The people that write and publish the news are among the most powerful people on earth.
Does this sound like an extreme claim? It might because of the expressed level of cynicism about events and stories that are printed or broadcast in various news media. When I ask my friends and colleagues, they often respond with the blanket statement that “all the news media are lying anyway.”
Given the chance, usually someone will talk about some story that made an impact on them and it is often quite wild. One example I got in the last week was a report that the Carter Administration knew about the impending explosion of the Yellowstone super-volcano, and that the American foreign policy has been since shaped so as, apparently, to clear out lands for people to relocate after this world-ending scenario takes place.
The person who told me fully believed it.
This is because a well written story and a well established personal bias often meet and mix, with spectacular results. And a skillful writer or speaker can easily manipulate public opinion, simply because they say or write something that is at least halfway believable and which meets a person’s own bias and opinion in a way that constructs or provides reinforcement of the “truth” of things as that person sees it.
In this way, those who write and publish news can create public opinion as well as alter and manipulate those biases which already exist. Also, if a false story is spread in a sensational manner, once the truth comes to light, it doesn’t really matter. The sensational story survives and becomes extremely difficult to defeat.
Present examples of fake news that worked really well
We had a few such stories arise in the last two weeks. Here we list three examples of headlines and the truths that were, well, not so widely accepted.
- Gina Haspel – According to this early piece and others like it, she was a ruthless agent of torture at a “black site” run by the CIA in Thailand. This story got circulated for a few days before a very quiet retraction showed up. It turns out that this story of Gina being torture master is just not true.
- President Trump to fire Robert Mueller – Last week right before the weekend this was circulating widely, despite the President specifically stating he has no such intention. In fact, today, Friday 23 March, USA Today is still trying to push this idea with their headline “Russia probe: Democrats fear Trump will fire Mueller while Congress is on two-week break.“
- Andrew McCabe – “Fired three days before retirement, and will not receive his pension.” The actual news is not quite so extreme sounding, as one can see here, but it was good enough for the media to have quite a freakout over this “sudden” move made, characterized by the press as ostensibly ordered by the Trump Administration directly or by those who work for him.
The reports that are flying across the news, Twitter, and Facebook are that McCabe was just two days short of retirement and that this move by Sessions will, as, for instance, Vox, reports, “cost him his federal pension.” On Twitter, Andrea Mitchell writes:
One suggestion from a McCabe supporter: if a friendly member of Congress hired him for a week he could possibly qualify for pension benefits by extending his service the extra days and Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton tweeted in reply, “Would be happy to consider this. The Sixth District of MA would benefit from the wisdom and talent of such an experienced public servant.”
Which all gives the impression of a veteran, elderly federal official being cheated out of his pension accruals due to a vindictive Trump administration.
In reality, the investigation into McCabe started by an Obama Administration order and Trump appointee Attorney General Jeff Sessions merely gave news of the firing. He did not execute this himself, nor was it his initiative. Further, as this Forbes piece goes on to describe, pension benefits vest at five years of employment for Federal Employees, meaning that benefit accruals cannot be lost. Further, Andrew McCabe is far from destitute. His present net worth is about US $11 million. He is also only 49 years old, so he has a lot of life left. What he did lose is the ability to take benefits at age 50; as it is now, he will have to wait until age 57 before he begins to collect. He also lost eligibility to a special benefit. However, these losses, although less than comfortable, are far from painless.
So, here are just three examples of rather large pieces of news that have made the rounds this last week. Every single one of them hit the streets with a sensational headline and a lot of follow up and sensationalism as secondary and ternary outlets scrambled to echo the new screaming headlines… only to find out that these were largely untrue.
However, each one was directed to one end – to discredit all things Trump and all things conservative. On a wider, geopolitical scale, most such news is made to blast all things Russia, as well as Presidents Putin and Trump and all things conservative. There is a great deal of consistency with all of this, and yet, it happens so constantly and so swiftly that it is very easily accepted that what we hear from the media, even conservative outlets, is the truth.
The attack is cunning: even conservative outlets are manipulated to support liberal causes
This ability to control the narrative even through conservative outlets is made stunningly clear in our expository piece released on 22 March about convicted-in-absentia-by-Russia tax fraudster William Browder, who also has been subpoenaed by the American government, only to physically flee the serving. Browder regularly appears in Congressional committee sessions, even though he renounced his American citizenship to evade taxes, and yet he controls the narrative on President Vladimir Putin, and in fact drives it. When he speaks on Fox, the conservative audience that watches Fox takes it as a point of fact that they can trust what Fox puts out so they believe the propaganda and lies this man (a profoundly active CLINTON supporter) manages to get out.
The responsibility spreads in multiple directions. First, the news media is a business. The business fails if it doesn’t make money, and part of how we make money is getting people to watch us and read us, and in so doing grant visibility to the companies that buy advertising with us. Second, there is great competition in the Internet Age, because instead of a few major outlets there are myriad sources for news. This creates a lot of competition to be first to release, and getting the most response is also a great race, through the use of attention grabbing headlines and so forth.
But this incredible competition is not justification for the controlling of the media narrative. THAT is a deeper issue, and further analysis pieces may shine some light on the why and how of this. But for now, we will suffice to say that the most popular type of narrative – at least in the minds of the MSM – is a narrative that supports the notion of secularism, progressivism, equality and several other themes that are all part of what is known as Cultural Marxism. For some reason, Christian conservatism does NOT dominate the intertubes. Maybe it is because there is little that is sexy, scandalous and sensational about most news stories as they really are.
How to correct this problem from the journalist’s side
It is also not presently attractive to present facts for critical analysis. Many of us have become less interested in factual detail and more interested in emotional fire and outrage. And in this climate it becomes really easy to mess around with facts. Facts become important only so far as they help to promote the sensationalism. And that is dangerously misleading.
In observing the way that the media narrative was thrown around this week alone, it becomes apparent that any good journalist needs to check sources, verify and investigate the alleged story to make sure it is true and not the product of someone’s wishful thinking. It is then needed to offer that information even if it is a little boring, on the premise that the boring nature of the non-sensationalized article is nonetheless of much GREATER value than any emotionally sensational piece. With good writing, this is possible. True journalism is an absolute art form.
Not so long ago, some of the greatest news writers did exactly this. One of the greatest achievements in the history of modern journalism was the Watergate exposé, reported and researched intensively by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post. The actual material was about as exciting as watching dead worms soak up the rain. But these two journalists did research, research, research, interviews and checking upon checking, and on top of that, good writing, to make sure the sources and all the information was airtight. The result was history.