The New York Times exposed the threat of fake news even before the election of Donald Trump two weeks ago, arguing that spreading faulty information is a threat to the Republic.
The paper highlighted alt-right conspiracy websites publishing outrageous lies masquerading as news in a piece headlined "Journalism's Next Challenge: Overcoming the Threat of Fake News." The Times interviewed journalists and "longtime critic of fake news" Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) about how credulous Americans often fall for narratives that confirm their pre-existing biases without proper vetting from objective reporters.
"If you have a society where people can't agree on basic facts, how do you have a functioning democracy?" asked one D.C. editor.
The answer could be found on social media. "Folks, subscribe to a paper. Democracy demands it," one Times reporter wrote. Another added, "Or don't. You'll get what you pay for."
Times readers had the inside scoop that the nation was witnessing "Hispanics Surge to Polls," which would serve as the mortar in Hillary Clinton's blue wall. The surge would not have been possible without the Clinton campaign, which was "Looking to Expand Lead With Hispanics" through Spanish-language ads and get-out-the-vote operations, as the Times reported on Oct. 2.
The New York Times‘ report on "dangerously fake news" ran alongside a report that "Hispanic America has been mobilized like never before in the 2016 election, and is emerging as a formidable force with the power to elect a president."
"Energized by anger at Mr. Trump and an aggressive Democratic campaign to get them to the polls, Latinos are turning out in record numbers and could make the difference in the outcome in several highly contested states," the Times reported.
The Times did not just rely on shoe leather but on hard facts so often missing from fake news sites. Without data, those susceptible to fake news can be led astray, such as the Pennsylvania voters who insisted Trump would win the state—a belief shared only by those trapped in a "bubble of such devoted [Trump] followers." If Trump supporters ventured outside of their bubble, they would have known that "Trump Can't Count on Those ‘Missing White Voters.'"
Times subscribers were told that reports of a Latino surge were backed up by the data: "The Hispanic Voter Surge Was a Myth in 2012. But Not This Time."
"The surge is real, and it's big. It could be enough to overcome Mr. Trump's strength among white working-class voters in the swing states of Florida and Nevada. If it does, it will almost certainly win her the election," the Times reported.
Hispanics represented 11 percent of the electorate in 2016, the same as its 2012 share of the vote. Trump performed better with those voters than Mitt Romney did in 2012, according to exit polls. The election results were no better for the other groups that Times promised its readers would flock to Hillary and rebuke Trump: He won 8 percent of black voters, not the 4 percent that the Times said he would. Hillary also failed to garner the 20-point edge among women the Times suggested she would win, nabbing only 54 percent of the female vote.
The daunting poll numbers Trump faced led the Times to ask "Is This Election Over" on an Oct. 18 podcast, as Clinton's chance of victory creeped up to 91 percent. The podcast came the same day the Times reported that the Clinton campaign aimed to turn a sure-fire victory into a blow-out with "its most ambitious push yet into traditionally right-leaning states."
The GOP was in danger of losing statehouses across the country, while Clinton hoped a mandate and coattails would give Democrats control of the House and Senate. North Carolina was in play. So was Texas. Democrats were instructed "don't gloat," while reporters wondered how Republicans would address the "crucial and onerous decisions" to stonewall or negotiate with Clinton because "Mrs. Clinton is also viewed as someone capable of breaking the ice with congressional Republican leaders."
With the race already decided, the Times turned its focus to the biggest storyline of the last two weeks of the election: Trump supporters rioting in the streets prompted by the billionaire's insistence that the vote was rigged.
As Times correspondents worried that Trump would echo the rhetoric "of dictators who seize power by force and firebrand populists who weaken democracy for personal gain," The paper reported that "Trump's Threat to Reject Election Outcome Alarms Scholars. Trump's campaign also had "Experts Thinking of ‘Tin-Pot Dictators.'" Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani's FBI connections were "giving Joseph McCarthy a run for his money."
No one felt the threat of Trump's looming fascism as acutely as the news media.
"Partisan Crowds at Trump Rallies Menace and Frighten News Media," the paper reported on Oct. 15. Two days later the tone went from menacing to "sinister," as news organizations began "providing security for staff members covering Trump rallies." A child reporter from Scholastic was alarmed by the dangerous chorus of boos directed at the press by Trump. Meanwhile, "Hair Force One" was notorious for bumpy landings, "an apt metaphor for Donald J. Trump's entire presidential run: chaotic, turbulent and skittering just on the edge of disaster."
Times readers were also exposed to the human sides of each candidate. They learned how Trump was giving pre-school classes the opportunity to dialogue about bullying and fat shaming and toxic masculinity.
They also learned of "Hillary Clinton's strategic laughter" and why researchers want Americans to stop laughing at inappropriate and offensive comments. The Times campaign coverage peaked on Nov. 6, when a reporter observed that Clinton was exhibiting "an unfamiliar sense of abandon and joy."
"She’s drenched now, her voice hoarse. The storm is mussing her hair. It’s time to leave the stage. But just before doing so, she turns and raises both arms, giving herself up to the storm and the moment—and the looming end of this adventure," the Times reported.
On Oct. 2, the Times reported that the stock market would nosedive following a Trump win, making "a Trump victory … a bit worse than 9/11."
Following Trump's victory, the stock market enjoyed its best week since 2011.
The fake journalism that helped elect Donald Trump is now enemy number one for the fourth estate.
"The cure for fake journalism is an overwhelming dose of good journalism. And how well the news media gets through its postelection hangover will have a lot to do with how the next chapter in the American political story is told," one Times writer noted shortly before Trump's massive victory.