Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Well, not really. Not at all, actually

Let's skip all the stuff about context, framing and the social construction of reality and look at a chunk of nice, old-fashioned, entirely fabricated fake news. Given those conditions, we're less interested in the creation of meaning -- after all, there is no unframed condition of news -- than in how far toward the center an out-and-out lie can spread.

The Drudge Report, as usual, isn't the originator, but it's an important indicator, because outfits (say, the Times) that don't spend much time with the drooler media do look at Drudge. Here, the vaguely policy-oriented sites (Heat Street, Campus Reform, the Education Action Group), which often wipe most of the foam off before they go out in public, are on an equal footing with sites that dispense entirely with the bib, like InfoWars and -- have you guys met ZeroHedge yet?
In the month leading up to the election on November 8th, we repeatedly demonstrated how the mainstream media polls from the likes of ABC/Washington Post, CNN and Reuters repeatedly manipulated their poll samples to engineer their desired results, namely a large Hillary Clinton lead (see "New Podesta Email Exposes Playbook For Rigging Polls Through 'Oversamples'" and "ABC/Wapo Effectively Admit To Poll Tampering As Hillary's "Lead" Shrinks To 2-Points").

Sadly, no. As in no, you didn't "demonstrate" anything, and no, that's not how sampling works, unless you have access to cheap and reliable time travel, in which case -- for an operation touting "the news that moves the markets" -- you seem to be missing a major career opportunity. As even the morons of the "unskewed polls" movement acknowledged four years ago, a difference between party identification and voter intent is not evidence of playing around with the sample. If you know the former, you can go back in time and skew the latter. Do send a postcard.

The point, again, isn't whether another huckster is playing Duke-and-Dauphin with the rubes. It's how far up the beach any specific fiction is washed before someone picks it up. Not every made-up story leads the Drudge page; the one about the pizza parlor didn't make it, but the one about Podesta drinking the chicken blood did:

And, to reiterate, the intent doesn't have to be for every story to produce an armed attack on an innocent restaurant. All that has to happen is for the story to get close enough that someone has to spend time denying it.

This is going to be a tough habit to break for news organizations that still fear they might miss the next Hoovergate, but really -- if you can't ignore fake news, at least you can run a laugh track behind it. The polls weren't rigged, the employment data weren't cooked, and you should make sport of anyone who says otherwise.

Including the president-in waiting? Well, that would be an encouraging sign.

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