Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Charge for the ... wait, what?

"Fake news" (the real thing, not the stuff about the pizza parlor*) works because of the kind of context that makes news in general work. Information has to become a story to become news. Making up the information is generally not that effective, and it's often easy to spot. Making up the context -- making a story mean something that slips past the sometimes drowsy guards of the poor human brain -- is the better way to do real damage. So while you're restocking the survival bunker with ammunition and freeze-dried food at the thought of World War III, let's enjoy the miracle of a well-honed Drudge fake.

Start with the image, which is certainly real (here's what it looked like at the RealClear site in 2013). It started the morning at Drudge doing something else (right): reminding us that the Kenyan and his mooching family** are planning to fritter away some more of your tax money on food and scary music. Soon, thanks to Mr. Murdoch's bestselling London tabloid, the photo took on its new meaning. Take it away, The Sun:
PRESIDENT Obama has deployed US special forces troops along Lithuania’s border with “aggressive” Russia.

Tensions between Washington and the Kremlin have reached Cold War levels amid reports Vladimir Putin is deploying nuke-ready missiles in the Russian province of Kaliningrad – which borders Poland, Belarus and Lithuania.

Geographically challenged, but otherwise not untrue so far.*** Spotted the fakery yet?

And Lithuanian Defence Ministry spokeswoman Asta Galdikaite confirmed America has offered additional military support following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

... She added: “US Special Operations Forces presence in Lithuania is one of the deterrents” against military threats by Putin’s aggressive regime, reports the Express.

US military chief General Raymond T Thomas told the New York Times that America has a “persistent” presence in the Baltic states bordering Russia.

... The US and its Nato allies will send battalions of up to 1,200 to each of the three Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – and Poland by spring this year, reports the New York Times.

If "persistent" set your bullshit buzzer off, here's a detail from the Times's Sunday story:

The American commandos have deployed quietly but deliberately in the past several months, to send a message. “Do the Russians know we’re there?” General Thomas said. “Yes.”

Those "nuke-ready" missiles weren't a surprise either, should you have been paying attention to the news in October. And those "battalions of up to 1,200"? That was a June story:

Washington (CNN) NATO announced Monday that the alliance will deploy four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, as tensions with Russia remain high in the wake of Moscow's intervention in Ukraine.

This one's particularly amusing because even the Trump loyalists who don't visibly foam at the mouth -- say, Glenn Harlan Reynolds -- are sticking with the party line that the Democrats only notice Russia when their partisan interests are at stake:

Now of course, Democrats are up in arms about the Russians, sounding like madcap John Birchers from the 1960s. As Twitter wag IowaHawk noted, they didn’t get upset when Russia invaded Crimea; they didn’t throw down when Russia shot down a civilian airliner over Ukraine; but stealing John Podesta’s password via a phishing scam is apparently grounds for restarting the Cold War. Well, only one of these crimes constitutes a threat to Democrats’ political power.

Apparently Glenn Harlan Reynolds doesn't remember the 1960s very well. And if he doesn't get the difference between "N" and "pro-N rebels," he's not going to do very well on a quiz about the Reagan 1980s, either. (Given that the Russians deny shooting down the airliner, it seems the least he could do is call Hannity and ask where Julian Assange stands on the matter.) 

Prof. Reynolds, of course, is writing an "opinion" piece, and opinions can't be fake news, because they're not falsifiable:

... Clinton’s private, illegal email server was almost certainly compromised by foreign intelligence services, and if so, had she been elected president she might have been open to blackmail and manipulation.

If stated as a fact, with sources and attribution and all, that would be pretty nearly the lie that Bret Baier had to admit on Fox. (Let's not forget that the most effective "fake news" of the election was quite likely a set of deliberate lies told by a major news network the weekend before the vote itself.) But back to today's story, where the point isn't whether the facts are invented but whether the story that the facts are formed into looks enough like "news" to sink in.

The present tense in heds is one of those signals for which we've trained the audience pretty well over the years. It means the immediate past: the "why today is different from yesterday" that we extol in the classroom. Along with the file photo of the usurper raising a toast, its meaning is clear: Obama's marching us off to war, and it's all happened since you went to bed! Rather than, say, over the past few months, three months or seven months ago, or sometime following the Crimea crisis of 2014.

The brain is a smart organ. One of the things it's smartest about is dodging hard work -- maybe more elegantly, the brain is good at apportioning its resources so that the stuff that needs hard work gets more effort. It's like a dial speedometer: you don't have to process a number to know that the needle should be there for I-75 and about here for Woodward Avenue. That's how the present tense works (along, of course, with that Kenyan smirk) . The brain has work to do, so rather than going "wait ... Crimea when?" it slots that combination into THIS JUST IN! and moves on to better things. Guess what it's going to be better at remembering in three days?

Nothing in the display is false (photos are "true" by nature unless doctored, though they're often vague as to what they're being true about). But by the time the brain has done all the carefully coached straightening up for you, don't be surprised that your picture of the world is substantively false. 

* Which is actually a gun control story
** I do wish Larry Wilmore still had a show these days.
*** Edited,with thanks to q-pheevr's astute comment below. 

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Tensions between Washington and the Kremlin have reached Cold War levels amid reports Vladimir Putin is deploying nuke-ready missiles in the Russian province of Kaliningrad – which borders Poland, Belarus and Lithuania.

Not untrue so far."

Hang on, I'm not so sure about that Kaliningrad–Belarus border….

7:36 AM, January 05, 2017  
Blogger fev said...

Thanks. Like the Sun, I posted without checking the map. Sigh.

10:30 PM, January 05, 2017  

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