On Tuesday, a woman who is the first full-time sports writer the Capital Gazette has ever had reacted harshly to a product sold by the clothing chain Forever 21: biker shorts emblazoned “Fake News.” She tweeted that the item was an attempt to “express your hatred for journalists in clothing form.”
The Capital-Gazette was the target of a shooter in July 2018 who took the lives of employees Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters, John McNamara, and Rebecca Smith when he attacked the Capital-Gazette’s newsroom office in Annapolis, Maryland. The paper had published an article about the shooter in 2011 noting that he had been placed on probation; the shooter brought a defamation lawsuit against The Capital; the suit was dismissed.
Fominykh’s tweet was picked up by a journalistic colleague at the Baltimore Sun, who commented, “Oh, no! This is terrible. This is not funny, cute or fashionable @Forever 21. Why are you selling this product?
Wood added, “To be clear, @Forever21 has a right to sell this product. We have a capitalist economy and the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech. However, I also have the right to offer my opinion on the product and to question the company’s choice to sell it.”
The original use of the term “Fake News,” which has been used frequently by President Trump, came about when members of the media criticized social media sites for facilitating fake news stories. An article in Forbes from February 2017 reported:
… the phrase “fake news” was nearly nonexistent on the national television networks Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN, FOX Business, FOX News and MSNBC from 2009 through Fall 2016 (though not all networks were monitored for the entire time period). … If we zoom into the far right of this timeline we see that the term appears to have burst into popularity November 11, 2016 … That date is significant because it is the day after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously proclaimed at the Techonomy conference that “Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea … I do think there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is they saw some fake news.”
The outrage directed at Forever 21 for the “Fake News” shorts piqued the interest of observers on social media:
Fominykh celebrated later, saying, “Wow. They’re literally gone from the website. Shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
The Hill noted, “Earlier this year, Bloomingdale’s apologized for selling a T-shirt with the words ‘Fake News’ displayed on it after a reporter from New York posted a photo on Twitter, spurring criticism. The Washington, D.C.-based Newseum also ran into similar backlash in Aug. 2018 after selling ‘You are very fake news’ t-shirts on its website and in its gift shop. The ‘fake news’ T-shirts were for sale for $19.95 until the items drew attention after a report by the Poynter Institute, a journalism nonprofit.”
Newseum later removed the shirts, releasing a statement that read, “The Newseum has removed the ‘You Are Very Fake News’ T-shirts from the gift shop and online. We made a mistake and we apologize. A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people.”