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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Fake News Is the New Propaganda

Americans in 2018 have a hard time finding some news believable. Given the results of a poll taken nearly 80 years ago, our distrust of the news media has deep roots. 

(CN) – Americans in 2018 have a hard time finding some news believable. Given the results of a poll taken nearly 80 years ago, our distrust of the news media has deep roots.

A Gallup poll from 1939, taken just two weeks after the start of World War II, showed a large part of the public was skeptical about European news reports on the hostilities.

Two out of three people said they had no confidence in German news reports, while nearly one out of three said the same about English and French news.

The reason for their disbelief? Americans had a disdain for wartime news, brought on by years of propaganda accentuated by World War I. George Gallup addressed this problem in the poll’s introduction.

"Propaganda has grown to be one of the most powerful weapons of modern warfare – useful both in demoralizing enemy forces and in influencing the opinion of neutrals,” Gallup wrote. “How aware is the American public that propaganda is being used in the present war, and how effective has that propaganda been so far?"

Instead of government propaganda, Americans today say political bias affects news coverage and makes them less likely to trust what they read and see. In a Gallup poll released in January, only 33 percent of those surveyed said they had a favorable view of the news media.

Additionally, 45 percent of Americans said they think there is a “great deal” of political bias in modern news reporting.

The similarities between 1939 and 2018 are striking, especially considering the amount of right- and left-leaning media outlets sharing stories that turn out to be false.

In September 1939, the SS Athenia, a British civilian passenger liner, sank just west of the British Isles. While the British said the Germans were responsible, German media issued propaganda stating otherwise.

"The British have blamed the Athenia disaster on a torpedo from a U-boat,” Gallup wrote. “The German press, on the other hand, denied the torpedoing and even suggested that the passenger liner was sunk by the British in order to arouse anti-German sentiment."

According to a Gallup poll at the time, 60 percent of Americans thought Germany was responsible for the sinking, though 31 percent were unsure.

On Wednesday, Fox News claimed that texts between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok discussing President Barack Obama wanting to be informed about the investigation of Hillary Clinton was proof that the law enforcement agency was biased against Donald Trump.

It was later shown that the texts were taken out of context and Obama wanted to be informed about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections. Fox News has still not offered a correction to its story, even though several other media outlets flagged it.

It’s no wonder then that last month, 73 percent of Americans said inaccurate information posed a major concern and only 44 percent said they could name an objective news source. While the government may not run strong overt propaganda campaigns anymore, politically motivated news outlets appear to have picked up the slack and help continue a distrust of the news.

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