You might think that AWD News gets this coveted Ethics Alarms Honor by having one of its hoax news stories prompted a threat of nuclear retaliation against Israel by Pakistan’s Defense Minister.
You would be wrong. That embarrassing response from a Pakistan official with a penchant for saber rattling is just moral luck. The story that “The former Israeli Defence Minister has threatened to “destroy” Pakistan-after Pakistan said on Thursday it will send Sunni fighters to Syria” was a hoax, and since no other news source was reporting it, the fact that Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, allowed his confirmation bias to take over his brain, and leaped to the assumption that it was accurate just shows that Pakistan has an irresponsible fool in a key government position.
The hoax story would be just as unethical if nobody paid any attention to it. This hoax site is among the worst of the worst. It isn’t trying to be funny; it’s just trying to cause trouble. The assholes publishing this crap surely puffed up their little pigeon chests with pride after learning that their lie caused an international incident, embarrassed Pakistan and made the pages of the The New York Times.
As with other hoax sites that have been Ethics Alarms Unethical Websites of the Month, like The News Nerd, 4KTLA and News Right Now, the hoax story in question isn’t clever, funny or satirical. Though other hoax news sites bury the announcement of the site’s bogus content at the bottom of a home page, in fine print, or in the “About” page, it’s nowhere to be seen on AWD News, and unlike many of the others, it has the look and feel of a legitimate news website.
Why do they do it? Well, why do vandals deface works of art? Why do hackers plant computer viruses? Why do arsonists set fires? It’s all the same: pathetic, useless, emotionally stunted and ethically warped people who derive satisfaction from causing gratuitous harm. They have always been with us, and blights on civilization. Technology just provides a means for more of them to do more damage.
There is no excuse for a nation’s official or anyone with access to a computer believing as story like this, or wouldn’t be, if we could rely on the real news organizations doing their jobs objectively and competently. Unfortunately, they don’t. Someone like Asif should have been made suspicious by the fact that the story that sparked his response hadn’t appeared anywhere else. But the current mutation of journalism that plagues society routinely includes the partisan tactic of ignoring legitimate news that biased journalists would like to withhold from the public. This happens literally every day. The most popular form of “fake news” spread by mainstream media sources is the absence of reporting, the fake news being that something that did happen and is newsworthy didn’t.
That’s why hoax stories can be effective at deceiving people who should know better. Until real news sources become objective and reliable, the hoax news sites will continue their assault on truth and order.
20 thoughts on “Unethical Website Of The Month: AWD News”
Jack, I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s become more important lately.
We’ve lived with the Onion for a long time; likewise the Enquirer. And for a long time, huge percentages of Americans have believed in creationism, UFOs, and BigFoot. Did then, do now.
The Weekly World News is an interesting case example. An offshoot of the Enquirer, it published for years headlines like “Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby” (with ‘official’ photo to prove it). Various Elvis sitings and the like. For years it claimed to publish only the truth, though off the record it admitted to being tongue in cheek; later it switched to having a small disclaimer.
But things have clearly changed. Clearly what “sells” has shifted from Area 51 material to gotcha stories about politics, with strong flavoring of paranoia and ill will, and more than a dash of racist nationalism.
The question I’d like top raise is WHY this is happening.
My answer: technology. Facebook, YouTube, Reddit et al are the new wild west. As it always does, technology outstrips culture, then defines it, with social and legal regulatory mechanisms lagging behind. We haven’t yet figured out as a society how to deal with a method of communication that has zero marginal cost and that rewards the loudest shouter.
Your answer is quite different. Your answer seems to be that the mainstream media has actually CAUSED this outbreak of fake news (though it seems you’re now trying to consciously draw a distinction between ‘fake news’ and ‘hoax news’). As you put it:
“Until real news sources become objective and reliable, the hoax news sites will continue their assault on truth and order.”
You’ve said things like this often enough that I get the impression you really do rank mainstream media failure ahead of technology, or other explanations (economic? cultural?) as a cause of the fake news epidemic.
I think this is not correct.
Let me go one step further. You have a lot of influence in this little blog of yours. I don’t know your stats, but I know you get invited on NPR on occasion, and the sheer volume (and relative literacy) of your writing probably adds up to influence quite beyond the presence of “the usual suspects” like myself who take the effort to log in here.
Further, it’s been my experience that people who use hyperbole (like you) often under-estimate the degree of impact they have on others around them (I’m not trying to psychoanalyze you, but maybe speaking ‘loudly’ comes from not believing that one is being heard).
If that’s the case, then may I suggest that when you say things like –
“…the New York Times, having recklessly proclaimed its absence of integrity and proven that vacuum beyond all doubt, cannot be trusted to provide any objective analysis or guidance. Ever.”
“We not only can’t trust the stories we read and hear about to be true, the journalists who we are supposed to trust to separate the lies from the truth are so often biased and incompetent that their pretensions to the contrary are fake as well.”
– that you yourself become a causal contributor to greater paranoia and suspicion about the validity of the mainstream media.
It seems to me you spend at least as much time critiquing Snopes and the NYTimes as you do critiquing sources like AWD news. I’m not saying your critiques aren’t valid – they usually are. But I wonder if you appreciate the impact of such incessant, high-decibel critique of MSM.
Which suggests a third factor driving the growth of fake news – the degree of assault on mainstream media by respected and respectable folk like yourself.
As we’re all seeing painfully clearly these days, our institutions are not automatically endowed with super-powers of survival. They require some nurturing. Critique and attack have their place, but without balance, they can succeed beyond their intended scope.
Just a thought.
Interesting perspective but I think to be expected from someone who is part of the same camp that refuses to hold itself accountable for anything. In this instance the avoidance of responsibility falls in the “don’t want to admit to the colossal violation of objective journalism that the
left wing propaganda ministrymainstream media has engaged in for the better part of a century”
You prove my point, Texagg.
If the MSM has been a source of leftist propaganda since the end of WWI (I admit, I had to stop laughing before writing that), then obviously it could have played no special role in the very recent explosion in fake news.
Sure it can.
It’s operated in a protect bubble for generations. The availability of mass media to the common man has allowed some people to actually push objective reporting and even reporting biased towards “the other side”. Early on those starters demonstrated just how skewed the MSM was. That revelation fueled the explosion of objective sites, opposite biased sites AND the hoaxers naturally are protected by the flood of information and mis-information.
But remember, this process starts with a horribly biased MSM.
You can “giggle incredulously” all you want. Denying MSM bias has existed for decades makes you look like a fool and a partisan hack.
What has changed is technology has enabled the quick refutation of biased reporting.
Probably the best example is how fast the who Lt. Col. Killian memos were demonstrated as fraud – true fake news. Without technology they would have been considered real.
Or outright false reporting, like Rathergate.
Huh? Bad argument. The public credulously accepted the MSM as unbiased for decades. Then came the news about reporters enabling Jack Kennedy’s sexual predating, and other conspiracies to deceive the public. We learned how unbalanced news rooms were, and that Walter Cronkite was not the benign and ethical journalist we were told he was. No doubt, the bias became more leftward, more arrogant, more blatant after Watergate, and the hard right biased newspapers like the Hearst chain diminished. Now journalists see their mission as advancing an ideology, not informing the public. MSM bias denial is about on par with disputing the existence of dinosaurs, after Pew and others thoroughly documented how thoroughly slanted the coverage of the 2008 campaign was.
The first real crack in the monopoly of the MSM was AM radio, led by Rush. But rather than attempt to rectify the bias, it only grew worse as time has progressed.
That’s correct, I think: why Rush, despite his flaws, has been a significant and ultimately beneficial presence, and also why he is so hated by liberals.
And, as you’ve pointed out, he’s got a great sense of humor and is essentially a satirist. Which drives the left nuts. According to the left, only lefties can have a sense of humor and engage in snark.
Interesting points. I am going to have to think about the ramifications as they would apply to the MSM before I can comment more coherently.
I do want to quibble with the comparison between the Onion and the National Enquirer. The Onion is clearly a mock-news source (I keep telling that their byline should be “All the News that Fit to Mock”. It is very different from the National Enquirer’s weird articles about ‘Jennifer Aniston’s Alien Love Child’ (only to find out that she is dating someone from France!).
Completely agree with you re Enquirer vs. Onion: I was merely saying they’ve each been around a long time. I totally agree re the difference.
Agreed. The Onion is a very different entity.
As with Rush Limbaugh, people who criticize the Enquirer never seem to have read it. “Jennifer Aniston’s Alien Love Child” is a Weekly World News-style story, and that tabloid was obviously fake and satirical. Most substantive Enquirer stories are nore or less true, and contain distasteful stuff that the mainstream media won’t touch. A lot is gossip. On the health of celebrities, it is a pretty reliable sources. It’s major fake news concerns world leaders and politicians.
But again: wasn’t the MSM decieving the public as it allowed John Edwards to get too close to a Presidential nomination while the Enquirer was documenting his affair and love child?
“Why do they do it? Well, why do vandals deface works of art? Why do hackers plant computer viruses? Why do arsonists set fires? It’s all the same: pathetic, useless, emotionally stunted and ethically warped people who derive satisfaction from causing gratuitous harm. They have always been with us, and blights on civilization.”
Finally. An explanation for Noam Chomsky and his ilk. Thank you.
Because daddy did more sitting around absently and less playing catch with the boys and dancing with the girls.
Fathers? What are they?
I can believe that the media has always had a bias. As a group they have a lot of demographic things in common, and those aspects will be reinforced by schools and mentors. But in the last couple of decades or so, they have given up almost all attempts to even appear unbiased. Did they get contaminated by liberals or was it the the other way around? That’s a chicken or the egg problem. Journalists have too much gotten in bed with politicians and military. I think both are the result of some larger trend which is harder to identify.
There’s always been extremists and public ideas that are batsht crazy on calmer reflection. And that is a bigger issue, there is NO time. The mad rush to get it out first and build audience has gone past both the producers’ and consumers’ ability to absorb it and do any kind of reality check. The current maddening crowd of the media is high on the speed of delivery, since the new millennium. Facebook and Twitter are the kings of the heap. No one needs five hours of local news every day, all that does is rehash and emphasize the same things instead of make more balanced coverage,
As consumers, we can step off the 90mph treadmill and be mindful of our sources, but it requires more time and effort than that days when opeds WERE more limited to the editorial pages. Most people don’t have or take the time to curate their sources. Nor have they been taught or figured out on their own to be skeptical of everyone’s agenda, which is quicker. My instinct is to say the tip over was in the 90s, when cybermedia started to make an impact with soundbites. Now we have mass hysteria and the madness of crowds that directly affected one of the most important decisions we can make. The information we need is out there, but the echo chambers are shouting so loud and so quick that the signal is lost in the noise.
We as a culture have to slow down and demand more thought and less blathering. Journalists need to do the same. A big negative hurdle came when the equal time rules were dropped by more than the reporters, only one side needed to be shown now and bias always made it the same. Bare facts (storms, meltdowns, missing children) should be reported as promptly as possible. But journalists are a value added proposition now, and there are very few reliable news sources, so most bring no value. The news MUST slow down, for verification, for completeness, for balance, and mostly for the humanity of the people being reported on.