Get the fake news out of the real news too!

16 Nov 2016 12:16 am
Posted by: Donna

In the sad and confusing days following the election of Donald Trump (gag) to President, I noticed a narrative was emerging among MSM pundits about how abysmally ill-informed the electorate seemed to be. It goes like this: The rise of social media has created partisan echo chambers where people pass around fake stories and algorithms promote these fake stories and this creates a sealed bubble into which no outside information penetrates! Naturally, this phenomena occurs…wait for it…on both sides!

This story has found favor with everyone from Chris Hayes to John Oliver and I’m not saying it’s off base. I just find it remarkable how quickly it took off after the election. You’d almost think the MSM were looking for a way to absolve themselves of their own role in fostering massive public ignorance by what they chose to cover (emails! emails! emails!) and not (you know, minor things like Russia and the FBI meddling in our elections, in addition to what Trump stood for and was capable of).

But here is an example of the kind of fake news they’re talking about:

denzel fake news

This fake story, from a bogus “news” site was liked and re-posted multiple times. This kind of thing is undeniably a problem, but it has been around forever, far pre-dating the internet. I agree social media with its algorithms has greatly multiplied the crap but there’s never been a shortage of ersatz celebrity tabloid gossip and conspiracy theories going around, including about politicians. The right wingers peddling conspiracies about the Clintons in the 90s found an eager audience for them well before most people were on the internet. And I was handed mimeographed copies of the famous Proctor and Gamble Satanism myth many times in the 80s. Fox News has been around since 1996! Fake news isn’t new.

So I’m suspicious about this sudden interest in “fake news” (seriously, where was it before the election?) especially considering there has yet to be a reckoning for this:

ap tweet

Note how many times that false statement was retweeted. And the venerable Associated Press refused to take it down for weeks, despite multiple demands from fact-checkers to do so. The Clinton Foundation story itself was fed to the AP via right wing pressure group Judicial Watch, which per Media Matters, “has a history of conning media into covering bogus Clinton-related stories, leading outlets to ignore new evidence and even undermine their own reporting in the process”. When the story first broke, at least one local Phoenix news station reported it straight off of AP’s tweet and never corrected or retracted it to my knowledge.

AP wasn’t the only respectable news institution peddling fake news during the election. Clinton Cash, a pile of codswallop concocted by the Government Accountability Institute, was the basis of Washington Post and New York Times reporting on Clinton “scandals”.

And while Hillary Clinton’s vaunted email “scandal” – the end result of the Benghazi fishing expedition – certainly got a lot of play from the respectable news divisions, it turned out to be mostly bullshit to anyone who gave it a real examination. Was there a kernal of truth to it? Yes. Was over 600 days of breathless coverage of it, while giving little attention to multiple other far more pressing issues, acting the interest of an informed electorate? No.

Hillary Clinton was the target of multiple negative hit pieces, both from fake and legitimate new sites. A Gallup word cloud from their polling gives clues to which ones stuck:

hillary word cloud

It’s certainly possible the people responding to those Gallup tracking polls were getting their info (little to none of which appeared to be specific policy proposals of Secretary Clinton’s) from or whatever, but it’s just as likely they were getting it from CNN or ABC or even PBS or the New York Times.

Again, fake news is a problem and Facebook apparently caving to conservatives in refusing to crack down on it is an important story. Also, people reacting to the election by signing up and donating to news organizations with a reputation for excellence is a very positive development.

But merely being judicious about one’s media consumption, and sticking with legit sources, is not a dependable antidote to being misinformed if those trusted mainstream news outlets continue to taint themselves with bogus sources and dishonest narratives motivated by a misguided adherence to “balance”. Clean your own houses, MSM people. You’re a way bigger problem than fake news sites and Facebook’s algorithms are.

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