How is this anything but a form of racism? Racism is never acceptable – and this coming from within the US intelligence community.
Frankly, I don’t think the corporate media will listen. Or draw conclusions from the main finding of the Mueller report. At the moment they seem too busy shifting goalposts and denying they ever promoted a collusion narrative.
This week we have the extraordinary spectacle of Paul Thomas, A NZ Listener journalist, cherry-picking his own articles to deny he ever promoted the collusion myth (See “The Cult of Trump,” NZ Listener, April 13-19, 2019). This “journalist” – and the Listener – pushed weekly articles promoting the myth to the extent of regularly including photographs of Russian President Putin in his articles about Trump. He let his naive partisan anti-Trump rhetoric get away so badly he even wrote an article linking the Christchurch Mosque shootings to Trump (see “Follow the leader“, NZ Listener). At a time when the rest of the nation was grieving.
It seems to me a whole raft of “journalists” abandoned the ethical basis of their profession and simply promoted an “official” narrative handed to them from above. I cannot respect such people.
In contrast, there were evidence-based independent and alternative journalists who got it right. These journalists were ignored, and worse – vilified, by corporate media. We should draw some lessons from their experience.
Fortunately an article in Fair – Tips for a Post-Mueller Media from Nine Russiagate Skeptics– gives a much-needed start to the needed examination. Generally described as “Russiagate skeptics” (not all independent journalist or alternative media followed the evidence) nine of these journalist offer advice to the media.
I will summarise their advice in a single sentence for each journalist but urge readers to read their full comments in the linked article. Their explanations are valuable
1. Encourage debate and dissent, not conspiracy theories and clicks.
Several things have come together in the last few months – centred around news about the war in Syria, chemical weapons, the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury and the ongoing geopolitical information war:
Government propaganda and claims have become more aggressive – particularly from the UK and USA;
Syria and chemical weapons have become central to the Russophobic arguments of these governments;
The mainstream media has enthusiastically and unquestioningly promoted these claims;
Alternative media, journalists and critics of this propaganda and government policies are being singled out for personal attack, and
Readers and viewers are aggressively being directed away from alternative news sources.
OK, readers here will have picked up on the tone of some of my recent posts so will not be surprised that I think this way. But, let’s be clear, it is not only me.
“In my entire career, spanning more than three decades of professional journalism, I have never seen MSM resolve to such ugly smear campaigns & hit pieces against those questioning mainstream narratives, with a different view point, as I have seen on Syria, recently.
This is a dangerous manoeuvre a witch hunt in fact, aimed not only at character assassination, but at attempting to silence those who think differently or even sway from mainstream & state narrative.
It would have been more productive, to actually question the reason why more & more people are indeed turning to alternative voices for information & news, than to dish out ad hominem smears aimed at intimidating by labelling alternative voices as conspirators or apologists.
The journalists, activists, professors & citizens under attack are presenting an alternative view point. Surely, people are entitled to hear those and are intelligent enough to make their own judgments.
Or is there an assumption, (patronizing, if so), that the tens of thousands of people collectively following these alternative voices are too dumb & unintelligent to reach their own conclusions by sifting through the mass information being dished at them daily from all sides?
Like it or hate it, agree or disagree with them, the bottom line is that the people under attack do present an alternative view point. Least we forget, no one has a monopoly on truth. Are all those currently launching this witch hunt suggesting they do?”
They even provided a browser add-on which would warn you that you were reading material from a website they classified as a “Russian propaganda outlet.” Despite being promoted by some of the mainstream media it was considered a bit of a joke – independent writers and sources who missed out on the classification were somewhat pissed off.
Government propaganda gets childish and journalists become stenographers
Then came the infamous “dashboard’ which the UK and US governments appear to be using as a source of claims for increased activity of “Russian bots.”
“The neoconservative Alliance For Securing Democracy declared that any doubt of the veracity of U.S. propaganda stories discussed on Twitter was part of a “Russian influence campaign”. Their ‘dashboard‘ shows the most prominent hashtags and themes tweeted and retweeted by some 600 hand-selected but undisclosed accounts. (I have reason to believe that @MoonofA is among them.) The dashboard gave rise to an endless line of main-stream stories faking concern over alleged “Russian influence”. The New York Times published several such stories including this recent one:”
“Russia did not respond militarily to the Friday strike, but American officials noted a sharp spike in Russian online activity around the time it was launched.
A snapshot on Friday night recorded a 2,000 percent increase in citing the hashtag #isupportsyria on Russian troll networks, according to a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security who was not authorized to discuss the issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. Additionally, the official said, the known Russian hashtag #SyriaStrikes had a 4,443 percent increase in activity while another, #Damsucs, saw a 2,800 percent jump.”
The use of such “dashboard” data is, of course, disingenuous. The Times attributed the “bot” claims to Tyler Q. Holton. the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security:
One of the creators of the dashboard, Clint Watts, has since confessed that it is mere bullshit:
“I’m not convinced on this bot thing,” said Watts, the cofounder of a project that is widely cited as the main, if not only, source of information on Russian bots. He also called the narrative “overdone.”
But, worse still – not only do we get governments making such stupid statements, we are now getting journalist reporting them without any questions:
As government spokesperson Holton is supposed to spout propaganda that supports the government’s policies. But propaganda is ineffective when it does not adhere to basic realities. Holton is bad at his job. Baker, the NYT author, did even worse. He repeated the government’s propaganda bullshit without pointing out and explaining that it obviously did not make any sense. He used it to further his own opinionated, false narrative. It took a day for the Times to issue a partial correction of the fact free tale.”
This as a concern – these days the media is simply repeating government propaganda without any of the questioning we should expect from journalists. Some media critics are now describing these “journalists” as “stenographers.”
“Last December the Guardian commissioned a hatchet job against Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. Beeley and Bartlett extensively reported (vid) from the ground in Syria on the British propaganda racket “White Helmets”. The Guardian piece defended the ‘heros’ of the White Helmets and insinuated that both journalists were Russian paid stooges.”
“In March the self proclaimed whistle-blower and blowhard Sibel Edmonds of Newsbud launched a lunatic broadside smear attack(vid) against Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. The Corbett Report debunked (vid) the nonsense. (The debunking received 59,000 views. Edmonds public wanking was seen by less than 23,000 people.)”
Recently government and media apologists have used the “fact-checking” site Polygraph.info. (a project of the CIA propaganda outlets Voice of America and Radio Free Europe):
“On April 4 the Polygraph wrote a smear piece about the Twitter account Ian56 (@Ian56789). Its headline: Disinfo News: Doing the Kremlin’s Work: A Fake Twitter Troll Pushes Many Opinions:
“Ben Nimmo, the Senior Fellow for Information Defense at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, studies the exploits of “Ian56” and similar accounts on Twitter. His recent article in the online publication Medium profiles such fake pro-Kremlin accounts and demonstrates how they operate.”
…Nimmo, and several other dimwits quoted in the piece, came to the conclusion that Ian56 is a Kremlin paid troll, not a real person. Next to Ian56 Nimmo ‘identified’ other ‘Russian troll’ accounts:
“Ben Nimmo @benimmo – 10:50 UTC – 24 Mar 2018 One particularly influential retweeter (judging by the number of accounts which then retweeted it) was @ValLisitsa, which posts in English and Russian. Last year, this account joined the troll-factory #StopMorganLie campaign.”
The crude level of these claims is indicated by the fact that @ValLisitsa is the twitter account of Valentina Lisitsa, a famous American-Ukrainian pianist.
“Yes, she sometimes tweets in Russian language to her many fans in Russia and the Ukraine. Is that now a crime? The videos of her performances on Youtube have more than 170 million views. It is absurd to claim that she is a ‘Russian troll’ and to insinuate that she is taking Kremlin money to push ‘Russian troll’ opinions.”
““Ian56,” it seems, is not a real person. He (or she) does seem to be the creation of a flesh and blood Russian, experts say, not a “bot” but a “troll.””
But Ian56@Ian56789 is, in fact, the Twitter account of a very real British Pensioner, Ian Shilling. He was interviewed by Sky News:
I should point out this definition of a bot:
“A Twitter bot is a type of bot software that controls a Twitter account via the Twitter API. The bot software may autonomously perform actions such as tweeting, retweeting, liking, following, unfollowing, or direct messaging other accounts.”
Yet these interviewers ask a flesh and blood person if he is a bot! Also, they had the hypocrisy to suggest he may not be carefully checking out the veracity of the stories he retweets – a question they never put to the government spokespersons and media journalists who make these unverified and stupid claims all the time.
Academics in the frame
“On April 14 Murdoch’s London Times took personal aim at the members of a group of British academics who assembled to scientifically investigate dubious claims against Syria. Their first investigation report though, was about the Skripal incident in Salisbury. The London Times also targeted Bartlett and Beeley. The piece was leading on page one with the headline: “Apologists for Assad working in universities”. A page two splash and an editorial complemented the full fledged attack on the livelihood of the scientists.
“Russia used trolls and bots to unleash disinformation on to social media in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning, according to fresh Whitehall analysis. Government sources said experts had uncovered an increase of up to 4,000% in the spread of propaganda from Russia-based accounts since the attack,– many of which were identifiable as automated bots.
But civil servants identified a sharp increase in the flow of fake news after the Salisbury poisoning, which continued in the runup to the airstrikes on Syria.
One bot, @Ian56789, was sending 100 posts a day during a 12-day period from 7 April, and reached 23 million users, before the account was suspended. It focused on claims that the chemical weapons attack on Douma had been falsified, using the hashtag #falseflag. Another, @Partisangirl, reached 61 million users with 2,300 posts over the same 12-day period.”
The Guardian journalist who authored this story responded to criticism of her article with the tweet:
“As I make very clear in the story, that’s the analysis of British government cyber experts – with whom you are quite welcome to disagree.”
I think that sums up the complete abandonment of their job by many mainstream media and why the term “stenographer” to describe them is so justified.
The Sky News interview of one of these “Russian Bots” Ian Shilling is shown above. He also published a written response:
“I have been campaigning against the Neocons and the Neocon Wars since January 2002, when I first realised Dick Cheney and the PNAC crowd were going to use 9/11 as the pretext to launch a disastrous invasion of Iraq. This has nothing to do with Russia.It has EVERYTHING to do with the massive lies constantly told by the UK & US governments about their illegal Wars of Aggression. “
The other “Russian bot” in the Guardian story, Maram Susli (@Partisangirl) posted her own video debunking the Guardian:
Partisangirl also showed that the government analysts and the Guardian couldn’t even get their figures right – again illustrating how journalists simply do not do any checking:
The UK govt claimed they identified me as a #Russianbot cause I made "2300 tweets in 12 days." My analytics show only 980 tweets in 28 days. Their statistics weren't even numerical correct. This is the "British intelligence" we are supposed to believe about #Salisbury & #Syria. pic.twitter.com/wB1DydxrUY
Ian Shilling (@Ian56789) posted a similar tweet illustrating how the figures given for his tweets were also highly inflated.
The take-home message
The Moon of Alabama article started with this quote about the Spanish civil war from George Orwell:
“Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.
George Orwell, Looking back on the Spanish War, Chapter 4″
So it is fitting that Moon of Alabama finished this excellent article with the comments:
“The governments and media would like to handle the war on Syria like they handled the war in Spain. They want reports without “any relation to the facts”. The media want to “retail the lies” and eager propagandists want to “build emotional superstructures over events that never happened.”
The new communication networks allow everyone to follow the war on Syria as diligently as George Orwell followed the war in Spain in which he took part. We no longer have to travel to see the differences of what really happens and what gets reported in the main stream press. We can debunk false government claims with freely available knowledge.
The governments, media and their stenographers would love to go back to the old times when they were not plagued by reports and tweets from Eva, Vanessa, Ian, Maram and Sarah or by blogposts like this one. The vicious campaign against any dissenting report or opinion is a sorry attempt to go back in time and to again gain the monopoly on ‘truth’.
I find the US mainstream media particularly boring and uninformative these days. It has become embedded in a partisan political campaign and seems to go into a frenzy over every bit of “evidence” or fake news it can garner, invent, or exaggerate in an apparent attempt to reverse the results of last year’s presidential elections.
I think many people must be heartily sick of this campaign. I would not be surprised if this is encouraging many to turn to alternative news sources and I suspect this media obsession is encouraging an increasing mistrust of the mainstream media.
But it is not just a matter of all the fake news and media lies. This political campaign is diverting media attention away from the things that really concern people. After all, they had their election last year and sensible presidential challenges should be off the burner until 2000. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of problems the ordinary person expects their government, and the media, to come to grips with.
Frankly, I think this US political hysteria is being produced by an alliance of the media, elements of the intelligence community and the “establishment” in general. For one reason or another, they just can not accept the result of the 2016 election and would like to see that result reversed. At the very least, they are using this artificial campaign to constrain the president in areas like foreign policy where they have big differences.
Perhaps pressure from the neocons and deep state to constrain and control a new president is not new. Certainly, we saw this with President Obama. But the campaigners have resorted to a more public and hysterical pressure in President Trump’s case because he is basically a political outsider. He came out of “left field,” was not part of the “acceptable” political establishment and is a maverick. His personality makes him difficult to control in the normal, behind the scenes, way.
Media does itself no favours
There are a number of objective factors creating turmoil for the mainstream media these days. transfer of advertising to social media, changes in technology and the loss of skilled reporters. But the old, established media is not doing itself any favours by diverting into a blatantly partisan political campaign and resorting to such bias in its reporting. And it harms society by encouraging the growth of neo-McCarthyism and supporting those who are working to reduce international cooperation and the relaxation of tension. That is dangerous for the American people – and in fact for the whole world.
But I guess the upside is that this self-exposure of bias is an education to the public. They may now search for alternatives – and that is a good thing. They will also be a lot more critical of what is delivered to them by the news media – and that is also a good thing.
The reader does need to beware – and to question more.
CNN pushes this mantra but many believe they promote fake news
When scientists evaluate published research we are more interested in evidence than in conclusions. In fact, the same evidence may lead scientific readers to different conclusions. That’s not surprising as in the real world no research project is able to consider all the theoretically possible evidence. Readers may, in fact, have other evidence. Or they may detect faults in authors’ interpretations.
I think this is a good thing. Considering the evidence allows competent critiques to be made and encourages knowledge to advance.
However, it annoys me that when we move outside the scientific environment we have to deal with situations where evidence may rarely be considered. People indulge in debating conclusions often with no regard to evidence. In fact, debaters seem to rely more on the real or perceived authority of their sources to support or discredit an argument, than on the evidence.
That’s just lazy. Source authority proves nothing and I would like to think that my discussion partners are capable of coming to a more reasonable position when they are forced to actually consider the evidence.
Both sides are guilty
Unfortunately, both supporters and opponents of a scientific viewpoint or consensus fall into this trap. Take the “fluoridation debate.” It annoys me that some supporters of the scientific viewpoint will respond to an opponent by disparaging their sources. The fact that the opponent is citing the activist Fluoride Action Network, the “Fluoride” journal or one of the shonky pay-to-publish journals where anti-fluoride activists sometimes get published does not, in itself, discredit their argument. On the other hand, if the actual evidence involved in those reports were discussed it might just be possible for the faulty conclusions to be exposed.
On the other hand, how often have I heard opponents of community water fluoridation reject the authority of scientific journals or published research because the workers were paid by the government (we must all get a wage from somewhere) or the journal or conference received industry sponsorship? I am not at all impressed by the refusal to consider the real evidence implied by falling back on disparaging sources.
The other tactic of supporting a claim by pointing to the high authority of the source is also repugnant. Even researchers and journals we generally consider “reputable” can still publish flawed work and even rubbish.
One of the most common arguments used by anti-fluoride campaigners is that the highly respectable, authoritative journal “The Lancent” has “officially” declared fluoride to be a “neurotoxin.” This is wrong on so many counts. The Lancet publishes research papers. It is not in the business of making official declarations on toxic compounds. The paper referred to did not describe fluoride as a “neurotoxin” – that word is inappropriate for describing a chemical of inorganic origin. The work cited in that paper was from areas of endemic fluorosis mainly in China and is not relevant to community water fluoridation. And the paper itself was not justified in making the limited conclusions it did on such poor evidence. I have discussed the paper more fully in “Repeating bad science on fluoride.“
The odds are, of course, that those activists citing this paper in such a manner have not actually read the paper – a common problem with people who rely on the authority of their sources rather than evidence. In fact, they are probably not at all interested in the details in most cases.
My point is reliance on authority is not a valid supporting argument any more than disparaging a source is a valid opposing argument. We should always follow the evidence – and rely on that evidence for our arguments in such discussions.
The political arena
This problem is even worse in the political sphere where so often we actually do not have evidence to fall back on. In fact, this situation seems to have got a lot worse of late where, for one reason or another, facts and evidence seem to be the last thing in the minds of “reporters” – or at least those who are continually telling us what we should think.
Unfortunately, discussion of political issues often leads people to claim they are using what they think as “reliable sources” or disparaging an opponent’s argument by claiming they are using “unreliable sources.” In fact, people who should know better, seem to often support their claims against any criticism by claiming it came from a “reliable source” or “authoritative source.” And these people who should know better will often resort to “attacking the messenger.” Criticising or rejecting information because it was reported by what they consider an “unreliable source.” The facts or evidence seem to be forgotten.
This can get pretty silly. I once had to confront the argument of a discussion partner who rejected the video recording of a statement made by a spokesperson for the US Department of State because it was part of a piece of RT news coverage! Especially silly as the video recording was probably an official one made by staff of the Department of State.
How often do we see people promoting partisan claims about the political hysteria in the US or the war in Syria by using sources like the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN or Al-Jazeera? Sources they claim are “reliable?” In my article An Oscar for Al Qaeda? I described how the New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs carried out “due diligence” on the White Helmets organisation they were planning to give money to by referring simply to a report from Al-Jazeera. No attempt to dig deeper, to evaluate the veracity of the Al-Jazeera reports or to follow-up other sources critical of the White Helmets. Yet Al-Jazeera has a reputation for supporting “rebels”/”terrorists” in Syria. It is shocking that a New Zealand ministry was not prepared to make a more sensible judgment.
On the other hand, how often do we see people disparaging information or claims about the current US political hysteria or the war in Syria which with they disagree because it was reported by Sputnik, RT or one of a host of other “alternative” news sources?
Both sides of a political argument now denigrate the sources used by the other side as promoting “fake news.” And, to an extent, each side is probably right as every news sources these days has its own point of view – its own bias.
Reader beware – use a range of sources
Unfortunately, many readers seem more interested in confirming their own biases than dealing with real facts or evidence. Understandably these people will select the news source that suits them. That’s OK if you simply want to follow the “party line.” But it is lazy because it avoids any intelligent or critical analysis.
It is incumbent on the rest of us who are more interested in real facts and in drawing more credible conclusions to make an effort to consult a range of news sources and to critically analyse the claims, opinions and information we get from them. I believe that in today’s world there is no such thing as an authoritative or reliable source when it comes to political information. All the media – the “established mainstream media” as well as the “alternative media” are equally capable of publishing and promoting fake news.
We need to be aware of this, be prepared to use a variety of sources to avoid the “party line” problem, and critically analyse what we read so we can separate facts from opinions and unsubstantiated claims.
I have discovered a new word – “stovepiping.” Must admit I had to look it up – but it seems to be highly relevant to the way media seem to authenticate their news reports today – particularly in the current political hysteria emanating from the USA. And, I think, stovepiping plays a central role in the promotion of fake news.
There is nothing new about fake news – we have been subjected to it for ages. But suddenly everyone is talking about it. Of course, it is always the “other” side which indulges in fake news – never “our” side. But I suggest that just demonstrates our own prejudices and confirmation bias. We should look more critically and objectively at the way “our” news media gathers and present what it feeds us.
“has been used, in the context of intelligence, to describe several ways in which raw intelligence information may be presented without proper context. . . . . the lack of context may come from a particular group, in the national policy structure, selectively presenting only that information that supports certain conclusions. “
On the one hand, this may be an inevitable result of the way intelligence agencies work – “due to thespecialised nature, or security requirements, of a particular intelligence collection technology.”
On the other hand, it may be purposely used to deceive politicians and the public (to support “certain conclusions”) – the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the justification for the US invasion of that country provides a clear example.
Unfortunately, stovepiping is rampant in the current US media and political hysteria surrounding the current political struggles resulting from an election result which didn’t go the way the establishment wanted and believed it would.
Consider all the “confidence” that the US presidential elections were “hacked” by Russia – even by, or under the personal orders of, the president of the Russian Federation. The assertion is claimed to be unassailable, beyond any question, because it was a conclusion reached, unanimously, by 17 US intelligence agencies. Hillary Clinton made the claim last October in a presidential election debate:
“We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.”
The really “deeply disturbing” aspect is that this claim was repeated again and again without a sniff of evidence. Anyone questioning the claim, or asking for evidence, was jumped on as a “Kremlin troll” and no politician seemed to have the courage to draw parallels with the Emperors Clothes.” To actually ask – “where is the evidence.” Neo-McCarthyism is alive and active.
Welcome to evidence-free reporting – where stories rely on unattributed, unnamed sources. Where “intelligence reports” are completely free of evidence – yet presented with high authority. And worse – the media then claims the evidence-free reports themselves as “evidence!”
“The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”
Worse – we had stovepiping within stovepiping. Not only was the claim not approved by the 17 agencies – the claim itself was made by selected personal within the four agencies involved. Heavy reported:
“Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had already essentially admitted to this when he testified in May in front of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee. He said the Russia hacking finding came from a special intelligence community assessment, formed by hand-picked analysts from the NSA, FBI, and CIA.”
This sort of stovepiping is loaded with possibilities for anyone wishing to promote evidence-free but politically damaging claims as part of a political battle. Just hand-select a few anonymous agents who you know will support the story you want. The ultimate confirmation bias.
One might think the news media has the ethical responsibility to be a bit more critical of such stories. To refuse to repeat evidence-free claims. To avoid unnamed, and unchecked, sources. And to publish an analysis of the origins of these claims, stressing the lack of evidence.
Unfortunately, in the USA it appears that the mainstream media has forgotten these ethics. It is wholeheartedly participating in this political battle. It is cooperating with elements in the intelligence community who have also joined this political battle. The mainstream media and this politically motivated section of the intelligence community are taking in each others laundry. Unnamed intelligence sources are providing evidence-free information to fill the news reports. The media is giving public voice to these disaffected intelligence agents and the intelligence community (or elements within it), in turn, is giving “authority” to the reported evidence-free claims. After all, what patriotically-minded US citizen will refuse to accept the authority of the intelligence agencies – even without evidence?
Weak retractions, or even the absence of retractions, seems to be an accepted procedure within the mainstream media. Remember Omran Dogneesh, the “Aleppo boy?” Much media hysteria was spent on his story (accompanied by an admittedly outstanding photograph) promoted by the al Qaeda-affiliated White Helmets as part of their propaganda campaign against Syria. His family was liberated with the rest of eastern Aleppo and they can now tell their story about the way their boy was used – in effect kidnapped by the White Helmets – for propaganda purposes. His family’s story has been reported to some extent – certainly without any of the fanfare the original misleading story was promoted (see How Omran, the dazed Aleppo boy who reappeared this week, became a political pawn in Syria’s war). And a gullible public will be encouraged to continue to believe the original distortions.
Just as “authoritative” mainstream media sources continue to report that 17 intelligence agencies had a “high confidence” the Russians “hacked” the US elections.
It’s wider than the Clinton-Trump conflict
While this example of stovepiping and fake news is typical of the current political conflict in the USA the problem is not going to go away when that conflict disappears. I think stovepiping and fake news have resulted from the danger the established news media sees itself in as a result of social media and wider digital sources for news.
In fact, when we look at the intelligence reports about the so-called Russian hacking of the US elections we find the main concern being expressed is the possible influence of alternative media. These reports concentrate on media like RT and Sputnik which have Russian origins – but the concern is really about alternative media in general. After all, if the best they can do is complain that RT gave coverage to minority candidates and ran one interview with Trump then we can see what their crime is. RT and Sputnik, just like the rest of the alternative media, is not under the thumb of the establishment. They are free to question the narrative promoted by that establishment.
The alternative media, just like the internet, is not going to go away. It will persist and it will provide alternatives to those of us tired by the conformity and fake news of the establishment mainstream media.
The political establishment in the US and Europe is trying to nip this phenomenon in the bud – after all the alternative media has limited reach so far. But the establishment can see the danger it represents and we cannot avoid the possibility it may take extreme action to prevent the loss of its influence a wider spread of alternative media represents.
All this talk about fake news brings to my mind a picture of people in glass houses frantically throwing stones. The fact is that many of those complaining about fake news, especially those dominating our mainstream media, are guilty of promoting fake news – and have done it for years.
I can’t help thinking what really upsets them, is that their readership may be becoming a bit more critical and looking for other sources of news. They are trying to poison the water.
Edward Snowden’s interview from last December 13 is very relevant here. The above video is just a clip from the full video where he talks about fake news – why it’s happening and what to do about it. I really like his conclusions:
“The problem of fake news isn’t solved by hoping for a referee but rather because we as participants, we as citizens, we as users of these services help each other. The answer to bad speech is not censorship. The answer to bad speech is more speech. We have to exercise and spread the idea that critical thinking matters now more than ever, given the fact that lies seem to be getting very popular.”
This really is a time when we have to oppose attempts to limit our access to information. We must not allow the political and media elite to tell us what we can and cannot read and view. We must not allow them to tell us that some news sources ar “out of bounds.” We must not allow them to put blinkers on us.
Alternative media only part of the answer
Sure, accessing alternative new sources is not the full answer – it is only part of the answer. All news sources have a bias, an agenda. For the unthinking person, the solution might be to choose the news source which confirms their own bias or agenda. But that is really unthinking – and it certainly is not a defense against fake news. Quite the opposite. The unthinking acceptance of fake news only encourages it.
No, the answer is to resort to critical thinking. By recognising that all sources may be guilty of fake news – and all news sources have a bias and agenda – we can start thinking for ourselves. We develop the skills of listening and viewing these sources critically. Balancing the information from one source against another. Thinking about the credibility of news stories and the sources they rely on. Recognising bias and false news when we come across it.
Moving towards censorship?
Unfortunately, the political and media elite are working hard to discredit alternative news sources. And their attempts are determined, serious and occurring at a high level. It is hard to envisage truly democratic countries accepting the sort of censorship this seems to be promoting. But have a read of “Putin’s Useful Idiots: Britain’s Left, Right and Russia.” Produced by the right-wing Henry Jackson Society this report actually advocates a range of extreme measures, including legislation, controlling the media appearances of politicians and the deliberate intensive undermining of the credibility of “non-approve” news media.
I have seen local journalists actually advocating measures as if they are lifted unchanged from this document – so much for a professional approach to their occupation. And this approach is inherent in the recently adopted resolution of the European parliament on the media and “anti EU-propaganda.”
It is hard to see how such censorship could even be effective in the age of the internet. But the incessant propaganda about false news and attempts to discredit alternative news sources – not for the news they carry but just because they are alternative – is encouraging forms of self-censoring for many individuals. People are being encouraged to reject information because it is from an alternative new source, and not because of the information itself. They are being encouraged into wearing blinkers.
A simple exercise. How many time do you see a comment or piece of information on social media rejected out of hand because it was reported on RT, or another alternative news source? Then compare that with the number of times you have seen similar rejections because the report was carried by CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC, etc. Yet all those news media are just as capable of carrying false news as each other. One has only to have followed the US Presidential elections or the Syrian war to recognise that.
The full interview of Edwards Snowden by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Snowden’s answers to Twitter questions is well worth watching. He is a very intelligent man and should not be ignored.
Here is the full video.
Again it is very much a matter of “reader beware.” We have to stop trusting news sources just because they are “mainstream”.”official,” or “approved.” We have to resist the pressure for self-censorship and the wearing of blinkers that the current political and media elite are promoting.
We should be unafraid and should take advantage of all the sources available to us in this age of the internet.
And, above all, we have to develop and protect our critical thinking skills so that we can use this media – mainstream and alternative – wisely.