Monday, December 19, 2016

Fake news: Holy Roman Empire

Let's check in on Sunday morning's top story at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network:

Everyone likes a good story. And that’s precisely why the “fake news” parade catapulted to the fore in this year’s election cycle.

Actually, no. To the extent that some "'fake news' parade" was "catapulted to the fore," it was (a) after the fact and (b) unrelated to any purported love for "a good story," unless Fox thinks its viewers are even stupider than they've so far shown themselves to be.

So, let’s get in on some “fake news” about the next election cycle, as well.

The fake news phenomenon recently visited the U.S. Capitol. And not quite in the way you might think.

Freeze the tape for a second. The biggest problem with "fake news" in the month and change since the November election is that no one knows what the term means. Fox and the farther outliers on the right-wing media spectrum are desperately concerned that Facebook will use its evil algorithms to suppress the TRVTH:

That probably means something other than suppressing the dude in Minsk who's making up clickbait in his bedroom. It might include -- oh, the president-elect and a talk-radio host discussing Obama's plot to murder Justice Scalia, though that story didn't seem to have been catapulted to the front of anything during the election season. You can see Fox's interest in drawing "the left" into the mix; as long as you can play the tu quoque card, your crusade against the algorithms is a selfless bit of journalism in the public service.

The problem, though, is that nothing in the hed is true. The recounting of Biden's "unofficial WH bid" is neither fake, nor news, nor "from the left." No details of the story appear to have been fabricated (and Fox does know how to make things up). As "news" goes, even in the right-wing media, the story faded out a week ago. And had there been any fiction, or any news, none of it seems to have come from anything farther left than Fox itself.

I'll spare you the entire 1,300-word epic, a Christmas gesture for which you might be grateful after a sample of the prose (and, given that this is the top story, the editing):

McConnell then asked his fellow senators to rename the National Institutes of Health cancer section of the bill after Beau Biden.

Tears pooled in the vice president’s reddening eyes as he presided over the Senate from the dais.

“Without objection,” Biden managed to cough, his voice phlegmatic with emotion.

Senators from both sides of the aisle rose to face the vicepPresident. The body erupted in bipartisan applause.

And the substance of the story?

... A reporter then half-jokingly asked if the vice president might run for President in four years.

“I'm going to run in 2020. For President. So, what the hell, man,” replied Biden with a smile.

Reporters then pressed Biden on if he was serious, informing the vice president they’d print and broadcast the story if he was wasn’t screwing around.

The remainder of the text is devoted to the minutiae of what the other right-wing media gave up on a week earlier, and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar: no holy, no Roman, no empire. Why, then, a lead story about fake news?

There is, of course, a good amount of fake news running around. Along with a definition, we could use a typology, so here are a few examples. The Washington Times's lead story from Thursday, for example:

A WikiLeaks figure is claiming that he received leaked Clinton campaign emails from a “disgusted” Democratic whistleblower, while the White House continued to blame Russian hackers Wednesday for meddling in the presidential election and asserted that Donald Trump was “obviously aware” of Moscow’s efforts on his behalf.

Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and a close associate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, said in the report by the Daily Mail that he flew to Washington for a clandestine handoff with one of the email sources in September.

So one type of fake news might be "anything sourced to the Daily Mail" (really, go check it out). Another is this, from farther down the same page:

"Bounce" actually means something, in lay economics as well as basketball, and the current "stock market surge" is not one of the things it means. Broadly, things are continuing in a pattern that began in ... could it be late winter of 2009?
The Times isn't the only paper to take at face value a political figure's word for something that should be laughed out of a first-year macroeconomics course. It does, however, consistently lack excuses for the sort of gullibility that suggests a real fondness for -- however you wish to define it -- "fake news."

Broadly, then, it makes sense that Fox (and Drudge, and the others on the drooler spectrum) want to make sure everyone's confused when the subject of fake news comes up. There's no indication so far that "fake news," as babbled about on cable TV, had an effect on the 2016 election. Inquiring minds might, though, wonder about a cable network that admitted fabricating two major stories about the presidential candidate it disliked during the week before a general election.

Given that Barry Goldwater -- who, in case you're wondering, didn't win the popular vote in 1964 by nearly 3 million votes -- won a libel suit against Ralph Ginzburg's Fact magazine over "fake news" that almost certainly didn't affect the election outcome, you can see why Fox might want attention to be focused elsewhere.


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