No matter how often radical periodicals denounced fake news published by their competitors, they found it difficult to suppress false information spread by powerful newswire companies like Hearst’s International News Service, the United Press Associations and the Associated Press.
These outlets fed articles to local papers, which reprinted them, fake or otherwise. Because people trusted their local newspapers, the veracity of the articles went unchallenged. It’s similar to what happens today on social media: People tend to reflexively believe what their friends post and share.
According to muckraker Upton Sinclair, syndicated “news” banked on this and knowingly spread fake news on behalf of the powerful interests that bought ads in their periodicals. Fake news was not only a sin of commission, but also one of omission: For-profit wire services would refuse to cover social issues, from labor protests to tainted meat, in ways that would depict their powerful patrons in a negative light.