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.