Posted tagged ‘Fake News’

Weak News

January 2, 2019

The President has made a lot out of labeling “news” he does not like as “fake”.  The implication is the “news” is false, incorrect, or at a minimum, misleading.  The President’s view should not be discounted out of hand since over a wide range of statements, President Trump has demonstrated little affinity for facts, and the media has printed his statements. 

So what is “fake” about some news?

Journalism is a profession taught in major institutes of higher education.  Practitioners, however, need not have a Journalism degree nor even a college degree.  Writing in local papers “Man bites dog” does not require more talent than to be able to read the local police log.  Writing for trade publications can be as easy as paraphrasing or outright copying an already written (by the company releasing the information) “news release”.

Coverage of President Trump, in his first days as President, was straight forward.  “President Trump today said blah, blah, blah”.  What the President said was by definition news.  Ironically what the President said was invariably “fake news” since the most basic of fact checking screamed “liar, liar, pants on fire”.  President Trump is a special case in terms of total aversion to speaking factually. Simply reporting President Trump’s words also represents “weak news”.

What about the news not centered on him?

The first thing one must remember is that regardless of what journalism standards are applied, news reporting is at the end of the day “a product and a business”.  If the business does not make money, it ceases to exist.  And, if the product (the news report) is not accurate and relevant, readers will disappear and sooner or later, the business will lose money and cease operations.

So here is a non-Trump example of “weak news”.

Yesterday, there were “breathless” reports that investigations had found evidence that Yemeni rebels had stolen foreign aid supplies from the port of Hodeidah and had sold the food stuff for a profit.  Hmmm.  What else would an occupying force do?  What had ISIS occupiers done?  This is either an example of “weak” news or news that missed the real point.

The Yemeni civil war has brought devastation to an entire nation.  Yemeni civilians have been indiscriminately slaughtered and destruction is near complete. Long ago “real” news reports called into question Saudi tactics and US involvement for the humanitarian consequences.  Hmmm.

While there are no justifications for stealing food aid and then reselling it, is this theft a greater wrong than bombing a country to dust?

…Abridging The Freedom Of Speech, Or Of The Press…

February 7, 2018

There is probably no part of the Constitution or its amendments which has historically more defined the United States than the first Amendment. And, within the first amendment, it is the phrase about freedoms of speech and the press which tower above the rest of the first amendment as well as the rest of the Constitution.

For this reason, the current Trump Administration “war” against “fake news” is so serious.

There are no perfect forms of government, at least recorded in history. While democracies seem to have faired the best, democracies never the less have been susceptible to populist takeovers.  In most case, failed States or authoritarian leaderships have followed.

Kingdoms, dictatorships, or utopian forms have had periods of stability and productivity, but usually cease working when a change of leader (leadership) takes place. For over two hundred years, America’s democracy and capitalistic economy has flourished.  Why?

Economists have multiple explanations for America’s economic growth and wealth accumulation.  It is America’s political process with its orderly change of power that shined, especially when compared to the rest of the world. A free press calling the government to task AND the individuals right to express agreement or disagreement with government policy has served the country well. So what could go wrong?

  • An extremist Government – President Trump in cahoots with a “puppy dog” Republican controlled Congress can use the “bully pulpit” and a “carrot and the stick” tactic to influence free speech and the press. The “bully pulpit” is a powerful instrument and particularly useful if applied to worthy causes. Spreading misinformation, suppressing oversight, and rewarding only supporters can turn the bully pulpit against free speech/free press. A compliant Congress which abdicates its checks and balances duties, only adds to the danger.
  • Corporate Unlimited Spending – The Supreme Court has ruled that corporation are people and accordingly can spend unlimited amounts of money promoting any view the corporation may have being the subject public policy or a politician. The Court in essence said corporations are entitle to free speech, and the more money one has, the more free speech one has.
  • Social media limitations – In the 2016 Presidential election, social media such as Twitter and Facebook were distorted in their content delivery by “fake” content. Automated retweeting, liking, and outright fake news reports gave many social media users a distorted reality. Minor or outrightly false issues were elevated to the appearance of highly newsworthy.

Ones first reaction might be “how could the President not realize how important a viable, independent press is”, or “how could the Supreme Court conclude that a corporations could express an opinion, bak this opinion with so much money and not realize this situation is patently unfair.  How is corporate spending to promote a view compare to an individual’s free speech”, or “where is the ethical responsibility of social media companies, who want no regulations on themselves, yet allow their sites to operate without adequate checks on the accuracy of reports, masquerading as authentic, done by others”?

The American form of free speech and free press depends upon a diversity of opinions since it is not possible to know whether information presented is based solidly upon facts. In authoritarian regimes the first freedom to disappear is freedom of the press, followed quickly by free speech. Loss of first amendment rights, will free and fare elections be far behind?

President Trump’s behavior has been unwise and despicable to be sure.  Free speech and press freedom, however, are also under attack from unbalanced political spending (corporate spending versus individual spending) and a social media ripe for misuse.  Americans must come to recognize that all that keeps America free and open is our right to freely expressing our opinions and the press to write about them.

Fox News can call MSNBC a purveyor of “fake news” but President Trump should not.

A Big Fat Nothing Sandwich

July 4, 2017

On this “Independence Day” holiday, Americans are taking stock of their blessings. Through the years, other Americans have sacrificed much, often their lives, in order to defend the liberties we too often take for granted. This year, Americans do not have to rely upon memories of past valor to appreciate the deeds of past generations. Instead, we can open our eyes and witness a President Trump and Republican Party’s attack on what has made America Great.

The President ran on the campaign promise to Make America Great Again, and most Republicans ran on the idea of “taking back their freedom”. President Trump’s slogan pre-supposes Americans agree that America has slipped or that Donald Trump’s vision is greater than our past.   The Republican Party’s charge of taking back their freedoms similarly supposes that whatever constitutes a “freedom” was theirs to take back. It might be more appropriate to say “take the average person’s freedom and give it to the wealthy”.

The Trump White House’s first six months have marked a bazaar chapter in American history. President Trump’s advisors seem set upon the appearance of keeping campaign promises regardless of whether any of them are in the best interest of the average American.

  • Lower healthcare insurance costs sounds attractive but some 20+ million fellow Americans must lose their coverage while the top earners pocket a huge tax reduction.
  • The world is currently awash in oil. Yet, the President has moved to “drill, baby drill”, no matter what the cost. Could this policy be for the benefit of the average American, or maybe just for the fossil fuel industry barons who stand shoulder, wallets open, for Trump in 2020?
  • President Trump has not restricted himself to just domestic issues. His “bull in the china shop” approach to trade and international relations is poised to sell out most all Americans. Either his naivety or his incompetent has the US ready to begin trade wars on many fronts. In trade wars there are no winners, especially the average American consumer.
  • America is a land of immigrants as most Americans can realize if they research their family tree. Making immigrants the enemy is completely out of touch with our history, not to mention our current economic needs. Without a growing population (immigrants plus birthrate), GDP growth must be low or potentially even negative.
  • But by far the greatest danger facing Americans on this 4th of July is President Trump’s child-like assault upon free speech and the freedom of the press. The President’s endless streak of demonstrably false statements will have the effect of trivializing all public officials speech.  Meanwhile, President Trump’s invocation of “fake news”, while patently unprovable, never the less poisons his supporters thinking and increases the odds that real data and facts won’t interfere with their prejudges and false beliefs. History has shown that free speech and freedom of the press are the first casualties of a budding authoritarian regime.

President Trump demonstrates each day that our Country’s best days are behind us.

So, as Americans celebrate July 4th, and gather around the barbecue grill, the President is sending you “a big fat nothing sandwich”.


Fake News

April 14, 2017

Conservative pundits and speech writers have created some catchy phrases. Do you remember the “lame street media” taking liberty with “main street”. Now the focus is around “fake news”. Hmmm.

Fake news has taken on a life of its own. Most people recognized the term when completely made up (nonfactual) “news” articles appeared in social media.  Technically speaking, any article which is not properly sourced could be considered “fake”. Fake news, as referenced here is not an accident of weak reporting but an intentional effort to mislead.

Real news is based upon actual reporting with named sources. Sources, however, can be wrong whether intentional or accidental. For example, a report might read, “according Dr Joe Blow, chief scientist at NASA, the moon is in fact made of Swiss Cheese”. This report could be newsworthy because Dr Joe Blow was an eminent scientist or that his statement contradicts accepted theories. In a similar vein, “Senator John Doe claimed today in Congressional testimony that global warming is a myth and scientifically unproven”. Again this report could be news (eg Senator John Doe is chairman of an important Senate Committee). Senator Doe’s comments, however, like Dr Joe Blow’s need to be put in context of other scientifically determined findings if the reporting is to be responsible.

President Trump and his advisors have given new meaning to fake news. The President appears to feel no responsibility to speak in a literally truthful manner.  I wonder whether he is taking advantage of the news media since he knows that what ever he says will be considered “news”. As a consequence, President Trump can put in play unfounded assertions and ask the public to consider his statements with the same weight as peer reviewed scientific journals.

But these instances do not fit the President’s description of fake news. President Trump, rather, sees any news as fake, no matter how well the reports may be sourced, if in his opinion, the reporting takes the public’s eye off of what the President wants the public to consider (often a totally different subject). In other words, the President defines “fake” as not a government sponsored “subject”, and not whether the news report is correct or constructive in pursuit of discovering fact.

Fake news is dangerous for several reasons. First, fellow Americans may accept the fake news as real and make decisions accordingly. Second, the fake news report may enter the public space and become a citation someone else will use in the future to “source” an even futher excursion from reality. Third, Americans may learn eventually that the President’s words (or any other news source reporting his misinformation statements) are untrue and misleading. Soon the public will become cynical and distrust these news sources (eg Congress and the Presidency itself). The third consequence presents a dangerous risk for our society.

President Trump’s recent application of “fake news” when the news media does not report (or does not emphasize enough) the President’s agenda, has a 1984 feel to it.

The President is well within his prerogatives to claim the media or certain parts of it are biased. Most people now realize that a steady diet of Fox News, or MSNBC, or CNN, while comfortable, may not provide the whole story (fair and balanced?). People do expect, however, that these organization may lean left or right, but will filter out “real” fake news.

Let’s hope so.