Commentary

Propagandists

fake fake fakeThe Russians are not to blame for this country’s fake news problem. It’s the damn old folks.

“On average, users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as the youngest age group,” researchers from Princeton and New York University reported in a January study published at Science Advances.

One of those who got caught out this week was 68-year-old Howard Weaver –  a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, the former Vice President for News for The McClatchy Company, and the former editor of the Anchorage Daily News. Weaver on Tuesday posted a wholly fake “Fox News Alert” in which President Donald Trump appeared to suggest he would be in office for the next 10 to 20 years and Democrats needed to accept “the fact that I am in charge, this is my country, and I will do as I please.”

One of the first people to comment on the post was an Anchorage reporter young enough to be Weaver’s son who noted the “news alert” was a fake. Weaver’s post had at that time been shared once. Despite the first warning that the post was fake, people went on sharing the post for hours.

Many expressed their disgust with what Trump had said (though he didn’t say it) even after a number of people added to the first warning that the post was fake. Most of the people ignoring those warnings likely posted without reading the other comments, as is too often the case on Facebook.

They reacted to the original post believing what they wanted to believe. Welcome to the world of social media.

It’s easy for many to get caught up in the idea Trump would say anything as Weaver got caught up in that idea.

By Wednesday, the former editor did realized he’d made a mistake, admitted to it, and offered a very public mea culpa on his Facebook page.

mea

Weaver is to be commended for the correction. But it is unknown how many of the people who shared the fake post of Tuesday carrying the imprimatur of an esteemed American journalist shared the second post.

But even if they all did, which is doubtful, there is a problem bigger than this post and bigger than Weaver. A lot of old journalists  – people once thought of as moral leaders in the global struggle that has long been waged between news and propaganda – seem to want to ignore the fact that behaviors matter.

Behaviors especially matter when they involve people who’ve spent their lives advocating for facts and accuracy, people who understand the importance of checking information before publishing it, and people who are role models for younger journalists.

Weaver’s rush to publish was little but a display of his contempt for Trump, and the country is in trouble when journalists start allowing these sorts of emotions to overpower what have been and should be the rules of journalistic engagement.

Sadly, too, when someone of Weaver’s status does this, it reflects not just on him but on all journalists. To supporters of Trump this behavior sends the message that journalists will do almost anything to get this president.

That many, probably most, journalists are disgusted by Trump is understandable.

The late conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer was attacking Trump for his falsehoods within days after his Republican primary nomination. Krauthammer described Trump as a “conspiracy theorist (from Barack Obama’s Kenyan birth to Ted Cruz’s father’s involvement with Lee Harvey Oswald), fabulist (from his own invented opposition to the Iraq War and the Libya intervention to the ‘thousands and thousands’ of New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11), (and) admirer of strongmen (from Vladimir Putin to the butchers of Tiananmen).

“His outrageous provocations have been brilliantly sequenced so that the shock of the new extinguishes the memory of the last. Though perhaps not his most recent — his gratuitous attack on a ‘Mexican’ federal judge (born and bred in Indiana) for inherent bias because of his ethnicity. Textbook racism, averred Speaker Paul Ryan. Even Trump acolyte and possible running mate Newt Gingrich called it inexcusable.”

And Trump’s funhouse-mirror view of facts should concern journalists of all stripes. Journalists long prided themselves on the shared belief that honesty mattered. This was the Golden Rule of Journalism.

About the worst that could be said of anyone was that he or she was a liar. But because lying is such a well established human trait – researchers have found people lie with alarming regularity and without much thought – all information was also to be treated with inherent skepticism.

It wasn’t to be simply passed along; it was to be verified before it was passed along. What a reader learned from Jane Journalist was to supposed to have more value than what that same person heard from Joe Sixpack at the bar because what the journalist told you wasn’t just talk. The journalist had some grasp of the issue under discussion, and the journalist had checked the information enough to find reasons to believe it true.

The journalist wasn’t just passing along a rumor.

It was this fundamental idea that gave journalism value.  Sadly, the value has been leeching away for years now.

Agendas upon agenda

This is not to pick on Weaver, an old journalist who made a rookie mistake. Weaver is a well-intentioned, old-school liberal. Thirty years ago, his political leanings wouldn’t have bothered a mention in the context of what he did on Facebook, either.

Thirty years ago, right and left still talked to each other. Even 20 years ago, Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy, the liberal from Massachusetts, and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, the conservative from Utah, were the best of friends. Today?

Today the country is split by a partisan divide that only seems to grow daily with a goodly number of retired journalists and some active journalists seemingly always at work to widen it.

Sometimes with bad intentions. Sometimes with good intentions.

Weaver didn’t post fake news on his Facebook page because he wanted to be in the fake news business. He posted it because he believed it was true. He posted it because it appealed to his confirmation bias.

He posted it because he despises Trump and because this is how things work in the social media world.

As one of Weaver’s Facebook friends posted below the admission the post was fake, “the fact that we could easily believe it to be true sums up this administration very well.”

Facts just don’t matter the way they used to matter.

What one “believes” has for many Americans become the first and often foremost definition of factual. In this world, even those things that can be shown to be factually wrong are OK if it’s possible they could have been true.

Too much truth has shifted from an objective standard to a subjective standard.

Consider it the Trump standard.  The President doesn’t lie some of his defenders will tell you; he’s just telling his truth. And even if it can be shown facts don’t support the story Trump tells, it’s still his truth.

“…Trump’s supporters are increasingly rationalizing those falsehoods,” writes University of Michigan Public Policy Professor Brendan Nyhan, who has spent considerable time studying this phenomenon. “Belief in the importance of presidential candidates being honest has declined from 71 percent among Republicans in 2007 to just 49 percent today, threatening the previously uncontested norm that the president should be expected to say things that are true, or at least not obviously false.”

The problem isn’t helped by unprecedented declines in media trust fueled, in part, by the media getting things wrong or sometimes resorting to its own subjective truths.

Subjective truth is like love. You are so overwhelmed by it that it cannot be ignored, but you can’t explain it let alone document it.

Objective truth is like gravity. You trip; you fall; your face hits the pavement.

Subjective truth is driven by emotion. Objective truth is vested in evidence and reason.

Trump lives in a bubble of subjective truth from which he fires off angry Tweets at those who he believes have wronged him. Increasingly he seems to have driven some in or of the media into similar bubbles.

Maybe it’s not their fault. Dr. Robert Lustig might have put his finger on the problem a year ago.

“Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) is ostensibly a mental condition in which persons have been driven effectively ‘insane’ due to their dislike of Donald Trump to the point at which they abandon all logic and reason,” he wrote at MedPage Today.

“Many have remarked that Trump operates out of his ‘lizard brain’. Rather, I would argue that Trump has turned our brains reptilian. The two emotions that belie this effect — greed and fear — are the same two emotions that govern Wall Street’s behavior.”

The emeritus professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of California San FranciscoLustig went on at length about dopamine-fueled highs and lows, and cortisol confusion sparked by Trump’s erratic behavior before concluding that the President “can alter human behavior in predictable, if socially undesirable, ways.

“In other words, many of us have now become Trump. The more dopamine and cortisol, the more we lose our ability to discern truth from post-truth, the more irritable we become, and the more we abandon our cognitive control and with little regard for the consequences.”

That appears to define pretty well what happened to Weaver. That’s sad; the sadder thing is that the fallout comes down on all journalists. And the saddest thing is that this illness appears to reach far beyond politicians and journalists and into the heart of social media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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25 replies »

  1. I don’t think Trump is any more of a narcissist than Obama or Bush and add Clinton. He just doesn’t bother to hide it. I actually appreciate he allows us to see his faults and doesn’t care. We have never had the perfect President and we never will.
    I have been following politics closely for twenty-five years, and it has made me sick to see the type of characters elected to office and the direction the country was headed. Most of the blame falls on Congress. Presidents come & go and do not have much lasting effect. Some of these corrupted congresspersons have been there for 30 to 40 years just like the ones before them. I voted for Trump because of his policies, and for the first time, I see a President trying to accomplish what he promised. How novel is that?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “As one of Weaver’s Facebook friends posted below the admission the post was fake, “the fact that we could easily believe it to be true sums up this administration very well.””

    No, it sums up the irrational opponents of the Admin very well. Trump has done literally nothing that would make taking that post at face value reasonable. Therein lies the problem with the Trump Derangement Syndrome folks, they refuse to criticize him for his actual flaws, instead creating a straw-bogey-man in their heads to support their variously justified visceral reactions and conspiracy theories.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Opinion,
    Appreciate your candor. You are correct, “we are all in the same boat”, and I prefer it to not go on the rocks or sink.
    We elect our representatives to help govern our country and we pay them well, for doing that.
    Unfortunately like what has happened in Juneau has been happening in DC, for many years.
    The lobbyists of large corporations are actually running our country.
    We no longer are participants in our once participatory democracy.
    Very sad state we find ourselves in.

    Like

    • You speak true James . It’s a massive danger to our nation. Somehow money must be removed from politics. Needs careful overhaul. It may destroy our nation. I’ve thought of multiple ways but it’s hard to make it scam proof as well as balanced so large population centers don’t end up being complete rulers over rural residents.

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  4. James, Ill take a “narcissistic charismatic spoiled brat” over anti-American Marxist/Communists. Didnt both Brennen and Comey vote for Communists? I think it is fair to say they both are treasonous sacks-of-gawea.
    And when you say “Corporate capitalism has replaced participatory democracy” are you referring to the Democrat States trying to abolish the Electoral College in favor of “mob rule”? A Democracy? Come out of the shadows James.

    Like

  5. Well Craig,
    As our natural Chinook Salmon runs face endangerment in the Valley with seasonal fishing closure after closure (year after year) and “retired journalist” like yourself and other bloggers in the state are writing about politics after politics….
    Our current administration under Dunleavy is moving to allow the oil and gas industry to dump BILLIONS of gallons of more toxic waste into the Cook Inlet every year…
    “The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is poised to re-issue the Clean Water Act permit that allows oil and gas corporations to dump billions of gallons of toxic waste into Cook Inlet fisheries and beluga whale habitat every year.
    Cook Inlet is the ONLY coastal waterbody in the United States where the oil and gas industry enjoys this special loophole.”
    The question to you is WHY are no “news” sites covering this “story”?

    https://inletkeeper.org

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  6. Amen, devout faith-keeper. Like Craig said: “2nd coming of god”. Let us now pray for the non-fraudulent campaign manager.

    Like

  7. If you’d like to, you can waste the limited hours of your life sitting down watching and listening to the ‘news’ to catch the latest important BREAKING NEWS ALERT!! or…. you can be a productive, somewhat sane human who knows that it’s all spin and even the weather forecast is there to sell old couch potatoes their ED pills. I’m not sure what is more funny, that the repubs will spend all day trying to sell you on Trump being the 2nd coming of god when you wouldn’t let your wife or daughter be in the same room as him for fear of a random pussy grab, or the dems trying to convince you that they actually have someone better to replace him with. Although, to be fair, I would vote for a hair sniffer over a pussy grabber right now….
    Cheers folks!
    PS – BREAKING NEWS ALERT that you simply cannot live without in 5 mins – stay tuned! Har!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jack Smothers , thank you for expressing An example of Mild to moderate T D S . Approximately 4 Trumpian statements detected in your post : )

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      • No problem Dr. Opinion! I would much rather use these self stated facts (straight from his mouth!) than look at every little statement as a slight on his oh, so awesome holiness – this would be expressing a case of mild to moderate Trump Boot Lick Disorder (TBLD)! As an actual conservative, I can highlight some (very limited) successes that Pres Trump has had that I support – (some) foreign trade policy changes, our recent tax cut….. crickets… crickets… Yup – that’s it! Those kudos aside, I think that he is a piece of human dung as a human being and as an effective president. I feel that the majority of his foreign policies are a disaster. Actually, I would go so far as to say that he is the most dangerous President in my lifetime – and that’s really saying something since our most recent comparisons are friggin’ Obama and dubya Bush. We’ll see what the jokers on the other side come up with as far as a replacement goes next year – I’m not holding my breath though.

        Cheers to you, sir!

        PS – I’m only counting 2 slights against his holiness – the pussy grabber thing and 2nd hand comment regarding the repubs trying to sell him as something he’s not… Are you linking my not so subtle Fox News slams as Trumpian slams?

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      • Jack – care to use the analytical part of your brain and proove he and his policies are what you say? I see a lot of key words you use based on emotion. Feel , think , say . Please proove he is human dung and ineffective ,proove his foreign policies are a disaster. Proove he is most dangerous president of our lifetime. You can use any of recent presidents. If you can’t proove your statements then Your statements are a symptom of TDS . By the way whose Pussy did he grab that makes you fear his presence? Does he have a criminal record in that area ? If so proove it ,that he would grab random pussy when invited to a home . If you can’t proove that – your statement is evidence of TDS . Which is impressive for a grown adult man .

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    • Setting the rhetoric aside, Trump only looks bad when you examine him in a vacuum. When you include all the other variables (just about any Democratic politician you care to name) he doesn’t seem half bad. I mean, I literally WOULD be concerned to have my wife or daughter in the same room with Bill Clinton, for instance, or his cretinous wife for that matter, and those two are feted within their party.

      The bottom line is that once you sort through the daily onslaught against him, Trump has actually done a rather good job as president. I’ll take the way the country is running today over any period for the last 20-30 years. If the country’s current prosperity is due to a vulgar, unpleasant man such as Trump is, I’ll take that any day over the filth that the Democratic party wants to turn it into.

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  8. I am just going to start with Hillary and the DNC fabricating a bogus and illegal “Russian Collusion” narrative. The FBI obtaining illegal FISA warrants to go after a sitting president and American citizens. Putting people in jail over a phony narrative. The “Goose Steppers” in the media running with the known lie to mislead the American people. Wasting $40 million on the known lie. Democrats today in Congress are still peddling the known “Russian Collusion” lie. The media is still pushing the “Russian Collusion” lie. Hillary did collude with Russia and her illegal, personal server with Classified information on it was hacked by the Russians. Lynch, Comey, Obama, Hillary, Clapper, Brennen, etc.. should all be tried for treason for orchestrating a soft coup on a sitting President of the US. A first in American History. You do have people in the Democrat Party who are clearly mental but, you also have truly evil people as well. Thank God for Trump exposing these criminal frauds daily. How is that for starters?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pretty good Bryan but you are far to kind to the people who propagated this Insurection attempt. their actions were so despicable I wouldn’t call them democrats. We need to get off the party boat . Call them what they were . Plain criminals. Their actions went beyond partisan .They had some ulterior motives . Bought and paid for ,are they . Long ago in prison they should be with hunter , joe , Hillary ect . Thankfully trump has highlighted their anti American actions. Trump wasn’t hired to be an Anjel . He was hired to redirect America’s course . To help expose and resolve weaknesses.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Trump exposing criminals daily?
      Are you kidding me? What have you been smoking?
      POTUS is a narcissistic charismatic spoiled brat, who is always blaming someone else for his missteps.
      Corporate capitalism has replaced participatory democracy was in the good old USA, and bipartisan in both House & Senate is over.
      What sad state we find ourselves and our country in.

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      • James . You were a fisherman. A very hard working professional. Preparation, perseverance, courage and plain hard work. Use that element of yourself to more carefully examine what’s happening in the US and what brought trumps rise . We are all in this boat together. The storm is not as simple as appears . Trump is the imperfect sea dog captain trying to keep us off the rocks through the dark of night and storm . Look harder through the fog . You will see what we are trying to avoid.

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      • What you say about Trump – narcissist etc, is absolutely true, but that does not mean he is not exposing the criminal activity of the Deep State. Corporate capitalism, lack of bipartiship finally died under Obama, after taking a huge hit under i’m-a-uniter-not-a-divider G.W. Moron.
        As Friedman pointed out a few days ago in the NY Times, Trump is the POTUS China deserves. As a partisan Democrat, that’s pretty amazing. He says that Trump is not the POTUS America deserves, but for the same reasons he says China deserves Trump, so does the Deep State.

        Like

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