Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fake News!

Last month I refrained from writing about anything other than Christmas, but there was one particular topic I struggled not to weigh in on: The hysteria over "fake news." And now, thanks to Donald Trump's flamethrower of a press conference last Wednesday, it is even more front and center than before.

From the beginning, the way the topic was portrayed made it hard for me to take seriously, because 1) the operable definition of "fake news" seemed to be "anything not rubber stamped by the mainstream media," and 2) there was no acknowledgment that the mainstream media has spent generations peddling lies.

So allow me to spend a little time recollecting some of the cargo from that Colossal Conestoga of Codswallop that "reputable news outlets" have been shoving down the public's throat in the years since I was born.

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In 1978, ABC's 20/20 falsely claimed that Ford sedans were prone to burst into flames when struck from behind. As evidence, it showed a video of that happening -- but "failed to inform" viewers that the burst in the video was caused by an incendiary device which had been placed on the car's undercarriage specifically to cause that effect.

In 1980, CBS's 60 Minutes falsely claimed that the Jeep CJ was prone to rollovers. It showed clips of that happening, but "failed to inform" viewers that the Jeeps in those clips were being driven by robots that spun the steering wheels at RPM's much faster than humans can spin them. CBS also "failed to mention" that even with the steering wheels being robot-spun at human-impossible speeds, the Jeeps still did not roll over until hanging weights were added to their interior corners and their tires had lost tread from being taken through scores of fast skids.

One year later, the same 60 Minutes falsely reported that a certain kind of rim was prone to fly off of tires at such velocity that it could kill people on sidewalks. It showed a video of a rim flying off and slicing through a family of mannequins -- yet "failed to inform" viewers that the rim's locking mechanisms had been shaved off before filming.

Then, like a coke addict who can't stop snorting, 60 Minutes went right back to its playbook in 1986 by running a story alleging that the Audi 5000 was prone to sudden, uncontrollable, Herbie-like acceleration because, in the words of host Ed Bradley, "the pedal go(es) down all by itself." Of course 60 Minutes showed film of a gas pedal appearing to do just that, and of course 60 Minutes "failed to inform" viewers that its hired "expert" had rigged the machinery to make that happen (specifically, he drilled a hole in the floorboard underneath the pedal so it couldn't be seen, then threaded a hose through the hole to connect the pedal to an air compressor, then used the compressor to suck the pedal down).

Not wanting to be left out, Dateline NBC jumped on the "defame Big Auto" train in 1992, airing an entire hour-long episode falsely alleging that Chevy pickups were prone to burst into flames on impact. According to NBC's crack "reporting" staff, this was due to poorly designed fuel tanks rupturing at the time of collision. NBC showed (drum roll please) videos of that appearing to happen on impact, but did not reveal that it had attached incendiary devices to the undercarriages and used using sparking devices to make sure they ignited. Nor did it reveal that it had overfilled the gas tanks and left the gas caps off.

After skepticism later set in, some people watched the videos in slow motion and realized that some of the flame bursts began immediately before contact, which suggests that remote control was being used to trigger the sparking devices.

Thanks to a tip from someone who was present for those staged faux explosions, investigators eventually located the remains of the charred trucks in an Indiana junkyard and found that their gas tanks were intact -- which, last I checked, is the opposite of "ruptured."

I note that despite having been caught in such chicanery, 20/20 and 60 Minutes and Dateline NBC remain on the air with their reputations unharmed in most people's minds -- which is disgraceful when you consider that they intended to damage Ford, Jeep, Audi, and Chevy, and that damaging those companies could (and did) jeopardize the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of workers and families.

However, the chicanery of those TV news magazines in those five cases is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to "respectable news outlets" trafficking in fake news.

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In August 1972, when I was 19 months old, National Geographic ran a cover story about a tribe of cavemen said to be living in the jungle on the Philippine island of Mindanao. Given the name Tasaday, the tribe was reported to be from the stone age and to have had no contact with other humans until being discovered in 1971 by Manuel Elizalde, an actual politician who actually did make that claim... but in the 1980's it came out that while there really were people called Tasaday, they were neither primitive nor isolated.

Throughout the 1970's, a plethora of news organizations including the New York Times, Newsweek, TIME Magazine, and the Chicago Tribune ran articles about the looming threat of global cooling and how our planet might be on the verge of entering an Ice Age... Come the 1990's, the same media replaced that doomsday prophecy with another one called global warming... And now, with net global temperatures having been static for almost 20 years, the same media have eliminated the words "cooling" and "warming" and replaced them with the meaninglessly vague "climate change" (a term that is doubly idiotic and not news when you consider that Earth's climate has been changing ever since Earth came into existence six or seven billion years ago, hence our planet going from Ice Ages to hot periods where palm trees grew in Alaska and back again).

In 1983 the Sunday newspaper insert Parade published an article by media whore hack scientist Carl Sagan that purported to give an objective appraisal of "nuclear winter." But as Michael Crichton expertly laid out in this speech, Sagan's article was not scientific and was really the opening salvo of a politically motivated PR campaign.

Throughout the 1980's (and probably before, and definitely for a time after) it was reported that secondhand smoke can cause cancer... but there has never been any scientific evidence for that claim.

In July 1996, during the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a security guard named Richard Jewell discovered a backpack containing a pipe bomb in crowded Centennial Park. He quickly alerted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and helped clear people from the area while investigators came to inspect the package; tragically, while this was happening the bomb exploded and caused two deaths and more than 100 injuries.

Within days, media stories (parroting some law enforcement officials) pegged Jewell not as the hero he actually was, but as the primary suspect. For weeks he was portrayed as a failed cop who became a rent-a-cop and then planted the bomb in order to get credit for finding it. That was fake news, but its fakeness didn't matter to those who reported it as truth, and Jewell's life was ruined. Though he was later exonerated, the exoneration got far less publicity than the accusation and he died of a heart attack at the age of 44.

In November 1996, the New York Times reported that a Texaco executive used the word "niggers" in a company meeting. However, tape showed that he actually said "Nicholas."

In 2004, CBS News and their main anchor, Dan Rather, showed what they said were military documents affirming that George W. Bush went AWOL when he was in the National Guard. But the documents were such obvious forgeries that amateur font buffs saw through them with ease. Rather was eventually fired because of that hatchet job, but instead of being professionally disgraced he was hailed by colleagues for his contributions to journalism.

Rather continues to say he believes the story is true even though there is no evidence for it and the documents he broadcast were fake. And eleven years after his report, a fawning (!) movie about his reporting was actually called Truth, without the slightest sense of irony from those who made it. Today he is, swear to God, teaching an online course called "Finding the Truth in the News."

In 2005, Bill Bennett was talking to a caller on his radio show who said that if there were fewer abortions, there would be more workers and thus Social Security would be more solvent and America would produce more goods. Bennett, who is pro-life, considered that a poor reason to be pro-life because 1) it is based on math instead of morality, and 2) the math is unknowable, especially when you consider that most aborted babies are from demographic groups more likely to be on welfare, in prison, etc.

Recalling a famous argument from the book Freakonomics, which holds that 1973's Roe v. Wade decision led to the big crime rate decrease of the 1990's due to would-be criminals having been aborted rather than born, Bennett criticized his caller's reasoning by drawing this comparison: "If you wanted to decrease crime -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

I added the emphasis because the tentacles of America's mainstream media refused failed to mention that Bennett described genocide-by-abortion as "impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible." MSNBC, TIME Magazine, and The Today Show, among others, left that sentence out when they quoted him, instead choosing to make it look like making it look like he spoke favorably of genocide-by-abortion. Fake news, indeed.

And you can't mention this topic without mentioning George Zimmerman. The media, as you may recall, portrayed him as a racist after his tragic but evidently self-defense shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012. The portrayal stemmed largely from NBC's airing of the call Zimmerman placed to 911 when he saw Martin and thought he looked suspicious... but NBC maliciously altered the call to make him appear racist.

In reality, Zimmerman told the dispatcher: "This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about," and the dispatcher then asked "is he black, white, or Hispanic?" -- to which Zimmerman replied "he looks black."

But when NBC aired the audio, they deleted the question from the dispatcher and also deleted part of Zimmerman's initial comments, so that the only thing listeners heard was Zimmerman call and say: "This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black." Fake news, real calumny.

And then there's the biggest fake news story of all: The claim that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. We've been hearing this for ages, even from most conservative publications, but it's not true.

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I could go on and on, but I won't because you get the picture. The bottom line is that it's outrageous for the mainstream media to be thought of as credible.

The mainstream media libels and slanders, wreaks havoc on families, puts jobs in peril, and destroys reputations -- all on false grounds -- and it's ten times worse when done by them than by a salacious blog or partisan rag.

It's worse because the mainstream media use their undeserved reputation to give their lies credibility. Knowing the nonpartisan public trusts them and takes them seriously, they abuse the trust by deceiving the nonpartisan public with total lies, and with half-truths, and with rank bias.

Conversely, it's easy to tell a clickbait shop or online tabloid when you see it, and most people instinctively know to take them with a grain of salt.

Everyone knows to look at Mother Jones (on the left) and The New American (on the right) with a certain amount of skepticism. Even newbies to the world of thinking about social and political issues can tell within a couple minutes that Salon (on the left) and Newsmax (on the right) are no more familiar with objectivity than Bill Clinton is with truthfulness.

However, most Americans do not follow current events closely and are preconditioned to give credence to what they see and hear in the mainstream media, which gives the mainstream media lots of free range to obscure reality and sow discord... and once you realize that the National Freakin' Enquirer has a better record of accuracy over the last few decades than the New York Freakin' Times, you will quickly see that this situation invites mischief, to say the least.

Yes, Donald Trump's relationship with accuracy has often been excessively casual, but he is doing the right thing when he turns the "fake news" dart around and aims it at those who created it.

Maybe he missed some of the trees when he thundered at CNN's Jim Acosta that "you are fake news," but he saw the forest for precisely what it is, and his vision on that point was sharp as a hawk's.

If more Americans would see the forest instead of getting distracted by individual trees (and if they would stop mistaking the maples for mesquite and the cottonwoods for dogwood) then America would be better off. But that would require the mainstream media to publish wide angle photos of the forest as a whole, and would also require them to correctly identify any trees they focus on. In other words, it would require the mainstream media to stop publishing and airing fake news.

If more Americans would have an open or skeptical mind when considering things they see or hear in the press, then America would be better off. But that would require them to know that the mainstream media publishes and airs fake news. In other words, it would require the mainstream media to pull the curtain off their own hidden portrait and reveal the Dorian Gray truth about themselves.

I won't hold my breath waiting for the mainstream media to end their ways, but I do look forward to their power continuing to fade as more and more Americans see them for the farce they really are.

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