21 March 2017

About Fake News

"It is part of the business of a newspaper to get news and to print it; it is part of the business of a politician to prevent certain news being printed.   For this reason the politician often takes a newspaper into his confidence for the mere purpose of preventing the publication of the news he deems objectionable to his interests."

Alfred C. Harmsworth, Journalism as a Profession

I have been meaning to say something on the subject of 'fake news' for a little while now. And as it sometimes seems to do, my procrastination has one again served me well.

A long time reader, Malcolm, sent this email below to me this morning, and I thought it was so to the point as to be worth sharing, with a few minor edits as it was a casual email.

The other week another reader sent me a list of purported 'fake news' sites, and congratulated me for being included on it.  I forget the source of this list, as I was preoccupied with other things at the time.  I was happy to note in the details that they had failed to categorize Le Cafe as being biased or slanted in any particular way.  It was simply labeled 'unknown.'   So I have a fake news site, but they do not yet know exactly what makes it fake, or why.

According to the document, apparently anyone can nominate a site to the list, without a stated reason, whether it be a personal dislike or some more factual analysis.  According to their document, someone later looks at the site and decides what kind of fake news it is.    Apparently they had not gotten around to Le Cafe yet, although they did see fit to include it on a fake news list.

As Winnie-the-Pooh's friend Eeyore would say, 'thanks for noticing me.'

I would like to think that when I have facts I put down the facts, and when I have an opinion or am not sure of the facts, or am putting my own interpretation on the facts, I make that clear also. That is the best that someone who is merely human can do.

Rarely in the real world, with all its variables and differing decision making weightings, are the facts so simple that 2+2=4.   And that is especially the case when it comes to public policy decisions, because of the underlying assumptions and objectives that lead to the selection of the variables and how they are to be combined and weighted.  But those who say 'it is simply math' rarely seem to state, or perhaps even understand, their own inherent biases and selectivity.

Fake news is a neat little label. So too is the label of Russia friendly that has been applied by some other group to various blog sites, such as our friends at Naked Capitalism for instance, for similarly arbitrary and undefined reasons.   I think they defeated their own credibility fairly quickly.  But it is a potentially dangerous trend, and it was especially discouraging to see it adopted by the once 'party of the people and diversity.'

This gets back to what a pundit, in a remarkable moment of irony and apparent lack of self-awareness, recently referred to as America's Epidemic of Infallibility.

To me, this culture of infallibility, or a superior appeal to authority and positional power, is a natural outcome of the notion that the professional class is a natural ruling elite as determined by the record of their schooling and connections and accumulatd accolades.

It is an old concept, sometimes called 'might makes right,' and the age old confusion of wealth and power with virtue.   If virtue were the basis, the natural path to all great power and wealth, then it would a much better world indeed.  But alas, we all know that it is not that way.

It seems that this whole notion of 'fake news' and 'Russia friendly' as it is being used recently is just the same old thing.  It is an attempt by those who are in power and their friends and enablers to control the dialogue in order to promote their own interpretations and policies.  And further, to stifle any dissent from their actions, in an attempt to maintain and enhance their positions and privileges from whence their power to do so arises.  This is as common a thing in corporations as well as societies.

As always, one must read everything with a skeptical eye, and take nothing on 'authority,'  especially now in our age with so many disgraced professions, having been corrupted by the spirit of their own exceptionalism, which is pride, and greed.

Question everything.  And never be afraid to call out those who stand, nakedly of the facts, on an appeal to authority, generally cloaked only with intimidation in jargon, and in very nice and civil terms question their pronouncements with all due respect and humility.

Respect and humility.  Really, Jesse?  Well, there is the resort to humor, which is certainly not pious by its nature.  Humor and caricature is the tool of the commons in dealing with the powerful, and wrong.  Making a joke of something, even if it is a bit pointed, is much less consequential than telling the pridefully mistaken to go shit in their hat.  

And one rarely can achieve a good outcome for their message of reform by writing it on a brick and shoving it into the other fellow's face, especially if the other guy is carrying the bully stick of the state.  There may be a time for that, but that is the difference between reform and revolution.

Those who resort to bullying and exclusion have already identified their character and the weakness of their propositions.  And the more incorrect they are, then it seems the louder and more mean-spirited that they get.

As badly as I made have made this point, here is what Michael has to say.

The mainstream media are up in arms over fake news. The establishment media, along with the political and economic elite of our country, have wound themselves up into a full hysterical fit of fear and loathing over fake news. What's not explained is where the line is located that divides 'fake' news from 'real' news.

Is it the selective publishing of half-truths, unverified rumors, and innuendo? The unquestioning regurgitation of anonymous assertions from shadowy insiders with blatant agendas and conflicts of interest? Perhaps the promotion of stories through hyperbolic overwrought headlines? A focus on the sensational and salacious? The selective exclusion of non-conforming views? The unilateral preemptive dismissal of alternative viewpoints? The manufacture of drama?

Is it the willingness to be infiltrated and influenced by intelligence operatives? The promotion of self-interested pundits? The refusal to call out and banish liars and cheats? Maybe it's the low budget for reporting and editing services, or the reliance of underpaid interns and independent hacks, or the lack of actual investigation? Or maybe the intermingling of news and editorial and advertising? How about the unabashed pursuit of profits?

No, it must not be any of that. Because the 'real' news is long and deeply guilty of those transgressions.

The problem is, we are told, that the purveyors of fake news just make stuff up from whole cloth. I'm shocked, shocked. Because the hypocrisy is monumental. The mainstream media has thoroughly compromised its credibility. This particular weed called fake news could only have grown in a garden long neglected and abused by its caretakers in the media.

To these fretting complainers, I believe that 'real' means responsive to and cozy with the elite. I think 'real' means owned and managed by people deeply connected with Wall Street and Washington. I think 'real' means willing to do the bidding of the war lobby, the US Chamber of Commerce, Goldman Sachs, the CIA, and fossil fuel lobbies.

The mainstream media has long since abandoned any semblance of pretending to do anything except regurgitate the spin, propaganda, lies, deceptions, and memes of the would be ruling class and of their enablers. They have proven themselves interested only in serving their patrons in government and finance, for the sake of power and profits. They barely cling to the weakly stated pretense of journalism, hollow and meaningless now, and contradicted by reality almost every day.

The mainstream media is in a crisis of its own making. Fake news is merely a symptom of a general disregard for the integrity of the facts.