Understanding “Alternative Facts”

Here’s a little perspective on the matter before us: Marketers have been lying to us since the days of the snake oil salesman. I’ve told the story before of the TV commercial I witnessed many years ago during the grapefruit diet fad. The ad was for so-called grapefruit pills that would help people lose weight. At least that was the assertion of the creator of the commercial. One scene featured a guy washing a horse who turned to the camera and actually said, “It’s so darned easy, it’s GOT to work!” If the FTC ever wanted to crack down on false advertising (they won’t), it would open the eyes of consumers everywhere.

There are many, many ways for marketers to lie. There’s lying by omission. When tissue companies, for example, sell the same sized box with fewer tissues inside for the same or slightly reduced price as before, they are lying to increase profits while giving the impression of holding the line on consumer costs. Welcome to the world of Madison Avenue and the secrets of mass marketing.

Well guess what? People are slowly catching on to these lies, and they’re sharing their knowledge with their families and friends, some of it via social media. It’s getting harder and harder to get away with such, even though there are still a substantial number of folks who’ll believe that it’s so darned easy it has to work. This is where we find ourselves today with all forms of mass media in the worlds of politics and news.

I have an ongoing study, for example, of events in the Middle East, thanks to my family living in Amman, Jordan. There are publications working to deconstruct the Zionist narrative that has been the public face of Israel since 1948. We all need to learn more about narratives, and especially those that undergird even our most basic assumptions of life, for very often these narratives are propaganda and very definitely false, at least to the point where they deserve regular review and often deconstruction.

All of this is to say that KellyAnne Conway’s “alternative facts” is really a fruit of what’s been taking place for years, that is the struggle of those who need to maintain narrative control in a media environment that questions narrative as self-serving propaganda. This is the beauty of our newly connected universe, for it’s impossible now for an institution (and government is certainly an institution) to maintain its own version of truth at the expense of those at the receiving end of their “service.”

This is going to get much worse in our culture, until we all learn that such falsehoods begin with lying to ourselves. Shakespeare wrote: “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as night the day, that thou canst not be false to any man.”

May that day come quickly.

Israeli soldier guilty…or not!

For the first time since 2004, a member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has been convicted of manslaughter in the death of a Palestinian who had earlier participated in the stabbing of another soldier in the West Bank community of Hebron last March. The conviction of sergeant Elor Azarya was applauded by military leaders who are trying to maintain discipline through a code of ethics, but the big story is the remarkable reaction of an Israeli public that thinks Azarya should not even have been charged. He wouldn’t have had another Palestinian not videotaped the shooting and made the video public. Watch for yourself as Azaria first helps put the slightly injured soldier into an ambulance, then pulls his rifle, and kills the helpless man on the ground.

Azarya’s supporters said he fired in self-defense. Right. Military commanders, however, said his actions were unbecoming of a soldier.

Azarya will be sentenced on January 15th, but he is likely to be pardoned, given the protests by Israelis and statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We have one army that is the basis for our existence. IDF soldiers are our sons and daughters, and they must remain above all disputes,” he said. But making no direct mention of the military court, he said: “I support granting a pardon to Elor Azaria.”

This incredible turn of events reveals the extent of anger and hatred towards Palestinians from people who honestly believe the man that Azarya killed “deserved to die” as a terrorist. That the execution was extrajudicial matters not one bit to this mob. But this also reveals how deeply Israeli hasbara has penetrated the very souls of the people who call Israel home and the impossibility of peace in the face of that narrative.

I repeat to my American journalist colleagues that Israel is home to the most remarkable laboratory for the study of human nature and the manufacture of consent that exists in the Twenty-First Century. It is a textbook case of the conflict between narratives in the quest for political advantage and historical validation, and the justified violence of such a conflict. It is not as simple – nor is it as complicated – as you might think, and I challenge reporters everywhere to do their jobs in covering the truth of the region.

Trust me; you have no idea based on what’s published in the American press.

The Big Lie of Mainstream Fake News

A supporter gestures at the press as Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Cincinnati

Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing political commentators are now making mileage with the absurd delaration that the mainstream press is “the real fake news.” As a group, these political arguers have long been uniform with the claim that the mainstream press is “liberal,” but this new meme takes that a step further by proclaiming that nothing from the mainstream can be believed, because “they just make it up.” (Limbaugh) This is a textbook example of blaming the messenger for the message delivered. However, the press is not blameless in its failure to properly investigate some of the messages it carries. Welcome to the new world of professional journalism.

It was nearly fifteen years ago that I first began describing the rise of blogs and blogging as a response to the falling lack of trust in the American press. This was a clear harbinger of something really wrong with the function of America’s Fourth Estate. Nearly every year since, we’ve seen Gallup research produce record-setting lows in press trust among Americans – it keeps getting worse – and one of the most important takeaways from the election of Donald Trump is that the press has now become nearly irrelevant when it comes to influencing culture. Each press entity is now simply another node on the aggregated information superhighway.

We need to go back to the nineties to better understand this, for the truth is it goes back that far, back to the early days of the web and even before that. Let’s be clear, geeks invented the web, not news people. A key part of this invention was the method of communicating, which was real time and in reverse chronological order, also known as blog presentation. It is the basic form of all social media, too, and it could have been the media’s.

Dave Winer

Dave Winer was the real pioneer in all of this, and his “Scripting News” remains the longest running continuous blog on the entire net (1997, although its roots go back further). The biggest blunder in the collapse of media today is the refusal of so-called “professional media” to adopt the communications concept associated with networked humans – simple blogging software. This allowed other people – those not associated with contemporary “media” – a voice in the public square that was never there before. The demand for this voice has been incredible, for those who were silenced by the information gatekeepers of the time were suddenly able to object publicly to that silencing. One simply cannot comprehend the mess that the press finds itself in today without accepting this, because blogs and blogging were a reaction to the narrow perspective of the professional news media. A blog is a simple content management system, which can be – and is – used to run “news” websites beyond the information mainstream. They are, in fact, now tributaries to that main stream, and this genie will never return to its bottle.

There has been no end to the analysis of the failure of the press since the election, but I’ve yet to hear anybody say, “You know what? They’re right. The public is right. We blew it, and we need to get off our pedestals and admit it.” The right is now peddling the claim that the mainstream media is the real “fake news” with which we ought to concern ourselves. In so doing, these political hacks are securing for themselves the self-serving position that THEY are the real arbiters of truth, that THEY are the fact-checkers, that THEY are deserving of trust, and that THEY are the media that matters. The claim is made easier by the refusal of the press to operate in any meaningful way beyond its hierarchical norms, so the reaction of distrust continues the same as it has for the last forty-plus years. The claim of mainstream fake news would be laughable were it not so dangerous, because right-wing media is political propaganda by default, while the press has traditionally been led by curiosity, skepticism, a check on power, and an ethics code that prohibits such nonsense. Those things don’t matter in a world where perception is reality.

Moreover, the imagination of the right wrongly creates a left-wing conspiracy, one which includes the ludicrous notion that the mainstream press functioned as a part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign team. The convenience of this claim goes unnoticed, because the right is using it to justify whatever political claims it chooses to make for itself, including those listed above. After all, if it’s acceptable for the liberal media, then it’s “acceptable that we do it too.” The problem, of course, is that the claim that the press was a part of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign – hence, “we can be a part of Donald Trump’s campaign” – is a logical fallacy, even if the press is tilted toward the progressive. One is entirely political; the other is reporting the news. That reporting may be utterly bad, but it isn’t even loosely organized, as these right wing political commentators would have us believe.

However, let’s admit that being partially biased is a bit like being partially pregnant, so a little goes a long way. This is not to suggest that there’s a vast, left-wing conspiracy underway within the press, because there’s no need for such coordination when the very definition of news pushes media to the left. If it’s progressive, it’s news, because new concepts are, well, new. The job of the press is to run it up the flagpole for reaction, which is always the second-day lead. Conservatives react defensively, and so the idea presented almost always advances. There’s nothing “fake” about it, although it is certainly progressively biased.

The problem is that the press doesn’t see this behavior as biased, so there’s no need to provide any differing narrative. It really is biased, however, and that’s why we were so easily able to provide evidence of it during my days at The 700 Club in the 1980s. Before Fox News, there was CBN News. Both are utterly political responses to the liberal drift of the country that the press plays a natural role in developing. But to claim it is fake? That requires a level of deception not before seen in our culture, one that will reverberate deep into our future.

Who even today, for example, will argue to an unbelieving people that the term “conservative” is no longer appropriate to describe the extremism of the Republican party? The GOP is now so far right that it more resembles the Nationalist Party, one that is merely a breath away from Facism. Who will be the acceptable critics when the press that represents the new right continues to lead the public deeper into totalitarian responses to legitimate questions? This is the behavior of those who will do and say anything to destroy any group they see as hostile to their agenda, and that is the very definition of totalitarianism. Who will fly the warning flags that were put in place by our Founding Fathers to guard against autocratic rule and assure liberty? If constitutional questions are dismissed as fake news, then we, the people, are without hope against the ruling class.

Milton: “License they mean, when they cry ‘liberty.’”

 

EDITOR’S BONUS HEAD SHAKE: Rush Limbaugh actually states that his commentary is satire.

Journalism’s “post-truth” era

ChaosThere has been much public weeping and gnashing of teeth by professional journalism observers in the wake of the industry’s (is it an industry or a trade?) loss in November with the election of Donald Trump. “Journalistic handwringing” has become one of my favorite current phrases. Everybody has their opinion about what happened that resulted in the press discovering it was far removed from the everyday people who make up the interior of the U.S. I’ve expressed my views, but I want to think out loud today about the latest revelation of the journalism world – that we’ve entered the “post-truth era.”

What exactly does post-truth mean? The Oxford Dictionary made it their 2016 “Word of the Year” and defined it thusly: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I think this definition serves journalism well, for we’ve already agreed that “transparency is the new objectivity.” Objectivity, it seems, was never really objective and hasn’t been since Creel Committee social engineers first wrote of “Manufacturing Consent.”

However, “post-truth” is terribly misleading as it relates to what’s happening beneath it, and that is that we’re on a learning curve for a new cultural era in the West. It’s not “post-truth;” it’s post-modern, which means we cannot rely on any single, top-down historical narrative anymore. I’ve been following this and reporting on it for fifteen years. Here are thoughts I expressed in an essay from December of 2002:

The digital era, created by the logic of a modernist world, has done far more than simply empower young people with knowledge. It is the force accelerating an enormous cultural shift and leaving broadcast news organizations in a very fragile position. Like Dorothy, Pomos have cast aside the curtain and revealed the Wizard for what he really is — a profit-motivated entity that they believe has fooled people for decades.

I’ve been predicting blowback against this the entire time I’ve been covering the beat, and the election of Donald Trump is certainly the fruit of this cultural shift. Why? Because we’re all deeply frightened about what it means. The uncertainty scares us. We feel unprepared. We stand before progress, as Henry Adams did in Paris over a century ago, when he wrote, “Chaos (change) is the way of nature. Order is the dream of man.”

So it isn’t really “post-truth,” because truth has historically been determined by those with the power to decide what it is, and that power (knowledge) is now being spread horizontally. The web itself – with its associative links – is constructed to function as a machine of deconstruction, the postmodern practice of slicing grand narratives to pieces in order to reveal the biases therein. In the end, the truth of history is revealed for what it really is: the subjective views of the writer, and we’re going to have to get used to something different. We’re going to have to start thinking in terms of multiple narratives and do our best to find information regarding each, so that we can decide for ourselves which is more believable and why. That’s why I say we’re on a learning curve that will be fraught with mistakes along with discoveries. Can we exist in such a world? We have no choice but to accept, study, and learn.

For example, someone recently asked me for “objective resources” on the Middle East, so that they could study points of view other than purely the Israeli narrative. I responded that there are virtually no “objective resources” anymore, and that the best we could do regarding this particular issue is include Mondoweiss in our daily news reading. The slogan of Mondoweiss is “Bringing the news to you that no one else will,” and it is serious journalism that offers alternative views – those outside the Zionist propaganda machine, hasbara – so the people can explore multiple narratives and be better informed. This is what “news” will be in our postmodern world, and we’ll all be much better off for it.

We are most certainly in a culture war, but this one transcends right versus left. Those two terms have become largely meaningless as they battle it out for supremacy throughout the land. It’s really modernism versus postmodernism, logic and reason versus participation, top-down versus horizontal, and it will change the world forever.

It has already begun.

My post-election, press introspection screed

campaignWow, what an election season we’ve just had. And isn’t the transition fun with the President-elect bullying TV anchors and executives while by-passing the liberal media filters in speaking directly to us? Well, we may not have gotten what we wanted, but we certainly got what we deserved. By “we,” I’m referring to the press, those standard-bearers of truth-telling that seem to get it wrong more often than right.

Post-election press introspection screed

I’ll warn you that I am not kind in this essay, and if you support the President-elect without question, you won’t like it one bit. We’re on new ground here in America, and we badly need a viable Fourth Estate. We don’t have it right now, so I don’t mince words (not that I’m any sort of words mincer anyway). I hope readers will at least appreciate the intent with which this is offered.

How to clear your Facebook feed of political crap (that you don’t like)

The acrimony on display this political season is just the beginning, and no where is this played out more than on Facebook. For reasons I have stated both here and elsewhere, I’ll not be voting for Mr. Trump. Moreover, my vote includes animosity and disrespect for those so-called right wing media outlets that create or forward the utter nonsense that created him in the first place. It’s their right to do so, but I think it’s a blight on American culture.

That said, there’s a way to filter such garbage from your Facebook feed that will have a lasting result. Here’s something posted by one of my Facebook friends. The identity has been removed.

fbfeed1

Note that the source of the “report” is a site called “Web Daily.” Here’s the first graph of the link:

Ever since Barack Hussein Obama first took office, he has faced accusations that he is a Muslim secretly posing as a Christian just to get to the White House. While he has always denied being a Muslim, a disturbing new video released by Fox News host Sean Hannity suggests that he is indeed a follower of Islam.

Now, I know this to be absurd and entirely void of fact. So how did it wind up as a link from my friend, and more importantly, what can I do about it?

First, Web Daily makes no claim to be a “real” news site. It offers a two-paragraph “Legal Statement,” which begins “Information on this web site may contain inaccuracies or typographical errors. This information may be subject to changes or updates without specific notice.” The site is operated by WorldNewsDaily.com, a member of “Snopes’ Field Guide to Fake News Sites and Hoax Purveyors.” Thus, nothing the site produces and makes available to Facebook can be believed whatsoever. Nothing.

So the question is, why would I ever want to see ANYTHING from this group of people? The answer is I wouldn’t, and Facebook makes it easy for me to insure that I’ll never again see anything from this website. The option is shown below.

fbfeed2

This is much better than unfriending or unfollowing (for a time) my friends, and the biggest reason is I’m now divorced from only the company providing the link. That this is lasting is especially sweet, because I can promise you, I never wish to see anything from the likes of WorldNewsDaily or WebDaily’s Facebook pages.

I predict this is an issue that all people who use social media will have to resolve, and my hope is that it can be done intelligently. Of course, there’s always the possibility that some of my friends don’t care if the report is factual as long as it fits their agenda. How brutally cynical of me!

I could never believe that.