What: A frightening look at the scourge of “false news” warnings invading local news broadcasts, courtesy of Sinclair Media.
Who: John Oliver and the team at Last Week Tonight.
Why we care: America has a fake news problem. By now it’s beyond any shadow of a doubt that Russia weaponized false information to interfere with the 2016 election. And just recently you might have heard that Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzales ripped up the Constitution (she didn’t), or that Parkland survivor David Hogg is a crisis actor (he isn’t). Fake news often spreads like a fire, and it’s an ongoing crisis that should generally be treated like a fire. Instead, President Trump has ignored the threat of actual fake news and appropriated the term as a means to dismiss unfavorable coverage of himself. Abetting him in that endeavor is Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Trump-friendly telecom company with direct ties to the White House.
Sinclair often feeds the local news stations it owns “must-run” stories on Trump-tastic topics like the threat posed by “the Deep State.” You know, the supposed shadow government chronicles in Steven Seagal’s novel? John Oliver and co. already covered Sinclair in great depth in a 2017 episode of Last Week Tonight. On the show’s most recent episode, however, Oliver had new reason to wade back in Sinclair’s murky waters. Last week, Deadspin created an unsettling viral video consisting of clips of news anchors all saying the same horrifying thing: a warning about the fakeness of mainstream media. In the supercut, a seemingly endless parade of local anchors all say the following, verbatim: “Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
This is what makes the fake news epidemic so dire. Trump-friendly media encourages the president’s base to be suspicious of mainstream media, which leads to acceptance of conspiracy theories and denial of reality. In essence, roughly a third of the country doesn’t believe real news anymore because fake news tells them the real news is fake. Watch Oliver nimbly parse the Sinclair issue in the clip below, which may have been the final straw that led to a Trump tweet on Monday morning.