President Trump has nurtured a dangerous hatred for the free press among his followers, with his constant screeching about “fake news” pushing millions of Americans to untether from reality completely and instead embrace demonstrable falsehoods and comforting lies.
The effects of this epistemological crisis are certain to be far-reaching and disastrous in the long-term but already we are seeing the first of them take hold.
A recent meme shared by Trump HUD official Lynne Patton on her Instagram perfectly encapsulates the deep mess the country currently finds itself in. As CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski points out, Patton shared an image stating that Anderson Cooper faked a shot for Hurricane Florence by standing in deep water.
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In reality, the image of Cooper is from his 2008 reportage on Hurricane Ike, not Florence, and he was standing in that spot to specifically demonstrate how water after a hurricane can be deceptively deep. There was nothing misleading about Cooper’s bit.
Patton either couldn’t be bothered to do a cursory search to see if the meme was factual, or she was taking a page out of Trump’s playbook by deliberately lying. Neither is acceptable behavior for a government official and the issue becomes legitimately terrifying when you game out the possible effects.
Patton is telling her followers that CNN lies about disasters to make them seem worse for ratings, which in turn could encourage those followers to dismiss warnings of impending disasters as “fake news.”
In a very real sense, this kind of messaging puts people’s lives in danger. Patton should issue an apology but, given the past behavior of this administration in general, that seems highly unlikely.