Sunday, February 25, 2018

Fake News Fantasy

In July, Eric Alterman of The Nation wrote

Lying presidents are nothing new. I coined the term “post-truth presidency” back in October 2004 to refer to the George W. Bush administration. What’s novel about Donald Trump, however, is that he does not lie in pursuit of some larger political goal or to hide a potentially damaging secret. He just likes to lie, often for no discernible reason. But while Trump is a moron in most respects, he is an instinctive genius at media manipulation. And here, his apparently purposeless mendacity achieves two significant goals: First, he overwhelms traditional journalism, which cannot keep up and does not even wish to try. Second, his shamelessness inspires others to revise and expand his lies until they become “true,” at least in the right-wing universe of cable-news-driven political discussion.

It's becoming an upside-down nation.  In a society in which lies are accepted as truth, facts are likely to become a casualty, and truth is liable to be considered "fake."

February's Monthly Harvard-Harris poll, taken 2/16-2/19 among 1934 registered voters, asked several dozen questions. Nearly buried as table 164 on page 203, respondents were asked whether they agree of disagree that "there is a lot of fake news in the mainstream media." Sixty-eight percent (67% of women, 68% of men) answered in the affirmative. Similar questions were asked about social media and news "onlinte." But evidently more than two-thirds of Americans believe that the likes of The Washington Post, CBS News, and their local papers report phony stories as real.

Interviewed recently by Chauncey DeVega for Salon, author and Yale University historian Timothy Snyder observed

If you're a Trump-style authoritarian you are not trying to make a big powerful state. What you're trying to do is make the state dysfunctional and then at the end of the crumbling, you and your friends are at the top. What you also do is discredit the resistance actively both by calling people names, whether that's African Americans or Native Americans or women or any other group. You say that protesters are paid, and journalism is all fake news. Insofar as Mr. Trump has a domestic policy it involves shaking people's belief in reality and the facts, because if you do that then everybody just has their own opinion. Money will be the only thing that matters in terms of "the truth." In the end the Trump-style authoritarian who creates the greatest spectacle is going to win.

You say that protesters are paid and journalism is all fake news. The concept originally was invoked to help describe false articles, tweets, Facebook posts and other items propagated in the 2016 election cycle by Russians or others aiming to deliver a defeat for Hillary Clinton. All it needed was a master propagandist to  turn the phrase on its head and use it as a cudgel against the mainstream media, which has had the gall to print the truth about the Trump administration and the investigation conducted by the Special Counsel.

Distorting the language and suppressing political debate have become essential arrows in the quiver of the man with the collected speeches of Adolph Hitler at his bedside. If Donald Trump is able to stand for re-election, truth will become an even harder thing to come by than at presen, and the groundwork laid for a totalitarian state with unforeseen global implications.

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