The Underlying Fallacy of Fake News

Courtesy Austin Schmid

A vast wave of intellectual dishonestly is cresting above us in the argument about fake news. That it is actually taken seriously by the press is perhaps the most dangerous event of the postmodern era, and each day I pray that somebody important will say, “Stop!” My voice simply isn’t big enough for this to be heard, so somebody else is going to have to have the revelation.

Let me repeat what I’ve said in my book The Gospel of Self: there is no such thing as a right-wing press, because it was birthed, nurtured and remains a conduit for conservative political propaganda. For it to be recognized as legitimate, albeit alternative members of the press, it would have to make a solid case that the press is itself a conduit for liberal political propaganda, and that is a specious argument. “The news” by definition is progressive, because it consists of thoughts and activities that are new. There is no such thing as “the olds,” which is what we could expect from a conservative “press,” if such a thing were even possible. “Conservative press” is an oxymoron and as such presents a false logic. The press must at least make an ethical effort at fairness or as we used to say objectivity. This takes it outside the political process, while those claiming the status of a point-of-view news entity are just the opposite.

Political point-of-view journalism can’t be both.

An intellectually honest press would not even try to defend the accusations of liberal bias, which are, again, propaganda from the right. For, in defending itself, the press is agreeing that the argument needs defending. This has academia and the other intelligent institutions of the West reeling in a battle of cosmic consequences that can’t possibly end well for the cause of freedom. Are you hearing me? The mere suggestion that the press needs a conservative alternative, because the press pursues a liberal political agenda is foolishness gone to seed. It’s a dangerous fallacy, people, and we feed it by adopting its narrative.

Remember, I was there when we at CBN promoted ourselves as an entity of point-of-view journalism. WE made the claim and assigned ourselves a position within the mainstream – but to the right – because we presented “the news” with a conservative agenda. So WE, by behaving from a point-of-view, convinced our followers and those to come that even though we had an admitted bias, we still belonged on the same societal plane as the rest of the press. This may be a very slick justification, but it’s still blatantly false.

The professional press has been striving for a sense of fairness or objectivity within the news for at least the past century. As historian Chris Lasch brilliantly argues, this shift was motivated by economics, for advertisers wanted a sterile environment within which to present their ads. Nothing has changed about that, although advertising itself is now again shifting due to new challenges that are irrelevant to this discussion. The point is that the mainstream press may have begun with a great many personal biases, but the modern professional press is represented by ethical guidelines that don’t allow for political propaganda from any so-called “side” in the debate of political matters. That belongs on the editorial page or in commentaries so labeled.

To some, perhaps even many, that sounds absurd. When I spoke of it to a group of very conservative voters last summer at a Colorado Springs book event, the gasp of disbelief was loud. I was ridiculed, scorned, and dismissed by people who were completely convinced of their own narrative. This is the degree to which the public – and now the press itself – has been deceived by propaganda masters now running Washington and beyond.

Think of me as crazy, naive, or whatever you’d like, but until we all begin honestly dissecting what’s taking place around us, we’re going to continue to be buffeted about by this wave. Nothing is to be gained by measuring the trustworthiness of individual news organizations, as is being promoted by New York entrepreneurs Steve Brill and L. Gordon Crovitz with their green, yellow, red guidance system. The right has already labeled Snopes as a player of the left, and it will do the same with ANY attempt to frame them as false or even biased.

Instead of moving deeper into this black hole, journalism needs to end its defensiveness and simply do its job. Tell it like it is and not couched in mushy language designed not to offend conservatives.

Leading With Bleeding

I worked in several hyphenated markets during my 28-years as a TV news manager and also in markets with more than one population center. This produces a phenomenon that I referenced in my essay 20-years ago, The Lizard on America’s Shoulder. The problem is this: when newsrooms cover numerous population centers, their newscasts provide a false sense of danger, because every story seems to be bad news, especially in what we call “the A-block,” the opening segment of news. To my knowledge, there’s never been a study of this phenomenon, but I think we’d find that the practice produces a frightened populace.

Let’s face it: bad news is easy to cover. It’s exciting and works well with the hyperbole demanded by marketing, whether it’s within the newscast itself or in promotional announcements for the newscast. The old saying is “if it bleeds, it leads,” but in contemporary newscasts, it often goes beyond just the lead, and that makes people nervous (like the Lizard of C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce).

What we really ought to talk about, however, is what’s happening with social media, for this nervousness created by constant exposure to the darkness of life is much worse on Facebook than any broadcast newscast. Firstly, we now have the news-gathering process made public, including everything from the original dispatch of police on through the many iterations that exist prior to the story’s finished product (the newscast). Newspapers are in on this, too. Secondly, we have friends who are passing along links that they think might interest you, and very often these represent that same darkness. Then there are click-baiters, those God-awful sites that take an old story – and some are very old – and break every paragraph into a page, leaving the payoff to the hype until the very end. Blend in rampant politics offered by both amateurs and professionals, and there’s little wonder we’re all agitated and at each other’s throats.

Folks, this has a psychological impact, and it’s probably my top reason for not watching local news anymore.

The truth of the matter is that nobody is going to do anything about what we see, read, and watch, because “the media” still functions within a theatrical paradigm and not as invited guests to our individual parties. The web is not a mechanism that really caters to mass marketing, but it’s all that people in media management know, so we’ll just have to put up with it for awhile longer. Everything will eventually shift to pull, and those who only know push are going to find themselves on the outside looking in.

And, if they’re not going to do anything about the mass anxiety they create, then we’ll have to do something about that ourselves. Take note of what you consume and act accordingly.

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Push. Dig. Push. Dig.

AP Photo

Sometimes, events in media are so bizarre that all you can do is just laugh.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (a great school) has been given a $1.9 million grant from the Knight Foundation “that will provide funding over three years to fund initiatives aimed at ensuring TV news companies remain competitive in broadcast and digital storytelling.” The AP says the money will be used to “research the future of television news.”

Okay.

The story reports that part of the grant will be used to develop “an online hub where newsrooms can see the latest strategies their counterparts elsewhere are trying out.”

“The best way I can describe it is I think it’s going to be a resource where someone can come to this site from anywhere and get a sense of what new ideas are floating around in space, what works and what doesn’t,” said Cronkite Associate Dean Mark Lodato.

The school also plans to become a testing ground for improved local news content and dissemination.

“In an academic space like ASU, you can fail and understand the progress. It’s very hard to do that in a corporate environment when corporate dollars and people’s jobs are at risk,” Lodato said.

This reminds me of the failed “Newspaper Next” project by the American Press Institute over 10 years ago. One thing we learned back then is that it’s pure foolishness to ask the people digging the hole you’re in to come up with a solution to the hole. It’s impossible. They can’t stop digging, and that means every solution involves some form of digging. Dig. Dig. Dig. The money will be used to make sure that TV remains competitive in “broadcast and digital storytelling,” as if that’s a problem. Dig. Dig. Dig. Moreover, the hole doesn’t have anything to do with content in the first place; it’s about paradigm shifts in advertising, so why not study that? Our world today is all about pull strategies, because the devices we’re using to consume content these days are too personal to willingly permit pushing. Again, you can’t ask people pushing to come up with something different, because all they know is push. Push. Dig. Push. Dig. You get the idea.

And, I love how Dean Lodato has already pronounced failure. No need to say it after-the-fact if you admit it up front. Moreover, there’s no more competitive business in all the world than local television news, and if you think stations will drop their pants and reveal their “new ideas,” you’re effing nuts. Besides, that’s what consultants do, right? No, I’m not talking about dropping pants.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve become a total cynic when it comes to this stuff, but I view this as a colossal waste of time, attention, and resources. Besides, the industry doesn’t care. They’re far too busy licking their chops over the $8 billion that’s projected to be spent with them during this year’s mid-term elections. Most of that will likely go straight to the bottom line regardless of whether the fundamentals justify the candidate spending. Therefore, from a corporate perspective – is there really any other that matters? – there’s no problem.

And so it goes.

Muslims once again deal with terror’s fall-out

Twenty to thirty uniformed men arriving in SUVs attacked a Sufi Muslim mosque on the north coast of Egypt’s Sinai Desert during Friday prayers last week, killing over 300 worshippers, many of whom were children. In terms of scope, think of it as Las Vegas times six! It was a professional hit on a scale beyond anything we’ve witnessed in the past. Think of the outcry if, God forbid, something like this were to happen in a church here. And yet, we’ve already dismissed it – the press has already dismissed it – as irrelevant to living our holiday lives.

This was an especially heinous act of savagery by a group of men wearing the markings of Daesh (ISIS) and armed with bombs and automatic weapons. No group has formally claimed responsibility, but that hasn’t stopped Western journalists from describing the massacre as one sect of Islam versus another. This is the approved script that the press follows in trying to help Western minds understand the seeming chaos of the Middle East, to place it within an acceptable box labeled “Islamic Terrorism.” This narrative helps promote Islamophobia in the U.S., an acceptable fear depending on your political persuasion.

For example, Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake describes it this way in an opinion piece “Muslims Are Often the First Victims of Muslim Terrorists.”

“The terror in Egypt on Friday is only the latest grim reminder that Muslims are often the first victims of Muslim fanatics…The West’s quarrel is with the extremists of political Islam, or the sect of the faith that seeks to impose Islamic law on others — not the entire religion.”

Well, no. The problem here – and with all who attempt to frame violence in the Middle East as a product of Islam – is that it’s not only deliberately – and conveniently – misleading; it’s totally false, and the West is not well-served by forcing the narrative into its version of history. There is no “political Islam” or “sect of the faith that wishes to impose Islamic law on others.” That is a myth, exacerbated by Zionists, Jews, and Christians who use the story of Isaac and Ishmael to paint a picture of nomadic wanderers constantly at war with each other. Islam, of course, didn’t come into existence until thousands of years later (to which comes the response, “Well, God knew that it was coming), and yet this “seems” true enough to the “extremists of political Christianity.” See how silly that sounds?

This false narrative is helped along by an Israeli agenda that garners propaganda points from the promotion of it. Much of the Israeli press is a conduit from Israel to the West, one that rarely speaks of Arabs in any voice other than condescension or a threat. Consider this article from The Jerusalem Post, a paper published only in English and French and that describes itself as “the leading news source for English speaking Jewry since 1932.” The story is headlined, ‘WESTERN CHRISTIANITY IN DENIAL ABOUT RADICAL ISLAM,’ specifically “radical Islam’s goal to eradicate Christianity.” The article refers to the thinking of Italian journalist and author Giulio Meotti, cultural editor for Il Foglio.

The Media Research Center found that US television devoted more than six times the amount of air time to the death of a gorilla in comparison to the air time given to the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya in 2015.

“How is it possible that the killing of a gorilla moves the Western public more than 19 Yazidi girls burned alive in a cage?” he (Meotti) said. “Few people saw the photograph of Khaled al-Asaad, the brave archaeologist who refused to lead ISIS to the antiquities of Palmyra. The henchmen of ISIS beheaded him and hung him upside down. We turned away in horror.”

…The Unity Coalition for Israel, which monitors attacks against Western democracy and the State of Israel, echoed Meotti’s statements following the New York terrorist attack this month.

“Let’s be clear: radical Islamic terrorists have been launching attacks here in the United States for years, with the deadliest occurring on September 11, 2001,” the group’s Democracy Under Attack editorial said. “These attacks are not going to stop unless we first admit that we have been and are under attack and – finally – take strong steps to prevent further attacks.”

Again, the emphasis is that all these global acts of terrorism flow from Islam, which is painted as an archaic religion of intolerance and, especially violence, people who “want to take us back to the Seventh Century.” Nothing could be further from the truth, so then why are we so convinced of the opposite? Because the people writing today’s draft of history are telling us so. If you can bring yourself to step far enough away from current events, you’ll see that terrorism – whether committed by Arabs or Caucasians – is either an ongoing political statement or a desperate attempt at personal attention, neither of which are birthed in the religion of the people either claims to represent.

When it comes to the Middle East, Arabs who have roots in Palestine have another explanation. Zionism requires a constant threat in order justify its continuing existence, and such a narrative works better if that threat is against the religion that undergirds Israeli politics. After all, Hitler’s final solution to the “Jewish Question” in Europe – that people of Jewish descent refused to assimilate into the cultures around them – was the gas chambers, and there can be no more heinous threat. Modern Israel is portrayed as a response to the Holocaust, but Zionism as a political movement had been growing for fifty years prior to Hitler.

To be sure, Zionism must sustain the idea of a threat to Israel’s religion in order to continue to plead its case to global opinion, which it needs at core in order to survive. The U.S. gives $10.1 million in military and other aid to Israel every day of every year, and Americans wouldn’t be so eager to bless this, if they believed anything other than Israel using it defend the Holy Land. Beyond being a home for Jews, Israel also – and perhaps more importantly – serves as a bulwark in the protection of American business interests in the whole region. This means obvious and not-so-obvious stakes in our relationship with Zionist Israel.

I hate coincidences, especially in world events, because the truth is they rarely are coincidental. Disney built his whole empire on the concept of the “plausible impossible,” and that’s often the way I feel about coincidences. Was it a coincidence, for example, when ISIS burst on the scene in Hollywood style with Jihadi John on July 14, 2014? I don’t know. However, this was at the very height of global disdain being thrust upon Israel for its killing of over 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children in Gaza during the weeks prior. The worldwide discussion pressured the UN, foreign governments, charitable organizations, and others into a position of citing Israel for war crimes, when all of the sudden, we had a whole new, highly-produced-for-television enemy that burst upon the scene with the heinous beheadings of Westerners. Certainly, we can’t blame world opinion for shifting from Gaza to ISIS, can we? Each subsequent ISIS event was more horrible than the previous. A Jordanian pilot was burned alive. Irreplaceable antiquities were destroyed. ISIS became public enemy number one, and the cries of atrocities in Gaza simply faded into the noise of history.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, because I have no evidence of the whos or hows of any of this. Were secret Western agencies involved in the Sinai massacre of over 300 innocents? How would anybody begin to investigate such wild theories anyway? Like I said, I just hate coincidences and especially those that seem to come out of nowhere to automatically strengthen the Zionist narrative of “everybody hates the Jews.” Zionism is not the helpless and blameless lamb that it wishes to portray to the world, historically persecuted people who’ve paid a horrible price for their submission to Almighty God. Zionist acts against people of Arab descent are generally bloodthirsty, brutal, and merciless, and they’re delivered with a shoot first, ask questions later mandate. What are the modern crimes of Zionism? How about ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and colonization. Knife attacks, for example, a Palestinian reaction against well-armed soldiers at border crossings, hardly require the extrajudicial execution of the attacker, but that is the self-justified response by the Israeli Defense Forces. Occasionally there are attacks against settlers who the original residents view as occupiers, but most of these knife attacks are done against soldiers as a reaction to their brutality. Palestinians are humiliated, forced into ghettos with no rights, cut off from their own land, and simply murdered for protesting the squalid and inhuman conditions forced upon them due to their birthright.

The truth of what happens between Israelis and Palestinians is kept from Western eyes and ears by highly skilled proclaimers of approved Hasbara.

Hasbara is a form of propaganda aimed at an international audience, primarily, but not exclusively, in western countries. It is meant to influence the conversation in a way that positively portrays Israeli political moves and policies, including actions undertaken by Israel in the past.

Israeli government eyes watch social media closely through special offices set up to monitor Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms for anything that – in their opinion – might “incite” others to violence against the state. The same is true with the BDS movement, which attempts to pressure the world into boycotting Israeli products in the name of drawing attention to its treatment of Arabs. If these sleuths find anything, they demand that it be taken down, and who’s to argue with the Zionist government? Narrative control that requires this degree of diligence isn’t natural; it’s artificial, and that, too, adds another layer of distrust to the hasbara mix.

My fellow journalists tell me that the Middle East is just too complicated to spend the time and effort necessary to get to the truth, but that’s just an excuse based in the deliberately confusing Zionist hasbara. It’s not complicated at all, if you can bring yourself to cut away all the crap. What may be upsetting about it is that it demands a willingness to deconstruct what you believe to be truth, and that takes more courage than most people have.

And that’s too bad, because the Middle East is a gold mine of material for real investigative journalism.

The Religion of Conservative News

I met a woman this year who has the gift of personal prophecy. By that I mean that she’s genuinely very sensitive and able to offer wisdom and encouragement to people who benefit deeply from her words. We can argue over whether this is a real spiritual gift or whether she’s just good at reading people, but to me, it doesn’t matter, for both are the same thing. There’s no doubt that certain fundamentalists have taken this idea and used it for foolishness, but as a sensitive person myself, I can confirm that “reading” others isn’t a form of magic, nor is it all that unique. One can’t brag of specialness for self-centered purposes when such insight is spread around to many.

Nevertheless, a lot of gifted people simply keep their mouths shut, and this woman is a bit different in that sense. Rather than sharing publicly, however, she usually shares her thoughts only with the person to whom they’re intended. I like that. There’s a genuineness to it, and I respect her for that.

She’s very much a loving Christian and often provides uplifting posts on Facebook, but she also has a significant blindspot. She spreads false information about politics based on fake news sources that she consumes with regularity. When I pointed out to her recently that she was actually “bearing false witness” on one particular piece of delicious clickbait, she got angry and basically told me to keep my mouth shut. Fair enough, although I regrettably have no filter when it comes to such, so I’ve been known to really piss people off. I used to care, but I guess I just don’t anymore.

She actually pulled the post after a few days, and I appreciate that. We really don’t need stuff like that influencing others.

This woman is part of a large group of conservative Christians who struggle with my book, The Gospel of Self, How Jesus Joined The GOP, because they don’t like my position on so-called conservative news. I believe it’s propaganda, and I should know, since I was one of the people who helped create it. A full fifteen years before Fox News, there was The 700 Club and CBN News. We wrote the book on conservative propaganda as news, so any argument that attempts to validate it as real news isn’t really worth having. It’s a chasing of the wind, but it does reveal how far off the mark many of these Evangelicals have drifted. They honestly believe that the mainstream press openly supports a liberal agenda for the country and is their arch enemy in the flesh. They seem incapable of reason when it comes to certain things, and this is one of them.

Kaitlyn Scheiss

Some observers are beginning to see the ritual of nightly consuming Fox News as a solemn rite of worship, an idolatry so deceptive that it’s impacted most of Evangelical Christianity. Dallas Theological Seminary graduate student Kaitlyn Schiess offered such insight in an excellent New York Times article, How to Escape From Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism. It came in a discussion of Evangelicals leaping to the defense of Roy Moore, despite the nature and degree of his history with young girls and allegations of sexual contact.

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

This is a brilliant deduction, and I can verify that the devotion expressed by people such as my friend above borders on brainwashing, because it oversteps facts, truth, and logical thinking en route to its fallacious conclusions. Why not view it as a form of worship? After all, that’s what we did at The 700 Club. Here was a Christian talk show featuring Christian guests, Christian themes, and Christian prayers that was a bonafide substitution for church in the early days of the televangelist movement. When we began to weave news coverage into the mix, there was little question in our presentation that it was as much a part of being a Christian as prayer. When Fox News came into being in 1996, conservatives had already been nurtured and convinced of its necessity and its vision. We did that, and the worse thing we did was to believe our own hype. Pat Robertson is so lost today that he can’t separate the faith from his politics, and he’s still among the top influencers when it comes to the agenda of Evangelicals and the Republican Party.

God is judging this version of the church today, and I’m beginning to hear arguments to this effect from voices other than my own. We need to repent and turn from this wickedness, or the church has little hope for tomorrow. We steadfastly blame others – like those dirty liberals – for the sad state of our nation and the world today, when we should be examining our own hearts.

Ever evangelizing, we shake our fists up at those walking by, as we travel along the flow of the gutter toward the awaiting sewer. “Curse you, World,” is our cry. “You’re all going to hellllllllllllllll.”

Anatomy of a Fake News Story

At the height of yesterday’s scramble for information about the horrific breaking news scene in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a Neo-Nazi’s tweet was used by a Santa Monica news outlet to identify the shooter as a convert to Islam. Follow me here, because while it isn’t physics, the story is a bit confusing.

It begins for me with scrolling Facebook and finding a post from a friend – an outspoken Christian woman in Australia – with a link to the Santa Monica Observer and a headline: “Islamic Convert is Shooter in Church Shooting in Sutherland. He Left Online Manifesto.” I’ve been fighting Islamophobia for a great many years, and so this peaked my interest. I’d seen this nowhere else and had suspicions about its truthfulness.

The Santa Monica Observer has a questionable reputation. In fact, Santa Monica itself seems to have a lot of experience with fake news and fake news sites. It would be a great study for someone interested in the role of journalistic dishonesty in a single community. I’ve no wish to prove or disprove that this free newspaper is a source of fake news, only that it participated in this particular event.

Below is a screen grab of the same link today. Note two things. The company is partially backing away from the story, although the sub-headline still contains a reference to the Islamic connection. Most importantly, however, note the link displayed in the browser, as it contains the original headline. This happens often with content management software when a headline is changed in the copy, because the link is established based on the original headline.

The article sources the claim as follows:

Mustachio Tweeted: “#texaschurchshooting shooter is 29 year old US Airman turned Muslim convert, Samir Al-Hajeed. His manifesto is making its rounds on the web.”

The Arab name provided – Samir Al-Hajeed – has been used in other fake news stories about mass shootings, including Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock.

“Mustachio” is Millennial Matt™ Groyper, and the account has been active for a month. Ol’ Millennial Matt™ has a profile picture identifying himself as a Kekistani, a Reddit White Supremacist group that satirically worships a god with a frog head and Donald Trump’s hair. The group’s flag is a take-off on the Nazi flag and is often seen at Neo-Nazi, Alt-Right, and White Supremacy rallies. How and why the Santa Monica Observer would come across this tweet isn’t known, but the most obvious explanation is that the paper follows the account. Either that, or they were tipped and failed to follow through on the obvious conflict-of-interest.

The point is that the Santa Monica Observer article’s premise is utterly false.

Finally, to the woman who posted this link on Facebook (you know who you are), you are responsible for this and will be held accountable in the end for bearing a false witness, which I seem to recall is anathema to the God you say you serve. Christianity Today yesterday published an article about how gullible evangelicals are to this sort of thing based on activities by the Russians during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

“Army of Jesus” was among 470 Facebook pages created by the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg…
…the fake Christian account had over 217,000 likes. (For comparison, that’s more Facebook likes than some established, politically conservative evangelical media outlets, such as World or Charisma magazines.)

Let’s face it: Many Evangelical Christians are easily manipulated and believe many things that are false to be true, simply because they resonate with deeply-held beliefs. My friend in Australia is apparently one of them.