Beating That Dead Horse

I’m still mulling over that screenshot I referenced a few days ago–the one from the pro-Trump website showing the names and pictures of four people identified as Democratic Senators who were switching to the GOP in protest of the President’s Impeachment.

As you’ll recall, none of them were real Senators–or, probably, real people.

Whoever created that website clearly operated on the assumption that visitors would be  partisans so civically-ignorant that the phony names and stock photos wouldn’t trigger doubts or send them to a fact-checking site.

It was probably a well-founded assumption.

We occupy a fragmented media environment that increasingly caters to confirmation bias.  As I’ve frequently noted, Americans no longer listen to the same three network news shows and read the same daily newspapers; the ensuing intense competition for eyes, ears and clicks has spawned a treacherous information terrain.

A post at The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon, Inc. is enough to curl your hair. (Sorry–couldn’t resist.) It even has graphs showing how Right-wing hoaxes and Trump’s tweeted lies proliferate.

Yesterday I talked about how Trumpists flocked to their latest article of faith that Trump isn’t really impeached because the House hasn’t transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate.  There is no basis in law or fact for that belief, but it’s there anyway, virally spreading throughout Trumpland.

Another profoundly stupid message that has evidently convinced those who want to believe: now that Trump is impeached, he’s automatically eligible to run 2 more times.

With rampant propaganda proliferated over social media facts or truth no longer matter.  Worse, Trump’s Twitter account amplifies these lies.  Every time he tweets one of his insults, childish taunts, threats, or lies,  it goes out to millions or users, retweeted thousands of times.  In the hands of an immoral politician like Trump, social media is weaponized for the dark side.  You can see it, but can also measure it.

The above-referenced graphs of Google trend lines show searches for these “facts.”

When I first practiced law, an older lawyer in my firm told me that there is really only one legal question, and that’s “what should we do?” That maxim applies more broadly; it absolutely applies to the absence of what has come to be called “news literacy.”

Every so often, one of my more naïve students asks why the government can’t just pass a law requiring media outlets to tell the truth. As I try to explain, truth and fact are often honestly contested—and of course, there’s the First Amendment. But we aren’t powerless just because government is prohibited from censoring us.

There’s no reason the private sector cannot develop tools to help citizens determine who they can reasonably rely on—and who they can’t. (The current criticism of Facebook for allowing campaigns to post dishonest political ads is based upon that company’s legal and technical ability to eliminate them.)

What if a nonpartisan, respected nonprofit—say the Society for Professional Journalists—developed an analog to the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” attesting to the legitimacy of a media source? The award of that seal wouldn’t indicate the truth or falsity of any particular article, but would confirm that the organization was one that adhered to the procedures required of ethical, reputable journalists.

It would take substantial funding, of course, to develop and maintain the capacity to monitor the practices and procedures of media outlets claiming to be “news.” And that “seal of approval” wouldn’t mean that any given report wasn’t flawed in some way—genuine reporters are human and make mistakes. But it would allow citizens who actually care about accuracy and evidence-based reporting to be reassured about the journalistic bona fides of sources they encounter.

Those bona fides are important, because in the new information world we all must navigate, each of us is our own “gatekeeper.” The days when editors and reporters decided what constituted verifiable news are long gone.

And that brings me back to the screen shot shared by my friend.

I know I’m beating a dead horse, but propaganda flourishes when only 26% of adults can name the three branches of government, fewer than half of 12th graders can define federalism and only 35% of teenagers know that “We the People” are the first three words of the Constitution. When politicians make claims that are blatantly inconsistent with America’s history and form of government, widespread civic ignorance virtually guarantees the uncritical acceptance of those claims by partisans who desperately want to believe them.

Adequate civic knowledge can’t guarantee that visitors to a website will know fake Senators when they see them–but it’s an essential first step.

29 thoughts on “Beating That Dead Horse

  1. Have those pictured and named as Democratic Senators switching to the GOP to protest Trump’s impeachment or the source actually been identified? Dead or alive or photo shopped; there must be someone or someones who have seen the pictures who recognize them. If the report was true, would they have come forward by now to admit or deny the news. So far, the only Democrat who appears to have actually switched parties is Indiana’s own Van Drew; also reported was the big Whoo Rah about him meeting with Trump and shaking his hand.

    New report of old news this morning on CNN was Trump’s cameo appearance in the movie “Home Alone 2”; reportedly Canada has removed that film clip which lasts approximately 6 SECONDS. That was followed by a film clip of Trump stating, “I was in the movie “Home Alone 2″ and it was a big hit.” Desperate times call for desperate measures; Trump’s TV program, “The Apprentice” wasn’t exactly a hit so now we will be seeing ad nauseum his movie career in an actual hit movie. Talk about a “Beating That Dead Horse”! Will the movie be re-released for campaign publicity and in theaters before the impeachment is put before the Senate?

    “Adequate civic knowledge can’t guarantee that visitors to a website will know fake Senators when they see them–but it’s an essential first step.”

    But questioning minds who want to know would have researched the names; sorry I missed that bit of “news”, I would have been on Google in a heartbeat.

  2. As wonderful as it might be to have a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for news sources, Trump supporters have proven over and over that they will read, believe and share news that is blatantly and absurdly false. They do not want the truth if it contradicts their desire to believe in their leader.

    A legitimate fact-checking service would only be used by those who are already able to discern fact from fiction or who can use the tools currently available to research questionable information.

    When Kelly-Anne Conway decried “fake news” on Meet the Press and encouraged Trumpists to believe the administration’s alternate facts, this country started down a dark path that we may never be able to return from. Pandora’s box has been opened. If politicians can create their own reality then we have little hope that truthful information will have any impact on those who wish to have their biases confirmed with misinformation.

  3. Andy; bringing up Kellyanne Conway’s ridiculous comments brings a question to my mind. What is the real situation in the George and Kellyanne Conway marriage with their diametrically opposing comments regarding Trump; is it all designed for photo ops and/or distractions? Why does Trump not insult George? One might ask what the relationship is between Trump and Kellyanne? She and Press Secretary Grisham appear to do next to nothing in that administration yet they remain in their lofty positions. His male appointees come and go with regularity through the White House revolving door at Trump’s whim; depending on his good or bad mood of the moment.

    Will we ever have answers to these questionable situations or know the identity of the four “Democratic Senators” who move to the GOP in protest?

  4. Wayne; oops, mea culpa and my bad. Maybe because his move made the news here, I assumed he was from here, I do apologize. We have enough problem Republican politicians here without me mistakenly claiming more.

  5. I think it would be appropriate and constitutional to set a legal standard that media outlets must meet in order to call themselves “news”.

    First, a news media may only editorialize 3 minutes in any one hour period.

    Second, news media’s 3 minutes of editorializing, which includes the opinion of guest “experts”, must be identified as the opinion of the news organization and its management, so that management can be held accountable for it.

    Third, no media may use the term BREAKING NEWS or any other teaser of similar ilk, unless they can prove that NO ONE in their listening area has heard the so-called news before.

    Fourth, and most important, no one may present the news as a so-called “anchor” unless they are at least 60 years old, can do so without using the terms “you know” and “I mean”, and has a voice that can be discerned with eyes closed as belonging to an adult instead of a child.

  6. Well, confirmation bias is one thing, abject ignorance and willful adherence to it is the engine that drives most of American readers. Cyber-attacking THIS country with disinformation is probably the easiest thing to do in the world.

    Try getting a novel published, for example. Every agency posts the books they’ve successfully represented. The overwhelming majority of novels published fall into three genre: pulp-fiction romance, horror and science fiction. In short, American readers willfully ignore real-life in their entertainment (Star Wars, et. al.) and in their news.

  7. I know that I’m again beating a dead horse, but I think that the current focus should be upon reaching those people who matter related to Impeachment and the 2020 elections. Getting the vote out for People of Color in: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and perhaps Florida and faintly Ohio or similar as well as the “undecideds” in those states. The latter group have to not be swayed by record high stock market figures. They clearly aren’t convinced by CNN and MSNBC, else they’d be “on our side”. We can’t “counter” Fox – with CNN/MSNBC – those that want to watch Fox will believe their line(s). More and more and more exposures of corruption may sway a few people in those states, but underneath it all – we must reach their hearts – be it their religious faith, their fears of recession, their racism or whatever it is that emotionally sways them. It doesn’t matter if California has a 3 million or 4 million plurality in 2020. Indiana may well go Republican and the main Deep South states definitely will. It isn’t easy, but it’s made harder when we don’t concentrate on the core issues that are important now.

  8. Why do you think Donald Trump declared several times that he loves “the poorly educated”
    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/donald-trump-declares-i-love-the-poorly-educated-as-he-storms-to-victory-in-nevada-caucus-a6893106.html

    If you can keep them dumb, keep them on the edge, worrying about healthcare even though they routinely vote against their best interests (dumb) of course destroy public education, make sure the dumb and most volatile have access to weapons of war, why? Because they are dumb, and, easily duped and manipulated. Because we all know if the clarion call went out, they would blindly charge the windmills pointed out by their leader Don Quixote!

    And Sheila, what about reporting on the news and repeatedly using the term “Like?” I don’t even know what that means, although it does seem like brain flatulence, LOL.

    When he can constantly get up there and rant and rave about “Fake News” it gives a certain artistic license to all of the conspiracy theorists and those who can’t live without a good conspiracy. Those fake senators? Well, they are real senators, and the real senators are fake! See how that works, LOL! The same with the false flag issue with Ukraine and Russia, because, you can’t trust America’s intelligence services or America’s ambassadorial foreign service, you can only trust a presidential tweet. Fake news and the deep state, go figure. And let’s not leave out the religious leader backpacks of which Darrell Scott is one, and Franklin Graham, and the myriads of others who signed the letter supporting POTUS. It’s like a conspiracy goulash, with permission slips handed out like trick-or-treat candy. Supported by the highest level of our government and evangelical leaders, what’s not to love if you’re looking for Deep State United Nations Black Helicopter coming to take your guns and Bible.

    Just look at the uproar that evangelical leaders have manufactured concerning Mayor Pete, tweeted out his holiday well wishes, and mentioned “Christ came into the world poor and as a refugee” (quotations mine). All of the manufactured disdain for mayor Pete’s comment, when they’ve allowed much much worse, shows the level of hypocrisy they display every single day.

    Jesus Christ not in a wealthy family, as a matter of fact, carpenters, as was Joseph and his sons, was extremely hard physical work, sawing beams by hand, drilling holes with simple manual drills, carving wooden lags, was not something that made a lot of money in those days. And, during the beginning, Christ’s half brothers did not have faith in him, that came later on. Joseph did not take his family back to Nazareth but settled in Bethlehem. After the 3 astrologers (wisemen) tracked down Jesus, on orders from King Herod, Joseph fled with his family including Jesus to Egypt! So, Jesus WAS a refugee! Because they were so poor, they had the assets from the astrologers gifts, that were very expensive, to take the family on this arduous journey to a foreign land, Egypt.

    I’m pointing this out because the hypocrisy level, the willful misleading and deceiving of the ignorant is astounding. How they can call themselves pastors, how can they call themselves shepherds of the flock, and the so-called pastor Darrell Scott, well, let’s just say I’d love to debate that imbecile one day. Although maybe I shouldn’t stoop that low.

  9. George – you are right on. But need to add to that millennial and younger voters – they vote even less than minorities. A significant majority of them would likely back any Democrat candidate over The Duck.

  10. “The purpose of the media is to manufacture consent.” ~ Noam Chomsky

    As Sheila pointed out, the “news media” competes with each other for profits. It’s why the news media lobbyists stand up against any legislation proposed to limit campaign spending.

    The news media is part of our capitalist economic system. We allowed news broadcasting stations to be acquired by the entertainment conglomerates. People are fed information while sitting on the couch. If the media companies miss their mark, the viewers will change the station with a click of a button.

    The newspaper industry is a loss leader for the capitalist system by carrying ads for other corporations. To cover the bills, they’ve cut staff to a bare minimum, which has hurt readership. Subscribers disappeared because the content was worthless, which caused further revenue declines.

    This is why Google and Facebook (internet) uses “customized user experiences” — or cookies to track what sites you visit and what you watch. They tailor what you see based on your past experiences on the internet. This reinforces your bias or user experience. If you visit conservative sites, guess what you’ll see more of across the platform of the internet?

    Facebook is a social media company based on the concept of sharing. It is not a news agency, although there are many news agencies on Facebook which you can follow. It’s up to the user which pages they want to follow. The USER customizes their experience.

    Quite frankly, the only way to fix the news industry is to remove it from the capitalist system. As long as it’s business model remains one of making a profit and competing for sources of revenue, it will continue in a state of decline and be used mainly as propaganda for our failing economic system by using the stock markets and GDP to convince Americans that our economy is strong even though our reality says otherwise.

  11. We will never convince 45’s base that he is a corrupt, lying, misogynistic, moron who is leading us on a path to hell. Still, we need to counter them and outnumber them in every populous state in the country and we have to VOTE.

  12. Fake news is not about feeding lies to uneducated people, it is about pure propaganda in the darkest communist era form of the definition.

    I see posts from the left and the right. It is easy to spot the ones that might be making exaggerated one sided claims. It is even easier to do a google search and find usually a dozen sources that say they are false. It might take a few minutes, but it is easy to do the research.

    The difference is that when I post links with multiple sources that say the meme is mistaken, is the reaction I get. One the left, I get “Thanks”, and Sorry, or they update the comments to tell their friends this is false, or even delete it. One the right, I get dismissive comments, or even called names. One of the people is a retired high school teacher, so I know this guy has some education.

    Social media allows things like Breitbart and Fox News to exist, because they just add confirmation to the “Truth” they are pedaling. In addition, any kind of seal of approval would just be dismissed by that 40% that are too willfully ignorant by their own choice to even look beyond their own echo chamber.

    If a seal of approval made a difference to the sponsors paying for advertising, you might see some shifts, but I don’t think it will budge the needle from the viewer side.

  13. Frankly, we need to stop assuming that any of 45’s base can read or make intelligent decisions on their own. And let’s stop talking about the “educated” are more discerning than those who lack higher education. I am one of those who “lacks higher education” and I resent being lumped into that category as being unintelligent. Many of the so-called educated are more likely to be less well-informed than I. This man is a carnival hawker, nothing more, nothing less, and I find it very difficult to understand why so many people I believe to be intelligent don’t see that about him. We need to bring this country back to where it is respected and looked up to again, and not the laughingstock of the world.

  14. At the risk of being a Debbie Downer, when reading the part about a Good Housekeeping type of seal my thoughts immediately switched to there being no way to financially support such an idea. The majority of citizens who would want this and support the idea do not have the financial means to fund it.

    The media sources owned by the oligarchies have more than enough money to shut down something like this before it could even get started. They would create a massive propaganda campaign to convince their followers that any alternate media source that attempts to claim they are publishing the “true facts” is a source that is actually spreading lies and is even more reason to believe only what these oligarch owned media sources say.

  15. 17 U.S. Code § 512. Limitations on liability relating to material online needs to be changed. They should be held responsible for their content. They should also be licensed and subjected to standards of conduct that are reviewed periodically by the FCC.

  16. Susan,

    No one on this blog has ever implied that anyone not having a higher education is an inferior person. It’s about people willing to be ignorant, willful ignorance! People who know better but choose to be stupid. People who want to believe a narrative that is false because that narrative is what they want reality to be with all of their hearts and souls. People can be willfully enlightened, enlightened in a way that goes way beyond education and the simplest sense. If people are informed, it’s because they choose to be informed, willfully informed. Sorry it comes across that way, a person can choose what path they will follow, a path of stupidity and ignorance, or a path of knowledge and enlightenment. Both are available in large supply, it takes desire to hunt down reality. Laziness is part of the problem, folks would rather be spoonfed what they need to believe rather than putting forth an effort to find the truth.

  17. You will be told via the McMega-Media the Right Wing Reactionaries, the Centrists (just Republicans that no longer fit in the Republican Party of today but dress up as Democrats) the class analysis of society is stupid – so that their class may continue to rule over us.

    A search trend on Google is meaningless as a whole. You do not know why a person searched Burisma or Hunter Biden, it could be just reconnaissance for information, given Burisma and Hunter Biden are in the “News”.

    Personally, I think all three cable “News” CNN, MSDNC and FOX networks are bent and biased to their respective consumers. These networks do not deliver news, they deliver infotainment for their customers. Chris Matthews is along with Hannity and Tucker Carlson the three most obnoxious people on TV – constantly interrupting, talking over people and trying desperately to prove their superiority.

  18. gee back when, when the t.v. station came on air,after their tone,and star spangled banner played,then some one would comment,licencing is renewed by public comment,and the quality guarenteed to be overall, or such a line. in otherwords, the station couldnt renew its licence if the content wasnt acceptable,and the public seen fit to block a renewl for broadcasting….this is black and white long ago. but,still we had a base news that didnt sway much,until veitnam.then all hell broke loose to support the war,and shut down our voice..but what we had then,and not now,is a public airwave thru radio. those a,m, stations were the top 40 monolog,whereas,the f.m. radio,protected our speach. many a anti war song was played daily,anti war comments by d.j.s guests,as i lived in los angeles back then,the concerts and protests were mentioned as a community service,at least twice a hour,no charge,try that today. our social media was the local radio.we didnt need to give away our privacy for a buck,and it seems we could shut down a line of crap when it happened. even the d.j.s supported the tide. we all were informed of goverment intrusion,and the crap king geo the second(aka gwbush) would have never gained a ounce of support..corps bought up our freedoms,our voice,our minds..all for a buck,and to spread a right wing agenda,to support the demise of our democracy. if that isnt the case,look at what we have lost,and who shoved it up our…

  19. Perhaps inadvertently, the First Amendment has given us the opportunity to personally decide to be dumb, to ourselves decide what is “truth” and subject our voting habits to whatever we want to believe irrespective of fact, especially scientific fact that has stood the test of replication. Thus, for instance, the idea of a Chinese hoax rather than global warming from the bully pulpit by a sick man is acceptable, since the idea of global warming as reality is fake news generated by elitist socialists who hate the fossil fuel industry and business in general. Big Brother (the sickie in the pulpit) will tell you to disbelieve what you can see and read in favor of what he has decreed.

    Some of my fellow contributors today have suggested some form of commission to define and oversee what is true and what is not. Any such attempt, of course, would confirm in the eyes of the hoax believers that those attempting to bring truth to the fore are themselves Big Brother types, and I think any such attempt would have rough sledding in the Supreme Court given the language of the First Amendment and decided cases in any event.

    It is going to take time and patience to come up with an informed citizenry, if ever, and I think we are stuck with our present state of civic illiteracy and have no choice but to emphasize education of the unenlightened in this sea of ignorance and misinformation.

  20. The reporters must confront their guests and call out their lies. I don’t know how many times I’ve been listening to Jake Tapper or Wolf Blitzer as an example, interview someone who is bluntly lying and I’m here yelling the facts that should be coming out of their mouths. They should be calling them liars to their face and pound on the facts while they are still on.

  21. Facebook shouldn’t erase this stuff and make it unseeable. I think they should allow let it go and with a red frame around it with a label like “Russian Propaganda” or “Fake News from Satirical Site”. I suspect that some people attract stuff like this, and instead of feeling superior and “in” on “news” that others can’t access, they can see, upfront, examples showing that they have been conned.

  22. According to snopes.com, the article about 4 Democratic senators switching parties originated on the satirical website bustatroll.org. While items on this website appear quite real, the following statement is made on the website itself in the “About Us” section:
    “Everything on this website is fiction. It is not a lie and it is not fake news because it is not real. If you believe that it is real, you should have your head examined. Any similarities between this site’s pure fantasy and actual people, places, and events are purely coincidental and all images should be considered altered and satirical.”

  23. Maybe the last time in 2019? Teach critical thinking (alongside civics)….the source “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” Postman and Weingartner

  24. Drudge headlines:
    Michael Moore Predicts: 4 More Years!
    Santa Rally slays records
    Nasdaq tops 9000
    Apple on a high
    Wages rising fastest in decade…

    Hummmmmm…. sounds like 4 more years to me ….. LOTS of middle class Americans with
    401k’s seeing record high returns. Black unemployment at record low. Candace Owens and Kanye out there flipping the liberal narrative. Meanwhile Democrat run California has the worst homeless population and shoveling literal “sh—t “ off their streets..,. do you really think most common sense Americans want the left wingers running America???? They may not all like Trump, but the alternate is WORSE. Better buy pharmaceutical stock cause lots of people are gonna need antidepressants come Nov 4, 2020…. in my humble opinion.
    Happy New Year early- 2020 is going to be a wild ride.

  25. Mr. Chomsky,
    “The purpose of the media is to manufacture consent.” I sure hope you don’t intend to anchor your reputation to that sinking aphorism.

    Encyclopedias are media, Disney movies are media, 8-page bibles are media, video games are media; and Chomsky says their only purpose is to manufacture consent.

    More truthful:
    One of the purposes of the media is to manufacture consent. But even that is short of the truth.

    I prefer:
    For people who have the resources to buy and manage a small segment of the various media–movie, television, radio, print, information, entertainment, propaganda, game, etc.–a portion of those people’s purpose for media may be to try to manufacture consent.

    But they may find their wealth wasted in that particular pursuit of consent, for consent is almost impossible to wrest from Americans…except of course the consent to go ahead and do what you want–the consent from those millions who are too lazy to care, which is consent already given with no need to be bought with investment in expensive media.

    If consent were so easily bought, we would have bought widespread education and a civic-wise population long ago, not to mention world peace.

    Sure:

    For anyone who feels a need and has the ability–paying advertisers, for instance–the media, at least part of the media, is a tool they can use to some degree to manufacture consent to some degree. But that option does not a Chomsky aphorism make.

  26. Its all about power, perceived or real, and who is allowed to have it and who isn’t. 70% of US whites believe that racism doesn’t exist. Failure to address centuries of institutionalized racism is now destroying the world. Example, Russia used racism to manipulate US voters. Lack of Multiculturalism has nothing to do with Finland’s success. It is predominantly white and lacks major issues regarding racism. Its veneration of the group’s opinions wants and needs are the basis for its success.
    What has created these white supremacist issues? One, failure to end institutionalized racism, white privilege and white supremacy. Two, veneration of the individual at the top of these problem countries linear top down cultural power structures where the person at the top makes all the decisions instead of veneration of non-linear group cultural power structures where each person has input and their opinions, wants and needs are valued. As non-whites demand equity and equality, privileged whites and white supremacists continue to be governed by zero sum mentality. They see these justifiable demands for equity and equality as threats to their privilege and power. Without racism, white privilege and white supremacy Trump and others like him would not be today’s leaders.
    A reminder, there is no such thing as race. Race is an artificially created concept used to justify enslaving non-whites. The only race is the human race.

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