Tag Archives: alternative media

The main stream media is out of touch

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.

So I am not surprised to see recent polling identifying a huge mismatch between the concerns of the media and the concerns of the public. Jon Gabriel’s Ricochet article What Americans Care About vs. What the Media Cares About illustrates this in the following graphic.

Constraining the President

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.

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Don’t rely on sources – follow the evidence

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  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.

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Stovepiping to produce fake news

Image credit: THOSE ’17 INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES’ CITED BY HILLARY CLINTON ABOUT TRUMP AND RUSSIA TURNED OUT TO BE FAKE NEWS

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.

Stovepiping in the intelligence community

So we come to “stovepiping” which Wikipedia says:

“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 the specialised 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 retractions are buried and ignored

Sometimes such stories do get retracted. On June 29 The New York Times issued a retraction of the claim that 17 intelligence agencies had reported Russian hacking. The NYT admitted:

“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.

Aleppo boy – his true story was buried. The first photo was trumpeted around the world as part of anti-Syria propaganda. The second practically ignored. Credit: India.com.  Aleppo boy Omran Daqneesh makes his first appearance since 2016 bombing! See heart warming pictures of the Syrian kid 

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.

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Critical thinking, not censorship, is the solution to fake news

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.

Avoiding self-censorship

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.

Full video

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.

Conclusion

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.

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