Tempers Flare as 'Fake News' Chant Takes on a British Accent

July 14, 2018

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

By J.D. Durkin

LONDON - While I was silently practicing the pronunciation of Trafalgar and preparing for my next on-air shot, I hadn’t realized that a woman was intently watching me not far from our camera, waiting for me to speak.

Within a few moments after beginning my delivery, anyone within 15 feet easily could have heard her blurt out one unmistakable word: “dishonest!”

What followed was a small series of intentional and searing interruptions while I tried to record a segment on the day’s anti-Trump protests — including the classic but overused “you’re fake news.” The woman was one of many Londoners I met on Friday who expressed a strong suspicion of the media — with a blunt-force urge to convey that fact to us.

For the next five minutes she and I spoke forcefully on the manner back and forth, even as she followed us to our next live shot position to harangue us some more. She could not point to anything specifically wrong with my reporting she thought was dishonest, just that she was not a fan of the idea of the “fake news media.” She knew nothing about Cheddar nor about me, but that didn’t matter: we were American reporters. Protests are big. Immigration is hot. People are angry. Open borders. Law and order. Safety. Trump.

Since we landed in England it was clear that many conservative supporters of the Brexit movement would use the weekend of otherwise anti-Trump rallies to stir the pot and work the soy-sipping libs into a frenzy. They were loud, forward, effective — and they are very clear in their hostility toward the news media.

My colleague Samantha Tadelman — whose Herculean feats of strength in recent days have included hauling 100+ pounds of gear casually throughout Europe — and I saw firsthand how the UK is grappling with all the issues that have roiled U.S.: national identity, immigration, and citizenship. And just as in the U.S., these issues have produced an often harsh and aggressive passion that boils over in confrontations such as those I had on Friday.

At the scene of the Trump balloon baby Friday morning, I found myself on more than one occasion on the receiving end of confrontations with different media hecklers. One called me “total scum,” while another person settled on calling me, strangely, “a bootlicker for George Soros.” Here in London, they are well-versed on the U.S. president’s criticisms against the news media, even mimicking Trump’s cadence as they repeated his popular insults verbatim.

Not all of this anger, though, can be traced directly to Donald Trump. Months before his election, the Brexit referendum, which puts the UK on a path to leave the European Union, stirred intense passions here, driven largely by concerns over immigration. But the American president has clearly given Britons (and others around the world) useful soundbites to help channel their passions.

As for the actual “rally-goers” — the majority of the crowds who showed up to protest against the President — the vibe was more reminiscent of a Women’s March: inequality, climate change, feminism, etc. All are welcome here, was the message and most offered some variation of “Trump is a bad actor and we can’t believe he’s president.” Some British infants, no older than 2-years-old, were dressed in anti-Trump gear with their parents.

Tempers flared in London. I tried my best, but I don’t think I changed the previously-held opinion of a single person I engaged with on the issue of “fake news” being the enemy of the people. For now, in this bizarre and uncertain time in the history of global democracies, the media is perceived, by many, to be the enemy actively working against their interests.

The biggest paradox of the experience is that while I was fending off people in London distrustful of the reporters, the President was two hours away openly mocking news outlets that posed critical questions at a news conference with Prime Minister Theresa May. The President slammed U.S. journalists Friday — while on foreign soil — another subtle green light, perhaps, to Americans and foreigners alike to accuse U.S. reporters of being "dishonest."