The folks who came up with the term “fake news” – no one has ever claimed credit for it – probably rue the day they did. Originally the term was going to be used to discredit anything that appeared in an outlet that wasn’t part of the media elite which contradicted the dominant liberal narrative or painted progressives and their policies in an unfavorable light.
Oh, for the schemes of mice and men, as Robert Burns put it.
Before those behind this grand experiment in thought control could get all the fact-checkers, news outlets, and academics ready to make it work, Donald Trump appeared on the scene and expropriated the term. In the blink of an eye, what was supposed to be an ad hominem attack on Fox News and other conservative outlets came to be synonymous with liberal media distortions of the day’s news.
Now, say published reports, it appears “fake news” is a real thing and, just as the liberals alleged, there are a couple of Murdochs behind it all. Only it’s not Rupert. It’s his younger son from his first marriage James who, along with his wife Kathryn reportedly made significant contributions to a political action committee linked to a genuinely fake news operation allied with the Democrats.
The younger Murdoch, who at one time occupied senior management positions in companies owned by his father as well as a member of the News Corp. board of directors, severed his ties with the family business several years ago, allegedly over concerns of information bias. How odd it is then that he and his wife are now linked to a $500,000 contribution to Pacronym, a super PAC that, according to its website is “affiliated with ACRONYM” – a group that Federal Elections Commission records indicate funded a pseudo-news outlet called “Courier Newsroom,” which circulated Democratic Party and anti-Trump propaganda disguised as legitimate reporting.
The “Courier Newsroom” operated what one newspaper called a network of “impostor news outlets” in electorally critical states such as Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Democratic Party talking points and candidate press releases were rewritten by the outlets and uploaded to the web as though they were legitimate news stories. It was essentially a political operation, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams told National Review last October, “funded by a host of liberal billionaire donors” and “poster child for House Democrats’ complete and total hypocrisy when it comes to dark money and fake news.”
It’s a remarkable turn of events given the younger Murdoch’s outrage, purportedly shared by his wife, at the way so-called disinformation propagated by media outlets like those controlled by News Corp. created an atmosphere leading to events like Trump’s 2016 election, the contest of his 2020 loss, and the disturbance at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 – which led directly to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., launching an effort to impeach the 45th president of the United States for a second time and have him removed from office before the end of his term.
“Spreading disinformation — whether about the election, public health or climate change — has real-world consequences,” the younger Murdochs recently said to the Financial Times. “Many media property owners have as much responsibility as the elected officials who know the truth but instead choose to propagate lies. We hope the awful scenes we have all been seeing (at the U.S. Capitol) will finally convince those enablers to repudiate the toxic politics they have promoted once and forever.”
One is tempted to shout “physician heal thyself’ at James and Kathryn Murdoch but it would likely do little good. Whether the contempt he’s shown for honest reporting through this and potential other contributions – neither are talking about how they’ve been spending their political money – is driven by a familial dispute, ideological concerns, or the kind of liberal social consciousness commonly found among the members of the second and third-generation descendants of those who built great companies of tremendous value is not important; sad perhaps, but not a critical component of a drama that some might say has hints of Shakespeare about it.
What truly matters is the shameful way the younger Murdochs have allegedly used resources at their disposal thanks to their father’s success to distort both the news and the political process.
Thanks to the technological advances that have made the Internet the main source of news about global current, it is easier than it once was to pull the wool over the eyes of the people. And, because P.T. Barnum’s still not been proved wrong, information that appears on the web that looks real is too often mistaken as being real.
James Murdoch and his billionaire cohorts who allegedly funded it all and the political operatives who came up with the idea for who knows how many pseudo-news platforms ought to be ashamed of their actions. They cheapened the process and the news business, a vocation some of us still consider to be an honorable profession.
Almost two weeks ago I offered at NRO a few synopses of various theories about why California — which, for a variety of reasons, had seemed so ripe for a New York–style epidemic — had nonetheless strangely been exempt at least for a while from the virus’s spread. I included the pedestrian possibility of some previously acquired “herd immunity,” given the state’s singular exposure from November to January 31 to direct flights from China, including those from Wuhan, and initial CDC and media reports last year of an unusually early and severe assumed flu hitting the state.
Within a few days, I was hit by media inquiries and private calls asking about my ongoing “coronavirus antibody testing studies.”
Despite ad nauseam corrections that I had never claimed in the NRO article or elsewhere to be a doctor, much less an epidemiologist or a conductor of any such study, and that the Hoover Institution is not a medical school, the fake news still spread.
I got dozens more calls and emails from private citizens who thought they had the virus and wanted confirmation of that supposed fact, in order to venture out and help others with antibodies. Some said they wanted “in” immediately.
Others called saying they were scared that they had an unknown illness and wanted confirmation of what it had been.
And some were from Chinese media sources wanting such “lab” confirmation that earlier herd immunity developing in California pre-2020 was the final proof needed of an American origin, rather than a later Chinese genesis of the virus. (Oddly they apparently assumed that if any such future study were to show some sizable herd immunity in California, and thereby suggest an earlier outbreak than what was assumed in late January 2020, it would not mean the Chinese were lying about the first dates of the infection. Would the Chinese media wish to explain why flights from Wuhan to the U.S. were open throughout January when, for mysterious reasons, the Chinese themselves had blocked travel earlier than the ban from Wuhan to other parts of China?)
Oddly, the more one agreed to go on California radio or be interviewed to correct the glaring media errors, the more the media ignored the correction and instead wanted to know about “your ongoing lab studies” and “herd immunity.”
When pressed, none of these California reporters could cite the NRO article or any nonexistent study, and seem uninterested in being directed to a number of excellent essays and analyses on various hypotheses from Stanford Medical School affiliated scientists and doctors, some of whom are conducting or about to conduct antibody studies.
Fake news is real.
I used to laugh every time I heard someone like Elon Musk say that we are living in a Matrix-like simulation. These days, not so much.
Don’t call the funny farm just yet. On the major question of the nature of sense experience, I remain with Aristotle and against Bishop Berkeley. Matter is real. But there is also the question of how we perceive “the news”; how established media institutions present and frame information; how we are supposed to respond to the “takes” purportedly expert and knowledgeable voices serve up to us by the second on social media. And here, I’m skeptical.
It’s hard not to be. Think of the headlines we’ve encountered since the beginning of this year. We were told the Covington Catholic boys were smug racist Trump supporters on the basis of a snippet of video. A young man, a private citizen, whose only offense was traveling to Washington, D.C., to march for life, was transformed at light speed into a symbol of hate and systemic oppression. However, just as Nick Sandmann’s reputation as a villain was about to set in stone, additional videos revealed that the students’ encounter with a far-left American Indian activist and the Black Hebrew Israelites was far more complicated than initially reported. The Covington Catholic boys had been smeared. People who cast themselves as agents of professional knowledge, expertise, and moral authority had circulated and amplified a lie in the service of a political agenda. Not for the first nor last time.
We were told Jussie Smollett, a rising gay African-American actor and singer, had been the victim of a hate crime committed by MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporters in the dead cold of a Chicago night. Journalists and bloggers who asked questions about Smollett’s story were decried as bigots, even as key details went missing and the shifting timeline became more and more curious. Then the city’s African-American police commissioner announced Smollett had been arrested for orchestrating a bizarre hoax. The state’s attorney filed charges—charges subsequently dropped after behind-the-scenes lobbying by Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff.
We were told that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin were in cahoots to hack the emails of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign; that Trump might have been a Russian agent since the late 1980s; that the key to the conspiracy might be a server in Trump Tower relaying information to a Russian bank; that the indictment of Donald Trump Jr. was imminent; that Trump Sr., according to the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, had committed “treason”; that Michael Cohen had met with Russian intelligence operatives in Prague; that Trump had directed Michael Flynn to speak to the Russians prior to Election Day 2016; that Trump had instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress; that Paul Manafort had met with Julian Assange in the Ecuadoran embassy in London during the campaign; that secret indictments in an Alexandria courthouse would be unsealed on the day Robert Mueller filed his report on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. None of it happened.
We were told that Michael Avenatti, a trial attorney who appeared seemingly out of nowhere to represent Stephanie Clifford, aka “Stormy Daniels,” in her (tossed-out) defamation suit against Donald Trump, was a defender of the rule of law and election integrity who posed, in the words of Stephen Colbert, an “existential threat” to the Trump presidency. Avenatti appeared incessantly on cable news, earning the equivalent of $175 million in media exposure between March and May 2018. Last September, an article in Politico Magazine carried the headline, “Michael Avenatti Is Winning the 2020 Democratic Primary.” When Avenatti said he represented a client who had been a victim of gang rapes and druggings at parties attended by Brett Kavanaugh during high school, NBC News interviewed the client despite being unable to verify her (ludicrous) accusation. By last November, when he was arrested for domestic assault in Los Angeles, Avenatti had appeared on television more than 200 times in the space of 8 months.
On the morning I wrote this column a federal grand jury indicted Avenatti on 36 counts, including fraud. “Defendant AVENATTI would embezzle and misappropriate settlement proceeds to which he was not entitled,” reads just one sentence of the mind-boggling 61-page indictment. What media authorities had presented as true—that Avenatti was a serious attorney whose evidence would destroy the Trump presidency—has been revealed, once again, as utterly fallacious, a con. It’s up to the jury to decide if Michael Avenatti is a criminal. What’s beyond dispute, has been for a while, is that he is an unserious person, out for attention, celebrity, the notoriety and status fame brings. In the months of his ascendance, however, cable anchors and journalists did their best to avoid or downplay the truth of Avenatti’s character, lest it distract from their attack on the president’s.
As the influence of establishment media outlets has waned, their attempts to control the narrative have intensified. The cable networks and major print outlets have become more politicized, not less, as social media and streaming video make it much easier to expose hoaxes and puncture holes in the received wisdom. The Sentinels who protect the liberal media matrix are vigilant against thoughtcrime, they anathematize dissent, but they are less interested in the canons of professional journalism, such as presenting both sides of a story and refraining from baseless speculation. Right now they are heralding Ilhan Omar for her courage, turning Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into the flag-bearer of the Democratic Party, and confident that no matter the opposition Trump will be defeated. Best be skeptical. As with all the other bogus stories, reality will make itself felt in the end. It always does.
by Erik Wemple • Washington Post
The New York Times on Wednesday appended a correction to a story about a climate change study:
Correction: August 9, 2017
An article on Tuesday about a sweeping federal climate change report referred incorrectly to the availability of the report. While it was not widely publicized, the report was uploaded by the nonprofit Internet Archive in January; it was not first made public by The New York Times.
That correction, which sits at the foot of the story, dutifully straightens out the record. Yet given the magnitude of the screw-up, it should sit atop the story, surrounded by red flashing lights and perhaps an audio track to instruct readers: Warning: This story once peddled a faulty and damaging premise. Continue reading