Posts Tagged ‘Fake news’

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Just What Is Fake News?

May 19, 2017

Fake news

 

Back in the late 60’s I was an undergraduate student at Syracuse University.  During the summers of those years I was employed at the Syracuse Herald Journal in the art department as a retouch artist.  My job was to provide visual clarity to otherwise fuzzy or tonally deficient photographs by retouching enhancements that better defined shapes and form so the image could be better understood.  One of my fellow artists in the department took this responsibility so seriously that he crossed a line, extending his role in an unauthorized way and was fired for it. When Senator James Buckley visited the paper one summer, he met with the publisher for a photo-op.  My friend painted a Mickey Mouse watch on the publisher and ban-the-bomb (peace symbol) cufflinks and a tie tack on Senator Buckley. This was not just retouching but editorializing.  As to the other departments of the newspaper, well, editorializing was a well established and pervasive approach to the news.

 

By its very nature, not all news can be reported.  There is not enough space nor time.  All news must be edited according to its worthiness, a criteria determined by the editor.  At the time, there were several common editing practices at the paper.  Chief among them was to only report those press releases provided by advertisers in the paper.  Ink would not be given to their competitors, no matter how newsworthy.  Editing in this manner produces a false sense of awareness that channels the unsuspecting reader along invisible paths to consensus around the singular views of the editor and the clients of the paper.  In that regard, it is fake news.  It is at best, half of the story. Today, this practice is best seen in use by legislators, beholding to lobbyists, wealthy donors and Super-Pacs who are widely regarded by them as their constituents.

 

Now the most outrageous form of fake news is fabrication, whether just an embellished mix of truth and falsehood or a complete and total creation. Back at the Herald Journal I was introduced to my first experience with this type of fake news by the editor at the city desk.  At the time, it was his practice to pen his own letters to the editor under fictitious names, allowing himself to pontificate in response on subjects of his choice and controlling both sides of the argument.  Clearly this was editorializing and while editorializing is not exactly news, it highlights an established practice that is in short supply today in the high stakes business environment of media coverage, called ratings.

 

Several business models have been developed to exploit ratings through different versions of fake news.  The FOX model is one of fabrication.  FOX repeatedly reports events incorrectly or with exaggerated embellishments that defy factual evidence.  This is not simply editorializing, which they are in no short supply of, but is actually false reporting and by the most exacting definition, fake news.

 

I don’t know with certainty that Donald Trump can be credited with inventing the phrase “Fake News,” but he is surely the Dr. Frankenstein who energized it to life.  It is understood in this context to mean a lie, but in all actuality he uses it to be any news that takes issue with his views or that reports negatively on his performance as President.

 

Today, anyone can generate fake news through social media, creating fabricated stories on Facebook and Twitter, for the purpose of manipulating public opinion. No single person does this better than Trump.  His daily tweets inflate the gullible and receptive minds of his core followers with propaganda so outrageous that it cannot withstand rational analysis, yet is perpetuated because it works.

 

But the all-time winner in the fake news category is Russia.  Through the use of bots and trolls they have managed to introduce thousands of fake news stories daily on vulnerable social media platforms, flooding social intercourse with diversions from important issues to unsubstantiated tales, dirty tricks and gossip, none of which can be proven to the contrary since they are devoid of factual content in the first place.  By creating a perception, they have formed a tangible reality and in this case, visibly changed the outcome of an election to favor the candidate that they secretly endorsed.

 

The other model for fake news is much different at CNN.  It is not fake news as Trump defines it, but something equally sinister because they are unaware of their involvement in creating it. The CNN model is called “objectivity.”  Every anchor, every reporter at CNN goes far out of their way to avoid the perception of editorializing.  “Fair and balanced news” is their mantra, but there is nothing fair about reporting on unbalanced events in such a way as to make them appear to be balanced.  There’s a couple problems here.  First, by reporting an event in that way, it betrays their concern to keep the maximum viewership and ratings.  If you cut off any portion of your audience, you have limited your growth potential.  It’s the same problem that candidates face in moving from a primary to a general election.  They need to expand their base to win.

 

Unlike  FOX, CNN is very careful not to report fake news or to editorialize, but in the process have become timid and non-confrontational in their reportage, allowing the various persons interviewed to control the narrative.  No one answers questions directly anymore and spin reigns supreme.  To counteract this perception they have created endless panels of oppositional surrogates who often, while shouting over one another, create complete chaos, fomenting such confusion that it reflects badly on the media pundits who are tasked with representing the very positions that CNN shies away from in their reportage. It’s the same tactic Trump uses to claim plausible deniability.  “It’s not me.  I didn’t say that.  They said that.  I’m not accountable.”  This type of fake news undermines CNN’s credibility.  Rather they should take a braver approach and stand for something.  FOX’s position may be based on many falsehoods, but no one can misinterpret their position.  If the media is to make a difference in this democracy, they must represent a point of view that is based on the truth, not just report the facts.  In the days of the Vietnam war, CBS had a regular editorial segment with Eric Severied.  Editorials have always been a chief component of the news.  Credible print publications all still have an editorial section where they make their opinion known.  The absence of real editorializing on CNN, the absence of a clear point of view, does an enormous disservice to a nation struggling to find it’s identity in the new global environment.

 

The conservative right has Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilley, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck and others to trumpet their cause with layers of falsehoods and opinion, fake news to be sure.  But the progressive movement has an equally powerful version of fake news all it’s own, known as Comedy and it is no overstatement to say that there is no Right Wing equivalent of this strain of fake news.  More truth can be recognized in the comedy of SNL, Steven Colbert, John Stewart and Trevor Noah of the Daily Show, John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight”, Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal,” or Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Jimmy Fallon, Conan or Seth Meyers than in the surrogate approach used by CNN.  The trouble is that to have an effective reach their audience must stay up late, and to the many hard working middle class adults and retired senior citizens it’s way past their bedtime.  No, all the farmers riding in the comfort of their air-conditioned combines and tractors and the many retired seniors enclaved in their gated condos all tune their lunchtime radios to Rush.

 

Finally, there is a vast legal contribution to the perpetuation of fake news.  Everything is “alleged.”  It’s an alleged murder, or an alleged robbery. It’s alleged to possibly have happened but in this “cover-your-ass” legal mentality of broadcast news, being alleged means that it may not be true.  Meanwhile, in social media, nothing is alleged.  It’s all stated as fact.  How can mainstream media argue with social media using allegations as an argument or tippy-toe-ing around controversy without taking a position.  Even their visuals have to be carefully screened, now with a seemingly ever present de-focused ellipse over any face that may pose an issue for the legal team.

 

 

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President Troll

April 1, 2017

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As my dated vocabulary expands to accommodate new meanings for old words, I have turned my mind to other disciplines for exploration.  Take for example Algebra.  I remember well the formulaic logic that goes thusly:  If A equals C and B equals C, then A equals B.  Seems easy enough, so let’s apply it to the real world.

If a troll is a person who uses social media to antagonistically engage others in argument or to plant fake news AND if Donald Trump engages others antagonistically through social media to start arguments and plant fake news THEN Donald Trump is a troll.

America, let me introduce you to your president.  President Troll.

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Blurred Lines

February 20, 2017

Music Review Robin Thicke

Blurred Lines

Hey, hey, hey

If you can’t hear, what I’m try’na say

If you can’t read, from the same page

Maybe I’m going deaf

Maybe I’m going blind

Maybe I’m out of my mind

Robin Thicke

Robin Thicke was not thinking politically when he penned that song, but as a piece of poetry it is equally applicable to today’s political crisis. Trump’s burred political lines are as obvious as the blurred lines around his eyes, separating his pasty white skin from his fake orange spray tan. Let’s look at just a few.

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Trump’s use of Air force One is a blurred line.

Trump now has three residences:  His New York Flat in Trump Tower, the Whitehouse and Mar-a-Lago. In his first three weeks in office he flew Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago every weekend. Air Force One costs $206,000 per each hour of flight time.  From DC to  Mar-a-Lago that’s 2 1/2 hours, or roughly half a million dollars.  With the return flight to DC that’s a million dollars in taxpayer money for Trump to visit his club in Florida each weekend.  Well not exactly, there’s more, much more.  A fleet of C-17’s accompany Air Force One carrying the presidential motorcade, a fleet of armored limousines and security cars.  Add another two million.  Several fighter jets fly with the plane for protection and a commercial plane is used to carry staff and the press.  Air Force One boasts two kitchens that can serve gourmet food to 100 people at a time. In case of an emergency, a doctor is always on board along with a medical suite that functions as an operating room. Air Force One is complete with a gym, 87 phones and 19 televisions.  That’s some perk, even for a billionaire pussy-grabbing playboy, a longtime member of the “Mile High Club.”

Specific security details for the plane are top secret, but what is known is that it can function as a bunker in a nuclear attack; it can repel airborne missiles and its electronic defense system can defeat enemy radar.

No actual cost has been divulged but a safe bet is that it easily hovers at around 5 million dollars per weekend to fly Air Force One and all it’s support to and from Mar-a-Lago. That’s probably a conservative estimate.

So in the first three weeks in office, Playboy Trump has already spent fifteen million dollars in travel costs just to visit his club.  Is he flying on government business or are these trips using Air Force One for personal use? A seat on a commercial jetliner can be had for $227. And then Trump has his own plane as well.  He continues to use his personal cell phone which is easily hacked rather than use the secure phone provided to him by the Secret Service.  If only he had the same attitude regarding the use of Air Force One, we could all be spared a lot of money that is better spent on any of the programs he is destined to cut to satisfy his end of the deal he made with McConnell and the GOP hypocrites at the convention.

Secret Service costs are a blurred line.

Yes, that’s a lot of wasted money, but it doesn’t stop there.  Secret Service costs are rising at an incalculable rate.  Since Melania has chosen to remain in New York with son, Baron, and since Trump insists on regular visits to Mar-a-Lago, The Secret Service must provide protection to the President and his family at three locations concurrently.  Until now all first families lived in the Whitehouse and flew to their other homes for vacations but not every weekend. The cost to provide Trump protection in New York’s Trump Tower is estimated alone at a million dollars a day.  Total cost for three locations could possibly be a billion dollars per year.  That’s a lot of student loans as Bernie Sanders might say.

Trump’s visits to Mar-a-lago are a blurred line

Mar-a-Lago has about 500 members who now pay $200,000 per year to join his exclusive club.  That’s one hundred million dollars a year to Trump.  Members include real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives and others whose businesses are all affected by Trump’s policies like William Koch, one of the infamous Koch brothers. Three  members are being considered for ambassadorships. Flying to the club every weekend provides members easy access to Trump, but is this government business or is this just good-ole-boy backroom dealing with the “best dealmaker ever?”  Is Trump using the presidency to promote membership in Mar-a-Lago through his regular visits?  Activities at the club are mostly masked from public view, unlike visits to the Whitehouse where visitors are exposed to the press as they enter.  Pretty nifty, huh?

POTUS’s salary has  been set at around four hundred thousand dollars, which Trump has said he would decline to accept, an empty gesture from a charlatan who spends fifteen million dollars a week to support the $100 million he gets for membership in his club, all the while blurring the lines between government and personal business.

Trump’s continued campaigning is a blurred line.

When should a presidential campaign begin?  It’s reasonable to suppose it begins after a candidate registers with the election commission and announces his candidacy for the upcoming term. George W. Bush waited 842 days after his inauguration to register.  Barack Obama waited 846 days.  Donald Trump waited 0 days.  That’s right, he registered the day of the inauguration. He’s running a continuing campaign for re-election.  Regarding his recent trip to a rally in Melbourne, Florida, both Trump and his very obedient fall-guy, Spicer, referred to it as a “campaign.”  In the past, presidents who flew Air Force One to a campaign had to reimburse the government for that expense.  If it’s not official government business, then Trump should be required to pay for the expenses.  Is anyone looking into it?  How long will this go on?

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kuschner’s administration roles are a blurred line.

Ivanka’s role in Whitehouse administration is not official, but Trump refers to her “unoffically” as his closest advisor.  Nepotism laws prevent her from having an official position.  As to Jared, the same laws apply, but are ignored, as he has been appointed Senior Advisor to the President. Initially Trump was considering requesting security clearances for each of them, but decided against it.  Why focus attention on something that can be easily ignored? And so we see Ivanka trailing her dad to private meetings with foreign leaders and staying in the room for those secretive discussions.  But the question we have to ask is this:  “How can someone be the closest advisor to the President, and another be appointed senior advisor if they do not have access to the top secret data that must be considered to make sound decisions?”  Are we to believe that the Donald doesn’t share the secrets he is privy to with his family of trusted advisors?

Trump’s actions regarding Taiwan & China are a blurred line.

Back in December, 2016 then president-elect Trump spoke to Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen on the telephone. Regarded as the first such call between the leader of Taiwan and any US president or president-elect since ties between the two countries were cut in 1979. The US closed its embassy in democratically ruled Taiwan after Richard  Nixon’s China visit because Beijing still considers it a province of China, not an independent country.  Since then, the US has maintained a “One China Policy” which officially considers Taiwan as part of the Chinese mainland.

Taiwan’s National Security Council secretary general Joseph Wu, foreign minister David Lee, and acting secretary general Liu Shih-fang, were all present during the call. The two leaders discussed the economic, political, and security ties between Taiwan and the United States in a conversation that lasted about 10 minutes in which they exchanged views and ideas about future governance, economic development and national defense, as well as the broader regional situation in Asia and strengthening bilateral relations between Taiwan and the US.

The call infuriated China’s leaders who saw it as a provocative action.  In just ten minutes, Trump created an atmosphere  of mistrust and a competition for US-China relations.  Wow, not even in office yet and he’s shaking things up!

In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Kellyanne Conway said Trump was “fully briefed and fully knowledgeable about these issues”.

Oddly, prior to Friday’s call with Tsai, Trump’s team had been looking into the possibility of investing in luxury hotels in Taiwan.  Even more odd is the fact that for the last ten years Trump has been trying without success to get the government of China to allow him to put the Trump name on his Chinese construction projects.  After taking office he suddenly and sharply reversed his “Two China” views to conform with China’s wishes and China responded by subsequently granted him permission to put the Trump name on his construction projects.  Funny how things work for “the best dealmaker ever.”

Trump’s endless efforts to make reality conform to his opinion blurs many lines.

Trump accuses all the major news agencies (except Fox News) of reporting “fake news,” lying.  But consider this, how is it that all those unrelated news agencies come to the same conclusions with the same exact facts and Donald and Fox differ?  Well as Donald’s recent campaign comment regarding terrorism in Sweden handily points out, he just repeats what he hears on Fox News, without considering its veracity or filtering it with advice from knowledgable advisors. I draw a distinction here as a knowledgable advisor is different from a “closest and trusted” advisor, all being family members.  So the many falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies put forth by Fox News are not lost on an admiring Trump because they compliment him and his views and he compliments them back by repeating what they say.

But this should come as no surprise to us as the Donald has a long history of being on the wrong side of truth.  Take for example his many pronouncements about the Central Park Five or Obama’s birth certificate, his claim of three million illegal votes, or the bussing of illegal voters from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, the size of the crowds at his inauguration and the absence of rain,  or that his elctoral college win was the biggest since Reagan (it wasn’t by a long shot), and most importantly his denials that the Russians hacked the election even after the top secret briefing that he received along with Obama from the 17 intelligence agencies that contradicted his stubborn opinion.

One has to ask, “is Trump dumb as a brick or wily as a fox?”  Consider this.  A few days ago in Melbourne, Florida after all of Trump’s campaign bluster repeating the many old and familiar, empty promises the nationwide television viewing audience were treated to the sight and sounds of his supporters exiting to the playback of the Rolling Stones singing a very familiar tune, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”  Am I the only one who sees the irony in this?  Is Trump that ignorant or is he the wily fox rubbing it in our faces?  Fifth Avenue looks wider than ever.

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The Disinformation Age of Fake News

December 21, 2016

The Disinformation Age of Fake News

“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”       P.T. Barnum

truth

Job prospects are bright for college grads interested in careers in fact checking.  Donald Trump has boosted the field with his many gross exaggerations, ignorant falsehoods and outright lies.  The growth rate in this new industry is so rapid that the market is having trouble keeping up with it.

Trump, being no stranger to the subtleties of the differences in each form of falsehood, practices all with equal enthusiasm and occasion.  Each day he spews forth outrageous statements that challenge the readily available data that proves otherwise. Despite this, there is no end in sight to his daily false pronouncements.  It’s not that he invented this style of management, there have been many experts before him who have paved the way, but in Trump’s case he has fashioned a new viral form through the use of social media blended with the power infused into his lies through rallies, a form of collective group surrender emulsifying the audience with his monumental ego, producing the current form of nationalism.

One of the his latest claims is that he won the 2016 election in one of, if not the greatest, landslide victories ever.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Whether evaluating his claim by the popular vote or the electoral votes, it is blatantly false.

Of the total votes counted for Clinton and Trump, 128,824,210, Clinton received 62,844,594 while Trump received 62,979,616, a loss of 2.22% for Trump, hardly a landslide.

But Trump’s claim gets even more preposterous when the electoral vote count is considered.  Of the past 58 elections since the founding of this country, Trump’s victory ranks 46th in the percentage of winning electoral votes, certainly not one of the greatest landslides ever in political history.

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Another current debate in the media centers on Trump’s refusal to admit that the Russians hacked the 2016 election.  It’s understandable that he does not want the legitimacy of his win to be undermined by nefarious actions on the part of the Russians, but his attempts to suggest that it could be the Chinese, or a fat man somewhere does not dismiss the data that a hack existed.

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In this all the security agencies of our nation are in agreement, the FBI, the CIA and the NSA. Any uncertainty on Trump’s part as to who performed the hack does not repudiate that a hack was committed. That notwithstanding, the agencies all agree hat it was the Russians.  Trump alone advances the argument for uncertainty, as he alone benefits from it.  In his heart he knows it does challenge the legitimacy of his win.  So just how does shifting the blame change the only fact that matters, that the election was hacked?  It doesn’t.  What it does do, is shift the focus of the discussion away from the facts and into the realm of speculation, his intent being that he won’t go broke underestimating the ability of the American public’s intelligence to distinguish between the two. And the sad news is, he is probably right.

The irony of all this is that Trump won the GOP primary and the general election by propagating  falsehoods regarding his opponents. The Russians, however, influenced voters to a Trump win by releasing accurate, however biased, information regarding the Democrats and Hillary. Say what you will about the Russians, but if the information had been leaked by the GOP, would we be in such a fuss about it?  After all, it’s true.  So ultimately the vote was an accurate reflection of the sentiment of the voters, whipped to a frenzy by Trump’s lies but codified by the truth revealed by hackers.  This should not be viewed as  an endorsement of the method but a confirmation of the belief in the truth of the information revealed. So one might be safe to say, “what does it matter?”  In general, we permitted many lies to go unchallenged but have stoked a large controversy over facts acquired through illegal means.  It seems our emphasis is on the means and not the content, perhaps rightly so.  The content is incontrovertible.

But today, the big topic is fake news and it’s everywhere, from politicians, the media, the entertainment industry and now in it’s final form from individuals on social media.  Fake news has come full circle.  Gossip is the original form of fake news.  It began when an individual with malicious intent inventing a lie that could be spread through simple oral communication, “the grapevine.”  It can be as simple as “Mrs. so-and-so has taken a lover” or as the lie that Lyndon Johnson once spread through his minions, “my opponent is fucking a pig,” just to see him deny it.

A good liar does not have to personally shoot someone on Fifth Avenue.  No, all they have to do is stimulate someone else to do it for them.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when at first we plot to deceive.”

In both cases gossip is manufactured to influence opinion. Is that not the very definition of a politician, creating perception?  Managing falsehoods can be the most relevant activity in a politicians bag of tricks.  It is performed most effectively through second parties such as media personalities like Rush Limbaugh, super pac advertising, loyal surrogates and paid pundits all furthering the principle of “divide and conquer” through multiple choice “truths” while maintaining deniability.

This is disinformation at its best, an art form practiced by spy agencies the world over, including our own CIA.  It redirects opinion away from the truth, obscuring the facts while creating multiple possibilities.   Like a court with a hung jury, we are mired in gridlock and division, unable to act as required.

Technology has played no small part in advancing the cause of disinformation.  It is the conduit by which a lie takes root so rapidly.  First, the lie itself becomes news.  Then the act of lying becomes news.  Then the spin becomes news, and finally the deflection becomes news.  The surrogates are trotted out to create confusion while the very existence of the lie is debated ad nauseam. If so many good people believe it, how can it be questioned?  It is repeated endlessly, over and over and over.  Maybe it is true?  Like kudzu overwhelming a tree, it becomes the only visible entity. Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK.

And with good reason.  Everybody profits.  The media profits with increased advertising revenues. The surrogates and pundits are well paid. All parties advance their political agenda.

Recognizing the potential in this arena supermarket rags have chosen to specialize in fake news, rags like the National Enquirer.  Aliens are keeping Princess Diana alive on Mars.  Brad Pitt is dating Honey Boo-Boo. Jesus appeared in a dog’s ass.  Elvis was identified at a truck stop in Alaska. Nothing, not even the most preposterous claims, has ever stopped them from going to press with it.  These stories are sold endlessly to gullible shoppers waiting in long checkout lines to buy their cigarettes, beer and ho-hos to return home with their snacks and settle in to an evening of FOX news and Duck Dynasty. This is the new American electorate.  It’s an easy sell for someone brash enough to try and one that pays off with big returns.

Like the best advertising, it creates a perception and then sells to it.  Just as that sale can justify questionable actions, it can also motivate to action or cause inaction.  It is a tool that can create gridlock or shatter the status quo, depending on how it is directed. It encourages the spread of an ideology for financial gain and it rewrites history.

Recognizing this potential, disinformation has come full circle, returning in an exponential degree to the private individual voice as fake news. Fake news, like the National Enquirer relies on the most outrageous and preposterous claims to attract the most attention.  It sells to perception as does the best advertising, and it feeds on the gullible, the innocent, the lazy  and the ill-informed.  The power of the internet and creation of social media gives voice to anyone with a story to share and the most mischievous can profit handily with paid advertising click-throughs, quite the incentive to spread clever lies, but also fertile ground for experienced political disinformation operatives.

But fake news is not a new phenomena, nor is it necessarily untrue.  Saturday Night Live crafted fake news into a comedic art form, but John Stewart and The Daily Show shaped it into a vehicle to comedically present real news and the truth behind it, in an entertaining form.  None other than Colin Powell, when asked in an interview, identified The Daily Show as his preferred news source.

Until the media cleans up it’s act we will be offered little choice, if that choice must consist of one form of fake news versus another.