Media Nolan Higdon

From Fake News to Junk News: Gabriela Miranda Is the Symptom, Not the Problem

Nolan Higdon turns a critical eye on the latest case of journalistic malpractice to rock the media world.
Project Censored

By Nolan Higdon / Project Censored

On June 16, 2022, USA Today announced that it would remove 23 stories written by their breaking news reporterGabriela Miranda from its archive. The decision came after an internal audit found that the stories were fake news. Miranda had included quotes attributed to the wrong person and in some cases non-existent individuals. A quick perusal of the stories reveals that Miranda was not an overzealous reporter cutting corners in the name of fearless journalism. Rather, she was an ambitious young reporter producing the very non-newsworthy clickbait that corporate legacy media rewards. Here a few choice examples:

Quality journalism is newsworthy, meaning it is new, unusual, interesting, significant, and is a story of human interest.  For decadesscholars have warned that in its pursuit of profits, corporate legacy media had abandoned journalism. Today’s corporate news does not reward quality journalism; like the days of “yellow journalism” a hundred years ago, it promotes trivial content that can now go viral online. Forty years ago, Project Censored founder Carl Jensen referred to a revival of this type of content as “junk food news” because just as fast food falsely appears to be decent food, junk food news is non-newsworthy, sensational garbage that appears to be sound journalism. 

The audit of Miranda’s consent reveals that in corporate legacy news media, those interested in career advancement must produce junk food news even if they have to make it up. Plenty of young people in the industry recognize this reality. After leaving college in 2021, Miranda spent just over a year producing false content as a journalist at The Gainesville Times  and USA TodayMiranda is not an outlier. 

Others such as the Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz, whose age is in dispute but is believed to be in her mid to late 30s, has made a lucrative career peddling non-newsworthy content and sloppy reporting. Indeed, in her position as a feature writer at WaPo, Lorenz publicly identified the person who ran the Libs of TikTok account, leading to that user being doxxed. The episode illustrates that WaPo has veered a long way off from when its journalists were known for investigative reporting that took down a sitting president in Richard Nixon. Now, they laud their reporters for identifying insignificant social media users.

Lorenz has not only been accused of reporting junk food news, but just like Miranda, she is accused of reporting falsehoods. In 2020, while at The New York Times, Lorenz was sued for defamation by influencer talent agent and entrepreneur Ariadna Jacob for “numerous false and disparaging statements.” The case is still pending. In June of 2022, it was revealed by the New York Times that Lorenz fabricated two interviews with YouTubers during the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial. As a result, Lorenz was demoted from her position as a feature writer at WaPo

The junk food news from corporate reporters such as Miranda and Lorenz would be harmless if it did not distract audiences from quality journalism. This was made painfully clear on a June 2022 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. Host Bill Maher, who seems up to date on every trivial matter reported by MSNBC, was flabbergasted when his guest, Krystal Ball, noted that the majority of government relief funds  allocated in response to the March 2020 stock market crash during the COVID-19 pandemic went to industry not individuals. Rather than disagree, Maher admitted he had no recollection of the crash or the funds allocated to industry. That helps explain why Maher was parroting the vacuous corporate legacy media talking point that the tiny part of government spending allocated to individuals was responsible for inflation. 

Rather than take responsibility for developing a media system that rewards falsehoods and junk food news, corporate news media is largely defensive. For example, CNN developed Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources which argues weekly that the network’s competitors are peddling in falsehoods, but CNN is a bastion of true journalism in the U.S. However, Stelter, at 36 years old, is yet another younger person enamored with peddling junk food news and falsehoods. For example, he buckled under pressure when Stephen Colbert, a late night comedian, inquired about how CNN had allowed host Chris Cuomo to excuse improprieties by his brother then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Stelter said it was a “conundrum” for CNN because nothing like this had ever happened before. He claimed “if we open the journalism ethics book, there’s no page for this.” In fact, journalistic codes of ethics always include language about how reporters need to be independent of conflicts of interest and avoid even their appearance. 

Rather than rely on falsehoods as he did on Colbert, Stelter often just avoids questions about CNN’s journalistic failures.  In 2022, he shamelessly avoided a college student’s question about that cited specific examples where CNN’s reporting was inaccurate. Similarly, he reacted with confusion when a Yale University Professor, on his own program, made the case that CNN was a partisan network. 

Just like the fall of Rome, the decline of American journalism is slow, but obvious to even the most nascent observer. The New York Times, who broke the USA Today story, is an interesting case study of this trajectory. Nearly, two decades earlier they – and the Boston Globe – published stories fabricated by Jayson Blair for years which included fables about the D.C. Sniper and U.S. invasion of Iraq. They seemed to have learned little from Blair because they soon published fake news stories abou non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq from Judith Miller, which helped sell the American public on invading Iraq in 2003. Even after they promised to recommit themselves to journalism following Trump’s election, the New York Times published a podcast called Caliphate, about a Canadian who joined Isis and lived to tell about it, which proved to be false. These stories illustrate the corrosive damage caused by corporate legacy media peddling fake news.

It seems clear that today’s journalists want to be seen as brave truth tellers, but refuse to do the hard work that sound investigative reporting requires. They would rather fabricate stories and virtue signal on social media for more clicks, shares, and likes. Too many ambitious media figures rightly recognize that fabricating sensational content will advance their career in corporate legacy media. 

Nolan Higdon

Nolan Higdon is a Project Censored judge and lecturer at Merrill College and University of California, Santa Cruz.  

11 comments

  1. Turn Them Off!

    They make money from your eyeballs. You have the free choice to deny them that money.

    And, in TV sales pitch terms, here’s the Extra Bonus. You keep their propaganda out of your brain. You keep their ‘junk food news’ from distracting you from what’s really important in your world, in your life. And you are less likely to believe that Saddam is developing nuclear weapons in the basement of his palace.

    Turn Them Off!

    It denies them money. And it keeps them out of your brain.

    1. Yes. I don’t watch anything, certainly not any type of “news.” Every once in a while I’ll catch a bit of it in a bar or at a party, and it’s just as awful as ever, especially when it involves “foreign affairs.”

  2. Your indictment is a bit over road don’t you think. Your brush paints all journalists but I think your mention just four of five over the last 20 years who have violated journalistic ethics, and I think all of them were dismissed by their employer.

    There are all most 7,000 journalists in the U.S. By your math, maybe one out of a thousand are dishonest.

    A highly ethical profession I would say.

    1. So they need to what actually go journalist by journalist to have 6,500 examples of corruption? Its easier to look at the voids where a good journalist would have, and should have, existed.
      Lets take the WMD lie for instance. It wasn’t a particularly robust lie and any real digging would have given it away. Given that it was the foreign policy story of its time it should have been investigated and quickly debunked by all the outlets not named NYT – after all what could be finer journalism than proving your competitors are lying the country into a war? Instead every last one of the big media outlets, and almost* all their “journalists” amplified and spread the lie.
      That one instance alone lets you dismiss all* foreign policy journalists as not just corrupt and/or lazy but terrible human beings in general.

      *there were a few who tried and were forced out of their jobs/resigned in protest. Very few.

      1. Well, your a bit short on evidence. Let’s say there were 500 serious American journalists looking into WMD. And they all failed. They could be corrupt but what is there motive in facilitating a war—-all 500.

        And remember you have indicted 7,000 American journalists, almost all of whom were not covering WMD

        They journalists covering WMD could have been mistaken, or lazy, or disbelieving. Or, the Bush administration, controlling All the levers of information, could have been doing a pretty good job of disinformation.

        You have offered no evidence of corruption and your argument is poorly supported and very weak.

      2. nothing is published in USA unless it reflects fascist ruling class ideology…Hofstadter a consensus historian described amerikan academics as “technicians that serve power with a thin understanding of everything”…..I suspect many continue to believe the ubiquitous lies published in all media—WMD’s in Iraq

  3. Describing the Lorenz “Libs of Tik Tok” story that way is ridiculous, you’re just regurgitating right-wing propaganda that was engineered to take attention away from the woman whipping up hate against gay and trans people.

    1. “no people pay as much attention to journalism as amerikans: the liberal media most distorts the truth in USA….the amerikan liberal/progressive wants to preserve the essence of the past, the amerikan conservative wants more and more progress. the European radical wants to hasten the transformation of the future, the European conservative wants to preserve the essence of the past”. Geoffrey Gorer

      1. Are you an “American?”

        If so, will you describe such a person to us?

  4. US television designed for the 9 yr mind provide what is desired….hofstdter perceived that amerikans rejected the truth and preferred fake news —that US journalists are required to provide the lies they cherish

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