Thursday, January 26, 2017

Faux News

“The media here is the opposition party. They don't understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States… media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”  
Steve Bannon, Chief White House Strategist, in the 1/27 NY Times.

Doesn’t “faux news” sound so much better than “fake news”? But demand for faux news has never been higher. When the government does it, it used to be called “propaganda,” but “propaganda” is so obvious, particularly with state-controlled media. So the experts have simply got better at it with new tech tools. Putin’s Russia does it so with so much more subtlety; they secretly engage private hackers and disrupters to do their dirty work. And then deny that they tried. We’re still bumblers, even though we do hack reasonably well.
The Voice of America was (is?) supposed to spread our message of democracy and freedom into those poor state-media-controlled nations, but these days, US government messaging has gained a newfound reputation as a purveyor of “alternative facts.” After all, the Intelligence Unit of the Economist tells us that the United States is now a “flawed democracy,” having fallen from its long-standing perch as a “full democracy.”
As Donald Trump pushes his operatives, particularly Press Secretary Sean Spicer and special advisor Kellyanne Conway [above], to spit out clearly false statements – although the Boss may believe them, they are completely fabricated – his adherents simply cannot get enough of this “new truth” that the “corrupt and lying mass media” is trying to bury. 70% of Trumpists believe every word, and they filter out any media that contradicts that presentation.
To be a loyal and senior member of the Trump team is to join in an angry chorus aimed at disrupting and discrediting the long-standing established press: “On his first full day in office, President Trump excoriated journalists as ‘among the most dishonest human beings on Earth’... Two days later, former House speaker Newt Gingrich jumped into the fray like the second half of a wrestling tag team. The American people could be the losers in this fight.
“Journalists are ‘the propaganda of the left, which we used to refer to as the news media,’ Gingrich told the Heritage Foundation [an ultra-conservative group] on Monday [1/23]. He called Sunday’s [1/22’s] Meet the Press ‘entirely a propagandistic effort on behalf of the nut cake, left-wing worldview.’” Washington Post, January 26th. And Steve Bannon’s quote above doesn’t need interpretation, but it is Trump strict dogma.
Clearly, Donald Trump would love completely to marginalize the once revered fifth estate and replace those voices with his version of state-controlled media. It’s just in his blood, the way has always thought. And it’s going to be the way things are going to be for a long time.
“Back in 2011, former NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Zucker [now CNN chief] told an audience of television-management students at Drexel University that he greenlit Donald Trump’s ‘The Apprentice’ because he knew the real-estate mogul would be a ‘wrecking publicity machine’ for the reality-competition series. ‘Even if the show wasn’t good, he was going to say it was good,’ Zucker said. ‘Even if the ratings weren’t good, he was going to say that the ratings were great.’ … He added, ‘Nobody could generate publicity like Donald Trump’”, January 26th
But folks who grew up believing in learning and studying facts rail at the thought. Scientists are up in arms, and some government agencies are having trouble containing their professionals. Tweets from Badlands National Park, repeating statistical realities about climate change, were shut down as quickly as they occurred. But without castigating Trump’s climate-change-hoax statements directly, the park simply continued to release a litany of facts – from other governmental agencies – that flew in the face of Trump’s denials. Trust me, that news source is not long for this world.
There are even scientists who are trying to figure out how to reprogram people to understand when news is fake. “The appearance of fake news on websites and social media has inspired scientists to develop a ‘vaccine’ to immunise people against the problem.
“A University of Cambridge study devised psychological tools to target fact distortion… Researchers suggest ‘pre-emptively exposing’ readers to a small ‘dose’ of the misinformation can help organisations cancel out bogus claims… The study, published in the journal Global Challenges, was conducted as a disguised experiment… More than 2,000 US residents were presented with two claims about global warming.
“The researchers say when presented consecutively, the influence well-established facts had on people were cancelled out by bogus claims made by campaigners… But when information was combined with misinformation, in the form of a warning, the fake news had less resonance.
“Fabricated stories alleging the Pope was backing Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton sold weapons to the so-called Islamic State group were read and shared by millions of Facebook users during the US election campaign.
“The world's largest social network later announced new features to help combat fabricated news stories, and there is pressure on Google and Twitter to do more to tackle the issue.”, January 23rd. What exactly are those Websites doing to counter out-and-out fabrications-as-news? After all, there’s probably as much fake news these days as good reportage.
“Tech companies sure have been going out of their way disassociate themselves from fake news. And for good reason: There’s a lot of money involved. Google just released a report describing 340 instances in which it took actions against fraudulent news sites. All told, the tech giant says it banned almost 200 of those sites from using Google ads. The moves came in November and December, Google says. It was back in November when Google altered its AdSense policy, banning sites that ‘misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose’ from receiving ad dollars. 
“Facebook, too, is making additional moves to curb fake news on its platform. As detailed in a new report from the Wall Street Journal, the company’s software will now only surface topics that have been covered by a significant number of credible publishers. The move is designed to give added weight to stories that have been around for a while, in the hopes of quashing hoaxes. In addition – and this is a big deal – Facebook’s trending news topics will no longer be personalized to every individual user. In other words, Facebook is trying to poke a hole in the so-called ‘filter bubble,’ exposing users to a wider variety of sources, events and viewpoints. The moves come about a month after Facebook announced 
plans to hire third-party fact-checkers to vet news items.” CynopsisDigital, January 26th.
Funny that the quest for truth is seemingly only coming from the private sector (or governments other than the United States), but it is the federal government that has become the master of disseminating fake news. Beyond the Cold War propaganda that both sides supported. That a mass of people really want that false news to be true, intend to live their lives in reliance of such falsehoods-as-reality, is a testament both to their desperation is a world that seems to be passing them by and how badly our educational system has failed them.
But the new administration needs this fake news. There is no way for Donald Trump to return obsolete jobs at high levels of pay to workers who really will never return to what was, to restore jobs (versus automation) as he pledged by moving manufacturing on-shore or create a cheaper, more inclusive and better healthcare system. He needs to control how these “failures” are presented to maintain his power base. They will either be misrepresented as success, or The Donald will invoke his second greatest skillset: blaming others while deflecting attention. There is no way to accomplish these vectors unless he can make people believe that what is false is really true. Think democracy thrives where so many people literally make decisions as if fake news were true?
I’m Peter Dekom, and I wonder exactly what is going to happen to the entire American political system as a result of this dramatic shift in values and governmental intention.

No comments: