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.

Sunday summaries

I hope your weekend is going well. Several topics have toyed with me writing a full post, so I will resort to a brief summary of a few. In no particular order:

The royal family of Saudi Arabia has done a pretty inept job of lying to the world about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. It is so unartful that even the US President, who is not known for truth and wants just to do transactions, is being forced to admit they must be lying. I applaud other world leaders and even more than a few US Senators for stepping up to cry foul. My guess is this will eventually lead to the fall of Crown Prince MSB as he is embarrassing the family and country and this is adds to a growing list of notorious screw-ups.

Heading north to Great Britain, there were an estimated 750,000 British folks that protested in the streets of London yesterday asking for a new Brexit vote with actual facts being disseminated. While I fully understand the rationale of those who want Brexit, from the outset, Brexit will be harmful financially to Great Britain. Many financial companies and EU headquarters have either moved or are planning to move to an EU site. Plus, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to talk openly of votes to leave Great Britain should it occur. If that is not enough, it is believed that Vladimir Putin has had a hand in the disinformation as he did with the 2016 and current 2018 elections in the US.

Returning to the US, candidates of my old Republican Party are taking a lot of heat over their positions on healthcare over the years. They should. Not only has this party not tried to improve and stabilize the Affordable Care Act, they have sabotaged and made it worse. It should be noted politicians don’t seem to understand a lot about healthcare. Here is a letter I sent to my newspaper that will give you a sense of what has transpired.

It seems healthcare is a key issue this election. Surveys the last eighteen months have indicated the majority of Americans want the Affordable Care Act stabilized and improved. Yet, the GOP leadership has tried to repeal it and actually has sabotaged its success making premiums higher than they otherwise would have been. The Senate’s defunding by 89% of adverse selection payments to insurers, the President’s defunding of payments to insurers to help people in need with co-pays and deductibles and the fight in states like NC to not expand Medicaid have increased exchange premiums and driven more carriers out of markets. This retired actuary, benefits consultant and benefits manager believe these measures have harmed Americans and people should know this.

Finally, a story that should get even more airplay than it is relates to the voter suppression attempts by the Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp in his role as State Secretary. Whereas an ethical person would recuse himself from overseeing elections, Kemp has been pretty blatant in his efforts to make it harder to vote. I do not like the voter ID laws, gerrymandering districts and aggressive voter suppression tactics being done in my own and other GOP led states. These are Jim Crow-like. Yes, Democrats have done similar tactics, but what is being done the last eight years has been an orchestrated effort by a group called ALEC, funded by the Koch Brothers.

I am pretty tired of this the “ends justifies the means” rhetoric. I see what can happen when people cheat. They cheat to get elected and cheat once they are there. The US President is not only enriching people who donated to his efforts, he is enriching himself by using his position to make more money. This self-dealing is actually illegal. And, when people cheat, it devalues our country and state governance.