Posts Tagged ‘Fake News’

The prevalence of fake news

May 4, 2021

I don’t watch network news very often.  I don’t even have a  functioning TV set.  So I needed this Trevor Noah skit as a reminder of just how goofy and irresponsible Fox News can be.

Joe Biden was going to take away Americans’ meat.  Kamala Harris had her children’s book distributed to unauthorized migrant children at the border.  Joe Biden wore a mask as he sat alone in a ZOOM call with world leaders.  Except none of these things was true.

There are plenty of valid criticisms you could make of Biden, and not just from a conservative point of view.  But if you think of yourself as a liberal and you think of Fox News or right wing talk radio as “the other side,” you are not going to be swayed in your view.

You have the same thing with the “mainstream media.”  A Capitol Police officer was beaten to death with a fire extinguished by maddened Trump supporters.  Rudy Giuliani was warned by the FBI against going to Kiev to dig up material to help Trump’s campaign.  Except none of these things were true, either.

I think it’s possible to get a relatively accurate idea of what’s really going on in the world, but you have to have more leisure time than most people have, and even then, it’s hard. 

LINKS

Corporate News Outlets “Confirm” the Same False Story, While Many Refuse to Correct It by Glenn Greenwald.

The Media Lied Repeatedly About Officer Brian Sicknick’s Death, And They Just Got Caught by Glenn Greenwald.

Fake news and the storming of the Capitol

February 17, 2021

It is not true that Officer Brian Sicknick was beaten to death by a pro-Trump mob during the storming of the Capitol, Glenn Greenwald reported last night. 

This raises big questions about the credibility of reporting of the event and the justification for a “domestic war on terror.”

The report in the New York Times on Jan. 8, based on quotes from two anonymous law enforcement officials, and in a follow-up article.  It was cited as fact in the articles of impeachment against ex-President Donald Trump.

But on the same day, ProPublica published an article quoting Sicknick’s brother as having received a text from SIcknick after the riot saying he was okay, in spite of having been pepper-sprayed.  But then later they got word he had a blot clot and was on a ventilator.  He died that night.

Nobody has produced video evidence of the alleged beating of Sicknick.  Many of the rioters have been charged, but nobody has yet been charged with Sicknick’s murder. 

On Feb. 2, CNN published an article, noting in passing that the medical examiner’s report on Sicknick’s death has not been released, but quoting one investigator that there were no signs of head injuries and investigators no longer believe the fire extinguisher story.

I am not making excuses for Donald Trump or for the rioters.  It is clear to me that Trump intended the mob to storm the Capitol in order to intimidate Vice President Pence and the Senate into refusing to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory.  This was wrong.  It was a symbolic and real attack on the democratic process.

Neither am I trying to trivialize the tragedy of Officer Sicknick’s death or deny that it was duty-related.

However, nothing is gained by false reporting or by believing false reporting.  You only weaken your cause.

I don’t fault the reporters of the initial NYT article.  When you’re reporting on deadline, you go with the information you’ve got.  But I do fault the NYT and the rest of the Washington press corps for not trying to check or verify the facts the next day. 

The great temptation for any reporter, as I know from my own experience, is to come across information that seems to confirm your biases and assumptions, and look no further.  This is the great fault of the so-called mainstream press in the Trump era.

The New York Times over many decades built a reputation as a reliable source of information by taking great care to be fair and accurate.  But it is much more easy to lose a good reputation than to gain one, and that is what is happening now.

Self-described liberals mock President Trump for talking about fake news.  They can’t understand why so many people believe things like the Q-Anon conspiracy.  But if respected institutions such as the NYT can’t be troubled to get things right, its editors and reporters shouldn’t be surprised if some people turn to disreputable sources.

LINKS

The False and Exaggerated Claims Being Spread About the Capitol Riot by Glenn Greenwald.  “Insisting on factual accuracy does not make one an apologist for the protestors.  False reporting is never justified, especially to inflate threat and fear levels.”

“This Political Climate Got My Brother Killed”: Officer Brian Sicknick Died Defending the Capitol; His Family Waits for Answers by J. David McSwane for ProPublica.

Investigators struggle to build murder case in death of US Capitol Police Officer Brian SIcknick by Evan Perez, David Shortell and Whitney Wild for CNN.

MAGA Blood Libel: Why Are They Hiding the Medical Report? on Revolver News  [Added 2/18/2021]

Mom of US Capitol police officer Brian Sickwick believes he died of a stroke by Laura Collins for The Daily Mail.  [Added 2/24/2021]

What we know about Capitol Police officer Brian Sickwick’s death by Bill McCarthy for PolitiFact.  [Added 2/24/2021]

Russian bounties: the latest pro-war fake news

July 14, 2020

The newspaper articles on supposed Russian bounties on U.S. troops on Afghanistan have turned out to be—what a surprise!—fake news.

It turns out that the reports originated from unverified Afghan intelligence reports that were passed on to U.S. military intelligence and widely disbelieved by certain other U.S. intelligence agencies.  The Afghan government of course has good reason for fearing U.S. withdrawal from this unending stalemate war.

Although the report has been discredited, it has done its job.  The Trump administration will not draw down troops from Afghanistan this year.

My rule of thumb, ever since the debunking of claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, is to automatically disbelieve any leak from secret intelligence sources by anonymous persons without evidence.  This rule has not misled me yet.

It is a sorry state of affairs when bloggers such as Caitlin Johnstone and Moon of Alabama’s “b,” and relatively obscure news sites such as Consortium News and The Intercept, provide more reliable information than the New York Times.

LINKS

The Latest Russiagate BOMBSHELL Took Just One Week to Be Exposed as Dud | What Was Its Source? by “b” for Moon of Alabama.

BOUNTYGATE: Scapegoating Systematic Military Failure in Afghanistan by Scott Ritter for Consortium News.

Seriously, Get the Hell Out of Afghanistan by Caitlin Johnstone.

House Democrats, Working With Liz Cheney, Restrict Trump’s Planned Withdrawal of Troops from Afghanistan and Germany by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

The Pentagon declares war on ‘fake news’

September 5, 2019

The Pentagon has taken on a mission of safeguarding Americans from propaganda and fake news on the Internet.

Talk about setting a fox to guard a henhouse!

LINKS

The Pentagon Wants to Use DARPA to Police Internet News by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

WaPo Warns USA Needs More Narrative Control As Pentagon Ramps Up Narrative Control by Caitlin Johnstone.

Am I being unpatriotic when I link to RT News?

November 30, 2017

RT News and Sputnik International are news services funded by the Russian government.   They are said to be waging “information warfare” against the United States.

RT America and Sputnik International have been ordered to register as foreign agents, the only foreign news services that have been ordered to do so.  What this means is that they will be required to disclose their sources of funds and other details of their operations.

The FBI is investigating Sputnik.  Google has changed its algorithm to “de-rank” RT and Sputnik in Google searches.  Twitter has banned advertising by RT and Google.

None of these things prevent RT or Sputnik from reporting their version of the news or making their reports available to Americans.   We’re not like the old Soviet Union, where you could be arrested for listening to the Voice of America.

And, in one respect, the United States is more liberal than the Russian federation.  Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America lost their Russian broadcast licenses in 2012 and 2014, but Sputnik still has a radio station in Washington, D.C.

The anti-Russia campaign is intended to brand Americans as unpatriotic if they work for RT or Sputnik, appear on their programs or even watch their programs.

I’ve linked to RT News videos in previous posts.  What does that make me?  Am I unpatriotic?

I think an American who listens to or watches RT or Sputnik is like a Russian who watches or listens to the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe.   The U.S. government has an ulterior motive in funding these two news services.   At the same time, they provide Russians with information and ideas they wouldn’t get from their domestic broadcasters.

Established U.S. broadcasters have a limited range of viewpoints they regard as acceptable.   I never noticed this until my own thinking moved outside the range of the acceptable.   So if there’s something on RT News I think is interesting or worthwhile, even though it might not be acceptable to PBS or CNN, I’ll link to it..    That’s my right as a free American.

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The real question about U.S. election hacking

June 16, 2017

The important question about computer hacking of the American voting system is not:

  • Is there evidence that Russian computer hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election?

The important question is:

  • Can the American voting system be hacked?

Because if the American voter registration rolls or vote counting systems are vulnerable to outside interference, sooner or later somebody is going to interfere.

It may be Russian agents.  It may be agents of some other foreign country.   It may be unscrupulous American political operatives or special interests.  But somebody will do it.

POLITICO magazine recently reported that last August, Logan Lamb, a 29-year-old cybersecurity specialist, accidentally gained access to the voting records and systems for the whole state of Georgia.   He reported the problem to the proper authorities, but was brushed off.

Bloomberg News reported that investigators said that, prior to the 2016 election, Russians gained access to voter databases and software systems in 39 states, including software designed to be used by poll watchers and, in one state, a campaign finance data base.

There is no evidence that 2016 election results were actually changed, according to Bloomberg.  Whatever happened may have been a training exercise for a future operation.

Vladimir Putin, in his interviews with Oliver Stone for a soon-to-be-released movie, accused the United States of interfering in Russian elections.  Putin denied allegations of Russian hacking, but, when asked whether there is a secret U.S.-Russian cyber war, he said that for every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction, which sounds like a semi-admission.

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Fake news and critical thinking

April 8, 2017

Little of what I write about on this blog is based on first-hand knowledge.  It is what the philosopher Bertrand Russell called knowledge by description rather than knowledge by acquaintance.

I write about foreign countries I’ve never visited, whose language I do not speak and whose people I’ve never spoken to.   I write about politicians I’ve never interviewed.

I know from 40 years experience on newspapers that it is hard to be well-informed on a topic, even if you have time to study the subject, and in fact are being paid to be well-informed.

It is even, as now, I depend on second-hand information.  It is easy to be misled and hard to sift the real from the fake.  Here are filters I use to separate news from fake news.

  1.  Who says so?  How do they know?  Is a source of information given for every assertion?  Is the source of the information a person in a position to know?  Is the person trustworthy?  Is the source of the information anonymous?  If so, do they have a good reason for being anonymous?
  2.   Click on the links.  If the source of information is a link on the Internet, follow links as far as you can to the original source, and see whether it supports what is asserted.
  3.   Does the claim make sense?  Does the news item make sense as something somebody could do?  Does it make sense in terms of something somebody would do?  Is it consistent with what else you know?  Is it consistent with itself.
  4.   Does the writer engage in mind-reading?  Other people’s’ motives are unknowable.  You can know what somebody does.  You can’t really know why they do it, and the “why”
  5.   Compare and contrast diverse sources.  If you have time.
  6.   Carry on imaginary conversations in your head.   If you are a progressive, imagine a conservative making their best arguments (or vice versa).   How would you answer?  Could you answer?
  7.   Distrust emotion, but not too much.  Emotion can blind you to facts and logic, but the fact that somebody feels strongly about something doesn’t mean they’re wrong.   There’s nothing wrong with expressing anger, admiration, pity, gratitude or any other normal human emotion; what you should ask is whether the emotion is appropriate to the actual facts.
  8.   Use fact checkers, but skeptically.   Snopes.com and Factcheck.org are useful, but make up your own mind.
  9.   Arithmetic can be your friend.  If the news item is based on statistics, go to the original source, if you can.  Do the calculations yourself.  Always distrust any claim that is based on percentage differences or changes unless the underlying number also is given.  Don’t jump to conclusions about the significance of any number unless there is another number you can meaningfully compare it with.
  10.   Three things to watch out for.  Old news packaged to look like it’s current.  “Sponsored content” packaged to look like journalism.  Satire that isn’t labeled as satire.
  11.   Suspend judgment if you’re not sure.  Better to admit you don’t know something than to think you do when you don’t.
  12.   Admit mistakes, at least to yourself.  It just means you are wiser today than you were yesterday.

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Getting the facts right about Trump

March 15, 2017

During the 40 years I worked on newspapers, I sometimes got the story wrong through finding facts, or seeming facts, that proved what I thought all along—and then looking no further.  The same thing has happened with posts on this blog.

I think a lot of the reporting on Donald Trump is bad for precisely this reason.

President Trump himself sometimes says things that are obviously not true, and then refuses to back down.  I get that.

But if you’re going to accuse someone of dealing in “fake news” and “alternative facts,” people (other than those who already agree with you) are not going to believe you unless you are careful about the facts yourself.

The writers I trust the most are the ones who report facts that are contrary to their points of view—what lawyers call “admissions against interest.”   The links below are by writers who dislike Donald Trump, but dislike inaccuracy more.

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