Two From The “Bias Makes You Stupid” (Or The “Fake News”?) File:


1. “Newsweek”reporter Kurt Eichenwald reported via Twitter that Iowa supporters of president-elect Donald Trump booed astronaut and former Senator John Glenn when Trump mentioned his recent death. This “news” gave Trump-haters and Trump voter-haters everywhere more to justify their hatred, and the tweet (above) prompted thousands of retweets and likes….

fake-boosNever mind. It didn’t happen. The crowd was booing anti-Trump protesters, not Senator Glenn. Eichenwald sheepishly retracted the “scoop.”

2.Yesterday morning, MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle claimed on the air that  Fox News was holding its Christmas party at President-elect Donald Trump’s recently opened Washington hotel, in the course of a discussion of Trump’s conflicts of interest. What a great example of how the conservative media is in bed with Trump—almost as much as the mainstream media was coordinating with the Clinton campaign!

Unfortunately, Fox News hasn’t held its annual party yet, and has scheduled its actual party at a hotel that isn’t affiliated with Trump. Ruhl had to issue an apology and a retraction.

In response to the recent Ethics Alarms post about the hypocrisy and dubious motives behind the mainstream media’s sudden obsession with the “fake news” crisis, some commenters argued that EA is confounding good faith journalism mistakes with the real “fake news,” a term that should be narrowly used when a source intentionally issues a false story “maliciously.” The spectrum, however, is too seamless to parse this way.

Those two fake news stories were more than mere mistakes, because the only reason the reporters assumed they were true was because of the reporters’ malice—anti-Trump and Trump supporter bias in the case of the booing tweet, anti-Trump and Fox News bias in the MSNBC story. Bias, strengthened by confirmation bias, is at the core of why any false news story is persuasive, and also controls what secondary sources believe it and pass along. Look at the websites that pounced on the John Glenn story. They wanted to believe the story; it shows how deplorable all those racists, misogynists and xenophobes are who voted for Trump.

The Right falls for this kind of fake news too, also because of malice and bias. Last month, before the election, Fox News pundit Sean Hannity reported on his radio show a false article that claimed that Michelle Obama was deleting unflattering tweets about Hillary Clinton. He apologized and blamed “live radio,” but it wasn’t live radio, it was him. The story was ridiculous, and the source, website Gateway Pundit, is infamous, but confirmation bias makes you stupid, or in Hannity’s case, even more stupid than usual.

Meanwhile, The Hill, a more or less respected politics news source, reported the Hannity apology while calling him a “Fox News anchor,” which is false, and called the story on The Gateway Pundit “fake news,” when it can as credibly be termed a “mistake” as the false booing account or MSNBC’s Christmas story fiction. The Hill reported it this way because The Hill doesn’t like  Gateway Pundit, Fox News or Hannity, so these biased representations seemed fair, and were published. That was “fake news” too.

As part of the effort to delegitimize the Trump presidency before it begins, the news media is trying to thread an impossibly tiny needle eye here, making the argument that only conservative media false stories qualify as fake (remember the Boston Globe’s fake front page in April…


…describing a Trump Presidency hell?), while left-biased media stories that mislead or deceive are just plain old good faith errors by objective journalists. Incredible stories on Facebook like the one announcing that the Pope had endorsed Trump may have turned the election around, but we are supposed to ignore that  the New York Times’ deliberately—that was no “mistake”—published a false front page suggestion that Trump somehow cheated on his taxes by using a legal tax reduction device. Nah, that “news” didn’t produce any more Clinton voters.

Besides, it was just a mistake in news judgment. Anyone can make a mistake!

Then there is Elie Mystal this week, alleged journalist, telling his credulous readers (if you read Elie Mystal, you have to be credulous) that George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, and that police officers deliberately “choked” Eric Garner to death….because Mystal wants black Americans to hate and fear white police. Pure malice. But not “fake news”?

Slanted, selectively incomplete, misleading or false news stories—too many to count— from the same sources now caterwauling about “fake news”  are often based on malice, confirmation bias, or worse. When the news media points an accusing finger at purveyors of “fake news,” do not forget that they are pointing at themselves as well. Bias made them stupid, and they were already incompetent.

10 thoughts on “Two From The “Bias Makes You Stupid” (Or The “Fake News”?) File:

  1. So we are seeing an outbreak of drive-by journalism. Seems to me that these “journalists” are the product of an educational system where they are required to read stuff like Howard Zinn’s *People’s History Of The USA*. They absolutely believe that America is an evil racist country run by plutocrats who freely manipulate the white middle class and oppress “minorities” freely.

  2. I wonder what explanations the media offers for th or incompetence in fact checking?

    Writing entire articles based on tweets seems extreme.

    • AC, I think the explanation is they’re not only biased, they’re lazy. Plus, tweeting is evidently nearly effortless, instantaneous, and involves absolutely no editorial oversight. Why do journalists even have twitter accounts? Why does anyone have a twitter account? Why do people read twitter accounts? Compare the average tweet to one of Jack’s posts. What’s the multiple of thought and effort differentiating the two?

      • Amen to your questions about Twitter, OB! It has probably been said before, but I think of the unstated utility (and purpose) of Twitter being: “How a person can screw up one’s own life plus the lives of countless others, rapidly and irreversibly, in 140 characters or fewer.”

    • It’s about as extreme as paying an underaged, homosexual, prostitute for a story. This got Eichenwald fired from the Slimes. Kurt Eichewald is clinically diagnosed with a few loose screws in his head. You got to wonder how many more screws are loose?

  3. Some stories are more important than others though.

    In this one, there is an ethical problem. My own opinion is that the FBI should have remained silent about its investigation of HRCs emails before the election. Just as it has remained silent about the covert VOIP channel between a Trump server and the Narodny bank in Moskva. The info we have on that comes from professional IT security sources who were curious about the anomalous traffic. Only geeks have taken notice, it’s only appeared in the technical press.

    Similarly, Mitch McConnell was right to suppress the CIA report about various Russian Government entities well known in technical circles and their hacking of both RNC and DNC servers. They only released just enough insignificant emails from the RNC to prove they’d done it, a few hundred to Wikileaks, but we all know what was released about the DNC.

    The CIAs appreciation, based on this and other data they have that I’m not privy to (and neither is the FBI) , is that this was a deliberate and successful attempt to get Trump elected. This appreciation was conveyed to select members of Congress in September.

    It was the right thing to do to sit on this highly prejudicial information, some of which if released in full might have compromised sources, just as it was the right thing to do for the FBI to follow past practice and not comment on their investigations.

    Except only one side played by the rules. It must have been enormously tempting for the Democrats, and those Republicans who always were in favour of a bipartisan release of the CIA’s appreciation to leak it when the FBI took it upon itself to ignore past policy for whatever reason.

    The only area of concern is how the RNC info will be used in future to apply pressure. Not on Trump, but on various RNC players.

    • Not up to your usual standards.

      1. The FBI had to announce the results of its investigation before the election, Comey had to elaborate on the FBI’s conclusions after Bill Clinton made the investigation looked rigged, had to inform Congress that it had found new e-mails (as he had promised he would, and had to announce that nothing had changed as soon as the e-mails were examined. The e-mail damage was self-inflicted by the Clinton campaign from the beginning. 100% Any other claim is pure excuse-making.

      2. Trump wasn’t secretary of State, and could do whatever he wants with his e-mails.This isn’t even close to an equivilent story.

      3. The CIA story, so far, makes no sense, and appears to be more WaPo/NYT excusemaking.

      Surprisingly, Ann Althouse went after the “scoop” especially hard, writing:

      “American intelligence agencies have concluded with ‘high confidence’ that Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald J. Trump…”
      The NYT reports, citing “senior administration officials.”

      “They based that conclusion, in part, on another finding — which they say was also reached with high confidence — that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks. How does that evidence support the finding that the Russians were trying to help Trump and hurt Hillary — as opposed to just hacking into everything they could? Are senior Obama administration officials reliable in making that leap or is this political junk?

      There’s also the evidence that “it was largely documents from Democratic Party systems that were leaked to the public” (through Wikileaks). You have to interpret that evidence. Republicans say “their networks were not compromised, asserting that only the accounts of individual Republicans were attacked.” The NYT cites a “senior government official” corroborating that position.

      The NYT also raises the theory that the Russians — like most people — assumed Hillary was going to win, and they weren’t trying to defeat her, but undercut her presidency. In this theory, they weren’t so concerned with hurting Trump because they didn’t think he’d win. I’m reading these new conclusions as political junk.”

      Exactly. The Russians expected Clinton to win, and the GOP e-mails may have just not been as juicy…Meanwhile, the Democrats are calling foul because the American public was allowed to see just how slimy Donna Brazile and the Clinton Foundation are. Damn Russia for letting the public know the truth!

      • Isn’t this the same Russia that when Mitt Romney spoke of it as being America’s biggest foe the Democrats lambasted him for being so naive? All of a sudden that Russia is all powerful?

        And if you were Vladimir Putin, who’d you rather be playing poker against? A predictable HRC or a completely unpredictable Donald Trump who has a fondness for military guys and corporate executives?

        And isn’t it a scandal that U.S. cyber security under an Obama administration is so lax? I guess not.

        • The last sentence is the funny part. The Russian hacks, whatever they were designed for, are just anther marker of the astounding negligence and incompetence of the Obama administration. Some how the news media and Democrats seem to think they undermine faith in the Trump presidency. Amazing.

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