“Experts” say that the Russians threw the election to Trump by spreading fake news through hundreds of fake news sites. And this itself isn’t supposed to stink of propaganda?!
We are creatures of belief. We believe in this or that religion. Atheists believe in atheism, existentialists believe in existentialism, anarchists believe in anarchy, nihilists believe in nihilism, and postmodernists believe in postmodernism. I’ve known this for a long time. While I was still in my teens I realized that everyone had some underlying philosophy of life they subscribed to, whether they knew it or not, and the people who would most deny it are the ones who were most unquestioningly ciphers for whatever the dominant ethos of their generation and location was. Just consider for a second all the people who believe that Justin Bieber is their favorite musician because they’ve made a conscious, intelligent decision based on their musical connoisseurship and exposure to the best of competing musical options.
Occasionally in life there’s an event that rocks our beliefs and sets us reeling, or gives us brief relief from the constraints of the story, and our places within it. Nature trumps belief at every turn, and sometimes it snaps us out of our delusions. That can be beautiful or frightening, depending on the kind of experience (swimming with a happy group of dolphins, or being mauled by a grizzly), and both can be overwhelming. And maybe there’s a secret yearning to escape the story, to be without being interwoven within the context of a system of beliefs and conclusions. Monks spend generations trying to snap themselves out of it, with most never succeeding. Most don’t even realize they are subscribers to an ethos until something shatters it, or until its tenacious grip on the mind is dissolved.
Consider highly accomplished individuals like Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary, who when they undertook imbibing mescaline and psilocybin, respectively, enjoyed the unexpected temporary release from a prison they didn’t even know they were in, as the potent psychoactives unraveled the mental cocoons they’d spent their lives wrapping their own minds in, as we all do. The fortitude of their intellects was so powerful that only a change to their brain chemistry could change their minds ~ free them. But most of us are blissfully unaware that we are ardent die-hard believers in whatever it is we believe in. Nor are we aware that each belief is a map of the terrain, and a different limited distortion of it.
All news is fake. No reporter sees things exactly as they are without an agenda, or at least a bias. But we would hope that the reporter has trained his or herself to be less biased than the casual reader who doesn’t have the time or resources to investigate the situation his or herself. Disappointingly, this is rarely the case, particularly in recent months. The most popular and trusted news sources, including the New York Times have had to come out and admit that they’d deliberately skewed the news in order to bring about a desired result: president Clinton. This is largely do to the undeniably false prediction of a Clinton election landslide, which once proved egregiously wrong called into question the reliability of those who were so confident in what they presented as reality. They’ve apologized and promised to return to acceptable levels of unbiased journalism.
However, This isn’t the first time they’ve blatantly lied to us. There was the run-up to the war with Iraq, where the American corporate media became a propaganda megaphone for the George W. Bush administration, circulating fake stories about WMDs, terrorist sleeper cells in America, dirty bombs, and other concoctions which were used to justify what is now universally recognized as a terrible decision to take the country to war, as well as putting in systems to spy on and incarcerate innocent American citizens.
I lived in NY on 9/11, and remember how I had to stop reading The New Yorker after that. I used to love that magazine, and would read it on my commutes to and from Brooklyn to Manhattan five days a week. I’d read every article, whether I was initially interested or not, in order to broaden my horizons. And it would take me about a week of subway rides to finish an issue, just in time for the new one.
After 9/11 the articles started to support the drive to war, and to bolster the perception of an evil other that was attacking us because we were “so good”. In essence, they weren’t telling the truth, but dishing out propaganda, a.k.a., “fake news”. The BBC was a bit better, since at least they didn’t need to have metaphoric flag pins affixed to their lapels. I started to watch Democracy Now and Bill Moyers more, read The Nation, Mother Jones, and other liberal sources which at that time were tossing the real truth bombs. They have their own liberal agendas and overarching visions, and recently Mother Jones has been hatching out thinly veiled pro-Hillary propaganda, but when the new millennium was fresh, they were the types doing real reportage whereas the bigger media outlets served up a box of sand to stick ones head in.
In the last half year there was one startlingly ironic exception to big news organizations masking rather than unwrapping the news. The biggest joke of all mainstream media for decades, Fox News, was miraculously hurling truth grenades of their own. This was not because they’d revamped themselves as real journalism, but rather that the truth was on their side. Fox News covered Wikileaks much better than the centrist liberal news outlets, entirely because the leaks harmed Clinton. In short, Fox liked the Leaks, so shared them, while CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post, and the NYTimes didn’t, in which case if they addressed them at all, it was to smear Asssange or make a Russian link. RT (Russia Times), in shows like CrossTalk, was putting out some of the best pre-election coverage, because they easily operated outside of the corporate and political forces that molded the mainstream American outlets.
Since before the primaries, the popular news outlets did all they could to sabotage Bernie Sanders, and prop up Donald Trump as a patsy to win the Republican nomination in order to ultimately be destroyed by Hillary. Or so they thought, not realizing the power of Frankenstein’s candidate. But their most direct effort was to shoe-horn in Hillary Clinton. This culminated in the Associated Press declaring Clinton the “presumptive nominee” the day before elections in California. CA was expected to be the pivotal state in which Sanders could take the lead over Clinton, in which case declaring the race over just before people got to make their choice was a calculated maneuver to force a Clinton victory. This was orchestrated by a news outlet. AP came to their conclusion that Hillary already had enough votes to win based on their own, unsubstantiated phone calls to Super-delegates regarding how they intended to vote months later.
Nobody seemed to take real issue with this overt manipulation of U.S. elections by a newspaper. AP wasn’t reporting on something that had transpired, but rather on their own orchestration. In the end the race was declared already over by a newspaper who merely made phone calls to super-delegates. There was no question of whether their method was air-tight, or even unbiased. The announcement that Hillary had won the race was released as a calculated and cynical attempt to suppress the vote for Sanders. At this point we surely can’t say that AP was merely reporting the news of the election. They were making the news and reporting on their own machinations. And yet, we will learn, they are among the “real” news outlets.
At at time when it is obvious that the corporate media has given us anything but reliable, unbiased news, they are now in cahoots telling us that their rival publications are “fake”, and pushing for censorship of them, or rather of narratives, perspectives, or facts other than their own. The push for marginalizing or eradicating “fake news” is the thinly disguised attempt to gain a monopoly over reportage, and unify the perspective and agenda which the American public will be exposed to.
I got an email today from the Washington Post provocatively titled, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say”. Oh dear, this looks so much like corporate American propaganda it’s hurting my eyes. Russia and Putin have been a convenient scapegoat in a resurgence of desperate “red scare” tactics we haven’t seen since I was a kid. We all witnessed Hillary accusing Donald of being a “puppet of Putin” in the debates, and asserting that the email leaks were provided by Russian hackers (which Julian Assange flatly denies). We also know Hillary threatened to use military action against Russian hackers, which, to some of us might sound a bit like a potential lead up to war. Certainly if anyone took military action against us for our government’s hacking, which we do as a matter of course, we’d see that as initiating war.
Tellingly, The WSJ stated:
“The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.”
This “cracking down” on “fake news” is really censoring sources outside the mainstream news which happened to tell truths which the establishment media did not. It is an attempt to label, discredit, and then eliminate competition.
The WSJ article sites spurious “independent sources” which concluded that, yes, Russia, and the bogie man, Vladimir Putin, were behind all the negative stories about Clinton that they feel might have thrown the election to Trump. As it turns out, one of the independent sources is “The Foreign Policy Research Institute”, a conservative think tank responsible for promulgating the cold war. We might consider they have a vested interest in maligning Russia. The other, a website called PropOrNot (short for “Propaganda or Not”), established in August of this year, does not disclose who they are associated with or who their Executive Director is, ostensibly because he fears being the target of Russian hackers. In short, here we have one verified and another probable establishment propaganda outlet telling us all the sources of news that are critical of the establishment are mere propaganda and should be avoided at all costs in favor of the implicit real news not on the list. Do I need to say that the WSJ is not on the list. Wikileaks is. RT is. And interestingly, some solid liberal sites which sometimes have a high enough regard for journalism that they’ll report what’s going on whether they like it or not are also on there, such as Truthdig, and Counterpunch.
Of course, there are your ridiculous conspiracy sites which hammer on about the Illuminati nearly every episode, and are, if not fully “fake”, much more entertainment than anything that can be taken seriously. Consider Alex Jones of InforWars, who once argued that Michelle Obama is a “tranny” or physically a hybrid gender, forgetting that she’s given birth to two children, unless the conspiracy extends to those not being her own. Here’s Alex Jones:
“I’m sorry. It’s true. it’s a giant viral video for like eight years that she’s a man. All I know is that Obama was raised by a tranny in Indonesia. They’re into all sorts of stuff. Hillary’s daughter is Webster Hubbell’s. None of the stuff we’re told by these people is true.”
That there is fake news. Real fake. As in made up. InfoWars even reported on the infamous hoax that KFC doesn’t use real chickens, and they used a picture I myself made in Photoshop as evidence, which was originally nicked from this blog, and has been widely circulated as evidence by unscrupulous sources. Below is a screenshot of their page with the story, and my chickens are the red-ish, featherless, multi-legged, multi-winged ones on the bottom right [I created the image for an English lesson about how to identify a hoax when I was teaching English at a university in China. See more of that story here.]
InfoWars is the unsubtle variety of sensationalist “fake” news, but I strongly suspect some of the other sites are being targeted not for bogus stories, but for being appropriately critical of establishment politics.
The WSJ article is a fine example of the less obvious variety of “fake” news, and is also blatant propaganda, masquerading as the antidote to such practices. Further, they cite as a credible source, The Daily Beast, for countering “fake” news about Hillary’s health, as if The Daily Beast weren’t an avowed liberal and progressive site which has decidedly skewed reporting in concert with their stated agenda. As I’ve said before, sometimes the liberal press are the ones tossing the truth grenades, if they like the truths in question, and sometimes it’s the conservative press, if the truth is more favorable to their designs. If one looks at the list of 200 fake news sources, there’s an obvious bent against conservative sites, while their equivalent blatant liberal screed rags on the left get a pass.
I seriously doubt there’s a single news source out there that gives un-slanted coverage. Devotees of this or that single source, or few closely related sources will inevitably assimilate a certain version of reality and view it as if not the unassailable truth, a solid foundation on which to formulate their own opinions. After 9/11, I thought that the liberal outlets told the broader and more encompassing story, incorporating and logically dismantling the arguments of the opposition. This was probably more-or-less true in the aftermath of 9/11, when the conservative opposition was low-hanging fruit, and dismantling it was as hard as hitting a pinyata with a tennis racket and no blindfold. But over time I’ve realized that their coverage of social issues can be so one-sided that critical facts are left out if they threaten the force of their argument, which is usually inseparable from their choice causes.
What I’ve finally come to discover, over the past few years, is that if you want to know what is going on in the world, you can’t rely on one or two or three sources that you mostly agree with. This is what people accurately term “confirmation bias” and an “echo chamber”. I like to put them together as “the confirmation bias echo chamber”. An example I already mentioned is that if I wanted to know about Wikileaks from the mainstream media, Fox was the only option. Outside of the mainstream one could go to H.A. Goodman, who obsessively reported on it, or TYT Politics.
There’s something obvious here which gets clouded over somehow. The game should never be to follow the news in order to be informed, or to find out what’s happening. Instead, the goal should be to consider news sources as merely that, sources from which we pool information to draw our own intelligent conclusions. And in order to have an informed opinion that is not merely a regurgitation of the viewpoint broadcast by this or that source, in the confirmation bias echo chamber, we must look at not just different, but disparate sources and triangulate the unique facts and arguments provided by multiple perspectives. The campaign to sideline or censor what turns out to be mostly any news organization or individual who goes against the establishment and its interests is an attempt to make that goal impossible. It is a project to bombard and bamboozle us with a singular viewpoint, and one that happens to be in favor of the status quo and its maintenance at all costs.
All this is more than a little belittling. In order to keep us from being suckered by “fake” news, the mainstream corporate media, and social media outlet giants like Facebook, Google, and YouTube, plan to restrict our exposure to these sources for our own good, and theirs. Apparently they think we are incapable of discerning real coverage from bullshit. The much better solution would be not to censor or marginalize material they don’t think is real, but rather to educate the population to be capable of telling the difference for themselves. Of course, that runs the undesirable risk of us being able to tell when they are the ones feeding us bullshit and “fake” news.
6 replies on “Fake News about Fake News”
People really do have strong beliefs. I’m not sure how that happens, probably parents. Young people are more easily swayed. Just ask the church. But it’s strange that most people stick with those beliefs there entire life. Never really examining why they believe in something. I grew up Catholic but have since been Unbaptized. I’m not atheist though. If I’m not able to take the leap to believe in god how could I take the leap and say I know there is no God. I have to assign a percentage, even if it’s very small that there is eternal bliss. Personally I don’t have strong beliefs about many things. In Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus he comes to the conclusion that for the non believers life is pointless but that they should be happy in the fact they know this, and go on not sweating the small stuff. I believe as Frank Auerbach said “painting is the greatest invention ever created by man”. I believe Brave New World is good but Point Counter Point is better. I don’t believe the world is ending because Trump was elected. Sure humans will be extinct some day, but not today. Matt Johnson from The The said everybody knows what’s going on in the world. I don’t even know what’s going on in myself. I think that’s the first step. Realizing you don’t know it all, or that other people’s beliefs even though they aren’t the same as yours might have some merit. As far as the media goes, I do think it’s contributing to the division in the country. People would be wise to shut off the news and go out and meet their neighbors. They might find they aren’t so bad and they might actually like them.
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Great points Matt, especially this one, “People would be wise to shut off the news and go out and meet their neighbors. They might find they aren’t so bad and they might actually like them.”
And of course I love this bit, “I believe as Frank Auerbach said “painting is the greatest invention ever created by man”. Didn’t know you were an Auerbach fan. He’s amazing, but opaque to most people, I think.
Have you seen Adam Curtis’s documentaries? His latest on, “HyperNormalization” got a lot of attention. You can easily find it and some of his others on YouTube. Anyway, all of his documentaries that I’ve seen about about beliefs and how they go awry and lead to tragedy, at least in the last 50 years. There are things I just wouldn’t have noticed if he didn’t point them out, with evidence, such as that Silicon Valley is heavily influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Even if we don’t buy into a major belief system with a checklist of conclusions, there are more subtle ones that people accept as common sense or natural without even thinking about it. Curtis dedicated hours to unraveling how Freud’s theories were used by the American government and advertising to manipulate the people, or how everyone bought into the notion that we all operate purely out of selfish self interest. Anyway, if you haven’t seen his videos, check ’em out.
And thanks for commenting.
I just watched hypenormalization. Very interesting, truth doesn’t seem to matter. Just be really confusing. The bigger the lie the more believable it is. I felt a little bad for Gaddafi. I’ll check out some more of Curtis’s stuff. I do love Aurbach, Bacon, Kossoff and the overlooked Bomberg.
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Hi Matt. This guy has links to most of Adam Curtis’s documentaries on his blog here: http://adamcurtisdocumentaries.tumblr.com/
All his videos are interesting and tackle different belief systems. Little details stick in my head, like that Betty Crocker instant cake mix wasn’t selling because women felt guilty because it was too easy to use, therefore they changed the recipe so you would need to add an egg in yourself, and then it became a hit. “Bitter Lake” is all about the US and Afghanistan. “Century of Self” is all about how Freudian theory was used to try to manipulate our unconscious minds for generations, both to buy products and support candidates and wars. And there are a few more prominent beliefs, such as the influence of Ayn Rand’s philosophy on Silicon Valley that are fascinating.
So, you like all those great British painters. For me Bacon is #1, then either Auerbach or Lucien Freud. I’d say Van Gogh and Francis Bacon are my two favorite artists, and it’s apparent in a lot of my work (in a few days you’ll see my homage to Van Gogh, which is a Van Gogh self-portrait with cut ear, in digital impasto. Somehow I’m managing to pull it off).
Thanks again for commenting. I don’t think there are a lot of people who still love or understand the tradition of visual art that artists like Bacon and Auerbach come out of. Well, perhaps not people under 60. So, I’d be interested in hearing more or your views.
Thanks for all of the interesting stuff to research. I’ve watched a few more of Curtis’s documentaries. Just getting into the Freudian stuff now. I don’t know much about Ayn Rand so I bought a Atlas Shrugged. It’s going to take me a while to get through. I don’t have a serious issue with the idea of selfishness being good, as long as it’s not at the expense of others. I don’t subscribe to any single philosophy but I’m probably closest to existentialism.
This list is always in flux.
My top artistic influences, not in order.
Giacometti, Bacon, Auerbach, Schiele, Klimt, Redon, Picasso, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Nolde, Richter, Hoffman, Rothko, Sohan Qadri, and Leiko Ikemura.
As you can see it’s a wide variety. I’m drawn to the human figure, but done in a way that captures a feeling more than an exact likeness. I also believe in Kandinsky’s theory of spiritual in art and I think a lot of abstract expressionists were good at it. Like a great song, a great painting can stick in your mind for hours after looking at it.
Looking forward to seeing the Van Gogh portrait. I will be putting some of my stuff online soon. I’ll let you know when it up.
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Hi Matt: The documentaries, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” deal with Ayn Rand and her influence on Silicon Valley. Lot’s of interesting stuff there, including interviews with her. Impressed that you picked up the book. I’m sure there’s a lot in there to react to, with, and against. But, if you watch the Curtis, you will undoubtedly see the connections between her beliefs and ideas about “free market capitalism” and the like as solutions to all problems. Bill Clinton and Tony Blaire were both heavily influenced by the idea of giving consumers and citizens what they want, and assuming a better system would naturally evolve out of this. It’s amazing how much believe is bracketed by the assumption that we are all driven purely by selfishness. This even crept into science, such as Richard Dawkin’s “The Selfish Gene”, which I rejected a while ago as going to far (it proposes were people are just functioning to further along our genes according to their dictates of what is most likely to insure their survival. I tend to think we’re smarter than starfish, though, and that has to be taken into consideration.]
I used to be an existentialist until I started experimenting with Salvia Divinorum, which was legal at the time, and almost nothing was known about it. At the same time I was reading Terence McKenna, Aldous Huxley, Timothy Learly, and a host of others. My goal was to “break on through to the other side”. Eventually, I did. That changed my views on everything.A lot of my art directly addresses my Salvia voyages.
Related to this I became very interested in brain/consciousness research, especially theories about consciousness. And along with that the psychedelics opened me up to Eastern philosophy, which suddenly made perfect sense. So, you could say my philosophy is classic existentialism, humanism, and liberalism, but then mixed in a cauldron with psychedelic shamanism, science of consciousness, and Eastern philosophy.
Glad to see Nolde, Richter, and Hoffman on your list. Nolde is often overlooked, as I’m sure you know, because of his connection with National Socialism in Germany, even if he was considered degenerate. [Incidentally, and white nationalist called MY art “degenerate” the other day, and I was flattered.] Thing is, Nolde has some amazing paintings, and I don’t care about his political affiliations. Hoffman and Richter similarly require a good eye to appreciate. Hoffman gets overlooked but some of his canvases are among the best of A.E. and he was the teacher of some of the others.
I think Instagram is the best place to share artwork these days. You might try putting work up there. You can also see what a lot more contemporary painters and other image-makers are doing. There’s surprisingly more of us that one would think.