Tag Archives: propaganda

Fake News: Déjà vu all over again

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
December 10, 2016

Image by Jon S/Flickr/Creative Commons

Image by Jon S/Flickr/Creative Commons

We’ve been here before you know.  Overwhelmed by fake news. Making important political and social decisions based on lies, half-truths and deliberate manipulation of facts, shaping them into something quite hideous. Perhaps even ignoring them all together. Denying they exist.

There really is nothing new.  Just different ways to twist and turn the facts.

A few reminders:

Remember the USS Maine? Sunk in Havana Harbor in 1898 allegedly by unknown assailants. It was the real dawn of “yellow journalism” when William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer (yes, that Pulitzer) used their papers to print false stories of atrocities to whip up anger against the Spanish masters of Cuba. Thus, the Spanish-American war was created. Three months later the US had the Philippines, Guantanamo Bay and more or less control of Cuba. In 1976 a US naval commission ruled that the Maine’s sinking was a result of a fire that ignited its ammunition stocks, not a Spanish mine.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident. On August 2, 1964,  the USS Maddox was allegedly attacked by three North Vietnamese gunboats. The US claimed the Vietnamese fired first, but it was later disclosed that it was the US that fired first. Another incident was reported by the National Security Agency to have taken place on August 4. Both incidents were widely reported by the national media. But that second incident never happened. Yet Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf resolution which gave President Lyndon G. Johnson the authority to intervene on the behalf of any southeast Asian nation threatened by “communist aggression.”

The babies in the incubators.  In 1991, the US was debating a resolution to go to war against Iraq for invading Kuwait. There were emotional statements on both sides. The outcome was unsure … until a young woman spoke at a US Congressional hearing, about watching Kuwaiti babies taken out of incubators so they could be sent to Baghdad for Iraqi babies. Politicians and the media were incensed, the debate swung in favor of war, and you know the rest. What only became known later was the young woman was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US, that she hadn’t been in Kuwait in months, and the entire incident was a plan by the US PR firm Hill-Knowlton (who had been hired by the Kuwaiti government) to convince Congress to go to war. Not a single politician or media member had ever asked the young girl who she was or if she had indeed seen the incubator incident.

Niger yellow cake uranium. The entire 2nd Gulf War was a complete fabrication by the President George W. Bush administration, bought and sold by the US mainstream media, hook, and sinker. And in some cases, the Mainstream Media was actual source of the fake news (that’s you, New York Times).

Now here’s the thing about the fake news in these situations. These weren’t some teenagers in Macedonia pumping out fake news to conservatives trying to activate their confirmation bias and give them another reason to vote for Donald Trump, as happened in the 2016 election. Almost all of these fake news stories were promoted by the mainstream corporate media. In most of the above cases, after it was shown that the media had been manipulated by the government, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, deep soul-searching, seminars held in journalism schools, and promises that such failures would never happen again. But they did. Repeatedly.

The examples above are only four, but they are four important ones because the media’s role in promoting these fake news stories helped lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Iraqis.

So when I hear the mainstream media tut-tutting and wagging their fingers about the dangers of fake news, I find it a bit ironic.

One reason that this new strain of fake news is so effective, particularly with conservatives, is that over the years the media has helped promote fake news and sensationalism. This is partly why so many people distrust the media. Add in the speed of the Internet age, the reach of social media, and the determination of people who only want to hear news that confirms what they already mistakenly believe, and you have where we are now.

In the end the responsibility is not with the media but with us. It’s why we must do whatever we can to promote media literacy. On a personal level, my wife and I talk with our children about news stories, documentaries, even television ads, to help them understand how news is put together, and how that can be used to try to manipulate emotions (either by the government, politicians, talking heads, or even the reporters), and how advertising strives even harder to achieve the same effect.

We may be engaged in the most important social and political struggle of our time, in North America and globally. We are entering an age in which politicians have shown themselves more than willing to lie, and manipulate, and openly mock the truth. Their lies are quickly seized upon by fake news sites that promote the falsehoods, and the situation is often made even worse by the way the mainstream media also reports on the lies.

Finally, there is a need to hold both the mainstream corporate media and these fly-by-night fake news websites to task. Even if people don’t want to believe the truth, it’s important to keep putting the real facts out there, about issues like climate change, abortion, scientific inquiry, immigration, the loss of civil rights, police brutality, misogyny, the conflicts of interests of the president of the United States, regardless of the often virulent opposition from those on the Alt-Reich (or as the Associated Press prefers you would call them Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists, and racists).

That’s the real job of the media. And also of the informed citizen. It’s pretty hard to have one without the other.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

LINKS

Propaganda of the Spanish American War: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_of_the_Spanish%E2%80%93American_War

Who lied to whom? New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/03/31/who-lied-to-whom

When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators: http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0906/p25s02-cogn.html

As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug at the Truth, by Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/us/fake-news-partisan-republican-democrat.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Related on F&O:

Fake News and Our Happiness Disorder, by Deborah Jones

Fake news is so widespread today because real news can be depressing. We are a society that avoids sadness, suppresses reflection with distraction, and stocks an arsenal of drugs and therapy for depression. And, increasingly, we refuse to embrace facts delivered as news.~~~

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Also tagged , |

The sound of white noise

by Patrick Finn2gan/ Wisconsin Union Protest Fox News signs Creative Commons

Photo: Patrick Finn2gan, Wisconsin Union Protest Fox News signs, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
March, 2016

Sometimes, when I’m driving late at night to pick up my wife at a train stop, or on my way to some event in Washington (about an hour from where I live) I turn on conservative talk radio. Just to listen to the other side.

And the angry voices fill my car.

Hatred for Obama. Hated for minorities. Hatred for liberals. Hatred, hatred, hatred. Wildly distorted stories. Incredibly magnified slights. Total fantasies. Normally punctured by a message about buying gold coins (the favorite of conservatives) or Gold Bond powder. Because old white Americans are kinda fat and they chaff a bit.

And make no mistake about it. These bile-filled diatribes are aimed at white Americans. The people behind these voices that creep out of my car radio – Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Mike Savage and a host of angry local white people, depending on which state you are in – are a very large part of the reason that this country finds itself poised on the brink of an electoral meltdown. It’s as if the hate they have preached for so long has taken physical form in The Donald, and now that they have loosed it on the land, they can’t control it anymore even if they so desired

And when speaking of media that created manufactured fantasies about right-wing bugaboos, let us not forget Mr. Murdoch’s golem – Fox News. (I find myself straining to use the word “news” in association with this media outlet, as so little of it can be found there.) It’s not just that Fox News is in fact a propaganda outlet for the conservative movement (and the GOP when it falls in step with Fox’s president and master manipulator Roger Ailes’ dictates). There are plenty of reasonable, thoughtful conservative voices in the media. I might not agree with them, but I find their arguments cogent and thoughtful. It’s not conservatism that’s the main problem. It’s the way Fox News (and sister channels like Glenn Beck’s The Blaze) twist and manipulate facts to reinforce a very far-right agenda.

So for instance this week, various Fox News hosts railed against President Obama for not attending the funeral of former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Yet another slight committed by the man who “hates America.” Only problem is that presidents NEVER attend the funerals of former First Ladies. Not Reagan, not Carter, neither Bush, not Clinton. But on Fox News, facts that deepen your understanding of a story are harder to find than Duke fans in Chapel Hill.

Well, America is the land of the First Amendment, and the main answer to bad speech is lots of good speech. Which is a great idea, but doesn’t really work that way in reality. The fact is that the media landscape is dominated by right-wing talk. You do have liberal or centrist outlets as well, like the New York Times and National Public Radio (NPR), and cable outlets like MSNBC and CNN (sort of). But they cannot be accused of the regular daily falsification, manipulation, distortion and fabrication of the news that conservative media produces like it’s done on an assembly line.

And this is not just some rant of mine. Study after study after study (see select examples in the links below) have shown that conservative outlets like Fox News regularly misreport or distort the news, often leading people to believe outright lies or fabrications.

A conservative friend of mine used to say to me when Fox News first came along that it provided an information outlet for many Americans who felt that the “liberal” media did not address their concerns. I think he was right. There was room for a voice like Fox.

But over the years, that voice has become like a screech rising out of an 19th century insane asylum. And Fox News and white Americans, terrified of the future, feed on each other in a deeply misguided symbiotic relationship: the more Fox News rails against Obama, the more conservative white Americans blame him for EVERYTHING wrong with the country, the more Fox News picks up on this anger and channels it into programing, etc., etc. etc.

If Ted Cruz wants to really find someone to blame for the rise of Donald Trump, it’s not Obama he should point to, as he did earlier this week. It’s the hundreds of hate-filled far-right voices that fill the soundscape of American political life. In their efforts to demonize Obama and all things connected with a more center-left point of view, these voices have largely destroyed the ability of Americans to compromise with each other. In fact, compromise has become synonymous with betrayal and treason in this world view.

The presence of these voices is one main reason I fear for what happens after the 2016 election if (and when) Trump is defeated, especially if it is Hillary Clinton that dispatches him. I’ve heard more than a few of these voices call for rebellion in the past over issues like health care and education. Imagine the howls that will arise over a Clinton victory. (Michael Savage, one of the very worst hate mongers, has already declared Clinton a dictator who will try to take away guns to prevent an armed uprising.) Where will all that anger go?

I think America is in for a very rough patch. And right-wing conservative media will bear a large part of the blame.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned, and relies on the honour system: try one story at no charge and, if you value our no-spam, no-ads work, please chip in at least .27 per story, or a sustaining donation, below. Details here. 

References:
The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting* http://qje.oxfordjournals.org/content/122/3/1187.short

Misperceptions, Media and the Iraq War:  http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Iraq/IraqMedia_Oct03/IraqMedia_Oct03_rpt.pdf

~~~

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Also tagged , , |