Announcing “The Fake News Ethics Train Wreck,” And Related Developments [UPDATED]


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.”*

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, 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.


40 thoughts on “Announcing “The Fake News Ethics Train Wreck,” And Related Developments [UPDATED]

  1. You seem to be conflating “fake news”, “news that I might reasonably disagree with”, and “news that is wrong, but not deliberately.”

    “Fake news” is news that is deliberately false, that has no basis in reality, and is usually spread by “fake news sites”, that ape legitimate news sites in name/presentation to give their own news sites some false legitimacy.

    But being wrong (especially if they issue corrections) is not “fake news.”
    News people have differing or even biased opinions about is not fake news.
    Sites like The Boston Tribune, “Woman sentenced to Prison for Indecent Exposure for Breastfeeding”, “New Federal Gun Law Prevents Open Carry in All 50 States”, “New Regulation Prohibits Students From Bringing Bible to School” are fake news sites that spread like wildfire on the internet.

    • Nope. I don’t use that convenient definition, because it is too subject to spin and denial. Lots of the false news published by the news media is deliberate. Obviously omitting key information—dishonesty by omission–is deliberate. Than we have Hillary’s favorite distinction, between gross negligence and mens rea. The NYT knew that the fact that Trump used a valid law to save taxes wasn’t from page worthy or scandalous, but they represented it as such anyway. “Hands up!” was a deliberate lie, from an interested party, but the news media flogged it anyway. Gross negligence. That Correction I noted wasn’t a simple typo or an admission of a mistake, the editing error was NOT EDITING. Gross negligence. BIAS that causes, for example, a news story saying that Clinton “did nothing wrong” regarding her e-mails is WORSE that saying the Pope likes Trump.

      As I said in an earlier reply to a comment, not all fake news is malicious…that doesn’t make it less fake.

  2. deery said “But being wrong (especially if they issue corrections) is not “fake news.”

    Did you read the article? How about this one?

    Posting a correction anywhere but where you posted the ‘mistakes’ has the same impact as what they are calling fake news. They twisted the story and made up numbers for reasons unknown (an agenda? click bait?) and reaped the rewards of readers and advertising dollars. Then they buried the correction.

    In general, suppressing a story, twisting a story, or inflating a story are intended to deceive the reader. This is what the MSM has done for years, and was brazen about the past year. How is that different from fake news?

    A difference that makes no difference is no difference at all.

    • Great point to emphasize. Corrections have to be as prominent as the stories they relate to, or they are functionally fake corrections. I picked out that one because it was ridiculous…that’s no mistake, that’s an article do riddles with errors that it doesn’t qualify as printable. It it’s not printable, it’s not real news. If it’s not real news, it’s fake news.

      Meanwhile, the news media itself doesn’t use the “mistake” standard! Factcheckers give “Pinocchio” for anything they want to dispute, including opinions.

      • I think this is why people are becoming less trustworthy of factcheckers. I can’t tell you how many times I watch people try to ‘factcheck’ hyperbole. Coincidentally, is how I linked to your blog.

  3. I always look at one the largest motivation of news organizations to put out their slanted pieces is to make money. Get readers and viewers to follow them and then get better advertising dollars. Best way is to drum up something that is to their intended readers interest, whether it is factually true or not.

  4. “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.”

    Is it broken, or is it working exactly as planned? Maybe the reason that we graduate students that are sorely lacking in critical thinking skills is because we do not teach, nor want to teach critical thinking in high school, more and more in University as well.

    • “Is it broken, or is it working exactly as planned?” Fair question, IMO.

      Whatever the intent, the education system is functioning in the manner indicated in the following (and appears to be administered to operate this way on a mass scale, for the exclusive benefit of a few in a ruling class):

      -To know and be taught only what is supposed to be known is utilitarian.
      -To think is only to regurgitate (only) what is supposed to be known.
      -To be totally dependent on certain sources for “knowledge” is mandatory.
      -To react to what is known is preferred. (That is, reaction is part of what is taught, as part of what is supposed to be known.)
      -To react emotionally (and as taught) to what is known is politically correct.
      -To act ONLY according to what is supposed to be known, and ONLY according to how one is taught to react emotionally, is mandatory.

      BUT ALSO:
      -To comprehend is subversive.
      -To think independently and challenge the sources is politically incorrect.
      -To react based on comprehension is criminal.
      -To react emotionally in response to one’s experience of one’s own cognitive dissonance with respect to all that is supposed to be known, is mental illness and/or criminality (e.g., hate crime, howsoever it is defined).

      To be self-sufficient is revolutionary (or, counter-revolutionary).

  5. I don’t think that economic report from Gallup and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness serves your purpose. When economists refer casually to “the economy” they are usually referring to a couple of broad figures, unemployment and GDP, and by both of those figures the economy has recovered from the most recent recession.

    (Democrats like to take credit for this — Facebook is filled with people posting tables comparing economic stats from before Obama with current figures — but when you inherit an economy that starts in the dumps, the only way to go is up.)

    In that sense, the report’s “No Recovery” title is a lie. They’re not talking about the usual business cycle but about other long term changes they find worrisome. They’re right that GDP growth is sluggish, but (1) GDP growth has been sluggish long before Obama, and (2) GDP growth was negative during the recession (that’s why it’s called a recession), so anything positive means recovery. In general, productivity growth was great post-WW2 and then fell off in 1973 like someone throwing a switch. It’s been creeping up toward pre-1973 numbers, but fell off again during the last recession. Nobody really knows why this happened then or now, so it’s hard to blame Obama for it. The same is true for some of the other trends they identify, many of which started in the 1980s.

    They may very well be right to worry about some of those issues (I think they probably are) but by the usual meaning of “the economy” things are looking pretty good right now.

    • You’ll have to explain to me how rotten looks pretty good. I worked for the US Chamber for 7 years. When productivity is poor, any claim that the economy is doing well is a myth. You are arguing that to simple-minded people, a simplistic definition of “the economy” is truth. Employment figures are misleading, as you know, because more people are getting public assistance than ever, and more workers have dropped out of the job market. It simply is not accurate to say that the economy is doing well. This is like arguing that it depends on what the meaning of is is, isn’t it?

      • Right. If you want a part time burger flipper job at minimum wage you can probably get it. Just try to support a family on the wages without food stamps, Obamacare, and subsidized housing. I feel really sorry for the millennials who have graduated with a BA or BS and feel lucky to get a customer service job somewhere.

      • Labor force participation is low (62.7%), yet GDP per capita ($51,505) is at an all time high, as is GDP ($16.7 trillion). We have more consumable goods and services per person than ever before. I’m not saying we should ignore the problems, and if you want to talk about specific issues, I think that’s an excellent ideal, but if we’re trying to sum up the state of the economy as a whole, it’s doing pretty good. For now.

        • Now see, I think that’s a defensible position for you to take, phrased as it is. It’s a negligent and misleading position for journalists to start with, and not explain and explore. The artificially low interest rates are a ticking bomb, for example, as is the debt. Unemployment now means “economy” because, in part, it’s easy to understand, and in part, because those accountable don’t want to get into the tough stuff. Those models that predicted the Democrats would lose were based on a lot of the negative factors in the Council report, and there’s a reason for that.

          • I’m not sure slow recoveries should be seen as abnormal. I have a hypothesis that if I had the time to research I would that much of our economic success from the past half century, though has been largely due to our economic system, that a component of our success also has been due to the fact that WW2 literally reset the rest of the developed world back to square one.

            Now, 3/4 of a century later, most of those economies are nearly fully recovered.

            I don’t think my hypothesis is that far off either… it’s been one and a half centuries since the civil war and I recall reading that a good number of analysts think the South still not fully recovered economically speaking.

          • It is the slowest recovery in a long time — which Democrats skip over when lauding Obama’s economic record — but it was also the deepest recession in a long time, so…I don’t know.

            My point was that talking about “the economy” and meaning GDP (and one or two other macro indicators) at the moment, is common shorthand. GDP is a pretty good short-term comparative indicator. Over the long term, the situation is much more complicated, there are things that can go wrong, and there are structural problems that will arise, such as the retirement of the baby boomers.

  6. Thanks for another needless slam on public schools, Jack. It’s tiresome, really. I’m guessing that you, like most others who rail against schools, have little to no actual concept of what goes on in them. My wife, an English and Latin teacher, actually by curriculum design has to teach a unit on advertising and its influences, with lessons on checking sources, credible sources, where to look for corroboration, etc. I love reading most of your stuff, but you frequently go outside the lines like this for no apparent reason. Our public schools are not perfect, but they are nowhere near the disaster that the public has been led to believe.

        • Lemme see, my dad taught from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, my sister has taught for well over a decade. My mother was a school secretary from the mid 1980s through the present. I have half a dozen cousins and uncles and aunts who have been in the education system in multiple states for multiple decades. And I was a student in in 80s and 90s.

          They are of the experienced opinion that administrators are increasingly inept and teachers who want to teach are increasingly hampered by centralized planning, teachers who don’t want to teach but want easy money are increasingly protected by unions, curriculum is increasingly being dumbed down and oriented towards making people unthinking cogs in a machine, discipline is breaking down on all levels.

          I know you are in the “industry” and are probably personally affronted by accusations that the state of American education is dismal, but it really is.

          • Oh and I observe the “quality” of my own kids education.

            Let’s see, during mock elections in ’08 my daughter was presented by her teacher with the options of “Obama who wants everyone to see doctors for free” and “Romney who likes to put pets in cages on top of the car when they go driving”. Literally.

            I see the homework she brings home and I see her curriculum and the “method of thinking” she is taught. It’s a desperate fight re-teaching her, supplementing the curriculum, and trying to teach critical thinking alongside emphasizing the need that at some point kids you gotta memorize the crap out of a ton of info.

            We’re one pay raise away from getting our kids into a private school.

            • I think my favorite was sociology class- on a certain topic I took what would be considered a “conservative” to a social problem on a paper… I got a failing grade.

              On the next paper, about gun violence, I…wretch… took every …heave…position that makes Left wingers all warm and fuzzy inside…vomit. Got an A+.

              Both papers equal quality and equally in depth on analysis.

              But hey, no indoctrination there.

        • Jack has another post up about our education system. You should read it among the dozen or so others about education.

          But by all means continue to seek away to undermine my estimation of public schools.

        • I think, just to be super annoying, anytime you pop off about any topic, I will immediately demand your credentials that qualify you to make a statement about that topic.

          Just saying.

          It’s one of the lamest *actual ad hominems* that leftists have used since I’ve had discussions with them.

    • I had to pull my son out of an acclaimed public school in Alexandria. He was robbed twice withing four months, and told us that every class began with at least 20 minutes of the teacher desperately trying to get students to get in their seats. I have followed the education of both my nephews in public school. They faced indoctrination and incompetence regularly. The number of sexual predator teachers is inexcusable. The absurd number of “no-tolerance” policies that get kids punished for using their fingers as gun renders the schools untrustworthy. The level of basic education among TEACHERS is depressingly low. I report on horrible incidents (only some of them), that I am alerted to, like the student punished for correcting her teacher and asked to confirm tha “4=8′ as fact to break her will. What I find out about has to be a tiny percentage of the outrages out there. A trustworthy, competent school system doesn’t have these persistent episodes. I went through public school, and I encountered a few incompetents and one monster, but nothing like this.

      Tell me another. You are in denial, like so many others. The evidence is all there. Students don’t learn basic history, geography or civics, are trained in test-taking rather than critical thought, and only recover if they set out to educate themselves, which, with supportive parents, they can. If public schools are as good as you claim, why to parents who can afford it send their children to private schools—which aren’t that great either; my son was abused in one of them, lied to by another.

      Nope—I know about what goes on in public schools. I’m sure your wife is a wonderful teacher, but if she doesn’t know too, her neck must be in bad shape by looking the other way.

      Education and journalism are the two essential professions that are running neck and neck as they betray the nation and the culture. You can’t handle the truth.

  7. “Political ads often distort reality much in the same way propaganda does, expressing emotional half-truths and obfuscations to persuade voters.” This along with what the politicians appearing on shows such as Morinig Joe say are all examples of something that completely dominates political speech in the US if not the world: BS or BULLSHIT! And our political elites have allowed the election of a world class bullshitter as the President of the United States.

    The link is to a short preview of a little book named “On Bullshit.” by Harry G. Frankfurt, that is a great analysis of what BS is and why it matters.


    • No! It’s that the mean old Russians actually let voters see how corrupt the Democrats and Clinton were, and that was unfair of them. See, “fake news” is also “real news” that the news media hid from the public or didn’t bother to look for that the public finds out about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.