Fake News isn’t New
“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!” (Trump). According to Donald Trump, said “Mainstream Media” consists of sources such as CNN, NBC News, and The New York Times. The aforementioned sources have been notable frontrunners in the media for decades, garnering millions of viewers and readers. Trump degrades such sources, labeling them as “fake news,” solely because they report news that is often unfavorable towards him and does not align with his beliefs. The assertion of “fake news” is something that has been normalized and even popularized since Donald Trump’s rise in politics. However, “fake news” is nothing new. Similar to how individuals like Trump view credible news sources as a threat to the integrity of the United States and its people, past reliable news sources have been afflicted with this same treatment. The fact that this is not the first time credible media has been deemed controversial or radical by those that oppose the contents of the publications is unfortunate but very much a reality.
The rise of technology introduced new ways for people to share information and to broadcast news to people. The use of more advanced platforms such as radio shows and television broadcasts made the news even more accessible to the people. However, print still prevails as an effective way of communicating to the general public, as it can be published in newspapers, pamphlets, magazines, newsletters, and more. Although the prominent news sources of today have a presence in all forms of journalisms, twentieth century publications found their voice in print. Two prominent twentieth century publications that were controversial in their times and, like the more liberal publications of the 21st century, would arguably be considered “fake news” by the President due to their candidness, are The Liberator and The Village Voice.
Both established in New York City, the two publications held no relation aside from their content. Their honest, unforgiving content. The Liberator ran from 1918-1924 and the Village Voice ran from 1955-2018, and they both served as a voice for the people of the 1900s. Setting up shop in New York City ensured a close proximity to all political, social, and economic news that was worth reporting. Each publication pulled readers from similar crowds. They existed in times during which the more liberal perspectives were considered radical, so most of their readers were people who found issue with the views of the majority. Both publications came after The Masses, a magazine of socialist politics that ran in the United States for nearly six years from 1911-1917. Despite its popularity, the publication was shut down by federal prosecutors after they brought charges against The Masses’ editors for allegedly violating the Espionage Act (Davenport).
Although The Masses was short-lived, it paved the way for publications like The Liberator and The Village Voice. Max Eastman served as an editor for The Masses and later went on to head The Liberator. In explaining the impact of the publication on society, New York City, and other media outlets, Eastman said, “The birth of The Masses coincided with the birth of ‘Greenwich Village’ as a self-conscious entity, an American Bohemia or gipsy-minded Latin Quarter, but its relations with that entity were not simple” (Davenport). The magazine made a name for itself within leftist print culture, printing pieces that pertained to Progressive Era reforms and condemning other publications that failed to use their voice for good. The total loss of a publication like The Masses would have left a void in New York City. Therefore, the creation of its successor, The Liberator, in 1918 kept the honest commentary alive in the Villages throughout the early twentieth century.
Founded one year after the termination of The Masses, The Liberator was created by Max and Crystal Eastman. Its goal? To continue the important, debatable conversations fostered in its predecessor. Similar to The Masses, the contents of The Liberator differed from the average magazine, in that the intensely political magazine included an extensive collection of art, fiction, and poetry, in addition to the political reporting and commentary. The Eastmans sought to avoid the political controversy that had led to the demise of The Liberator’s predecessor while continuing to support aspects of the socialist and labor movement on a smaller scale (“The Liberator”).
In making a name for itself, The Liberator successfully created a global presence. Famed writers such as John Reed, Robert Minor, Hiram K. Moderwell, and Frederick Kuh reported on international news with great detail and understanding, delivering relevant news to the magazine’s readers. The accuracy and importance of The Liberator’s contents have secured its reputation as a reliable source on politics of the time til this very day. However, its contents were far more extreme and expressive than its competitors. Thus, despite its success in journalism, it ran into issues both financially and motivationally in 1922. Editor Max Eastman began to pursue other opportunities, putting Floyd Dell in charge. Dell’s more artistic and abstract take on the publication forced it to place more of an emphasis on art and culture than on political matters which, in turn, made The Liberator lose some of its credibility. The loss of funding and support led to its union with the magazines of the Workers Party and other socialist groups. An advertisement for the new publication that came out of the collaboration of the preexisting publications is featured in The Liberator’s final issue (“The Liberator”).
The Liberator’s final issue is indicative of the work it produced. Each issue is filled to the brim with pertinent information that other publications might have skimped on. Within the first few pages of the final issue, published in October 1924, readers can find an advertisement for “The Communist International,” several political cartoons, and, most notably, an article that announces The Workers Monthly, a publication that promises to combine the works of The Labor Herald, the Soviet Russia Pictorial, and The Liberator. The article announces that the new publication is set to appear November 1st of that year and speaks to the political and industrial struggles of the day, delineating the reasoning as to why this change was necessary. It is followed by more titles of articles that grab the reader’s’ attention, such as “The Dismantling of Democracy” and “The Death of the Socialist Party,” as well as a series of reviews and controversial illustrations that could arguably be placed in a publication today and still be considered relevant.
Like The Liberator, The Village Voice sought to push boundaries. On the publication’s website, it states that since its founding in 1955, “. . . The Village Voice introduced free-form, high-spirited, and passionate journalism into the public discourse” (“About”). Since its first publication, The Village Voice diverged from its initial form as a newspaper, regularly uploading its content onto the Internet up until its downfall in 2018. Regardless of the form in which it was shared with the people, The Village Voice continued to “carry on the same tradition of no-holds-barred reporting and criticism it embraced when it began publishing 60 years ago” (“About”). Comparable to its predecessors, The Village Voice quite literally took on the voice of New York City, covering everything from theater to politics for its readers.
The Village Voice took great pride in its reputation as the country’s first alternative newsweekly. Editor and writer for the Voice, Camille Dodero said in an interview, “The alt-weekly’s purpose was, in theory, speaking truth to power and the ability to be irreverent, and print the word ‘f*ck’ when doing so” (O’Neil). Throughout its 63-year run, The Village Voice never failed to maintain its journalistic integrity. It was unforgiving in its delivery, covering scandalous news that most publications would not dare to report on. Editorial assistant Eric Sundermann said “The Voice was mad as sh*t, and unafraid of calling out bullsh*t—whether it was corrupt politicians or musicians who made sh*tty music. It was the voice of the people by the people. It captured the energy of New York City” (O’Neil). The paper itself was extremely progressive, being the first to show the country what true investigative journalism was. It covered controversial news from the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 to the Central Park jogger rape in 2002, the actual living conditions of the poor to corruption in politics, and topics even as minute as who the worst landlords are in New York City. It even featured the first in-depth expose of Donald Trump written by Wayne Barrett in the mid-1970s. While he is yet to deem Barrett’s work “fake news,” Trump has publically called the writer “a very bad writer,” “a second-rate writer,” and “a jerk” (Smith). Although Barrett has since passed, there is no doubt that reporters like him would be chastised today for the unforgiving words he wrote about our current president throughout his career.
This idea of reporting quite literally anything without repercussions brings the conversation back to today’s time, where nearly everything published receives some type of backlash. The existence of publications such as The Liberator and The Village Voice shows that it is in fact possible for our country to exist in a time where journalists do not have to compromise their journalistic and investigative integrity. There are some journalists today whose content resembles that of the aforementioned publications, as they are unforgiving in their delivery. One example of a journalist who does not shy away from sharing his honest opinion is CNN’s Don Lemon. Both reporter Don Lemon and president Donald Trump have clashed over the last few years, the most notable being the time Trump called Lemon “the dumbest man on television.” Lemon had his opportunity to clap back, stating his commitment to speaking his honest opinion in an interview, saying, “If the evidence is there, what do you want me to do, lie about it? I’m a journalist. I have to give the facts and the truth. The truth and evidence points to him being a racist. He’s a racist. His policies and his words are racist, end of story. That’s not a debate” (Brest).
If we can strive towards delivering the same frank, important news that our predecessors did, then journalism might stand a chance of surviving the move from print to online publications. The Village Voice shifted from print to online in 2017, and, within a year, ceased to exist. The key is finding a balance between creating a publication that speaks the truth, without a filter, but still manages to stay in the good graces of the general public for financial and logistical reasons. Maintaining a voice for the people is crucial to the longevity of our country. Whether it is reporting on the best concert venue in the city or the corruption of political candidate, the people deserve to know what is occurring in the world around them. By discounting the works of controversial sources, opposers can create a mistrust in journalism which would be detrimental to the freedom of speech that our country prides itself in.