“A few conservative critics predicted early on that the recent obsession with fake news would lead eventually to right-of-center newsrooms being lumped with the bad actors.
It looks increasingly likely that those critics were onto something.
Harvard University’s library website currently features a page titled, “Fake News, Misinformation, and Propaganda.”
The page URL even has the word “fake” in it.
This portion of the library’s website, which can be found in the “research guides” section, is intended to give students, “a brief introduction to the spread of misinformation of all kinds and tools for identifying it, and reading the news with a more informed eye,” according to the site.
The “fake news” page includes the aptly titled subsection: “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical ‘News’ Sources (Huge list of fake news sites).”
That subsection links to a massive online database, which lists nearly every legitimate conservative-leaning news groups alongside actual hoax websites.
The Washington Free Beacon, Independent Journal Review, the Daily Caller and the Washington Examiner are all on the list. Each is tagged with derogatory labels, including “clickbait,” “bias,” “unreliable,” “political” or a combination of the four.
The list also includes conservative commentary sites like TheBlaze, RedState and the Weekly Standard.
Legacy media organizations, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, are also excluded from the list, despite that they’ve bungled several recent Trump-related “scoops.”
The online database linked by Harvard’s library features a handful of well-known left-leaning news sites, including Raw Story and Think Progress. However, several notable left-of-center newsrooms, including Mother Jones, Vox.com, Media Matters and the Huffington Post are conspicuously absent. Several well-known liberal commentary sites, including Salon, Slate and the New Republic, are likewise missing from the list.
The database of “fake, false, or regularly misleading websites,” is not a Harvard creation. It was compiled last year by Merrimack College assistant professor Melissa Zimdars, who maintains it is being misrepresented by the press and others.
“[I]t’s not a fake news database,” she told the Examiner, adding that the project was intended originally for just her students.
Zimdars defended the database, saying, “there are quite a few left-of-center and far-left websites including in my resources, and I’m not sure why they are continually and purposefully disregarded to make points about my ‘bias’ (maybe you’re just unfamiliar with the websites, which may point to some of your own biases?).”
She said she has done her best to include websites from both the left and right side of the aisle, because she is concerned most about “informational integrity.”
“That being said,” she explained, “there are more conservative or right of center websites included in my resource partially because there are more of them (and partially because, perhaps, more of them have been submitted to me for analysis).”
“They’ve done a better job of constructing an alternative and robust mediasphere,” Zimdars added.
Along with clearly fake websites, her project, which was taken offline temporarily but is available now for viewing, features sites she claims, “may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information” or “sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions.”
The Washington Free Beacon, which is listed under “bias,” has won kudos from even left-of-center critics for its dogged reporting. Three years ago, for example, the Free Beacon obtained and published a list of donor pledges to the progressive group Democracy Alliance. After that, it unearthed and published rare audio of Hillary Clinton discussing how she defended an accused child rapist as his court-appointed attorney.
Independent Journal Review, which is labeled both “bias” and “unreliable,” most recently scooped everyone with a report confirming that Trump’s Supreme Court justice nominee would be Judge Neil Gorsuch.
The Daily Caller, which scored a hat-trick by being labeled “political,” “clickbait” and “unreliable,” is responsible for uncovering the bombshell story that Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, was paid more than $500,000 to represent Turkey’s government even as he campaigned with the then-GOP nominee.
The Washington Examiner, which earned the titles “political” and “unreliable,” has been at the forefront of uncovering the secret service’s many scandals, ethical lapses and professional missteps.
Zimdars defended her system of classification, telling the Examiner, “not every website is labeled as fake news. The tags political, unreliable, and even clickbait actually describe generally credible and verifiable content that supports a particular political perspective (tag: political), but that sometimes uses sensational/emotionally charged headlines or language (tag: clickbait) and should be read in conjunction with other sources (tag: unreliable).”
It’s worth noting there’s a difference between “fake news” and biased or sloppy journalism. There’s a difference between a “report” claiming Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump, which has no basis in reality, and journalists botching the details of a breaking news event or injecting political bias into their stories.
One problem with her database is that it groups 100 percent false stories, which are knowingly fabricated from thin air, with coverage she deems either too political, too clickbait-y or generally unreliable. There’s an obvious difference, however, between what the Daily Caller does and what a group of fake news teens in Macedonia do. Perhaps separate lists would help.
Zimdars concurred there is a big difference between a news group flubbing a story and websites “consistently (or purposefully) [publishing] misleading information.”
“I agree that the resource should be expanded to include even more sources to demonstrate the continuum of information to misinformation and disinformation, from credible sources of information to propaganda and fake news,” she concluded. “Hopefully, I will be able to do that soon.”
She stressed above all else that the database is not a list of “fake news.”
Someone should tell that to Harvard.
Her project first went viral last year after Hillary Clinton’s stunning and historic loss to Trump. It’s making a resurgence now following reports that Harvard is leaning on it as a resource.
As it turns out, Harvard isn’t even the first school to do this. City University of New York and Radford University have already instructed their students that the database should be used as a tool for identifying false information online.
A spokesperson for the Harvard library did not respond to the Examiner’s request for comment.”