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WFNGW: How the White House mistook a farcical spoof for “real news”

In ‘When Fast News Goes Wrong’, we expose the quirks of hyper-fast online news, reporting on premature conclusions, social media misfires and hoaxes taken at face value.

As President Trump is in the habit of pointing out, what he likes to brand as “fake news” can often be difficult to spot. So a large part of the administration’s communication strategy since he took office has been geared towards steering the public in a non-fake direction, both with blanket warnings like this…

… and with its recommendations of more trustworthy stories, which are published each morning on the White House blog, 1600 Daily (as in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), alongside updates on the president’s itinerary and other important Oval Office business of the day.

Despite the White House’s vigilant vetting of the media, though, it seems that fake news is so insidious that even stories that explicitly bill themselves as fake can slip through the net. Especially if you don’t read past the headline, as was apparently the case on 17th March, with the person who placed a link on 1600 Daily to a piece from The Washington Post entitled “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why”. Those who clicked on the link would have quickly realised the article, by Post columnist Alexandra Petri, was a satirical response to Trump’s stringent proposal for the federal budget, officially announced the previous day.

And it wasn’t particularly subtle satire at that. Petri’s first paragraph included the line: “Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has called it a ‘hard power budget’ which is, I think, the name of an exercise program where you eat only what you can catch, pump up your guns and then punch the impoverished in the face. This, conveniently, is also what the budget does.”

The parody went on to cite budget highlights such as “We are cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children: Let them FIGHT for their meat or have NONE”, and concluded with the deliriously macho exultation: “RAW POWER! HARD RAW POWER GRRRRRR HISSS POW! It will be great.”

The link to Petri’s piece had been removed by lunchtime, but the slip-up had been circulating on Twitter since shortly after 9am. Petri’s response to her story’s brief elevation to “real news” encompassed both bemusement…

… and giddy professional pride:

Reflecting in the Post later that day, she summed up her bizarre spell as an administration-endorsed “Trusted News Source, just like”: “This is 2017 in a nutshell: You start with what you think is obviously a joke, and then a few days later it is being sent out from the White House.”


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