Fake News and Europe: Part 1
Anti-Europeanism in the American media
The concept of fake news has become a conspicuous and much-discussed phenomenon during the past few years, and has fomented an important debate about the sources, legitimacy, and credence of public information. In many respects, the contemporary notion of fake news in the United States has developed into a tool of political partisanship whereby information is embraced or denounced solely on the basis of its ideological provenance or allegiance. Thus, if a news item depicts a political opponent in a bad light, then it is accepted unquestioningly as the truth. Yet, if the item shows one’s own political affiliation in a negative way, then it is immediately dismissed and condemned as fake news. This development epitomizes a broader shift in society whereby there is no longer any truth, only sides, opinion, and belief; a shift that seems to support the author Charles Pierce’s observation that “the truth of something is defined by how many people will attest to it.”
Although the notion of fake news has taken cynicism and skepticism to the extreme, it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater because a healthy dose of discernment is essential when it comes to assessing or understanding public information. Every news source, no matter how credible and authoritative, will inevitably carry a degree of impartiality and bias simply through, for example, choosing what to report, how the issue is framed, and whose voices are heard and whose are not. Therefore, although fake news has only recently hit the headlines, its existence is nothing new. Perhaps there is no better example of its longstanding presence than the deployment of fake news in the American media to denigrate, disparage, and distort Europe. This has been fake news at its most direct and persistent.
Of course, Europe is a complex place with many differences between countries and little homogeneity but, as with all prejudices and discriminatory attitudes, any multiplicity or diversity is brushed aside to reduce the victim to a single, easily-identifiable entity: ‘them’. This is certainly the case with Europe, which, in American narratives across the political spectrum, has simply become a shorthand term that is synonymous with decline, failure, stagnation, socialism, hierarchy, and irrelevance; as well as through more precise themes, which have recently included economic failure and high taxation, Islamification, global irrelevance, military weakness, demographic decline, racism, secularism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Americanism. (The latter theme proves especially paradoxical because the American media is always extraordinarily eager to denounce any criticism of the United States as anti-Americanism but is completely unwilling to acknowledge its own prejudices, disparagement, and discriminatory narratives.)
This portrayal of Europe in American discourses unquestioningly qualifies as anti-Europeanism as it is not only deliberately pernicious but completely misrepresents the reality in which European countries dominate every global league table and surpass the United States on pretty much every measure of success; from human development to individual freedom, democratic governance to stability and prosperity, and social mobility to education.
There has always been an anti-European impulse within the United States; in fact, it as old as the nation itself. This has largely been caused by two discrete but interacting factors. Firstly, America’s desperate attempts to unify itself and forge a national identity required the repudiation of its British, but also broadly European, heritage and socio-political infrastructure. Subsequently, Europe has often played the role of American anti-model; Europe being everything the United States is not and vice versa. The historian Cushing Strout writes, “for much of their history Americans have defined themselves through a deeply felt sense of conflict with Europe. In the American imagination, the New World has stood in symbolic antithesis to the Old.” Secondly, there is a deep-seated insecurity and inferiority complex in the DNA of the United States that manifests itself through the disparagement of others and the eulogizing of itself. It has therefore become impossible in the United States to either praise another country or, conversely, criticize the United States. Every rival and even every ally is undermined and vilified simply so that the United States can maintain its idealized and glorified version of itself. As the political scientists Robert Keohane and Peter Katzenstein suggest, “Americans look to the world as a mirror in which they see themselves and wish to see themselves as better than they are.”
With this mind, American anti-Europeanism and its promulgation of negativity and falsehoods regarding Europe is matched only by an equally distorted depiction of the United States. Here, Europe’s alleged weakness, failure, inferiority, and wrongness is contrasted with America’s greatness, success, superiority, and rightness.
 C. P. Pierce, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 161.
 C. Strout, The American Image of the Old World (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), p. 1.
 Katzenstein, P. J. and Keohane, R. O. (eds.), Anti-Americanisms in World Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007). p. 6.