This morning I checked four news sources and caught stories about”fake news” in all of them. Some of this has been fueled by the flesh-meltingly idiotic Comet Ping Pong pizzeria story out of D.C., which culminated in a moron named Edgar Maddison Welch firing an AR-15 inside the joint, saying later that he was horrified at the reports that the establishment was at the center of a child sex ring run by…wait for it…the Clinton campaign. He got some bad information, Welch told authorities. Ya think???
No, Ed, you got a really bad education in America’s rotten public schools, and before that you were playing hop-scotch when the brains were handed out.
What prompted Ethics Alarms to officially move the fake news uproar into Ethics Train Wreck status, however, was the interview CNN had this morning with two small business owners in the same block as the evil pizza place. “The internet isn’t regulated like it could or should be,” one said, with no comment or clarification from CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. Politicians are among those who have to address this problem, agreed her partner.
In other words, we need internet censorship. Oh, they did say that citizens should be a bit more discerning before grabbing an AR-15 and shooting up a pizza parlor because someone on Instagram said that John Podesta was selling little girls and boys, but obviously the big arm of the State has to step in.
In other developments:
- The fake Washington Post news story about fake news that I highlighted here may prompt a defamation law suit from one of the organizations that the Post accused, without checking their source, of spreading fake news.
“You did not provide even a single example of ‘fake news’ allegedly distributed or promoted by Naked Capitalism or indeed any of the 200 sites on the PropOrNot blacklist,” James A. Moody, attorney for Naked Capitalism, a finance and economics blog with a stated mission of “shedding light on the dark and seamy corners of finance,” wrote to the Post. “You provided no discussion or assessment of the credentials or backgrounds of these so-called ‘researchers’ (Clint Watts, Andrew Weisburd, and J.M. Berger and the ‘team’ at PropOrNot), and no discussion or analysis of the methodology, protocol or algorithms such ‘researchers’ may or may not have followed.”*
- For months, and even after the election, the Obama administration, Democrats and the news media claimed that the economy is rebounding big time. “President Obama Is Handing a Strong Economy to His Successor,” gushed the New York Times just last week. Fake news. A report released this week makes a strong case that the economy is struggling badly.
Highlights from that 120-page report:
- Since 1980, U.S. GDP per capita growth has been far below its long run average, and since 2007 it has been almost negligible.
- Deterioration in the quality-to-cost ratio for healthcare, housing and education is dragging down economic growth. After spiraling price increases, these sectors accounted for 36 percent of total national spending in 2015, up from 25 percent in 1980.
- The U.S. population’s health has stagnated or even declined on several measures since 1980, especially for the working-age population.
- Housing costs have swallowed up a larger share of income without a corresponding increase in quality.
- Educational quality is weak and stagnant at all levels. The U.S. education system has failed to instill any measurable gains in the cognitive performance of children and young adults for decades, as U.S. students and adults struggle with poor rates of literacy and numeracy despite high spending growth.
You know…”a strong economy.”
Would you like to speculate on which fake news had a greater likely impact on the popular vote for President—the Pope’s endorsement, Podesta’s pizza parlor sex ring, or that nifty Democratic policies had the national economy working like a Swiss watch?
The mainstream news media is furiously pushing this Ethics Train Wreck along the track, but conveniently pointing its metaphorical finger everywhere but at the purveyors of fake news that have the biggest impact: them. Remember this episode, when the Washington Post published a piece stating the Bill Clinton allegedly cheated on his wife? Or the fake headline falsely claiming that a lawyer had offered the rapture as a serious defense in court? How about the Times front page blast suggesting that there was something shady about the fact that Trump had legally lowered his tax liability, because the law he used to do it was later repealed by Congress? Those are just off the top of my head; examples are too numerous to count. [Update: I can’t leave out Newswseek’s fake Newsweek, but I did in the first version of this post. Doh.]
What’s going on here? I didn’t focus on it in my last Fake News hysteria update, but Jack Shafer of Politico does a good job. One motivating factor for the mainstream media’s specific focus on Russian-generated “fake news” is to join in the Clinton Bitter-Enders’ effort to de-legitimatize Trump’s election. He writes:
I wonder if Russian propaganda would be Topic A had Hillary Clinton beaten Donald Trump. The election post-mortems have been searching for a reason, or even a hint of a reason, for Trump’s victory, and the theory that Russian propaganda might have influenced voters has enticed both journalists and government officials.Political ads often distort reality much in the same way propaganda does, expressing emotional half-truths and obfuscations to persuade voters. But the recent campaign, in which Trump spent about a third of what Clinton did on TV ads yet prevailed, proves that the masses are not susceptible to all the advertisements that money can buy. The volume of Clinton ads clearly dwarfs the combined output of Russian propaganda and disinformation but still did not change enough minds to win the prize. In this sense, the shrillness of the propaganda debate reveals a deep distrust of citizens by the elites….Proud of their breeding and life experience, they seem confident they can decode fact from fiction. What they dread is propaganda’s effect on the non-elites, whom they paternalistically imagine believe everything they read or view. But they don’t.
Most of them, anyway, right, Ed?
To launch the Fake News Ethics Train Wreck, in addition to smashing a bottle of cheap rotgut over the engine, I’ll offer two lists. First, here’s the previously published list of the major culprits in creating “fake news” information pollution:
1. American journalism, which can no longer be trusted to be accurate, objective or fair.
2. Headline writers, who distort stories with false headlines, and the editors who let them do it in search of “clickbait.”
3. Individual, highly-visible media stars, who abuse their authority, as when CNN’s Chris Cuomo solemnly told audiences that they would be breaking the law if they read a Wikileaks leaked e-mail.
4. The broken education system, which graduates citizens so deficient in critical thinking and basic knowledge that they are dangerously vulnerable to hoaxes, propaganda, manipulation and lies.
5. Trust-abusing public figures, like Obama, Trump and Hillary Clinton, who intentionally or negligently misstate facts and law.
6. Factchecking organizations, like the disgraced Snopes.com, that cannot seem to avoid biased and slanted analysis.
7. Comedy news and comedy pundits, who take their clown noses on and off indiscriminately, and present themselves as truthtellers when they have neither the training, integrity, objectivity or ability to fill that role.
8. Hoax news sources that measure success by how many people they can deceive.
9. Irresponsible social media users who are more passionate than intelligent, retweeting nonsense and posting memes.
10. The unholy alliance between political parties, political leaders and the news media, which results in real news being labeled as fake, and distortions and spin being reported as fact.
I will now add one more to the list, covering such toxic fake news as “Hand up! Don’t shoot!,” and that Trayvon Martin was “stalked” by a racist…
11. Activist-promoted “narratives” that are lies. Biased and lazy reporters, pundits and politicians spread, publicize and promote them, and they are a lot harder to kill than pizza sex ring rumors.
The second and new list is the top five apparent motivations of the news organization that are pumping up the “fake news’ story, while avoiding the part of the problem, the biggest part, that is their own responsibility:
1. The desire to bolster the claim Democrats and progressives that Trump was not legitimately and fairly elected President, justifying a four year refusal to accord him the minimum respect all Presidents deserve and need.
2. Attempting to turn attention away from the mainstream news media’s own miserable, often inaccurate, and biased news coverage.
3. Trying to make “fake news” and “conservative news” synonymous, in order to reduce the influence of Fox News and conservative talk radio.
4. Linking “fake news” to internet news sources, and by doing so try to harm the “new media” that has eroded the traditional news media’s power, influence, reputation and profitability.
5. Laying the foundation for internet censorship, either by government regulators, or by internet providers
Ethics Train Wreck.
* UPDATE: The Post is backing away from its story. Quoth Prof. Reynolds: “So in reliance on an un-checked list by an outside group that insists on anonymity, the WaPo designated a bunch of sites as Russian propaganda tools. And this is the “real news” outfit that is getting all uppity about “fake news.”
Yup. That about covers it.