The first time that you should've realized that there was something off about Wednesday night's highly-anticipated 2017 fake news awards was when the actual website of the Republican Party — which became the host of the awards with little notice from the White House, who conceived of and announced them — actually called them "The Highly-Anticipated 2017 Fake News Awards."
It wasn't their first choice: The president originally billed them as "THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR," as though his brain was stuck back in the days he appeared on the WWE.
"Highly," though, missed the mark. It's hard to imagine anyone other than the media and a few diehard Trump fans being really stoked for a list on a web page. And, the awards were delayed by nine days, which suggests that whatever anticipation they could get was engineered, stoked — or, to borrow a newly-presidential word, "goosed."
On the other hand, within one minute of Trump tweeting the link, the site timed out for at least half an hour. In which case, perhaps a better title would have been the "Even Higher Than Highly-Anticipated 2017 Fake News Awards, Hosted By An Organization That Failed To Allocate Resources to Satisfy Even Minimal Anticipation."
Whatever the name, there should have been a fallback plan. The website of America's business-savvy, market-hardened political party spent so much time down that they could at least have rolled out a funny vintage "UNDER CONSTRUCTION" image — anything, really, to prep you for a site whose main purpose is to get you to sign the guestbook so they can harvest your email address, bombard you with donation solicitations and rent it out within the political conservative ecosystem.
But then again, it's not as if the Republican Party has, within recent memory, indulgently vacillated between outrage and crocodile tears over failing to get a website to load.
Maybe, though, Trump and the Republicans weren't just wholly unprepared for the anticipation they swore was building and, instead, were employing the "Jaws" strategy. They wanted to keep the people from seeing the shark for as long as possible, because, after all that high anticipation, it looks fake as hell.
Get the think newsletter.
Consider the second sentence of the awards announcement (if you didn't give up trying to read it while the website was down): "Studies have shown that over 90% of the media’s coverage of President Trump is negative." Great, who cares. Studies conducted on the coffee mug shelf in my cabinet have shown that I am both the world's greatest grandpa and the world's greatest lover.
Besides which, a percentage of negativity substantiates no claims of falsehood. Studies have also shown that 100% of coverage of non-winning Super Bowl teams describes them as the losers.
And, the first "winner" on the list isn't even news, let alone reporting. It's from an op-ed by Paul Krugman. (For any newbies giving this "news thing" a whirl for the first time on this column, let me be clear: An opinion-editorial is an accurate accounting of someone's opinion, often about the news, and not accurate reporting on news events. Straight reporting would say, "The Fake News Awards failed to load for half an hour." An op-ed can reasonably and ethically say, "The Fake News Awards huffed chunks." For most regular consumers of the news, the distinction is normally clear.)
Also, not only is the first Fake News Award winner an op-ed, the opinion contained therein was a prediction. To continue the sports metaphor: If getting predictions wrong equaled fake news, then half the sports sections in the country should be thrown out for lying at the end of every Super Bowl.
The list goes on, but it doesn't get any less fake. Of the remaining 10 items, nine feature errors that are regrettable and regrettably a part of reporting. Reporters make mistakes, and the people they interview do too. Often, the people they interview try to mislead them. (To get a sense of what that might look like, one could watch an interview with anyone who works directly for the president.) The universe rains indifference on the daily struggle of everyday human beings to extrude a factual first draft of history, when it is not actively hostile to it.
Thankfully, news organizations outside of the fantastic alimentary voyage of Fox News, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, etc., are bound by ethical standards to confess to screw-ups. Of those nine remaining items on the Fake News Awards, each was corrected by the outlet reporting it; in some cases, people lost their jobs.
The consequences for errors in news reporting sound serious because they actually are: When you print or broadcast something that can change millions of minds or affect millions of decisions and get it wrong, you have an ethical responsibility to correct it.
But, if you're the president, as America is learning, accountability is only for your critics.
The 11th item on the awards list represents perhaps the only reason for the list's existence. It reads: "And last, but not least: 'RUSSIA COLLUSION!' Russian collusion is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people. THERE IS NO COLLUSION!"
The history of the president shouting "there is no collusion" is one of everybody watching evidence steadily accumulating around the thing that doesn't exist. Maybe it's just the guy's reporting loathing of leaks that makes the image spring to mind, but his exhausting repetition of "NO COLLUSION" is like a man on a stage shrieking that he has the world's most iron bladder, while a wet stain radiates out from his zipper area and improbably spreads both up and down the remainder of his clothes. Sure, theoretically, that wet mark could be caused by anything, but it's going to take a lot more than hot air to get the smell out.
Unfortunately for the president, hot air is all this list delivers. He busted an op-ed for not being factual, which only insults his audience. Then he caught the media in inaccuracies so dastardly that they voluntarily retracted them, corrected them and booted people out of jobs. The list itself is more fake than any of the "fake news" cited in it.
Trump handed out 11 awards for "fake news" in his first year in office but, as the Washington Post has noted, he's also made (at least) 2,000 false and misleading statements in the same span of time. Or, for roughly every one of these "fake news" items, the president has lied approximately 182 times.
As a lifelong bully, even Donald Trump must understand that his handing out awards for someone else lying is like that kid in 7th grade who wore suspenders, headgear and smelled of an unidentifiable ointment handing out the award for the world's biggest virgin.
Jeb Lund is a former political columnist and reporter for Rolling Stone and The Guardian. He has a podcast called This Week In Atrocity.