Comment Of The Day: “The Many Species Of Fake News”

Few things make me happier than when a commenter relieves me of the duty of writing about a topic.

In 2017, after the New York Times published a spectacularly dishonest list of President Trump “lies” since his inauguration,  I wrote a post demonstrating just how outrageously the Times was warping the meaning of “lie,” and also applying a biased standard to Trump’s statements. I wrote,

In presenting this unethical project, the Times took unethical advantage of its readers’ confirmation bias. When the “Lie” list was printed, the Times made certain that it would require super-human dedication and extraordinary eyesight to read it, through the devices of listing every item and the Times commentary in horizontal sequence and in half the usual size type-face. (See above) This ensured that almost no readers would make the Herculean effort to read the whole thing , especially since the well-trained Times readers already “knows” that Donald Trump is a liar. In addition, the explosion of tiny words created the visceral response of “Wow! Look at all those lies!” which is exactly the effect the Times editors wanted.

But that isn’t reporting, and it isn’t journalism. The “list” was a page-size, visual, ad hominem attack. The Times wasn’t seeking close scrutiny of its list, nor was it interested in making any rebuttal easy or likely.

We have learned that the Times list was largely assembled from various fact-checker columns. That is a red flag, and explains many of the most embarrassing inclusions on the list. None of the fact-checkers are trustworthy. All of them are biased, Snopes and PolitiFact worst of all, and they consistently register opinions that the writer disagrees with as “false.” Many, many of the items on the Times list are in this category.

The entire exercise was an extension of #16 on the Fake News list, “Dishonest Factchecks. Here was a typical “lie” according to the Times, and its “proof”:

Jan. 21 “A reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.”

Says the Times, “Trump was on the cover 11 times and Nixon appeared 55 times.”

Trump was making the general point that he had been on TIME’s cover a lot. He guessed that the number was 14 or 15; it was 11. That is what is known as a  non-material misrepresentation: it’s meaningless and harmless, and certainly not an intentional deception. (“Heh, heh…I’ll make those poor, gullible fools think I was on TIME”s cover 14 times when it was ONLY ELEVEN!! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!) Then he said he “thinks” that’s a record. When someone says “I think” it means the speaker is acknowledging that he may be wrong. But Trump is not accorded the usual leeway given to everyone else, including other elected officials.

When a list includes something this clearly contrived, that list has no credibility. I found going through the Times list annoying, then shocking, and finally infuriating. So when the Washington Post pulled the same stunt, I kept putting off giving it the same treatment that I did the Times’ exercise in lies about lying.

Thus I was thrilled to receive this Comment of the Day from stalwart Steve Witherspoon, on the post, The Many Species Of Fake News:

“One of the most prevalent fake news stories is the claim that Trump has lied over 15,000 times since he took office. Recently, over on Quora, there was a discussion about fake news and this topic came up.

This is part of that conversation where I wrote in part…

Carl Cassidy wrote, “And as far as the 15,000 lies, This is a fact, not an opinion. The Washington post has been tracking everything that Trump has been saying and has been fact checking it since he’s come in to office…”

Fact not opinion? Again you’re parroting fake news, propaganda, or lies; whatever you choose to honestly call it because it’s blatantly false.

The Washington Post has not, I repeat NOT, compiled a list of Trump “lies.” That is a propaganda twist of what the Washington Post did. I quote the Washington Post, ”In 1,055 days, President Trump has made 15,413 false or misleading claims” (Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-claims-database/ ).

To prove my earlier point where I wrote ”I’ve looked at the website(s) claiming to track Trump’s lies and over and over again what they are claiming is a lie, false, or misleading is simply opinion.“

I’ll take the very first claim on the page I inked to and talk about it.

President Trump said, “To Impeach a President who has proven through results, including producing perhaps the strongest economy in our country’s history, to have one of the most successful presidencies ever, and most importantly, who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness!”

The Washington Post wrote, “The president can certainly brag about the state of the economy, but he runs into trouble when he makes a play for the history books. By just about any important measure, the economy today is not doing as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson or Bill Clinton — or Ulysses S. Grant.”

What the Washington Post wrote is veritably false; the stock market is a reasonably reliable, or as they say an “important measure” of how the economy is doing and the Washington Post is completely disregarding that even though they wrote that “By just about any important measure“.

FACT: the stock market went above 29,000 and it has never, I repeat NEVER, done that before! In fact the stock market has made one milestone after another since Trump took office and has been on a reasonably steady climb since Trump took office; this is in fact a verifiable indicator that the economy is doing great. Source: Dow Jones – 10 Year Daily Chart Is this an indicator the economy is better than it ever has been, yes, but that is simply an opinion based on the facts chosen to support the opinion. Is this this all because of Trump and his policies? Heck no— the stock market was already increasing before Obama left office (as the chart I linked to shows) but Trump’s policies have had a positive affect on the stock market. Trump is playing the same political game that ALL Presidents and DC politicians play: pick the facts that support your argument and ignore any facts that disprove your argument. Of course when Trump does this (Orange Man Bad!) you and others call it a lie, but when previous Democratic Presidents have done this you ignore it – a typical partisan double standard tactic.

The Washington Post’s argument is nothing but a contradictory partisan opinion that has been debunked, and there are thousands upon thousands of similar claims in their list of over 15,000 that are not lies, not even misrepresentations, but simply differing opinions. It’s anti-Trump propaganda, and if you can’t see it that way then you’re looking through industrial-strength weapons-grade thickened ideological blinders (#Corneilus Gotchberg) at the information.”

“The Washington Post’s “In 1,055 days, President Trump has made 15,413 false or misleading claims” web page is pure unadulterated anti-Trump propaganda put out there to feed the derangement syndrome of fully consumed Trump haters.”

“Of course, when I posted that comment it was immediately reported as violating Quora’s policies and I’ve had to appeal the false label. Many people using Quora consider anything that’s outside their belief to be a lie and an abuse of Quora’s policies, they call truth and facts lies if they disagree and report it as such and Quora in-turn blindly agrees and forces you to appeal. (There was one comment where I literally quoted the same uncivilized words that another commenter used towards me, and they deleted my comment.  l quoted the words in a list attributing them to the one who wrote them and the originators comments remain visible and my comment is not visible. Quora got an email about that and they still haven’t fixed it. It’s like being punished for telling a person that’s using the word “nigger” that it’s not appropriate to use the word nigger.

Others on Quora are claiming that the only fake news is coming from the ones yelling “fake news”. It’s absurd how dumbed down our society is right now.

Fake news is a real problem and will be a serious problem during this election cycle.

36 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “The Many Species Of Fake News”

  1. As to your last sentence…I wonder. The MSN has relentlessly, recklessly, stupidly eroded any credibility it might have had with anyone but its allies on the Left, and they already have made up their minds. I truly think their power to sway a national election is about nil.

    • “I truly think their power to sway a national election is about nil.”

      But, but, but…

      “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” Malcolm X

      🙂

      • But when was that quote, 1964? Before the myth of Uncle Walter’s sainthood was debunked, before we learned that the press hushed up JFK’s adultery and sexual predation, before “Meet the Press” turned into an advocacy show, before major newspapers somehow stopped ever endorsing Republicans, before Fox News, talk radio, the 24 hour news cycle, reality TV shows, the internet, MSNBC, Comedy Central, the decline of so called “sources of record” like TIME, the Times, the Post, AP, UPI, the Lewinsky spin, the 2008 campaign, the 2012 campaign, the 2016 campaign, social media…X might as well have been talking about the Pony Express.

        • You and I know that “journalism” has morphed into unethical practices of intentional manipulations with the use of innuendo filled propaganda and outright lies. Hasn’t the main stream media (MSM) been doing exactly what Malcolm X stated, they have been and are still trying to “make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent”? I think the MSM is going to put this practice in overdrive to try to remove President Trump from office?

          The MSM has already corrupted the minds of the populace with their intentional unethical manipulation propaganda, what’s to stop them from continuing their unethical practices, they’ve been successful in the past what’s to stop them from succeeding again?

  2. Steve wrote:

    Others on Quora are claiming that the only fake news is coming from the ones yelling “fake news”. It’s absurd how dumbed down our society is right now.

    Fake news is a real problem and will be a serious problem during this election cycle.

    Congratulations on your interesting COTD.

    It occurred to me to ask What is ‘fake news’? It is an involved question.

    I start with Quora as a point of departure:

    Quora (/ˈkwɔːrə/) is an American question-and-answer website where questions are asked, answered, and edited by Internet users, either factually or in the form of opinions. Its owner, Quora Inc., is based in Mountain View, California, United States.

    The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public for the first time on June 21, 2010. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to answers that have been submitted by other users.

    Quora was co-founded by former Facebook employees Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever in June 2009.

    By May 2019, Quora was valued at $2 billion as a company and it was finalizing a $60 million investment round, which was led by Valor Equity Partners, a private equity firm with ties to Tesla, Inc. and SpaceX.

    Quora has developed its own proprietary algorithm to rank answers, which works similarly to Google’s PageRank. Quora uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud technology to host the servers that run its website.

    Users can rank answers based on how relevant or helpful they found the answers to be. This feature is intended to help maintain the quality of content posted online. The more upvotes an answer receives, the higher it is ranked, and it shows up on top of the searches related to the question. If an answer is ranked poorly, it is “collapsed” and will not show up in people’s feeds.

    Without undertaking any more extensive analysis — I have done Google searches (for example What is the best strangulation technique for an American Leftist-Radical? 🙂 and have seen Quora come up — but never looked into it nor understood how it began or how it functions, I can offer only some general notes.

    But it is interesting to see it as an extension of the Social Media Phenomenon. To notice that it is ‘democratic’. But that if it is democratic it could also quite quickly show the worst aspect of democracy: tyranny. Mob rule. The power of the mob. The hysteria of the mob.

    Observations

    A) It is curious to consider what ‘knowledge’ is. Is gaining knowledge, is assembling knowledge, a ‘democratic issue’? It seems to me that, still, even in a society largely determined by ‘progressive ideology’ that the *realms of knowledge* as hierarchies are still respected. We assume that if a person devotes their whole life and energy to gaining knowledge, that we can and must respect what they do and understand that we have not done that, and perhaps cannot do that. But, with Quora, and with a mass-based answer-encyclopedia, ‘the people’ offer opinion/understanding/supposition as a viable substitute to *knowledge*. How curious: that the domain of knowing is rendered a mass-process.

    B) Because I am interested in what is happening in *The Church* and with Christian doctrines and Christian metaphysics, I could draw a comparison between this mass-hysterical phenomenon (Quora) and the modernism movement that is 1) decimating Christian ideology and metaphysics if you are in-pro of the same, or 2) renovating a ancient, backward, retarded life-philosophy that ‘needs to change’ if you are in pro of the same.

    It is very curious because the metaphysics of traditional Christian ideology cannot be seen in any other way except as given through a hierarchical order. That is, that knowledge was assembled and ordered by men and women who had given their entire lives to gaining that knowledge, and put into it all their experience and ‘the understanding that comes with age’. This is not ‘democratic’. It is not something that is submitted to the demos for review and approval.

    Interestingly, when ‘the people’ are given the choice to decide such important questions they generally choose the more easy and the more permissive, and not the harder and the more demanding. Because they do not want to live in accord with the most demanding and exacting philosophical & spiritual demands, when given the choice they water them down or simply eliminate them as unnecessaries.

    Summary & Opinion

    I am trying to wrap my head around this as a ‘larger phenomenon’. Obviously, there are forms of knowing that require a great deal of preparation to even approach. Obviously, some ‘average person’ cannot be considered qualified — even to offer an ‘opinion’ if the truth be told (advanced engineering, physics, theology & metaphysics).

    But on the other side of the same question — if we respect democracy — we must respect that average people do indeed have their ideas about things, and are qualified to offer them, to form opinions.

    What is Fake News? It seems to be not so much a specific thing as a general group of things. Yet it seems to be based in What a given person, in a given moment, wishes to believe and *imagines* is the ‘right thing’. Therefore, it requires, in a unique way, a ‘prepared individual’: an individual who has been a) told that s/he has a ‘right’ to speak and opine, but b) without actually having had to go through the rigorous and demanding process of operating within ‘the realm of ideas’.

    These people, as a mass, can then vote up of down any particular idea that they wish to, simply on the basis of what *seems right* to them and perhaps on the basis of what they *wish to be right*.

    • It occurred to you to ask what is ‘fake news’ after reading a detailed list of what constitutes fake news? Does everything that doesn’t fit in your iron-clad constructs just bounce off like rain on the roof?

        • Like a long post about exactly what constitutes fake news that you follow by “I wonder what “Fake news” is? Apparently your perception has a force field, or you are living in a parallel dimension. Ethics Alarms isn’t a blank billboard, you know. You didn’t comment on the post specifically about the topic you then devote a long comment to as if the topics presented for consideration are just suggestions, and as if the discussion leader’s course plan doesn’t matter. As a teacher, if I completed a two hour class on conflicts of interests and a student then asked, “What’s a conflict of interest?” I would take that as either proof that the student was napping, or as an intentional insult.

          • I might have to go with “Lives in a parallel dimension”. 🙂

            I think I can understand why you might need to say that EA is not a ‘blank billboard’. It is true that my comments — most of them perhaps? — often branch out from a given issue into philosophical questions.

            It is also true that my general orientation is grounded in contrariness. It was Steve who often said that my posts were ‘tangential’.

            Is that what you are getting at?

            As to the question asked at the end. If I removed the question would the rest stand?

            Do you think it a waste of time to try to organize a statement about it? (Fake News).

            More or less recently — as my understanding of things to some degree increases — I believe there is no easy answer to anything. So I put emphasis on the questions.

            I think I understand what Fake News is, on the surface, but I am not sure I understand it at depth.

              • I do understand. You want the comments to remain more tightly within parameters that you establish. Fair enough.

                But let me ask you: What are the reasons why ‘Fake News’ is dealt in, and accepted? You list of what constitutes Fake News is comprehensive.

                But why is this happening? Do you regard such questions as non-relevant? (Note: I am not arguing, I am making an effort to understand what your parameters are, so to respect them).

                    • Who in politics, and in advertising, and in persuasive arts, is not engaged in intentional manipulation of the populace?

                      Is there someone who is outside of this?

                      That appears to be an unethical rationalization, see if you can figure out which one on Jack’s list it is.

                    • Q: “But why is this happening?”

                      A: “Because there are those that want to intentionally manipulate the populace.

                      Q: Who in politics, and in advertising, and in persuasive arts, is not engaged in intentional manipulation of the populace?

                      That appears to be an unethical rationalization, see if you can figure out which one on Jack’s list it is.

                      Your comment is a non sequitur.

                      It is not a rationalization, it is a statement about the state of affairs in our culture today.

                    • Jack writes:

                      There is a profession that according to its own mission, values and code of ethics is pledged to be “outside this.” It’s called “journalism.”

                      It seems to me that we would have to say, meaning there is no alternative but to say, that this is an idealistic statement about what journalism could be and perhaps should be. I think it can and has *worked* at some moments.

                      American journalism has likely been, for more of its incarnation as newspaper reporting, what is called yellow journalism. Tabloid news, clickbait and ‘fake news’ are interchangeable. Opinion, view, orientation: these are fought over. And it is not necessarily *truth* that wins the day.

                      My view is that when one examines any journalistic piece one has to ask Who is writing it? Where is it appearing? and Who does it serve?

                      I do not think it is fully possible to ‘stand outside’ of any cultural setting or milieu. And it seems especially harder in our particular situation in which the nation is in a substantial crisis. We wish to get the ‘truth’ and a ‘pure perspective’ but what we get is more of where a given person stands, or their editorial captains stand, than ‘objective reporting’.

                      Understanding that this is so is not a problem for me. It is a ‘given’.

                      The issue has more to do with deciding which side of the fence one stands on. That has to do with how one defines truth and also what one values.

                    • No, it’s a definition. The fact that alleged members of that profession no longer practice it doesn’t make the definition idealistic. It is a perfectly practical definition. It doesn’t presuppose some impossible ideal.

                • Now THAT’s a different question. Answers: 1) A change in journalists’ perception of themselves from reporters to advocates, justifying, in their minds, the techniques of advocacy rather than the traditional ethics of journalism 2) Unrestrained and undisciplined bias. 3) the cultural rot of “individual truths” 4) treating news a product to be made appealing to a target market, rather than a single thing to be described as it is. 5) The decline of basic education and research skills. Among other factors…

  3. I stopped replying to requests for answers on Quora before Trump was elected because I saw that most of the answers were coming from “professional” Quora posters who lacked any formal subject matter training. There seems to be a massive number of independent computer programming specialists working from home who are also economists, political scientists, and climate specialists. I don’t know how they fit all that knowledge in such small heads.

  4. Jack wrote:

    Now THAT’s a different question. Answers: 1) A change in journalists’ perception of themselves from reporters to advocates, justifying, in their minds, the techniques of advocacy rather than the traditional ethics of journalism 2) Unrestrained and undisciplined bias. 3) the cultural rot of “individual truths” 4) treating news a product to be made appealing to a target market, rather than a single thing to be described as it is. 5) The decline of basic education and research skills. Among other factors…

    But note that I was responding to Steve’s references to posing certain questions on Quora. I wrote about a specifically Quora-related phenomenon. True, I was not responding specifically to the NYTs or the Washington Post’s list of Trump’s lies. But in a way when you read the Times comment section you can see the same forces at work.

    You say that it is a ‘different question’, but it could be said to be a related question. Isn’t pursuing the related question as important and necessary as acknowledging that the problem exists?

    As a teacher, if I completed a two hour class on conflicts of interests and a student then asked, “What’s a conflict of interest?” I would take that as either proof that the student was napping, or as an intentional insult.

    Here is where a difference in orientation is expressed, I think. So I accept that the Times and the Post — and great numbers of institutions and people — multitudes, millions — will twist any facts to suit their objective. They do this. They all do this. Behind the front they present there is the *power-dynamic*.

    And the value in what you do is to dissect it and to show that they are engaging in distorting advocacy of a specific sort, as you have called it. So, I understand this and I do not think it could be said that I was ‘napping’.

    It is more accurate to go with your ‘parallel dimension’ assessment. I have already seen and understood that a System (a power-system, and the present power-system) has its means of coercion. I believe that I see that all parties, in differing degrees and at different times, use these techniques of ‘spin’ and ‘bending facts’ to their objectives. That this is done is related to all those issues that you numbered, above. American history is an assembled group of such ‘facts’. There are both lies and truths therein.

    I think you have more faith than I do in some specific narrative, whereas I see holes and blind-spots in those narratives, too. This has come up in other areas where I have disagreed with you.

    But ‘intentional insult’ it is not and no offense is meant. I struggle, within my means, to understand how you and others interpret the world and your world (this implies subjectivity). And I really do grasp, and appreciate, that you open your blog space to many different people. And I am an odd one, no doubt.

    Probing, investigating, doubting, opposing: these are tactics or approaches that I often use.

    In addition to ‘pursuing tangents’. 🙂

    • This is gaslighting. All of my comments regarding your bizarre question related to the original post,“The Many Species Of Fake News” which addressed the question before you asked it, not Steve’s COTD.

      • My question was not bizarre.

        This is a definition of gaslighting:

        Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.

        I question many different things, and also opinions and ideas that people have, but I don’t think it qualifies as psychological manipulation.

          • OK, now I understand. I did read that post yesterday. I did not have it fresh in my mind when I responded to Steve and was not thinking of it specifically. Now I see what you are saying.

            I was not following you in your first post. I was focused on the reference to Quora and what I take that to mean.

            [Without wishing to seem ingratiating (as if I am trying to placate because I seem to have irritated you) I think your list is comprehensive.]

            I see 13. Future News as being one to build on. It seems that people deliberately see Trump (and climate change) in ‘the worst case scenario’ light and therefore engage in ‘paranoid-perspective reporting’.

            For example the way that the Virginia Gun Rally is being presented in today’s Times. My impression is they won’t take it for what it is, but have to inflect it with dark & frightening strains. There is an element of 11. Misleading analogies there too.

            As a related question — on an issue that concerns me — can you think of a journalist and a newspaper that has reported honestly, truthfully and fairly on some of the somewhat recent events that have a contended aspect? Say Ruby Ridge, Waco, Oklahoma?

            I ask this question because in my own view honest reporting might not be able to happen in such instances.

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