Tag Archives: bias

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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Islamophobia or mental illness?

islamophobia

OR

mental-illness-4

Mental illness is far more widespread than we often wish to admit. In fact, it is probably worth considering it a normal part of life – like the occasional cold or other ailments we all get.

But occasionally mental illness can be more debilitating – even embarrassing. Does any family not have a member who sometimes embarrasses them by behaving inappropriately?

I will be upfront and say this has been the case in my family. I can certainly understand why sometimes the law needs to take into account metal illness, or even turn a blind eye to behaviour which may be insulting or technically illegal.

That was my first response to the reported abuse of a Muslim woman in Huntly. Now that this has come to court I hope the person who was abusive gets some understanding from the court, and the help she may need, if mental illness is an issue.

Having reacted this way I now find myself in strange company – seeing a possibly similar reaction from people who I do not normally align with.

The NZ Herald reports that former Whanganui mayor and broadcaster Michael Laws has come out on Facebook expressing his sympathy for the woman charged over the attack in Huntly. Of course, he is now being attacked for this. But I find many of the comments inhumane – exhibiting a really backward attitude to the idea mental illness may be involved. Seeing it as an excuse! Just imagine treating someone with a physical disability as if they were using that as an excuse.

Something I hadn’t considered was the motivation of the complainant – although I did think it strange this woman thought to video the event and make it public. If it had been me I would have treated it as an unfortunate event, best forgotten and certainly not something to make political capital out of.

According to the Whale Oil blog the complainant is actually something of a political activist – advocating for Muslim causes (see Activist or ordinary Kiwi Muslim? What does her twitter feed reveal?)OK, I certainly don’t hold that against her but it seems to explain why the whole thing has become so public.

The way I see it this whole event seems to have been created by a mixture of mental illness and political activism (and, as alway, media exaggeration). On the one hand, this may have been unfortunate and embarrassing for the family of the women who was abusive. On the other hand, if this is a case of mental illness then perhaps the involvement of the court may bring her some help.

One thing I am sure of. Whatever the reason for the videod abusive behaviour – ethnic or religious hatred, drunkenness or mental health – this is not normal behaviour for New Zealanders and we shouldn’t let others think that it is.

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Warriors, scouts, Trump’s election and your news media

The media, establishment figures, and seemingly many of Clinton’s supporters,  were surprised at Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections because they think like warriors instead of scouts.

Julia Galef described these different thinking processes in the video above – which I posted 6 months ago (see Are you really right?). Last week’s US presidential election result, the public uproar it resulted in – and my own feelings that the media coverage of the election had been biased for months – make this video even more applicable today.

Julia describes the two different mindsets required in fighting a war:

The  “Warrior mindset” – emotively based and fixated on success. Not interested in stopping to think about the real facts or rationally analyse the situation.

The “Scout mindset” – objective and rational, ready to consider the facts (in fact, searching them out) and logically consider possibilities.

Obviously both mindsets have their place in a war – one could not win if there were not highly motivated and emotionally determined warriors. Nor could one win if there were no scouts who could collect the facts, rationally analyse them and determine the best strategy or tactics.

The pollster’s “warrior mindset”

I think Clinton’s loss, and the subsequent surprise and uproar from her supporters comes from the dominance of a “Warrior mindset” in her campaign. Motivated reasoning, belief of one’s own propaganda – and belief that voters accepted that propaganda – especially the demonisation of the opponent. There seems to have been little place for the “Scout mindset.” Polling seemed driven by wishful thinking and not identification of weak areas where effort could be applied.

In contrast, Trump’s campaign polling seemed to have had more of the “Scout mindset.” Areas requiring attention were identified and resources applied to them. Looking back, I think Trump’s confident assertions about his victory were based on that good polling. And the laughter and disbelieving response from the Clinton camp (and media) was based only on wishful thinking – not good polling.

OK, that partisanship and wishful thinking, and the election result itself, are of little concern to me at this distance. I had no dog in that race. But the partisanship and “Warrior mindset” of the main stream media does concern me.

The media’s “warrior mindset.”

The US media, and the media of many other countries, seemed to have accepted the unfounded confidence and wishful thinking of the Clinton camp. It seemed to indulge in the demonisation and misrepresentation of Donald Trump – willing to laugh at anything he said that was at all buffoonish (while ignoring the often equally extreme comments from Clinton). The media, like the Clinton camp, was out of touch with the thinking of the person in the street and the problems they faced.

Hence the media surprise – and even some critical self-analysis (although how long will the lesson they claim to have learned last?).

But I see the same partisanship, motivated reasoning and outright ignoring or distortion of facts by the media in its treatment of many other world events. Just take the reporting of the war in Syria. So often our media relies on “rebel”/”terrorist” sources for their “facts.” Media sympathy with those “rebels”/”terrorists,” and media hostility to the legitimate Syrian government and its allies is all I have come to expect from most of the main stream media.

I am sometimes attacked for choosing to use a range of media sources for my information. For not restricting myself to the “approved” or “legitimate” media. But surely those critics should learn from their surprise at the US election result.

Today there is no such thing as an objective – let alone an “approved,” or “legitimate” – media. Just media that confirms one’s biases if you let it.

The sensible person must  use a range of news sources, recognising that each of them have their own biases and agendas, and do a bit of thinking for themselves.

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