Since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, I’ve seen several photos of chalkboards in front of bookstores, reading something along the lines of, “Dystopian Fiction Has Now Been Moved to Current Events.”
It’s a good joke, and one that gets a lot of clicks and reposts on Facebook and Twitter. For a journalist, it also underscores the struggles of accurately describing current events when they do feel impossible, unreal, dystopian.
This election in particular was marked by debates about media, its biases and “fake”-ness, and even allegations of foreign propaganda. From the primaries to the cabinet selections, debates over the appropriate amount and tone of coverage raged and rage on.
The rise of “fake news” has led many to return to the idea of objectivity, blaming partisanship rather than sloppiness (or malice) for the spread of disinformation. Yet it has seemed many times since Trump’s election that the norms and practices of objective media are uniquely unsuited to covering the news in unreal times.
As Trump appoints a white nationalist Breitbart executive to run his team, puts a fast-food baron opposed to the minimum wage in charge of the Labor Department, and hands former Texas Gov. Rick Perry control over the department that he famously couldn’t remember he wanted to eliminate, it can be easy to believe more and more unbelievable things. Maintaining some ability to discern reality amidst all of this is both crucial and increasingly difficult.