Plausible sensationalism creates the illusion

In follow-up to a satire post inspired by The Onion, back and forth comments with Linda and Jill noted a sad truth. There is so much fake news created by, for and passed along by this President, it may be putting The Onion’s satire on the back burner. What used to play as satire is being covered by pseudo-news/ entertainers on various shows as news or plausible speculation. And, some pseudo-news outlets have a mission of putting forth conspiracy theories or false stories.

Democracy requires an informed electorate. On NPR, I heard a news reporter who has been victimized in a cruel way by fake news, state that in Europe, they are used to Russian propaganda. One of the top rated shows on Sunday night in one of the Baltic States is to highlight fake news that has been planted by Russian agents that week. Whereas we watch some faux-reality show here in the US, they are debunking myths presented as news. In the US, it has been proven we will believe just about anything.

The key is for the fake story to have “plausible sensationalism.” To create a saleable illusion it has to be sensational. Yet, it cannot be off the boards crazy, as it will not be believed. It has to have some grounding or plausibility. The plausibility could be a person who is painted as untrustworthy or it could be related to a fact. The news reporter speaking on NPR noted the Russians under Putin have done this for years and often will surround a fake story with three or four true ones. So, the reader or watcher will be fooled in believing each story is true.

InfoWars does this quite often, which is a reason they offend and are often sued. The lead storyteller, Alex Jones, will say the mass shooting at Sandy Hook was staged, for example. Or, he may claim that Hillary Clinton is raising money by running a child pornography ring from a pizza parlor in Washington. The first story relies on the NRA and their avid members to make the story plausible. The second one relies on the built-over-time mistrust of Clinton coupled with a pizza parlor for plausibility.

Recently, we had Geraldo Rivera and others on Fox claim the story of the bombs being sent to fourteen Democrats was a “false flag” operation. Per these pseudo-news/ entertainers, the bombs were not real and being sent by a Democrat plant. The purpose of the operation is to influence the election. The false story got so much airplay and social media use, it had to be debunked by the US Justice Department.

The same goes with the President who is the biggest purveyor of fake news in America. He watches these shows or hears of the stories and passes them along. Then they get reported on Fox or mainstream news, and then he repeats them saying “people are saying.” All they have done is repeated the lie the President said. It is akin to validating your own rumor when it circles back to you. The President will often say things without proof or make up parts of conversations as he did with the Finnish President when he said they rake the forests to prevent forest fires in Finland.

Whether he is saying there our middle eastern terrorists among a slow-moving caravan of many women and children which justify the cost of sending troops to our border or claiming rampant voter or election fraud, there is enough plausible sensationalism to make people believe his BS. On the first one, why would terrorists spend months in a caravan to infiltrate the US, when they have such a good track record of recruiting people online? On the latter one, his party has been claiming greater voter fraud than exists to pass voter suppression laws.

So, what do we do about this? Please check your sources. If you are getting your news from InfoWars, Breitbart, Donald Trump, the MSNBC or Fox pseudo-news shows after their real news efforts go off the air, please stop or take it with a huge grain of salt. If you quote Alex Jones or Sean Hannity to someone, then be prepared for pushback that you should get. If you cite the President, be similarly prepared as he is more untruthful than he is not, as measured by Politifacts and judged by people who know him well.

A final rule of thumb. Sensational stories are not necessarily false, but be skeptical and ask questions. There are two well-known sensational ones underway right under our noses. Did Mohammed bin Salmon order the execution of the Khashoggi? The Keystone Kops storytelling by the Saudis imply something is amiss and our own CIA said he did. The other is the inadvertent or planned collusion with Russia to influence our 2016 election. The fact the Russians did is pretty much accepted, even begrudgingly by the President. But, we must get to the bottom of the bigger question.

Should we be skeptical? Of course, but consider the sources and nature of those involved. And, consider the degree and magnitude of changing stories that has gone with each. One thing for certain in my book – neither one is a witch hunt.

11 thoughts on “Plausible sensationalism creates the illusion

    • Mary, interesting. The premise of the show “The Newsroom,” is while both sides lie, the Republican Party lies at a far more rampant rate than the Democrats. One of the reasons I left the GOP eleven years ago was a tendency for the party to make things up.

      Today, the Trump Party does not dissuade their followers from infringing on others’ civil rights and promoting a white nationalism. Their leader argues there are bad people on both sides. Maybe so, but on the left, they are defending their rights, not saying they don’t matter as some on the right are saying – a huge difference. Keith

  1. Note to Readers: The US President has horribly failed a leadership test, yet again with his failure to condemn the actions of the Saudi Prince. He is justifiably getting an earful from all sides.

    • Isn’t it telling … he defends Mohammed bin Salman, while denigrating Admiral William McRaven, a 37-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who had a distinguished military career. If it is true that you are judged by the company you keep, Trump must be judged as a corrupt tyrant, for those are the ones he most admires.

      • Jill, excellent contrast. What every autocrat knows around the world is if you suck up to Trump, he will do what you want him to do. And, that is one of the reasons why he is so dangerous. Keith

  2. Note to Readers: I get a chuckle from the US President who is saying the story about an internal audit that revealed daughter Ivanka’s inappropriate email use is fake news. If it is so fake, why is GOP House Intelligence Chairman Trey Gowdy asking for input from the White House?

  3. Dear Keith,

    The president lies are becoming more obvious. The fact checkers can hardly keep up because he lies with almost every sentence he utters.

    I just saw a news clip where he claims that the US GDP before he was ensconced in the WH was up to a -5.

    He is lying when he says that he has no financial ties to Saudi Arabia and that the US will be the recipient of $450 billion dollars because of US arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

    His remarks are a tell. It is important that the new US House democratic committee chairs subpoena President Trump’s IRS tax returns but also the tax returns of his children.

    Hugs, Gronda

    • Gronda, the lying had always been present, but the big lies are more frequent. And, he is picking more fights with people who have gravitas. That is noteworthy. He is becoming more unhinged as predicted with the scrutiny.

      Plus, as he has surrounded himself with lackeys, he is short changing himself by not getting reasoned and reasonable advice. Since it is increasingly apparent he knows far less than he pretends to know, his gut level decisions are not effective and some are dangerous. Again, he has set in motion the headwinds which will hurt our economy and they are only begonning to show. Keith

    • While some of us recognize that the prez is a bald-faced liar, there are too many people who believe his lies. They want to believe that he has created a bazillion jobs and that America is Great Again and that the only thing wrong with anything is the Democratic party and the pesky fake news (which is everything that hasn’t dropped out of his own mouth or short fingers.) It is stunning, the level of wishful thinking that is present in this country.

      • Linda, he has duped many. Yesterday, he said he was thankful for himself and all the good things he has done. What an ego and oh how wrong. Keith

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