Review The book Not Exactly Lying.

Not Exactly Lying: The Persistence and Impact of Fake News and Disinformation.

Not Exactly Lying

The phenomenon of fake news has been prevalent throughout American history, and it has always been a tool for those seeking to manipulate public opinion. Disinformation is often motivated by personal or ideological goals, leading to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, violence, and racism. The manipulation of truth and falsehoods blurs the lines between reality and falsehoods. As a result, journalistic practices have always had to grapple with the challenge of distinguishing between fact and fiction.

At the beginning of the 20th century, journalists were determined to improve the reputation of their profession by setting professional standards and aiming for objectivity. This involved a mix of strong reporting, partisan criticism, long anecdotes, flowery topics, and even nonsense. However, despite these efforts, propaganda and disinformation continue to be framed as real news, whether in print, on radio, on television, or online.

Tucher's work highlights the fact that fake news is not a new phenomenon, and that it has always been a threat to the integrity of journalism and the well-being of society. By examining the history of fake news in America, Tucher offers a valuable perspective on the ways in which journalism can play a role in countering disinformation and promoting truth.American newspapers have a long history of publishing stories that are not entirely accurate, well before the current preoccupation with "fake news." 

This manipulation of truth and falsehoods has been present for over three centuries, blurring the line between what is true and what is not. Large newspapers have even published conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama's hometown, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and entrenching racism.

In her book "Not Exactly Lying": Fake News and Disinformation Journalism in American History," Columbia School of Journalism professor Andy Tucker explores how journalistic practices have often focused on disinformation throughout U.S. history. Published by Columbia University Press in 2022, Tucker's work is a timely reminder of the importance of distinguishing fact from fiction and the need for ethical journalism in countering disinformation.

The impact of fake news:

Author Jeff Rockin's report, which was published by the London School of Economics (LSE), offers readers a detailed analysis of the origins, role, and impact of fake news in the past and present. This report will give readers a greater understanding of the subject.

In January 2017, Donald Trump's unexpected victory as president of the United States stunned much of America and the world. A day before the anti-Trump "women's march," new press secretary Sean Spicer accused mainstream media of left-liberal bias, revealing a key element of the White House's strategy: the campaign to discredit centrist journalism.

During his 4-year term, Trump dismissed press reports critical of him as "fake news" over 200 times a year on average. The concept of "fake news" sparked outrage in discussions across the country. In fact, about half of Americans remain skeptical about the fairness of mainstream media coverage.

To understand how U.S. politics has always revolved around "fake news," Andy Tucker writes several examples of partisan misleading news and its effects on the rise of "an early American republic founded on the revolutionary principle of denying government the power to undermine free speech or freedom of the press" in her first three chapters.

Tucker discusses early examples of the role of journalism, such as the escalation of skirmishes near the customs building in Boston in 1770, under British occupation and repression of American "colonizers". This resulted in the shooting and death of 5 American "colonists" by British soldiers. Instead of providing balanced coverage of the incident as an unfortunate incident resulting from poor communication and poor decision-making, as the author says, the Boston Gazette published an incendiary account of the tragedy and described the deaths as the result of a deliberate "horrific massacre."

Paul Revere's provocative "Bloody Massacre on King's Street," which propagandistically depicts British soldiers engaging in brutal violence, contributed to etching the myth of the "Boston Massacre" into the hearts and minds of Americans for political and historical purposes. This led to an 8-year bloody war between the two sides that ended in 1783.

In the fourth chapter of her book "Not Exactly Lying", Tucker measures the effectiveness of journalistic sensationalism and disinformation during the Spanish-American War of 1898, as presented by one of the most prominent and controversial journalists of the era, Richard Harding Davis. As an admirer of former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Davis wrote numerous articles glorifying America's later 26th president and his exploits in leading the "Mighty Knights" mission to seize the heights of San Juan, Cuba. Davis' novels strengthened Roosevelt's political standing as Governor of New York State (1898), Vice President (1900), and President of the United States (1901) following the assassination of his predecessor, William McKinley.

Press and power:

In the sixth chapter of the book "Not Exactly Lying", Tucker provides an example of pseudo-American reporting in the 20th century. In the early 1930s, shortly after consolidating the power of the still fragile Soviet Union, Soviet Prime Minister Joseph Stalin initiated a mass agrarian campaign aimed at peasants in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and other regions to quell any resistance to his authoritarian regime.

Due to the Soviet Union's militarization of food, over two years, more than one and a half million men, women, and children died of hunger, particularly in Soviet Kazakhstan, where the "Kazakh famine of 1930-1933" or the "Gulshkin genocide" claimed the lives of up to half of the country's ethnic Kazakh population.

Despite the unfathomable suffering, Walter Duranty, a New York Times reporter and recipient of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, not only denied the existence of famine on Soviet territory due to his ideological leanings in favor of the Kremlin but also rejected the physical evidence presented by contemporary journalists as some sort of "fake news." On November 16, 1933, Roosevelt formally recognized the Soviet Union.


In "Not Exactly Lying" author Paul River exposes scathing racial bias and the use of print media as a tool to maintain white supremacy over black people by promoting misleading and degrading stereotypes. This ultimately leads to intimidation and violence against African Americans. False or distorted accounts of black men raping white women have perpetuated the ongoing economic and political exclusion of African Americans, often resulting in extrajudicial violence in the form of mass executions.

Ida Wells, an African-American investigative journalist from 1862-1931, revealed that accounts of black rape of whites were fake news, highlighting the media's poor news promotion. She won acclaim from journalists for her efforts in exposing the issue of media abuse, but faced condemnation from pro-slavery racist militants in the Confederate States of America. Andy Tucker, the author, believes that Wells deserves to be recognized as a role model in the fight against fake news, in addition to her significant contributions to civil rights.

In today's Internet age, disinformation outlets, conspiracy theories, and blogs containing misinformation, as well as propaganda narratives based on political agendas, have flooded society with fake news at the expense of the truth. Newspapers in the American South that defended white supremacy before the civil rights movement (1896-1954) paved the way for extrajudicial executions of African Americans by denying them the title of master and referring to them as "Negro" and "Negro," which was previously used in slave auctions.