Fake News and the Mainstream Media

The advent of Internet fundamentally changes the way people communicate with each other and how information is disseminated. Where this paradigm shift is felt in the most acute way is none other than traditional media – broadcast TV networks and newsprint. From the privileged position they enjoyed as short as three to four decades ago, mainstream media (MSM) had a virtual lock on where people go to get their information (theirs were the only outlets) and how their opinions were shaped (accordingly to how MSM decided to shape them).

The Internet, where anyone, ANYONE, with an opinion and some free time can get into the soapbox and opine, completely destroyed the moat constructed by MSM long enjoying the monopoly in the channel of information access. Over the same period, the concentration of corporate media (from several hundred down to six in the English speaking world) resulted in two inevitable conclusions: (1) the healthy competition and diversity of opinions were systemically removed, and (2) the opinions of the remaining media outlets increasingly serve their corporate masters.

In the past four decades ‘news’ has evolved through different phases.

  • Relatively independent MSM – the period of the 1970s during which MSM prided themselves with solid investigative journalism, journalistic integrity and their self appointed role of watchdog over the government. Whether MSM was truly independent then is debatable, but, as the Watergate episode demonstrated, at least the watchdog part was somewhat upheld as it held the government to account.
  • Concentrated media, homogeneous mouthpiece – As the number of independent corporate media shrank as a result of mergers, their opinions were increasingly shaped to reflect their corporate interests. This happened while alternative media started to mushroom all over Internet.
  • Alternate media coming of age – Not only has alternative media multiplied in quantity and continued to fragment readers into ever smaller segments, their scope of influence has truly threatened and arguably overshadowed that of MSM.

Instead of suffering from a dearth of diversity in opinions, people seeking information nowadays suffer from information overload in the new democratized world of news and opinion websites. In an environment of very low signal to noise ratio – there is a mountain of information out there, a lot of which is of questionable quality – it requires a certain level of intelligence on the readers to pick out the useful information from the useless ones, half truths and downright lies.

Which brings us to the recent controversy around ‘fake news’.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Trump’s rhetoric or not, it is pretty clear that the MSM has been overwhelmingly and almost universally pro Clinton. From diminishing Bernie Sanders during the DNC primaries to trashing Trump during the election, the brazen attempt by corporate media, neo-conservative think tanks, banking sector and other monied interests (collectively, the Establishment) to put Clinton on the throne is pretty obvious even to the most casual observers.

When the shock wave reverberated across the MSM landscape in the wake of the ‘surprise’ loss of Clinton despite their endless punditry and pontification across the airwaves, the MSM comes face to face with a shocking reality, a realty in which their stranglehold on the captive audience has all but melted away and the threat to their relevance has become existential.

Instead of doing an honest post-mortem by looking at themselves in the mirror and raising some tough questions to themselves, the MSM decide to double down and tell the ‘deplorables’ that it is them that got it all wrong.

In straw-grasping mode, the Washington Post put out a column claiming the Russians created ‘fake news’ which influenced and changed the course of the US election. The article, Russian propaganda helped spread fake news during election, expert say, name dropped some 200 websites which it claimed put out fake news and spill Russian propaganda. Among such ‘fake news’ sites include WikiLeaks, the Drudge Report as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian websites such as Antiwar and the Ron Paul Institute.

For those who might have forgotten, it is none other than WaPo, the same media outlet which pumped out propaganda on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to shape public opinion in support of invading Iraq and which pumped out endless pieces of fake opinions about the ‘right to protect’ Libyans (i.e. the need for humanitarian bombing) from their dictator. Perhaps now in its humiliation, it decides to ratchet up the bar on fake news.

In its desperate and juvenile act, the article cited an anonymous group which ‘researched’ and came up with the list of fake news websites.

  • No disclosure of who is hiding behind the anonymous group
  • What constitutes fake news
  • What criteria were used in determining if a site puts out fake news or Russian propaganda
  • Specific examples showing their content is ‘fake’

WaPo is by no means the only mainstream media cranking out fake news; this one merely manages to crash through yet another floor of diminishing expectations on its way to the bottom.

For MSM hubris and punditry proven terribly wrong, here are a few hilarious ones except that the subject matter isn’t funny.

madam-president-newsweek

So confident that Clinton would win the election (or, rather, believing your own bullshit), Newsweek distributed some 200,000 ‘Madam President’ commemorative edition to the newsstands before the election. In an attempt to backtrack on the snafu and the not-so-complementary compare-and-contrast between the two candidates, the CEO admitted that the content was ‘outsourced and written by a third party’ (we didn’t write it). Not only that, the Newsweek editor staff did not review the content before sending it to the printer (we didn’t check it either).

Major abdication of journalist responsibility or damage control by distancing itself from the content? You decide.

 

And then there is punditry proven spectacularly wrong (a case of one drinking too much of his own Kool-Aid).

3 issues of Time presented without comments:

time-magazine-prediction

But the funniest joke of all comes from Brian Williams of MSNBC coming out on an attack on fake news. Yes, the same king of fake news Brian William who got fired from NBC for ‘mis-remembering’ his heroic experience of being in a helicopter taking on enemy fire, which turned out to be made up after being called out by some soldier who happened to be on that flight. “Dude, don’t remember seeing you there in the copter”. Whoops.

But then who’s laughing? Williams is now raking in millions a year as an anchor on MSNBC. That heroic incident on his resume, fake or real, obviously is valued by his new MSM boss.

As for that ‘fake news’ list of websites, I have gone through the list and have started looking at a handful of websites which I previously was not aware of. In that sense, the WaPo article did provide some value.

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