Was it a fake news or fake news that it was fake news?

February 22, 2018

Is the real news sometimes fake as the fake news?

Had to ask myself that in the middle of the night when I could not sleep and checked my computer to see what’s new.

There was a story circulating on the alt right sites (or at least the ones who like to take jabs at mainstream media) that CNN attempted to hand a scripted question to a Florida high school student in place of one he wanted to ask at what was billed by that network as a town hall meeting on the Florida school shooting. Supposedly the kid wanted to suggest that veterans could be hired as armed guards at the schools. But instead, purportedly, CNN handed him a script, I suppose calling for gun control.

Later this morning when I tried to check one of the sites covering that story in order to read further into it, it appeared to be gone (although I am sure you can find it — nothing, truth or lie, ever really disappears on the internet I am told).

Concurrently there is this story floating around that actors have appeared as students promoting gun control.

Even if even minute parts of all this were true — I mean anything goes on this modern form of communication (or miscommunication) — there is enough footage out there and enough reporting from enough different sources that we know the obvious and understandable truth: folks and their children or visa versa are upset at being the targets of rapid-fire weapons.

(And by the way I did try to check some of this out via the Snopes site, but nothing on the scripted question, or at least when I checked, and I got too bogged down on the other — to convoluted; I gave up.)

Regardless of the facts I am sure that there is a fake news effort out there by forces of or friendly to the NRA or alt right and maybe even the Russians employing fake news to taint or smear the real news as fake news.

In the pre-internet days one had to judge the source to get to the truth. These days you have to judge the source of the source, and that can be difficult to perhaps impossible at times.

All that aside, I am always uncomfortable when journalism becomes an integral part of the news rather than an unbiased observer. And public forums should be an honest, unscripted discussion of issues. And I am in no way charging or believing that there was any scripting (but having never attended one of these CNN-type town halls I would not know). And if something is to be broadcast in a time frame there has to be some order.

I’m not even sure a news organization should stage forums. Doing that by definition makes them part of the story. Of course in broadcast news, in particular, the presenters by being presenters become a part of the story somehow. No way around it really.

I could go on and on about this but I will try not to. But let me add that I wish that for the so-called presidential debates, for example, that we’d go back to a really dull format run by the League of Women Voters in times way past now with the contestants sitting on folding chairs to wait their turn to speak with no fancy stage decorations and where the contestants did the talking not the moderators (and actually political nerd or junkie that I have been I did not think that they were dull) .

And back to the school shooting issue: regardless if there might be some people on both sides of the issue trying to muddy the waters, I think that the gun control movement might catch fire with the populace as a whole if the students and parents can sustain the pressure. It might well spread nationwide.

Little Marco Rubio, the Florida U.S. senator and former presidential candidate who gets millions of dollars from the NRA, looked as if he were shaking in those boots he sometimes wears to heighten himself when he faced the wrath of a visibly angry man whose daughter was killed in the recent massacre.

Angry citizens are the one thing that can beat the NRA.

p.s.

If you have not read my blogs previously you might jump to the conclusion, understandably, that I am super liberal and maybe against the Second Amendment. Not necessarily so. I consider myself middle of the road in politics and tolerant of that uniquely American provision in the Constitution that is the Second Amendment, even if I think that it is never fully understood nor described by most (including me). I mean it’s only one sentence long and does state that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. But I think to fully understand it you have to read some history and court decisions and be aware of its use of language — its grammar and syntax and the fact there is even more than one version of it.

But if I am correct the official version (my source Wikipedia) is:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Note the confusing use of upper case and I would say at least the last comma. English grammar had not been fully standardized, especially in the United States, I believe, at the time of our founding fathers, but without going into it all I think I am correct in writing that the current interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court allows some room for some amount of gun control.

 


The only thing that may save us from disaster is the rule of law, but we may be losing that…

January 3, 2017

Everything I thought I knew about politics after being a current events follower since the age of 6 or 7 and even after attaining a degree in political science has gone out the window with the election of Donald Trump as President the United States.

Rules and traditions of the past no longer seem to apply. It is said we are in the post-truth era. Not only is it assumed those in power lie, some of those in power and some of the public seem to feel it does not matter, that “truth” is no more than some abstract concept, or something that can be sold as being actually true because it squares with the beliefs of the targeted consumers.


Reportedly satirist Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” :

the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence, or the like…

from Dictionary.com


Part of me wants to think that his presidency will not be what is threatened, a hard-right turn to authoritarian rule of a strongman aided by the cult of personality and intimidation. But the other part of me expects the worst.

I used to puzzle at people who would say things like: “I don’t even read the news. It’s always bad.”

Now, I almost feel like that myself.

There are lots of theories about how the election turned out as it did. I think there is merit to many of them. But let’s face it, more than anything it was a fluke of our own electoral college system, which can award the election to a candidate who does not have the most votes.

But there is no doubt the Democrats lost, or Hillary Clinton lost because she did not appeal strongly enough to enough people — even though she did get the majority of the votes. She did not get the votes where she needed them, the battle ground states, and she lost out on potential votes due to her lack of appeal to the Democratic base or even to Republicans who might have voted for her rather than the unorthodox Trump, but who may have just decided to sit it out.

In the long run, all may not be lost if the Democratic Party finds its role again or for that matter if the Republican Party finds its role.

But in the meantime we have a president-elect who challenges the fundamental concept of the rule of law. He has thus far refused to separate himself from his business connections that create a giant conflict of interest. In fact, he seems to be using the office he has not yet officially taken over to aid his businesses, selling access and getting foreign dignitaries to stay at his hotels.

When I was a much younger man, a Republican president went too far, abusing his power in the White House. While I am sure they hated to pull the rug out from one of their own, the Republican elders of the time were committed to the rule of law or at least they had some sense of shame. They went to the White House and told Richard Nixon in private to either resign or we start impeachment proceedings.

I’m not sure this would happen in a Trump administration, judging from the outright cowardice shown by Republican elders in the primary. I mean even though they at first spoke out against Trump, once they came under his intimidation they quickly succumbed. Even Mitt Romney went kowtowing to the bully with the wild orange hair only to be humiliated.

Besides being in the post-truth era, we may be losing the rule of law. Even the rule of law depends upon men and women with the fortitude to support it, even if it could mean risking their political careers.

Once the rule of law is lost, all is lost.

p.s.

A free press, guaranteed by the First Amendment, is endangered by outright intimidation by Trump and his methods of spreading dissention among its ranks. He has those within established journalism arguing over how best to report his lies. Should they call them distortions, exaggerations, embellishments, opinions seemingly not backed up by evidence, or lies? And if they do point out his lies, are they then not being objective observers or at least appearing not to be?

A free press guided by the search for truth should win out. But too much of it today is guided more by the search of clicks on the computer (or cell phone) by a modern audience who does not want to be bothered by complicated details and in many cases is segmented into groups who only read material that seems to fit their beliefs, (“truthiness” again) that may have been formed by reading one-sided material or more than likely listening to the highly-slanted Fox News and the distortions of talk radio on Clear Channel stations.

And then there is the phenomenon of “fake news”, something once relegated to supermarket check out stands read by bored housewives — it seemingly has become almost mainstream on the internet gobbled up by people who either don’t know the difference or don’t care.

Actually a friend of mine was fooled by it on a story recently and then I in turn was too (I see how it can happen now).

 

 

 


An expansion of our ‘news’ sources has had negative consequences…

December 12, 2016

Just read an opinion piece that says now that we don’t all sit down and watch the old Evening News with Walter Cronkite and then think that we know “that’s the way that it is”, not everyone is seeing or reading the same thing and it has led to mass confusion and a plethora of so-called news sites that spew out half-truths, propaganda, and just plain lies. People no longer seem to know or in some instances even care what the truth is. And with people able to customize their so-called news watching or reading to just things they may be interested in — there goes any chance of critical thinking and open minds.

Of course Cronkite was not the only television anchor man of his time, but he was the icon. Did he not go to Vietnam and tell the American people it was hopeless? And was that not the end of major public support of the war if there ever was any?

At one time it seemed worrisome that the big three television networks seemed to have a lock on the news. And major newspapers or major newspaper chains did too.

Oh wouldn’t it be nice if the public had more sources to choose from, maybe ones that might present a different perspective? That probably was the thought by many, even within established journalism itself.

(I try to avoid the term “media” when possible because of the pejorative nature it has taken on. Referring to the common understanding of the word is like lumping journalists in with shady used car salesman.)

Well we got our wish. Along came the internet. You can now get your “news” on demand. Some of it is tailored just to your own interest, no opposing views or inconvenient truths to pollute it. Some of it is a little distorted. And now a lot of it is just plain false, just fake news, put out there in many cases not to push a point of view but just to get you to click onto it so the purveyors of it can get advertising dollars based on views.

Also, it had been my observation through my many years (67) that even though I was interested in current events and politics from an early age, many others were not. I had a best friend. I liked his folks — nice down-to-earth people. But I found it odd that as soon as the evening news came on they would switch the channel. Maybe they read what they needed to know in the newspaper, but I think the father just read the sports page.

But what I am trying to say is that there was a large portion of the public who did not pay attention to current events and they did not vote. They were just out of the picture. But nowadays nearly everyone has a “smart phone”, well I don’t, but I do have instant access to the internet; I still use a flip phone because it serves my purpose — making actual phone calls. And I keep promising to get a smart phone. And now everyone has access to all kinds of stuff. But not everyone uses critical thinking. And a lot of people like to read what they think or what their own prejudices predispose them to believe.

Hence, the power of fake news. It may have cost Hillary Clinton the election (although most people think she herself is what primarily caused it) and it prompted at least one nut case to attack a pizza parlor in search of an imaginary child sex ring run by Clinton.

And now we have a President-elect who capitalizes on the phenomenon of just saying something without regard to truth knowing that either a large portion of the public will believe him or that they might not even care. I mean they are so used to reading what they want to read that anything works for them as truth or is a good replacement for it.

What to do?

We might actually go back to teaching the basics of reading and composition writing where one can make a case based on evidence. We might stress history and civics and literature. We might teach the importance of civic responsibility and that good public policy goes beyond who can make the most money no matter what the means.

Really for the educated and responsible there might not be much we can do in the short run except keep the faith and challenge those who lie by demanding some real evidence.

And we also have to examine our own critical thinking and keep open minds.

But this new form of fascism, a kind of re-incarnation from the 1930s and 40s, where public information is devoid of truth and is just propaganda designed to support tyrants at the top who shout nationalism, has to be resisted.

Ironically, the narrative that has been used to support the new fascism is that all along a cabal of elites at the top have been running things and now the people are standing up.

I think those people who think that they are standing up will soon realize that they have been caught up in a con game and will be forced to sit down by the very person they chose.