More Than Just Worrisome

The Guardian recently had a chilling account of the tools available to today’s purveyors of what we used to call the “big lie,” and the people using those tools. As the reporter began,

Just over a week ago, Donald Trump gathered members of the world’s press before him and told them they were liars. “The press, honestly, is out of control,” he said. “The public doesn’t believe you any more.” CNN was described as “very fake news… story after story is bad”. The BBC was “another beauty”.

That night I did two things. First, I typed “Trump” in the search box of Twitter. My feed was reporting that he was crazy, a lunatic, a raving madman. But that wasn’t how it was playing out elsewhere. The results produced a stream of “Go Donald!!!!”, and “You show ’em!!!” There were star-spangled banner emojis and thumbs-up emojis and clips of Trump laying into the “FAKE news MSM liars!”

The reporter then consulted Google, typing in only “mainstream media is.” The first several “autofills” were negative: “dead” “fake” “biased” and the like. SEO (search engine optimization) at work. (Search engine optimization is a technique that catches Google’s attention, and ensures that a site’s URL will be prominent among search results.)

The reporter clicked on the first of the sites that Google returned; it was an obscure website named CNSnews.com.

Another couple of clicks and I discover that it receives a large bulk of its funding – more than $10m in the past decade – from a single source, the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. If you follow US politics you may recognise the name. Robert Mercer is the money behind Donald Trump. But then, I will come to learn, Robert Mercer is the money behind an awful lot of things. He was Trump’s single biggest donor. Mercer started backing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the presidential race he threw his money – $13.5m of it – behind the Trump campaign.

Since just 2010, it turns out that Mercer has donated $45 million dollars to Republican political campaigns, and another $50 million to an assortment of rightwing, ultra-conservative nonprofits. As the reporter noted, he is a billionaire who, “as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs.”

And he evidently possesses both the money and the technological skills to reshape a good portion of it.

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

Mercer’s money funded Breitbart; the express intent was to “take back the culture.” (I shudder to think just how far back.)

But there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercer’s name: because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in “election management strategies” and “messaging and information operations”, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In military circles this is known as “psyops” – psychological operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on people’s emotions.)

I encourage you to click through and read the entire Guardian article. It goes a long way toward explaining what I have found inexplicable: popular beliefs and attitudes that legitimize the antics of a man whose increasingly obvious mental illness has allowed him to be used as the tool of ideologues like Mercer and Bannon.

According to Andy Wigmore, a key figure who worked for the Brexit “Leave” campaign,

Cambridge Analytica had worked for them, he said. It had taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from people’s Facebook profiles. A video on YouTube shows one of Cambridge Analytica’s and SCL’s employees, Brittany Kaiser, sitting on the panel at Leave.EU’s launch event.

Facebook was the key to the entire campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.”

There has always been propaganda. There hasn’t always been the Internet or Facebook. We’re about to find out just how malleable and gullible we are.

31 thoughts on “More Than Just Worrisome

  1. Every time you click on a Facebook item to take one of those quizzes “that only a genius can score well on,” one of the “suggested posts,” you give access to your personal information to the company that puts the quiz out there. That information is sold to companies such as Cambridge Analytical, and others, which put you in a relational database and construct a profile of you and your predilections. That result is marketable.

  2. Pat de Caprariis,

    I have friends who take those quizes and others who sign up for those contests to win prizes such as million dollar motor homes, cottages, etc. Their gullibility shocks me.

    However, every time I see one of those posts shared by someone I worry that my information is also being accessed by virtue of being their friend on facebook.

    Does anyone know if this is the case?

  3. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting off Facebook. This post made up my mind for me.

  4. While reading this, for some reason the term “fourth estate” came to mind. Never being sure what that meant, I got out my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (my copy published in 1977 so not so “new”) but found something interesting. “fourth estate” was defined only as being “the public press”. But directly above it is the definition of “fourth dimension”; “something outside the range of ordinary experience” and/or “the use of clarity versus obscurity”.

    Trump and his minions, with all their millions and billions put to use, have changed the meaning of the public press in the eyes of the general public; far outside the range of ordinary experience and switching the use of clarity to the use of deliberate obscurity and passing it off as “news”. They have done so by confusing the public into believing publications such as Brietbart Press are actual sources of news. We have watched Trump himself shout and point his tiny finger at a group of legitimate members of the press and accuse them of publishing “fake news”, calling his lies “alternative facts”, changing earlier false statements by “walking back” his words and sending Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer out to “prove” his pointless ramblings. “wire tapping” didn’t really mean “wire tapping” in the Trump Tower, to him that term means “surveilance”. We have also watched as Andrea Mitchell was forcefully removed from the midst of members of the press for asking questions…which is her job.

    The world is watching the United States of America as we allow Donald Trump along with Bannon, Ryan, McConnell and Robert Mercer turn, not only the world press but, our entire government into the “fourth dimension” and “something outside the range of ordinary experience”.

    Rachel Maddow continues to provide documented information to the public; the Chris Hayes and Bernie Sanders one hour special from the poorest country in West Virginia, provided direct and factual news from some of the Trump voters who have awakened to the reality of their misplaced support. We still have actual news available to overcome the proliferation of paid for propaganda; but are we watching and listening?

  5. Nancy; I THINK the only way you, as a “friend”, can be accessed on Facebook is if you add a comment. One truth I learned about Facebook is; when you “share” a post, your comments do NOT go with it. I have made negative comments to some of those ridiculous and dangerous Facebook posts and upset my actual friends because they did NOT get my comments warning them against the post. They believed I was supporting it. Facebook can be your friend and can be a source of news we don’t get in local newscasts or newspapers but…caution is needed. I often Google the source; the highly questionable posts are almost always from far right conservative publications with no actual standing in the accepted press.

  6. Thank you sooo much for this piece Sheila!!!

    Robert Mercer and his daughter set up a PAC whose name escapes me other than “45” being in its title but its purpose was to run extremely disingenuous ads against Hillary Clinton. Of all the PAC ads against theirs were the worst in my opinion. While the information was carefully massaged to make Hillary look like public enemy number one, the worst part was the editing of the ads which took things way, way out of context. What really angered me the most was how they took her quote “What does it matter?” out of the first Senate hearing on Benghazi in which she was lamenting that the hearing would bring the people lost in the attack back and twisted to mean that she was fast and loose with the facts. I watched that hearing and when Hillary said that she was very emotional in response to Senator Ron Johnson’s pointed bars (questions).

    I have always had an interest in film and cinematography I’d took some film classes when I was an undergrad at IU and one class I took was on film editing and since it was back in the 1970s it involved the physical chopping up of film to edit a particular piece. Whoever did this work must’ve been a neophyte like I was at that time but whoever supervised it had to have been some sort of Breitbart type maniac. It was the hatchet job of all hatchet jobs in my humble opinion.

    Being thoroughly disgusted by these ads, not so much because they were against Hillary but that they were so rotten in their content, I had to get on Google myself and look up who did them. The same organization was listed and so was Robert Mercer’s name. Right then and there I knew this man and his daughter were very dangerous and knew that they and their minions were capable of taking lying to an even higher level than I’d ever seen before.

  7. I guess the Soros billion dollar machine has some competition. The “fake” news media have been digging their own hole for a long time. All you have to do is watch a live press conference or event and then listen to the MSM tell you what you just heard “according to their bias”. People are now more aware of it and they are appalled… maybe that’s a small step towards understanding, partly, why Trump won.

  8. Becky,

    “I guess the Soros billion dollar machine has some competition. The “fake” news media have been digging their own hole for a long time.”

    I’m interested in what you have brought to our attention. Could you give us a few examples?

  9. Mercer has a big problem. He thought he purchased the whole political system. He’s not as smart of a systems man as he thinks he is. He was taken.

    Maybe he needs to sue for his money back like he did over the purchase of his 2.7 million dollar model railroad.

  10. There is even a more potent and immediate weapon in play against Western civilization than what Mercer and his twisted billions are buying. It is Putin. Take a look at the people Trump has appointed and how so many of them have Russian connections, from the Secretary of State to the Secretary of Commerce to our now discharged national security director and others in the new Moscow-Washington pipeline of power. From Tillerson’s oil interests with Russia which did not cease with his appointment to the interests of Wilbur Ross in the Russian money-laundering operation in the Bank of Cyprus I am beginning to think that Trump had to have Putin’s approval of such appointments in order to beat the blackmail rap all, of course, under the tutelage of Bannon, Mercer’s representative in high places and the Rasputin of the present Romanov castle aka the White House. The clueless Trump appears to be a mere narcissistic and profit-driven vessel fronting for such civilization-destroying efforts as we are called upon to voluntarily abandon our democracy in favor of ultimate corporate control of our social as well as economic and political institutions. Goodbye, Locke and Madison: Hello, Mercer, Bannon and Putin. Yesiree, Becky, we are going to make America great again ’cause Trump said so.

  11. The damage Mercer did in the election should include those backers of Sen. Sanders in the Democratic Party who bought into the character assassination of HRC. If it was intentionally used to lure in and reinforce the anger and fear of those most disposed to DT, it also allowed Sanders people to point to the accusations and innuendos made against her (fueled in no small part by Assange and Wikileaks) as evidence of her failings to qualify as presidential.

    As each day passes, we watch helplessly as DT/Bannon systematically take apart 70 years of progress for so many in this country, all with the willing and enthusiastic support of the Republican Congress, happening so fast and with such immediate and potentially long lasting effects, is showing us all that our liberties are much more fragile and vulnerable than we ever believed.

    If, as it appears will be the case, the Republicans succeed in confirming Gorsuch to the SCOTUS, the end is in sight for so, so many protections to our air, water and soil, even our very lives. I can only hope it is not too late to save ourselves and our future from the tyranny of corporatism or fascism. Either way, we must fight back.

  12. Gerald,

    Why don’t we work as a team? You take on Putin and I’ll take on Mercer. Both are potent and immediate TARGETS. All we need to do is win one or the other. I’m ready, it sounds like so are you. We’re both battle-tested. Yours is foreign, mine is domestic.

    We can’t allow our A+ experience to go to waste.

  13. I confess to being one of Sheila Kennedy’s most malleable and gullible readers. I spent most of my working years in the field of advertising. Because my early years were at a radio station, I believed absolutely nothing that was reported by the newspapers. I moved to TV and believed nothing that was broadcast on radio or reported by the newspapers. After moving to the world of advertising agencies, I believed nothing that was broadcast or reported by anybody … unless it was by me … and I wasn’t too sure about that.

    You might call it controlled bias. Recently … along came Fake President Donald Trump. This is a man who has two different answers for every question. Even I’m not dumb enough to believe Trump is an honest man. He seems capable of poisoning the investment wells of many supporters … who seem capable of poisoning the investment wells of many more supporters … who seem capable of …

  14. Last night Rachel showed a headline from the Palm Beach paper which had a picture of Mercer’s yacht next to the Russian oligarch who bought Trump’s house for $100M. So Mercer appears to have or is in the process of making Russian connections.

  15. Last night Rachel showed a headline from the Palm Beach paper which had a picture of Mercer’s yacht next to the Russian oligarch who bought Trump’s house for $100M. So Mercer appears to have or is in the process of making Russian connections.

  16. Nancy – Mercer’s yacht next to the Russian oligarch who bought Trump’s house at a fabulous profit (aka bribe) to Trump suggests that Mercer helped fund the oligarch’s offer as a quid pro quo for Trump’s eternal allegiance to Mercer’s representative (Bannon) in the Oval Office. It would be nice to know if this transaction is reported in Trump’s income tax return for the year in which the transaction was made, among other things full disclosure of Trump’s tax returns for the last twenty years would help in elucidating us in just how he is going to make America great again.

  17. Mercer was taken. He’s consumed by systems. That’s why he purchased the 2.7 million dollar MODEL RAILROAD SYSTEM; but sued the seller for 2 million. In other words, he got taken. He received less than he bargained for.

    Similarly, he’s supposedly purchased the whole political system, all layers from top to bottom. I own the 1935 to 1991 DEEP LAYER of the system, if anyone does. He didn’t call me.

    Mercer only purchased the 1992-Present system. You have to own all the TRACKS to run a successful operation, if not you can cause a multi-car TRAIN WRECK.

    He’s a political fool. He’s been fooled for a second time. The Bush family failed to warn him. They knew better.

  18. To me the fundamental question is can democracy survive mass media brainwashing? I’m afraid not. It’s a force overwhelmingly powerful in modern culture and we just can’t resist it.

    If that’s true then what? Are we clever enough to design a replacement that allows freedom and government of, by and for the people when we are susceptible to such inflence?

    I’m not.

  19. As someone who is on face book, I find at times some wild accusations usually have no reliable source document, such as micro waves monitoring us. > Kellyanne Conway went on to say that the monitoring could be done with “microwaves that turn into cameras,” adding: “We know this is a fact of modern life.”<

    We had once upon a time Walter Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley, Edward R. Murrow and Harry Reasoner. The entire structure of reporting was different, a half hour network news, with occasional specials and local news. CNN brought in the 24 hour News, but it was still reporting on events. It has now morphed into on FOX, CNN and MSNBC what I would call actors and actresses (presenters) taking the air with a script. Instead of reading the news of the nation and the world, we have panels of "experts" who seem to be selected to reinforce a given message. A message based upon marketing and ratings of the target audience.

    As a Boomer, I recall back beginning in the mid 1960's, the older generation (silent majority) at the time being furious with the news networks and papers. They were angry because of all the reporting being done on civil rights, anti-war and anti-draft protests and marches. This "silent majority" felt the reporting on these events gave these groups too much publicity. Their reasoning, if you can call it that, said that if you did not give the protests coverage they would cease. There was also the thought process among the silent majority that the fact these demonstrations and marches were being reported on meant the news media of that day were biased in favor of them. So the solution set for the silent majority was to not report events they politically, or socially did not agree with.

  20. Pete,

    “To me the fundamental question is can democracy survive mass media brainwashing? I’m afraid not. It’s a force overwhelmingly powerful in modern culture and we just can’t resist it.

    I believe if you knew the speeding locomotive was leading you to a “train wreck,” you would jump off in a “New York minute.”

    Take a look at my website http://www.KillingtheMessenger.info. “The Chamber” was written by John Grisham, a friend of the Bush Family, in 1994, in an attempt to prevent me from speaking out at the right time. If there ever was a right time, it is right now.

    In 1991, I had previously spoken up at the right time in Dallas. See my website at http://www.The AlarmReport.info. After we published “Democracide: The Far Right’s Path to Power in 1993, http://www.Democracide.info, the writing was on the wall that I would speak out again at the right time.

    I was extremely astute and knew the direction of the Far Right Movement. It was beaten in 1991. I was the major strategist for the victory. They weren’t in a position to change course. I knew the beginning and the end. The best they could do was to threaten me and hope that I wouldn’t speak out.

    They were wrong again.

  21. Marv, I agree that there is lots to be done among which is to let the GOP fail which unfortunately requires the country to also suffer. People need to learn that neoliberalism is inherently evil like Fascism and simply doesn’t work for anyone. That has to be demonstrated because people don’t pay attention to words anymore.

    My remark is beyond that.

    Our form of governance was “invented” to answer the question, if not British aristocracy, what? Fortunately it was fueled by the timing of the Great Enlightenment so our Constitution designed an effective solution.

    I believe that that design has bumped into a modern technology limit and no longer will work because we can’t unwind technology. Once the cat is out of the bag we can’t put it back in.

    That means we have to be smart enough to do a redesign that disempowers fake news, mass media brainwashing, beyond the current problem.

    I suppose that means a Constitutional Ammendment at least. What should it say?

  22. Pete,

    “Marv….”That means we have to be smart enough to do a redesign that disempowers fake news, mass media brainwashing, beyond the current problem.”

    “I suppose that means a Constitutional Amendment at least. What should its say?”

    You hit the center of the target. We can’t move forward until we deal with the potential of propaganda and psychological warfare. I’m sure either Sheila or Gerald or both, could answer your question better than I could. It would be difficult. Without a doubt, there would be a lot of challenges in the area of “free speech.”

  23. More young people (age 28 and younger) get their news from social media than from newspapers or TV, and Facebook is the dominant social media provider. So I use it more than any other vehicle to share news. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jun/15/facebooks-news-publishers-reuters-institute-for-the-study-of-journalism.

    While it helps to share factual content with those with whom I agree, I’ve made Facebook my principal vehicle to select and educate a portion of the polarized right who won’t get real news any other way. Correcting all their fake news would be a full time job, but I regularly contribute factual content to correct the fake news they share and which best applies to their ages and apparent backgrounds. My comments and contributions inspire insults and hateful comments from most of them, but I keep doing it because they won’t be exposed to factual content any other way. (I’ve posted several Sheila Kennedy blogs on it.)

    Tempting as it is, I don’t respond in kind to their hate, and often remind that we can disagree agreeably and can be kind even when we disagree on everything. That infuriates some of them even more, but so be it.

    Even though they usually don’t do so, I post sources for my information as often as possible to provoke reading even though some refuse to read anything that challenges their biases against mainstream media. When they post outrageous comments, I ask for their sources so I can read up on it. Often they decline to do so which I take as a victory (as do some other readers).

    The site is picking up some independent and Democratic contributors who sometimes dive in as well to make comments. Once in a while breakthroughs occur with a regular who comments that Trump wasn’t their first choice or another sliver of discontent with him or right-wing media. So I must be hitting pay dirt once in a while. I’m convinced if all of us on either side of the divide only talk to those with whom we agree, things will only get worse. Bridging that divide seems a patriotic duty, even and perhaps especially when it’s unpleasant.

  24. “The damage Mercer did in the election should include those backers of Sen. Sanders in the Democratic Party who bought into the character assassination of HRC. If it was intentionally used to lure in and reinforce the anger and fear of those most disposed to DT, it also allowed Sanders people to point to the accusations and innuendos made against her (fueled in no small part by Assange and Wikileaks) as evidence of her failings to qualify as presidential.”- JD

    JD, as a “backer of Sen. Sanders,” I could not disagree more. In fact, it is a fact that the DNC went out of THEIR way to discredit and do “character assassination” of Sanders!!! The DNC Chairperson resigned over that revealed fact!!!

    Surely you must remember it was Sanders who famously said on a national televised debate last year that he was “tired of hearing all the damn reporting on her (HC) emails” and it was high time the media focus on “the issues” rather than attack people personally. I would say Sanders was one of the few (if not the lone person) who discussed issues only! The fact he spoke the truth about HC and her relationship with Wall Street and unfair trade agreements made the DNC and Hillary supporters angry. Well, sometime the truth does that, but the angry reaction does nothing to dispel the truth and facts.

    In my opinion, Sanders was the lone voice speaking about the truth that our federal government was/is in the control of Wall Street and the Corporate Class that, unfortunately, includes many Democrats of the “political establishment .” Sanders alone represented the Democratic Party of old that supported unions, working people, universal healthcare, etc. His platform was straight out of the New Deal of FDR and Truman. Unfortunately, the present Democratic Party has moved right so much it has more in common with the Republican Party of 1980 than the present GOP does!!! Ironic. And Hillary, in my opinion, represents just how far right many Democrats have enriched themselves by making that move right toward Wall Street. Fact.

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