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.

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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.

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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.

The logical fallacies of Benjamin Netanyahu

netanyahu-ethnic-cleansing-palestine-mondoweissAs Donald Trump continues to campaign using logical fallacies as his daily weapons (e.g. To deflect attention away from his admission that President Obama is a U.S. Citizen, he told followers that the whole idea was Hillary’s in the first place – classic), there is a more ruthless practitioner of fallacious reasoning across the sea. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu, and his latest got virtually zero coverage by media in the U.S.

An important part of Israeli hasbara (official propaganda) is a relentless dissemination of misinformation to American supporters. After all, the United States provides $10 million a day in military aid to Israel, so it’s understandable that the Israeli government would feel obligated to provide “evidence” that the money is being well-spent. The problem is that the money can’t be morally justified, and so the Prime Minister must twist the facts to fit a tired, old narrative.

Netanyahu regularly produces English language videos for consumption here in the U.S. These videos bend current events to shape the narrative that poor, defenseless Israel will ALWAYS need the support of friends to prevent another holocaust. Meanwhile, the IDF continues to perpetrate genocidal crimes against Palestinian neighbors in an illegal land grab in the West Bank. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Those crimes involve “extrajudicial executions” (what we call murder) of Palestinians, the terrorizing of legal residents, and the continued bulldozing of Palestinian homes in order to build Israeli settlements and expand the territory it polices. It is the systematic destruction of a people and their culture in order to remove them entirely from the land. There’s a word for this, and it’s called “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing.”

And yet, in this latest video to Americans, Netanyahu uses the same term in describing the Palestinian wishes to remove the illegal settlements. The Palestinians, he says, want to cleanse the land of Jews! This is a logical fallacy. It’s very clever, and we buy it almost completely.

Netanyahu was roundly criticized for this video – even in his own country – for it’s an obviously outrageous claim, especially in light of the evidence to the contrary. The State Department responded immediately, but again, this was not covered in the U.S.

So we have seen the Israeli prime minister’s video. We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful. Settlements are a final status issue that must be resolved in negotiations between the parties. We share the view of every past U.S. administration and the strong consensus of the international community that ongoing settlement activity is an obstacle to peace. We continue to call on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.

Look, let’s be real. There will be no two-state solution in the Holy Land. The best we can hope for – perhaps generations from now – is a peaceful solution that includes both Israelis and Palestinians under a single government that doesn’t discriminate against either. South Africa is the model, but that country was able to get past logical fallacies in facing the reality of its situation.

Israel’s current government is simply incapable of such.

The logical fallacies of Donald Trump

campaignJust when you think this year’s presidential campaign can’t get any more insane, along comes Hillary Clinton’s claim that half of Donald Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables.” Mistake or otherwise, it’s hard to argue that she isn’t totally frustrated by campaigning against Mr. Trump’s dirty tricks. She’s been playing defense against the guy from the beginning, and it reveals the difficulty of arguing with a really good salesman, something I don’t believe we’ve ever experienced in American history.

Mr. Trump employs tactics in his rhetoric known as “logical fallacies” in order to manipulate the debate. These are not new, but most people aren’t aware they’re being manipulated in the process, and that’s what makes them dirty tricks. There’s a wonderful book published in 2006 that ought to be in everybody’s library. It’s called “The Thinker’s Guide to Fallacies: The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation” by Richard Paul and Linda Elder. It is, in fact, a guide to the strategies and tactics of Donald Trump in a section labeled “44 Foul Ways to Win an Argument:

First remember that those who strive to manipulate you always want something from you: your money, your vote, your support, your time, your soul – something! But they also need you to be unaware of what they are about. They always have something (often a lot) to hide. In any case, their goal is not the use of sound evidence and valid reasoning. In every case, they insult our intelligence by assuming that a manipulative trick will work on us, that we are not insightful enough to see what they are doing.

The 44 foul ways to win an argument are defined as “dirty tricks of those who want to gain an advantage,” and dirty trick number one is straight out of Mr. Trump’s playbook:

Dirty Trick #1: Accuse Your Opponent of Doing What He is Accusing You of (or worse)
This is sometimes called, “Pointing to another wrong.” When under attack and having trouble defending themselves, manipulators turn the tables. They accuse their opponent of doing what they are being accused of. “You say that I don’t love you! I think it is you who does not love me!” Manipulators know this is a good way to put their opponents on the defensive. You may want to up the ante by accusing your opponent of doing something worse that what he is accusing you of. “How dare you accuse me of being messy? When was the last time you even took a shower?”

The beauty (?) of this dirty trick is that it allows the accuser to escape criticism for the same thing in the debate, which Mr. Trump badly needs. Here are just a few examples of Dirty Trick #1 from press coverage over the course of the campaign. Mr. Trump has:

  • …accused the Clinton Foundation of granting favors when Mrs. Clinton served as Secretary of State when his own foundation was fined by the IRS for making an illegal campaign contribution to the Florida attorney general who was considering a fraud case against Trump University. The case was dropped after the $25,000 contribution.
  • …accused Mrs. Clinton of being “trigger-happy” and “an unstable person” in the same speech during which he threatens that Iranian boats that “make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make” would be shot out of the water.
  • …accused Hillary Clinton of making “one of the most brazen attempt at distraction in the history of politics” and attempting to “intimidate” and “bully” voters with her charges that he is fomenting racism with his campaign. Mr. Trump’s own life is one filled with intimidation, bullying, and racism.
  • …accused Hillary of poor health while dictating his own unconventional note from his doctor claiming that Trump would be “unequivocally” the “healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
  • …accused Mrs. Clinton of being a bigot, when he had displayed his own racist views of Mexicans and others. At the time, CNN’s Cody Cain called him on it:

    Trump is employing the technique of the reverse attack. When he is faced with a legitimate criticism of himself, he attempts to deflect away the criticism by attacking Clinton for the exact same shortcoming that plagues Trump, regardless of whether it actually applies to Clinton.

  • …accused Hillary of not being qualified to be president when he has no experience whatsoever in government or politics.
  • …accused Mrs. Clinton of being mentally unfit to be president, while questions about his own temperament abound over his outrageous behavior and statements.

I won’t be voting for Mr. Trump, but I have no problem if this is your choice. All I ask is that you realize you are being manipulated by a master of the dirty trick, the logical fallacies of argument. If you’re okay with that, then who am I to object?

 

When right wing media isn’t

Let’s begin with this, one of those “People Also Shared” sections from Facebook. These things will point to just about anything and anywhere with the common denominator being the references have been shared on Facebook. Here’s one from my browsing today:

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Notice the first one. It is completely unbelievable and leads to a story on the website Every News Here (ENH). Note that the story begins “News outlets around the world are reporting…”

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This website feels it’s necessary to promote a disclaimer in its top line navigation, which is as follows:

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The story posted here is a summary of a story from the website WTOE 5 NEWS, a link to which is provided by ENH. The main thing lifted from the WTOE site is the quote from the Vatican, which most people would see right through. The Pope would simply never refer to himself as the “Holy See” or the “Holy Father.” The WTOE website’s “About Us” tells the story. It’s a fake news website! “WTOE 5 News is a fantasy news website. Most articles on wtoe5news.com are satire or pure fantasy.”

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The point of this is that fictionalized stories are regularly provided to impeach Mrs. Clinton, largely through headlines, by people paid to do just that. It’s effective, because everyday people rarely fact-check these items for themselves and dutifully pass them along, but not without first feeling comforted and affirmed that Hillary is the devil in disguise. Despite this, I have faith for the future, because the actions of the followers here is based in ignorance, not stupidity, and that can be fixed.

Meanwhile, we get closer to electing a shallow, slick-talking salesman to administer our federal government. Oy.