We are all fixer uppers

In the age of the rise in social media and decline in truth, an underlying theme is overlooked. We are all fixer uppers. There are no perfect people, leaders, institutions, organizations, or companies.

Yet, being critical of other people and entities is increasing. I am not saying being critical is not warranted, but the volume and venom seemed to be turned higher than it should be.

When I see or hear hyper-critical commentary, I have a few thoughta running through my mind.

– The person doing the criticism is not perfect either. A good retort is “you are no day at the beach either.”

– The venom sometimes is mismatched with the accusation. The venom equates with someone who has killed your mother, when the accused transgression is much milder.

– The accusation sometimes is based on spurious information. The claim is so outlandish, people think where did you get that? Fake news permeates social media because it is like shooting fish in a barrel. This is a key reason the president deploys it so often.

– Even more reputable sources write evocative things. A retired editor once said the media is biased toward conflict. This is a key reason bad news gets far more airplay, when the frequency is by far reversed.

Yet, if you take away only one thing, please take away the following – give like you want to get. It is OK to say I do not agree with those points or find that criticism unfair. But, we do not need to take someone’s head off in so doing.

“Truth is not the goal”

After media pressure, Facebook closed down a fake news site in North Carolina. As reported in The Charlotte Observer in an article called “Facebook takes down NC Facebook page with fake news” by Zachary Eanes, after a few months of publishing fake news and garnering 50,000 followers, the site was closed. A person contacted by the reporter said the following in response:

“‘Truth is not the goal’ behind the stories shared. ‘Getting Trump reelected is the ultimate goal.'”

That line is worth rereading. In essence, the truth does not matter. I have been echoing the premise the Republican party can no longer claim to be the “law and order” party as too many of its leaders have aided and abetted the corrupt and deceitful actions of the president. And, it can no longer claim to be a party of truth, the decline in truthfulness having started long ago, but made worse by the deceitful actions and words of the president.

It should be noted the site included a number of articles pushed by Russian disinformation sources. This is on top of a radio station in Iowa, which appears legitimate, but is using the Russian sputnik radio feeds for sources of disinformation. There is a reason Trump and Russia want you to believe Ukraine did all the election meddling. Trump wants Russia’s help again.

Let me be brutally frank. The biggest purveyor of fake news is the guy who says those words the most. His name is Donald Trump. Taking the president at his word is a fool’s errand.

A tribute to Jim Lehrer

One of my main sources for televised news is the PBS Newshour. It is an even-handed news report, that offers expert commentary in a civilized way. This approach traces itself to initial and long-time host, Jim Lehrer, who died on Thursday. He began the show with Robert MacNeil, primarily covering the Watergate impeachment hearings. It is apropos he died during the current impeachment trial.

From a CBS News report, the following is an excerpt about Lehrer.

“Over a career that spanned 50 years, Lehrer moderated a total of 12 presidential debates, more than anyone in history, including all the ones held in 1996 and 2000. He also wrote 20 novels, three memoirs and several plays and earned dozens of journalism awards and honorary degrees. Former President Clinton bestowed the National Humanities Medal on Lehrer in 1999. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected him a fellow and, alongside Robert MacNeil, Lehrer was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999.

Mr. Clinton honored Lehrer in a tweet on Thursday, writing ‘I liked and admired Jim Lehrer. He believed news is a public good, not a commodity. And he was always completely on the level in reporting, interviewing, and moderating debates. His life was a gift that strengthened our democracy.'”

Key themes of the news he broadcast included rules like:
– don’t make the story about you
– keep news clearly separated from editorial opinion
– assume there is more than one side to a story
– respect those being interviewed and covered
– ask simple questions and let the interviewee provide the answers
– guests must be civil to each other and the hosts and vice-versa

To many do not follow these simple rules. Last month, he noted the challenge that news broadcasts have now. In a news world of division, it is difficult to report when the news includes lying, so as to avoid being called divisive. He said we are not there yet. But, we must try.

Join me in honoring an honest and informed newscaster. David Brooks said tonight, “Jim had a moral ecology” which is similar to what MacNeil said saying “Jim had a moral intelligence.” He sought the truth and did it with a civil demeanor. Well done, Jim Lehrer.

Check your sources

The following is a condensed version of earlier posts. I have forwarded it to my local and hometown newspapers. Feel free to adapt and use.
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When Lt. Col. Ralph Peters resigned from Fox as its military advisor, he was critical of the opinion hosts, while holding the news group in higher regard. Too many of us are treating editorial opinion as news, be it Fox or MSNBC. Further Sinclair Broadcasting owns about 1/3 of the local TV stations requiring each to read verbatim, corporate prepared editorial pieces at the end of each show. There are many good news outlets who try to get it right, but check more than one source. And, be very careful of social media, as it is easy to pass misinformation along, and that includes the US president.

From where I sit

The following is a letter I forwarded to my local newspaper. The timing is due to yet one more letter I read which portrays critics of the US president as just not liking him or Democrats who want to change the outcome of the election.
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As an independent and former Republican, it troubles me how easily the US president convinces people that his critics just don’t like him, are Democrats or both. From where I sit, Trump’s worst enemy looks back from the mirror when he shaves. It is not his critics who are regularly untruthful, bully people, denigrate media and opponents, and believe they are above the law. It is not his critics who consistently lie about who pays the tariffs (it is importers not China), nor who invents stories like India asking him to broker a discussion with Pakistan over Kashmir, which was denied by India within an hour. From where I sit, the biggest purveyor of fake news, by far, is the one who tweets so much.
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In the latest Trump episode involving a whistleblower who has “credibly” raised an issue per the Inspector General’s office, Trump tweeted how could someone think he would say something improper to a world leader? The answer is because you have done it several times before – think siding with Putin over his intelligence leaders in Helsinki, think lying to the Australian PM, think repeating the same comment to the German Chancellor eleven times before realizing what she had been saying.

Please feel free to use the above letter, modifying it as you see fit.

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.

Monday, Monday again

Using a wonderful song from The Mamas and Papas, happy Monday everyone. Our friend Jill enjoys (and eventually laments) it when I place these songs in her head.

A few random thoughts for the start of the week are as follows:

Facebook is apologizing and saying they will do better at protecting your information. Yet, what they fail to tell you is sharing your information is their business model. Unless they are prepared to go to a subscription model, do not expect any major changes. Tailored ads based on your data and search history is revenue.

The biggest news from the Stormy Daniels’ revelations is not the tryst with Donald Trump. It is the illegal election contribution made by the attorney who has boxed himself in with his own revelations. By admitting he did not get reimbursed by Trump, he blocked a possible exit ramp that may have mitigated his guilt. I will say the creepiest thing about the Daniels’ revelation is when she said Trump told her she reminded him of his daughter. Ick.

Trump keeps saying articles about things he will be doing are fake news. Yet, when it happens anyway, does that make it fake? Mind you, he has delayed decisions mentioned in these articles, so as to punish the media with this fake brand. But, when he eventually fires the person or signs a wretched executive order, it verifies the earlier assertion does it not? He did fire Tillerson, McMaster, e.g. even though he said he would not do so after the press reported it.

With the passing of the US spending bill on top of the tax law change, it is apparent that Congress and the President do not care about resolving our deficit and debt issues. These laws make them worse rather than better. It should be pointed out that China is talking about buying fewer US Treasuries bills, notes and bonds. That is how we get cash and is a trade threat the US cannot reciprocate.

A final shout out to the teens who are advocating for better gun governance. You are an inspiration. The lawmakers need to pay attention as they may have awakened a sleeping giant.

 

Vernacular needs to change

If we want to address real problems in our country, we may want to change our vernacular. When we hear something routinely called or framed a certain way by a politician or news network, we may accept that as the only truth. Yet, it may gloss over the greater problem.

For example, the far greater terrorist threat in the US is not from so-called Islamic extremists. It is from domestic terrorism that more often comes from white supremacist groups. There are over 1,100 hate groups being tracked by law enforcement groups and their hate crimes prevalence dwarfs that of Islamic extremists. Yet, funding to police the domestic terrorists has declined much to the chagrin of law enforcement.

Another example is freedom of the press is under siege and its attackers tend to shout fake news, when criticism comes their way. The best way to address the fake news is to get the story right. I see a greater amount of earnestness in legitimate media to do just that. I would also ask why the shouters of accusations of fake news tend to be the ones who routinely change their story. The White House has announced yet again a change in communication strategy with a new resignation. One thing they have not tried is something so very simple. It is called the truth. I think the reason it has not been tried is the truth may bare some unflattering and illegal activities.

So, when you hear someone shout fake news, consider the source. There is enough fake news out there, we all need to be on our guard and the purpose of the shouter may be use that prevalence  to his advantage. When I hear the President speak or read his tweets, I tend to not believe a word he says. The odds are in my favor.

So, to sum up, accusations of “fake news” are now being used to cover up lying, so pay attention to the source and let’s call lying for what it is. And, when a white supremacist kills multiple people, that is domestic terrorism and is just as evil as any other terrorism. Maybe if we call things what they are, we can better address the issues.