The Fake War on ‘Fake News’
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published December 18, 2016 by The Washington Times.
The Democrats and their friends in the media are vigorously looking to expose “fake news” in the wake of their disastrous election defeat in November. Good for them.
The trouble is, they’re looking in the wrong places. They need to head to the nearest mirror.
The sheer amount of propaganda generated by the “mainstream media” for left-wing causes has been simply stunning. We knew the media were overwhelmingly liberal, but they outdid themselves this past election cycle, going foaming-at-the-mouth rabid against Donald Trump and swooning for Hillary Clinton.
They are still shocked, shocked that the American people disobeyed them and rejected their candidate and thus spared America more Obama-style socialist rule and government-enforced cultural chaos.
So they’re at it again, trying mightily to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Mr. Trump’s victory. First, they blamed FBI Director James Comey, who they had effusively praised before he launched a new inquiry into 650,000 more emails found belatedly on Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s husband’s computer. Next, armed only with speculation, they floated the idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin had single-handedly ensured a Trump victory by hacking America’s unconnected, offline election system.
It’s gotten so thick that, looking back, I now recall spotting someone who looked a lot like Mr. Putin himself scurrying away from one of the booths in my precinct in Northern Virginia.
Next, they’ll be blaming the electricity grid for providing the juice to run crooked voting machines in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
This doesn’t mean there’s not a problem with “factoids” that reverberate in social media and conspiracy sites.
For example, a blogger took a photo of buses near a Trump rally in Austin, Texas and claimed on Nov. 9 that the vehicles had ferried an army of anti-Trump protesters. The blog post went viral for two days before local TV station KVUE and the Austin American-Statesman reported that a company had hired the buses for its annual conference.
Fooled by a false report about a child sex ring linked to Hillary Clinton in a D.C. pizzeria basement, an armed man actually stormed the place in an attempt to free the “victims.” Another report falsely claimed that thousands of people at a Trump rally in New York chanted, “We hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back.”
The liberal-leaning PolitiFact.org recently proclaimed as “Lie of the Year” the entire genre of “fake news.” Meanwhile, Facebook announced a campaign to detect and flag “fake news” on its site with help from the left-leaning Snopes.com, along with ABC News, FactCheck.org, Politifact and The Associated Press. I’d be more excited about this truth squad if some of them were not themselves consistent violators of fairness standards in reporting.
Bizarre incidents aside, the real damage to the truth, day in and day out, is the media’s selective reporting, often omitting or recasting details that interfere with the progressive narrative.
Take the jobs data. For the last eight years, to boost President Obama, they have dutifully and uncritically touted quarterly job creation reports and misleading unemployment statistics that ignore the millions who have given up looking for a job and aren’t counted.
Or the oft-repeated claim that voter photo ID laws “suppress” minority voting despite no evidence of that.
The overt bias is easy to spot. It’s been around since ugly pictures of Richard Nixon were put up against GQ-style shots of the dashing John F. Kennedy. And, yes, some in the conservative press have run unflattering photos of Hillary.
But it’s the micro propaganda that they spoon feed us under the surface that is insidiously corrosive.
Security personnel who do interrogations are trained to spot “microexpressions” that tip them off when someone is lying. News consumers need to be just as adept at detecting micro propaganda. Here are a couple of examples.
A recent Washington Post Magazine cover piece about what to do in the event of a terrorist incident contained this sentence about unlikely kill zones: “A year ago this week, a married couple killed 14 county workers gathered at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif.”
That’s all. There was no mention of their religion or well-documented motive, just that they were married. Watch out for those married couples.
In November, the media massaged an FBI Hate Crime Statistics report to convey the notion that America is awash in anti-Muslim bigotry. It’s not that they made up stats; they just emphasized percentages instead of actual numbers.
Of 5,850 hate crime incidents reported to police in 2015, anti-Muslim hate crimes accounted for only 257 in a nation of 325 million people. This was 103 more incidents than in 2014. The media played up the “67 percent increase,” and either ignored or underplayed other statistics, such as the 664 incidents targeting Jews.
More and more Americans have gotten wise to this sort of manipulation. No wonder they’re fleeing major newspapers and news magazines in droves and tuning out progressive TV news networks. If “fake news” fills some of the vacuum, the media have only themselves to blame.