Thursday, February 09, 2017

On Facts, Fake News and Truth

By Der Kosmonaut
Isn't it weird
Looks too obscure to me
Wasting away
And that was their policy

I'm ready to leave
I push the fact in front of me
Facts lost
Facts are never what they seem to be
Nothing there! 
No information left of any kind

There was a line
There was a formula
Sharp as a knife
Facts cut a hole in us

The island of doubt
It's like the taste of medicine
Working by hindsight
Got the message from the oxygen
Making a list
Find the cost of opportunity
Doing it right
Facts are useful in emergencies

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don't stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape

  Readers would think that these were the statements of the Trump White House, especially the Press Secretary Sean Spicer or Communications Director Kellyanne Conway. Or perhaps readers would think that the above lines were written by yours truly as a mocking and scathing poem about the new administration and its rather irrational and illogical twisting of facts. While both would be good guesses, they are false. The lines above are excepts from the 1980 Talking Heads song Crosseyed and Painless written by David Byrne. No doubt Byrne is aghast how his song has manifested both absurdly and dangerously 37 years after he penned it.

  What's been one of the most extraordinary features of the past three months is the fierce propaganda war that raging. This propaganda conflict has not simply engulfed the intelligentsia but ordinary people. The current brouhaha began when the Washington Post ran a story claiming that a group called Prop Or Not had determined that there were 200 sites that ran "fake news".  The reaction was fast and furious. Within three months a new term, "fake news" has become a common lexicon. From the president on down, hardly a day passes when the term isn't bandied about. The corporate media regards the alternative media as "fake" and vice versa. How did we come to this extraordinary state of affairs?
  It's as if suddenly the Anglo-Saxon world has become aware of something called propaganda. Propaganda in its current form within the Anglo-Saxon world can be traced to the end of the 19th century with the rise of tabloid newspapers known as "yellow journalism", The first war as a result of "yellow journalism" was the Spanish-American War of 1898. "Remember The Maine" was the rallying cry for the US to take Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain. The "fake news" that the US naval ship USS Maine was bombed by Spain launched the United States as a global imperialist power.
  16 years later the European press led by those based in Vienna turned into propaganda organs for their respective states leading to the outbreak of World War One. Karl Kraus wrote volumes analyzing and dissecting tabloid journalism from 1897 until his death in 1936.
  The German National Socialist state took propaganda and the dissemination of fake news to another level. The leading imperialist powers followed suit during the Second World War. The Cold War saw mass propaganda on both sides of the ideological and strategic divide.
  More recently media propaganda was used to an ever greater effect during the Yugoslav Civil War in the 1990s. The biggest fake news concerned the "genocide" of Muslim Albanians in Kosovo. That was a lie.Then the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. in September 2001 took media propaganda to levels unseen. Over the next year the media reported lie after lie leading up to the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Next came the fake reporting of Gaddafi bombing his own people in Libya.
  Toward the end of the Noughties many alternative news websites arrived on the scene. Many of them were ideological propaganda outfits such as Infowars. Others had explicit left wing and right wing agendas. Since the corporate and European state media had discredited themselves, the masses looked to alternative sources. This has been especially so after the the former editor of Germany's largest newspaper claimed that he and others were paid by he CIA to plant stories. However, the alternative media sites had their own biases and put spin on events to advance certain world views. Some of it was insightful and truthful, others were shallow and dishonest.
  The rise and subsequent election of Donald Trump has thrown the entire mass media into a tumult. Suddenly the American corporate media has learnt how to do basic journalism once again. The alternative media seems to have lost its bearings and splintered into extreme anti and pro Trump factions. All pretense of objectivity has been tossed aside.
  What people seem to have forgotten is that since the invention of the printing press in the mid 15th century, the dissemination of information has always been to manipulate public opinion. In Western civilization the Roman Catholic church owned an exclusive monopoly over information and books. As with any monopoly, the Church ensured that its ideology and dominant position was maintained. The invention of the printing press broke that monopoly. It's generally agreed upon by historians that the printing press fueled the Protestant Reformation. Ideas and opinions which were privately held and spoken were distributed on a mas scale for the first time. Hence the term press comes from the printing press as the first newsletters were founded by those that had printing machines. They wanted to advance their own social, economic and political agendas. All progressive social and political movements from the abolition of slavery, to universal suffrage were successful thanks to the printing press. With the expansion of the printing press so did mass literacy. The Church had lost its ultimate authority, which was control over the minds of the masses.
  Until the late 19th and early 20th century it was understood that the press were instruments to advance the particular interests of individuals and groups. The problem arose when the powerful and rich were mocked and ridiculed. Politicians then introduced libel and slander laws in order to shield the rich and powerful. As newspapers had mass readership in the tens of thousands, personal reputations should be shattered instantly. In response to this many of the ruling class members themselves bought and established newspapers of their own. From here came the notion of "objective" reporting.
  Up until the 20th century there was no concept of "objective" or "fair and balanced" reporting. It was newspapers such as the New York Times that invented this concept. It was done mainly to target readers of the capitalist classes themselves. It's secondary import was to gain an educated readership who generally had a decent income. Advertising become the third and ultimately most important factor. There was also a philosophical motive. It was to elevate certain papers as "serious" and "thoughtful" to separate themselves from the so-called "yellow" or gutter press.
  By the middle of the century the notion that news reporting was objective and balanced was accepted by most of the population. People generally tended to believe what they read in the newspapers. The advent of telecommunication in radio and film changed the media landscape even more. By the 1930s most homes in Western Europe and North America possessed a radio. Radio became a direct competitor to the newspapers. The masses would read both the newspapers and listen to the radio news. To maintain their credibility, the newspaper and radio owners decided that should they pool their resources. Some began to build media empires and in some cities one person would own both the local radio stations and newspapers. The rise of Fascism in Europe and the effectiveness of using radio and newspaper propaganda alarmed the North American ruling class, who had the time maintained democratic motives. William Randolph Hearst was the most extreme example of propaganda manipulation. He was often the only media organization in many markets. Hearst's political attacks against president Franklin D Roosevelt compelled the latter to regulate broadcast media.
  The coming of television in the 1940s was the next great leap in media. It seemed to be more credible than print and radio media as one could actually see news in real time. With satellites in orbit by the 1960s, events from the other side of the world were shown in the homes of hundreds of millions. The Freedom aka Civil Rights Movement was largely successful because it showed citizens being brutalized by the police forces. The Vietnam War became the first war broadcast on live television.
  This turned into a problem. Anti-war and anti-government sentiment was rising. The TV news organizations saw their own strength. Politicians were under pressure than ever before. It's one thing to be swarmed by reporters with cameras flashing. It would take at least a few hours or even a day before their response to questions were answered. Even a live radio microphone was not as stressful to handle. But when a television camera is in the face broadcast live and reporters asking tough questions, your facial expressions and beads of sweat can be seen.
  In large part due to the social upheavals of the 1960s and early 1970s, the government was compelled to force the media to respond to the needs of the population. People expected the truth from tv and newspapers. Richard Nixon was removed in large degree to the media. Up through the 1980s, the media enjoyed a high degree of trust from the population. The ideological Cold War was another factor. The Western countries had to put on a show of having a free and critical media to contrast themselves with the totalitarian dictatorships in the East.
  The end of the Cold War in the 1990s undermined the credibility of the news agencies. President Bill Clinton allowed the return of the concentration of the nation's media within a handful of corporations under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Since then the news media has reflected the philosophy of Totalitarian Capitalism.
  Of course journalistic knavery has always and continued to flourish over the past century. Today as in the past tit pieces ruin and or at least bring many to heel, especially those that couldn't afford lawyers to launch libel and slander lawsuits. Racial minorities have always and continue to be routinely pilloried in the press and stereotypes about Blacks and the latest unfashionable immigrants were produced daily. Back in the early part of the 20th century the European media  routinely depicted the colonial subjects as uncivilized savages. Of course this was all reported "honestly" and "objectively". Afterall it was an "objective fact" that Black Africans were monkeys. It was an "objective fact" that it was the White Man's Burden civilize the Asians. It was simply "honest" reporting that Italians were greasy illegals. The newspapers reminded their readers of the indelible fact that most Italians were in the USA without papers hence "wops". The yellow press created the "Yellow Peril" of North America under imminent threat of attack and subversion by the Japanese and Chinese. But none of this was ever deemed to be "fake news".
 The fact of the matter is that there's never been "objective" news reporting. With the exception of the weather and traffic reports, there isn't any newspaper, radio or TV news reporting that's "objective". Even the reports of the stock market aren't objective since the rise and fall of many stocks are manipulated. There's even a bias in the stories that are reported "honestly". What decides to get reported or not is determined by the editors and publishers. What makes the front pages and what's buried in the middle or the back pages are also determined by the agenda and biases of the editors and publishers. When a tabloid chooses to print celebrity gossip on the front page and puts more serious news in the back is not done out of reasons of objectivity. The same goes for the "alternative" media. There are deliberate decisions to publish stories about immigrants and undocumented migrants instead of sports. There's a reason why the corporate news have entire segments devoted to sports and why the alternative media largely decides to omit sports. Sports is probably the least objective of all news reporting. For example the media markets will report very differently on the results of a game. When the New York Mets win or lose a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, the coverage in New York is quite different from the coverage in Philadelphia. Even when stories aren't "fake", they are almost never objective.
  The exclamation point of the extraordinary era we are in has been made by George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, who describes our era as "Post Truth". According to Karl Rove since 11 September 2001, the world is in the "Post Truth" era. In other words, governments have a license to lie. The corporate media has dutifully gone along with the agenda. This gave birth to alternative media.
  While the corporate and alternative media exchange insults of being being "fake", the latter claims the mantle of the "truth". Prison Planet states "The Truth Will Set You Free". Paul Craig Roberts insists that his website is the one to turn to to find "the truth". Political partisans claim that their candidate is the "truthful" one. The comments section of both the corporate and alternative media are filled with self-righteous writers each calling the other liars and claiming the mantle of "the truth".
  I see bullshit and outright lies on all sides.I'm repulsed by so many writers and sites that I've read over the years and had respected and trusted that either support Trump or to downplay the significance of what his election represents. There are immense political dangers. The US and EU governments are attempting to pass laws to stifle free speech and dissent. Who would've ever thought in the second decade of the 21st Century at the peak of the science and technology age that there would be so much ignorance? It's breeding a very dangerous social and political climate. The assault on The Enlightenment is relentless. It's not only breeding division but it's leading us to a war of all against all, which can quickly lead to the mass extermination of the human race. It's not only the USA that heading towards civil war. It's also the UK as well. It was mostly England and half of Wales that voted to leave the EU. Scotland overwhelmingly voted to stay. The English public are openly threatening revolution and civil war if the government doesn't invoke Article 50 by the beginning of March. Scotland may very well unilaterally pull out of the UK. Why? Because in the UK "everyone knows the truth that immigrants" are taking up jobs and homes. The leader of the Brexit movement Nigel Farage is the "only politician that tells the truth."
  This is the thing. When one speaks the truth, there's no need to highlight it. When the truth is spoken, it manifests by itself. When one has to beat others over the head with "the truth" then it probably means that it's not. When one has to advertise and lure readers to their blog because it's only there that the truth can be found, then it is suspect. In the final analysis there is an objective reality that no amount of "alternative facts" can change. Here is a quote of mine from 2012 which sums up what is coming down the line for many journalists, bloggers and writers:
"In any event reality will soon come knocking hard and furious. Then the masses that are the asses will go bump. Bumpity bump bump."
 I no longer trust any news site, organization or writers. If they're not lying outright, then they're manipulating facts to advance their agenda. Indeed as David Byrne noted: "facts just twist the truth around."
Moncton, NB Canada

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