake news,” said Geidner.

Geidner says fake news isn’t a new phenomenon, but the popularity of social media has made it easier to access.

“There’s been newsletters going around for years and years saying the moon landing never happened. That happened, but you needed to get on that mailing list to get that newsletter to read that crazy, fake news. Now you can just get it shared to you,” he said.

Geidner says people should seek out multiple sources for news items and read as much as they can.

“Us local news organizations need to be out front of reporting what is actually affecting people, because I think a lot of these fake news stories don’t affect us on a day-to-day basis, which is why I think we can take fake news – because it doesn’t really matter,” he said.