The real problem with fake news? Citizen stupidity
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The rise of "fake news" inspires the press to uncover its many practitioners worldwide, discern its economics and herald the alleged guilt-ridden soul-searching by its greatest enablers, Facebook and Google.
But the media dances around another reality with the dexterity of Beyonce, Usher and septuagenarian Mick Jagger: the stupidity of a growing number of Americans.
So thanks to Neal Gabler for taking to Bill Moyers' website to pen, "Who's Really to Blame for Fake News." (Moyers)
Fake news, of course, "is an assault on the very principle of truth itself: a way to upend the reference points by which mankind has long operated. You could say, without exaggeration, that fake news is actually an attempt to reverse the Enlightenment. And because a democracy relies on truth — which is why dystopian writers have always described how future oligarchs need to undermine it — fake news is an assault on democracy as well."
Gabler is identified here as the author of five books, without mentioning any. Well, one is 1995's "Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity." It's a superb look at Walter Winchell, the man who really invented the gossip column and wound up with a readership and radio audience of 50 million, or two-thirds of the then-population, as he helped create our modern media world of privacy-invading gossip and personal destruction as entertainment.
"What is truly horrifying is that fake news is not the manipulation of an unsuspecting public," Gabler writes of our current mess. "Quite the opposite. It is willful belief by the public. In effect, the American people are accessories in their own disinformation campaign. That is our current situation, and it is no sure thing that either truth or democracy survives."
Think of it. The goofy stories, the lies, the conspiracy theories that now routinely gain credibility among millions who can't be bothered to read a newspaper or decent digital site and can't differentiate between Breitbart and The New York Times. Ask all those pissed-off Trump loyalists in rural towns to name their two U.S. senators.
We love convincing ourselves of the strengths of democracy, including the inevitable collective wisdom setting us back on a right track if ever we go astray. And while the media may hold itself out as cultural anthropologists in explaining the "anger" or "frustration" of "real people," as is the case after Donald Trump's election victory, we won't really underscore rampant illiteracy and incomprehension.
So read Gabler. "Above all else, fake news is a lazy person’s news. It provides passive entertainment, demanding nothing of us. And that is a major reason we now have a fake news president."
Susan Glasser on a "Post-Truth America"
Susan Glasser, former editor of multiple Washington publications, including Politico, has moved to Israel with New York Times spouse Peter Baker. And a lifelong optimist's basic takeaway from afar is Gabler-esque. From Jerusalem, she tells me, "We’ve now come to a terrifying point where we’ve achieved the transparency that was always our dream as journalists — without the accountability that’s supposed to come along with it. The media scandal wasn’t that we somehow failed to discover America’s angry White men; it’s what we covered that nobody cared about."
Glasser (who edited Foreign Policy magazine) starts an international affairs column and podcast for Politico next year. For now she details her chagrined analysis in "Covering Politics in a 'Post-Truth' America," released this morning by the Brookings Institution. (Brookings)
She writes for Brookings, "Even fact-checking perhaps the most untruthful candidate of our lifetime didn’t work; the more news outlets did it, the less the facts resonated. Tellingly, a few days after the election, the Oxford Dictionaries announced that 'post-truth' had been chosen as the 2016 word of the year, defining it as a condition 'in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.'" Read the whole shebang.
"CNN President Jeff Zucker was jeered and heckled by Republican presidential campaign operatives at that Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics' campaign managers conference on Wednesday evening as he tried to defend CNN's coverage of Donald Trump, as a usually formal event turned tense and, at times, raucous." (Politico)
Yes, he can be criticized, including for smoking the crack cocaine of Trump's ratings power, C-list hires for the illusion of ideological balance and a porous personnel infrastructure of too many inexperienced souls. But enough of the Harvard whining from failed Republican candidates, mostly notably aides to Carly Fiorina and Mike Huckabee, whose candidacies were jokes.
It's rich when the same Republicans who complain about the liberal bias of the press, including of CNN, then harrumph when those meanie liberals do shine a spotlight on a Republican. "Hey," seems to be the gripe, "we didn't mean that Republican!"
As a friend puts it, it's like working the ref, then somehow getting pissed at his make-up calls. Don't be wagging your accusatory index finger at Zucker. Instead, look in the mirror.
On Rory Gilmore
Admission: I'm watching the Netflix revival of "The Gilmore Girls" and, like one and all, learning that Rory Gilmore is now a freelancer for The New Yorker and The Atlantic. And, as much as I'm loving it, real-life editor-writer Betsy Morais of Harper's has something to note in the real-life New Yorker. (The New Yorker)
Ten years later, Rory, now 32, doesn't seem to have grown up. True. But the revival is still great. As Morais notes, it was never about plot. Does it matter that Rory is a journalist, now back home and agreeing to run Stars Hollow's apparently lifeless three-person newspaper?
No. Like the real New Yorker, the show is once again about words — and those are once again very fun and smart.
Ricks on Mattis
Retired Marine General James Mattis, Trump's pick for Secretary of Defense, had made a Pavlovian media response as "blunt-spoken" and a potential usurping of a tradition of civilian leadership of the Pentagon. We keep reading of the "Mad Dog" nickname.
"Political reporters see a retired Marine with a scary nickname, and so they fret," says Tom Ricks, one of the best military affairs reporters, who has written at length about Mattis over the years. "But defense reporters know and like Mattis and think he is just about the best Defense pick you're going to get from Trump."
If you want to understand the guy, read Ricks' recent piece in Foreign Policy. (Foreign Policy). It includes recalling snippets from Ricks' book on the Iraq War, "Fiasco," where he tags him, “a tough-minded realist, someone who’d rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.” As he told Marines in Iraq, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
Then there's this Mattis line from his book: “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.”
Journalists and Snapchat
Farhad Manjoo writes, "Though Snapchat has overtaken Twitter in terms of daily users to become one of the most popular social networks in the world, it has not attracted the media attention that the 140-character platform earns, perhaps because journalists and presidential candidates don’t use it very much. Snapchat’s news division has become a popular and innovative source of information for young people, but it is rarely mentioned in the hand-wringing over how social media affected the presidential election." (The New York Times)
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends" verged on the giddy over Donald Trump's Indiana appearance and his "really good manners" in traveling to an anxious industrial town to pledge his support and say thanks. Historic and unprecedented, right?
Well, RTV6 in Indianapolis reminds of a certain parallel. "In January 2009, President Barack Obama's first official stop as president was to Elkhart, Indiana, an embattled auto town that had an unemployment rate of 20 percent." It was, yes, all about his auto bailout and jobs, with Obama returning there early this year to celebrate Elkhart's recovery. (RVT6)
"Morning Joe" turned to the rancorous campaign post-mortem at Harvard. (The Washington Post) MSNBC's Kassie Hunt, who was there, said Team Trump was "swaggering" and Team Clinton remained in "campaign mode" in defending their gal.
Born-again Trump partisans Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough noted Kellyanne Conway's combative lack of graciousness. Over at CNN's "New Day," Washington Examiner-New York Post reporter-columnist Salena Zito, a new pundit there, was short of persuasive in downplaying the significance of ongoing Trump media bashing. "We've broken trust with them," she said about the press and vast numbers of Americans.
VandeHei's new gambit
I asked Jon Steinberg, founder of the Cheddar financial network for millennials, what he thinks of Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei's upcoming venture that has an initial $10 million and is also spearheaded by former Politico colleague Mike Allen.
After all, he's got a lot more experience than most with media startups, including as an early bigshot at BuzzFeed. So what about what VandeHei jokes is meant as a marriage of the values and technologies of Twitter and The Economist, while not joking that he may try to find $10,000-a-year-subscribers?
"I think he does one of the best jobs of defining the problem. Thirst for traffic, which results in shitty content, and then all the competitors flood the zone. I see no reason why he can't get to millions of dollars in corporate subscriptions quickly. Mike is one of the most successful writers of a must-read product for business/industry/political readers.
The $10 million? "I think $10m in funding is nothing in a world where the incumbents have massive budgets. Why do people feign and pretend that is a lot of capital? All these people live in New York City and know a townhouse on the Upper East Side costs $20 million. They are starting an entire company and paying people."
"Finally, of course they will be successful. If only because they can work and hustle and bob and weave. The incumbent media companies are so large and bureaucratic. They struggle to do almost anything."
Check out a Bill Simmons-Malcolm Gladwell conversation on football, with the latter having an interesting theory on "second conversations" we have about sports and why the NFL is thus faring poorly. Currently, our "second conversation" about the NFL revolves around concussions. (The Ringer)
Fox's favorite on-air jerk
Pseudo-reporter Jesse Watters loves making caricatured liberals look foolish, with Bill O'Reilly serving as his prime-time courtesan and co-enabler. So he went up to Hampshire College in Massachusetts to pillory the school president who'd taken down American flags on campus temporarily after one was burned post-election.
A proud practitioner of the ambush interrogation, he confronted the president as he exited his car and followed him to his door, making fun of him. (Fox) "Don't you realize the whole country is laughing at you?" said Watters. The president called the cops. (CNN) But Watters had his video.
Oh, if Watters wants to pillory a liberal arts college, what about a piece on one of them recruiting lots of hotshot immigrant squash players from Pakistan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Trinidad, Colombia, The Netherlands, Sweden, England and Northern Ireland? Right up his alley, right? Red-white-and-blue, Fox-loving, American-bred players not good enough for them?
So, yes, check the 2015-2016 men's squash roster at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. (Trinity College) And then let's see if Watters can take his own medicine. It's Mr. Populist's alma mater.
Have a good weekend. I've got kid's basketball Friday afternoon and a weekend of indoor soccer in Crown Point, Indiana (including a 9:30 p.m. Saturday game). Nothing rings a bell with Crown Point? It was home of the "escape proof" county jail from which John Dillinger, public enemy No. 1, escaped in 1934.
And there's a nearby trampoline park that will open Sunday morning before we return to the pitch. Trampolines, coffee and a copy of The Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana will suffice.