Uber-Fake News

So much of the debate about Fake News has been driven by political, particularly, electoral examples, but to understand why the American Left’s adoption of the term has irked so many on the American Right–who have been, rightly, complaining for decades about media bias–we need to look at a non-partisan, non-political example.

The BBC provided a perfect example today. Fake news, as the post-Trumpian Democrat party would define it, is exclusively imaginative stories written by “fake news sites,” masked under legitimate sounding names, written simply to generate ad revenue. For them, the “fake” in the equation is more focused on the media (e.g. cnn-trending.com) than the content. Though the content is also disinformation (vice satire), established, “mainstream,”corporate media started using the term “fake news” to identify and connect both the disinformation and the hoax host.

The American Right quickly focused instead on the disinformation, spin, slant, anonymous sourcing, and selection bias in the content of legitimate, established news organizations, which is often, also, driven by ad revenue.

To see what Conservatives mean, here is that BBC story . Headlines are often the most fake part of any story, and the BBC, a very old, well-established, legitimate news organization, delivered nicely. This morning, in one of my feeds, I read this headline and clicked, fascinated by the possibilities: “Rabbit hole leads to ‘Knights Templar’ cave.”

I have always been an avid reader of history, and in my early twenties, thirty years ago, I went through a Medieval Secret Societies phase after reading several Umberto Eco books, so here was the BBC telling me about a new discovery. Exciting, yes!

Except the rabbit hole isn’t a rabbit hole, but a tunnel. “The tunnel leads to a network of walkways and arches carved out of sandstone, as well as a font.” That is a quote by a man, from Birmingham, England, who “went to photograph the caves after seeing a video of them online.

How on Earth did he see videos on-line? It turns out, “The caves were reportedly sealed up in 2012 in a bid to keep away vandals and practitioners of ‘black magic’.” And the Templars? Oh, that’s merely a “local legend.” In reality the cave’s “original purpose is shrouded in mystery, but Historic England, which describes the caves as a ‘grotto’, believes they were probably built in the late 18th or early 19th Century–hundreds of years after the Templar order was dissolved.”

To see how this type of “fake news,” and it is fake, is done we only need to look at the lede: “An apparently ordinary rabbit’s hole in a farmer’s field leads to an underground sanctuary said to have been used by devotees of a medieval religious order–but is everything what it seems?” [emphasis added]

In this lede is every qualifier to tell the reader that everything written, not implied, actually written, in the headline is a lie, despite the fact that they put “Knights Templar” in quotes.

“Everything” is indeed, not “what it seems,” and, in its quest for revenue after the advent of the Web, the mainstream media has been engaging in these antics to drive clicks since we began talking about clicks.

When you bring politics into the equation, especially with someone as polarizing as Trump, and add to these revenue tactics both the biases and bubbles of journalist, editors, anchors, and producers you get a flood of fake news, not just fake news sites. The sites are get rich quick schemes driven by nothing but greed, but greed is easily understood, recognized and discounted. Once you know a site, like Bloomberg.ma, is not a real news site you stop going.

But what are we to do with real news organizations, driven not by greed (though they are desperate to stay afloat) but driven by their self-image as the elite vanguards of Truth, the X-Men of Information, the Avengers of Right Thinking, without whom the unwashed masses in the hinterlands will succumb to, to, to…Constitutional Republicanism! “Oh the humanity” and “the horror, the horror”!


Defending Polanski Badly

In a  story this morning in “The Los Angeles Times,” Patrick Goldstein defends Roman Polanski on some empty specious grounds.  Basically he thinks that since it’s been so long, the victim has forgiven him, prisons are over-crowded, CA is having financial trouble, and Mr. Polanski has experienced tragedy in his life that he should be released.  He seeks to deflect anticipated criticism by saying ” In the coming weeks, the Polanski affair will no doubt become a tabloid sensation, with op-ed moralists, excitable bloggers and the Glenn Becks of the world noisily weighing in on the propriety of his possible prosecution.”

His own piece is exactly that, an excitable, noisy instance of op-ed moralism.  Comparing Polanski to Jean Valjean, Mr. Goldstein seeks to make a moral equivalence between stealing bread to feed one’s family and drugging a 13 year old with Champagne and Quaaludes before raping her. He offers only non sequiturs in Mr. Polanski’s defense. To take each in turn:

The tragic events that befall a person have no bearing on the disposition of the unrelated crimes he commits (e.g. his childhood and the murder of his wife). A victim’s forgiveness is a pure and wondrous thing, but for the public interest the state has an obligation to ensure that certain laws are enforced. Image a mother shot by her son. Her last words, said to a police office who arrives at the scene and said in the presence of multiple witnesses, are: “Please do not put my son in jail. I forgive him.” The state must still prosecute. Prison overcrowding is a real public policy and societal problem in need of a solution, but that solution must come primarily from legislation and it must be broad in scope as it addresses classes of crimes. One can not use it to argue for the non-prosecution of one specific case.

He considers the “real tragedy” in all of this to be that Polanski “will always, till his death, be snubbed and stalked and confronted by people who think the price he has already paid isn’t enough.” I do not think one can consider the consequences of fleeing from justice a “price” at all. Being snubbed and confronted isn’t even close to being a “real tragedy,” and I find it reprehensible that anyone can consider that not only comparable but somehow more substantial than the tragedy of being drugged and raped, even if the “real” victim is fortunate enough to be able to forgive and move on. But can we really expect more from someone who makes a moral comparison between a fictional petty thief and a real pederast and rapist?

If there is another tragedy involved in this at all, it is that a celebrity who drugs and rapes a minor can flee justice and have the media argue that this is not, now, worthy of prosecution when one of those poor people the media treats as rhetorical arguments rather than persons would have long, long ago been justly consigned to one of those over-crowded prisons, and not an inch of newsprint would have been wasted defending him. Is this what being a “watchdog” has come down to? Breathlessly lashing out at a DA in righteous indignation for prosecuting a rapist? Arguing that fleeing prosecution and staying free for years is payment enough because of snubbing?

Mr. Goldstein laments the fact that the DA doesn’t seem to have better things to do with his time. One might wish that reporters had better things to do with theirs.

Related Stories: Dodgy Old Men, Amy Davidson, “The New Yorker”