Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Drudge's lips to God's ear

Whether any particular bit of "fake news" is true or false -- and let's go ahead and stipulate that everything in this Tuesday morning screenshot is at least technically not false -- doesn't matter if the story doesn't spread. Mapping how bullshit moves from the fringe to the mainstream is thus central to the de-bullshitting process.

"Blood on her hands!" isn't any more or less evaluative than a hed that attributes the local sportsball team's win or loss to a particular play or player. The difference is that the game here is more opaque: we didn't see it, so we have to take someone's word for it. And whose word?

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a backlash after 12 people were killed when an attacker ploughed through innocent revellers at a Christmas market in a truck.

The country’s far-right leaders have blasted the chancellor’s “open-door” immigration policy for sparking the attack in Berlin – and even her own party is putting the boot in.

“These are Merkel’s dead,” Marcus Pretzell, chairman of the Alternative for Germany party in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, posted on Twitter.

Oh. The AfD chairman's Twitter feed, as reported by the Murdoch tabloid in London. But certainly enough to help raise a little attribute salience by midafternoon for Murdoch's most influential voice in the US:

While German police continue to hunt the person responsible for Monday’s deadly Berlin market attack, Dutch politician Geert Wilders on Tuesday tweeted a provocative, bloody image of the person he blamed for the carnage: German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Wilders, the anti-Islamic Freedom Party leader who on Monday was named Dutch Politician of the Year, tweeted a photo-shopped picture of Merkel splattered with blood. In a previous tweet, Wilders blamed “cowardly Government leaders” for instituting “open borders” that had allowed a “tsunami” of Islamic terror to enter Europe.

Here, at least, the Sun is spreading true stuff -- unlike, say, the Daily Mail, which has just agreed to pay a lot of money to a Muslim family about which it published a stack of lies regarding Qaida connections and the like. But a specific lie in an episodic case is rarely as important as a general impression of how we ought to be thinking about the things we think about -- particularly when it's boosted from the fetid edge of European extreme-right politics to the center of American political discourse.

The grownup professional press -- I'd like to suggest we put "mainstream press" to rest, since Fox is so clearly a part of any meaningful "mainstream" -- gets its feet crossed sometimes when it tries to put this stuff into context on the fly, and that doesn't help. Here's the AP:

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- On the day that his election victory became official, Donald Trump on Monday experienced what life will be like as president as he condemned separate deadly incidents against a Russian diplomat and shoppers at a German Christmas market, blaming Islamic terrorism in both instances.

That's a little overdramatic. Trump is an expert at hyperventilating on Twitter, so this isn't a taste of "what life will be like as president." But the real problem, for all its good intentions, is the second graf:

He offered no support for his claim that terrorists were responsible for the carnage.

The AP's trying to flag Trump for the inveterate liar he's proved himself to be, but it slips on an elongated yellow fruit. Terrorism -- political violence meant to change the attitudes of the people watching, to cobble together a nott-very-original definition -- is a pretty good guess when someone drives a truck into a crowd of civilians or assassinates an ambassador while demanding that Aleppo be remembered. The part that needs to be challenged is the claim of "Islamic" terrorism: assuming religious motive from (assumed) religious identity. 

The press didn't have that problem when "the Christians" assassinated Mountbatten or tried to drop a mortar round in John Major's backyard, and it needs to not have that problem now. When the Party of Bullshit is capable of dominating the framing process, the good guys need to play serious defense.

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