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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Continued propagation of 'fake news' may be our collective fault

President Trump has repeatedly railed against 'Fake News'
President Donald Trump may not have coined the phrase "fake news", but it absolutely seems as though the practice has exploded since he took office.

Just last week during his speech in front of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the President delivered the statement “it wasn’t until I became a politician that I realized how nasty, how mean, how vicious, and how fake the press can be.

The statement was greeted by a loud chorus of booing. At least it sounded that way to those watching on a popular German news program. 

However, the broadcaster 'ARD' later admitted that it had "boosted" the sound clip to make it appear louder than it actually was, per Chris Tomlinson at Breitbart. When originally heard on CNN, for instance, the booing was moderate, and obviously came from media in the back of the room.

The ARD editor-in-chief then made the following statement as part of his defense for the move:
"By the way, newspapers also make comparisons when they enlarge image sections and may even mark them with a red circle – nobody would come up with the idea of calling this manipulation, but rather journalistic precision."
Journalistic precision? Now there's a new one.

But this statement perfectly sums up the tactics repeatedly used against the President by the former "mainstream" media here in America, which include cherry-picking from quotes and highlighting stories with unflattering photographs.

In a 2017 year-end article, Georgina Rennard with the BBC did a nice job defining "fake news" as follows:
  • Completely false information, photos or videos purposefully created and spread to confuse or misinform
  • Information, photos or videos manipulated to deceive - or old photographs shared as new
  • Satire or parody which means no harm but can fool people
Liberal news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, NPR, and more have consistently been violators. This is particularly so in their coverage of the President, his team, and his programs.

Dan Gainor at Fox News did a nice job breaking down the media's 2017 anti-Trump efforts in a piece characterizing their "round-the-clock journalistic insanity":
"...the media have been claiming Republican politicians are evil, racist, crazy or stupid (or all four) for years. Journalists and their lefty partners in slime are running that game on Trump more aggressively than they ever tried with President Ronald Reagan. None more than CNN. The network’s “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter was freaking out about his view of Trump’s mental health back in August. “Is the President of the United States a racist? Is he suffering from some kind of illness? Is he fit for office? And if he's unfit, then what?” He began 2018 with a claim the year was starting off with “madness.”"




Outright fake news is also spread by the manipulation of statistics, mischaracterization of actions, and advertising disinformation campaigns.

As an example, attempts have been made to support an increase in homicides against the LGBT community. A recent and widely cited study reported that there were 28 murders of members of the LGBT community in America in 2016, which supposedly exploded to 52 such murders in 2017.

However, what the report fails to point out is that the 2016 figure leaves out the 49 murders of the LGBT community at the Pulse night club. The exact motive for the timing of the shooting may be in question. But that the LGBT community was specifically targeted because of who they are is presumed by many.

Add those 49 to the reported total of 28 in 2016, and you have 77 murders in the LGBT community that year. This means the 52 of 2017 is actually a decrease. However, are even those statistics revealing the truth of the problem?

Chad Felix Greene for The Federalist did a nice job of breaking down the statistics in detail just yesterday, and summarized the situation as follows:
"...4 of the 52 cases in 2017 were possibly anti-LGBT driven, and yet the headlines will continue to shout an 86 percent increase in anti-LGBT hate crimes. The more the LGBT media manipulates the narrative to perpetuate politically convenient fear, the less average Americans will appreciate true violence towards the gay and transgender community. This unethical behavior in journalism and advocacy organizations only harms the people it is attempting to protect."
The "fake news" practices have now spread to social media platforms as well. Facebook in particular has come under recent scrutiny after one of their former executives revealed that the site frequently pushes political disinformation through their advertising practices and policies.



This past week in Vanity Fair's 'Hive' section, not exactly a purveyor of conservative thought, Maya Kosoff quoted from a source in a recent Pew Research Center report on the issue:
“It comes down to motivation: There is no market for the truth,” an executive consultant told Pew. “The public isn’t motivated to seek out verified, vetted information. They are happy hearing what confirms their views. And people can gain more creating fake information (both monetary and in notoriety) than they can keeping it from occurring.”
Unfortunately that idea of publishing only "verified, vetted information" has even become tainted as such information is frequently massaged to fit whatever narrative the media source wishes to convey.

Fake news is now even spreading to - get this - pornography. Nicole Lee at Engadget wrote earlier this week on the emerging phenomenon of artificial intelligence aficionados swapping out porn stars faces for those of more mainstream celebrities in adult videos.
"Reddit user "deepfakes" posted a video of Gal Gadot's (Wonder Woman) face swapped onto a porn star's body (he's since created more fake porn with other celebrities). According to Motherboard, the video was created with machine-learning algorithms, easily accessible open-source libraries and images from Google, stock photos and YouTube videos."


The problem reaches into almost every industry. Any issue for which it is important to influence public opinion is susceptible to "fake news" pushed by print and online sources, both old-school "reputable" and pop-up, fly-by-night types.

In a piece on "fake news" in the pharmaceutical industry this week, Paul D. Thacker at STAT wrote that he came across the practice used in the tobacco industry a decade ago. He then found it being utilized in pushing pharma products such as Avandia in more recent years.
"The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t need to design a new strategy to confuse the public or beat back the FDA, I explained, because tobacco created the playbook that most industries now follow."
In response to what has been estimated by the GOP as 90% negative coverage from the media this past year, President Trump advertised for weeks that he was going to put together a "Fake News Awards" for 2017.

In mid-January, those were finally announced. Some of the Fake News Awards "winners" were Paul Krugman of the New York Times, Brian Ross of ABC News, Dave Weigel for the Washington Post, CNN, Newsweek, and Time magazine.

Defenders of these "winners" frequently claim that the stories were simple mistakes which were later retracted, or they say that correction articles or reports were later published. Also, in some cases reporters were fired for their actions.

However, what such defenders rarely point out is that the damage has already been done. The initial story was usually blasted across headlines and blared across as lead stories on broadcasts. Meanwhile, the retractions were usually low-key, especially in comparison to the original incorrect story.



"Fake news" has been around for millenia. It has gone on for as long as any man or group of men has sought to influence any other group with propaganda. The problem today is arguably bigger than ever.

When we can no longer depend upon what previous generations believed were reliably honest and unbiased news sources to be anything more than propaganda arms of a particular political party, how do we know what is truth?

Frankly, many Americans simply don't seem to care. Most of us seem perfectly happy to read, listen to, and believe whatever sources support our own worldview. In the end, the continued propagation of "fake news" may be our collective fault.

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