Define ‘fake news,’ please…

archbishops

How do you define “fake news?” I ask because people tend to use it to mean opposite things. I think.

Everyone check my memory on this: I seem to recall that the phrase “fake news” emerged last year as a description of Breitbart and other fringe outlets that tended to be consumed by Trump supporters. It was coined by mainstream types. And then at some point, perhaps in the fall, Trump himself started using it to refer to what most people would call simply “news.”

Which is fitting, because it sounds more like what someone like Trump would say. It’s just the sort of odd word choice, lacking in precision, in which he tends to revel.

To what, precisely, does it refer?

If I’d heard it in a vacuum, uttered neither by or about Donald Trump, my first guess would be that it was a reference to the sort of thing The Onion does so well — “news” that is indeed fake, and meant to be understood as such. Of course, it has to have a passing resemblance to actual news in order to be funny. One of my favorite Onion tropes is the “area man” reference in headlines (such as, “Area Man Accepts Burden Of Being Only Person On Earth Who Understands How World Actually Works“), gently poking at the lack of imagination of America’s more provincial copy editors.

But that’s not what Trump means when he says it.

It could mean all sorts of things.

It could be something that is true, but isn’t really (in the opinion of the speaker) news, and I think maybe Trump means it that way sometimes — news media reporting on “the Russia thing” instead of real news, which would be about how awesome Trump is.

Or it might be something that isn’t true. Of course, we generally don’t see evidence that supports such an assertion, do we?

It could mean opinion instead of news. I get the impression sometimes that people who call the various 24/7 cable news channels “fake news” are reacting to the fact that so much of what is said is opinion. Well, it has to be. There just isn’t all that much to say about news without getting into opinion, and these channels are trying to fill the 24 hours. That should be understood, but in fact is more often simply resented. (My advice to those who don’t like it: Read your news; don’t watch it. That’s what I do.)

Sometimes it seems to mean news that isn’t held to a high-enough standard — as when Trump decries the use of anonymous sources, an objection he shares with many journalists. In this case, he’s using it to mean “sloppy,” except when he goes overboard and claims the sources simply don’t exist. Then he means to say “lies.”

Anyway, how do you take it when you hear it — or, perish the thought, when you use it yourself?

Borowitz

76 thoughts on “Define ‘fake news,’ please…

  1. Doug Ross

    I go as far as calling anything that slants a news story one way without providing all the details. For example, many left leaning media outlets and blogs have been blasting out dire warnings about Trump’s budget or Trumpcare that leave out the details. For example, the CBO scoring that everyone now is in love with was based on projections that go out 10 years — that alone makes them worthless because nothing occurs in a vacuum where nothing else changes over that time. Plus the media didn’t mention that the scoring was actually based on assumptions that basically took averages of averages of worst case scenarios combined with political opinion — i.e. all red states would do X and not do anything else. As soon as you dig into the details, you see that the “news” is nothing but opinion wrapped in an agenda.

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    1. Doug Ross

      I’ve actually seen some news outlets report what would be a balanced view of Trump’s overseas visit. Some pluses, some minuses. But too many supposed news outlets were more interested in showing Trump push his way to the front of the stage or Melania slapping his hand away. That’s news? And all the Trump haters get spun up talking about that B.S. It’s embarrassing.

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          1. Doug Ross

            And the problem with Germany and other countries being responsible for themselves is what? That they shouldn’t rely on the U.S. going into massive debt to help them?

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            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Doug, there’s nothing I can say to you that will persuade you of the stakes involved.

              I will share, for those who are interested, this piece from David Ignatius that gives a hint what it was like for Zbigniew Brzezinski to spend his last days watching Trump and the other occupants of the clown car dismantle the liberal international order that Brzezinski and other bright, talented people had so carefully built ever since 1945…

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        1. bud

          Sorry Doug but Brad is correct on this. The shoving incident was a big embarrassment for our country and needed to be covered. Plus he showed his age by canceling events and riding a golf cart while everyone else walked. Remember the nonstop coverage of Hillary’s fainting spell? That was a factor in the election. Trump is neither mentally nor physically fit to do the job. The press was just doing its job by reporting these incidents.

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          1. Doug Ross

            Except the guy who got pushed aside said he didn’t think it was a big deal. But you keep focusing on these important issues. It’s no different than when right wingers made a big deal about Obama bowing down to someone. That’s really front page news that needs to be reported immediately and repeated ad nauseum.

            I can just picture you guys sitting there getting all wound up and saying “Oooooh, look, look!!! Look what Trump did!”

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            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              That’s not what I got out of it.

              What I took from it was that he was inexcusably lazy. All the other world leaders walked to the meeting. He waited for a golf cart, so he was late…

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        2. Claus2

          Well… I didn’t even realize Montenegro was a country. Trump probably thought the guy was there to serve drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Where should the President of the United States stand… on the back row to the far right?

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  2. bud

    I would include in the “fake news” category sites like Fitsnews and The Nerve. These agenda based screeds have a preconceived worldview, i.e. government is inefficient, taxes are too high, capitalism is awesome, then spin a few selective “facts” into the narrative to “prove” what they want to show. These agenda based “news” sites should be taken with a very large grain of salt.

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      1. bud

        Interesting indeed. Sometimes when you actually know the whole truth you see things for what they really are.

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          1. bud

            Let’s just say if Politico had rated Fitsnews story about me it would have received a half truth. I’ll just leave it at that.

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    1. Kevin Dietrich

      Bud,

      I wrote for The Nerve for a couple of years. I also was a business writer for The State many years ago. At The Nerve my goal was to look for government waste and inefficiency and write about it.

      Waste and inefficiency is not a partisan issue. I did not care who was behind the waste, nor did I pick and choose what stories I would write depending on the party of the individual or individuals involved.

      I know the two other writers I worked with – who I would almost guarantee were further left on the political spectrum than myself – approached their job in the same manner.

      We didn’t spin a few selective “facts” to prove our view for the simple reason that it would have been easy to shoot holes in our stories. All government has, to some degree, inefficiency after it gets to a certain size. The problem is when those within the system knowingly take advantage of the inefficiency to line their pockets, help family and friends and/or get re-elected. I haven’t worked for The Nerve for several years, but I can tell you my goal was to highlight the latter. Nothing more, nothing less.

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      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Bud, I think Kevin describes the Nerve pretty accurately, as I would expect him to — he’s a pro.

        My objection to the Nerve is its solitary focus, as the place “where government gets exposed.” On its face, that doesn’t distinguish it from other news media — except for this: The job of the press is to write about ALL aspects of common life in our communities, states, and nation. Government is an enormous part of that, and the reason we have a First Amendment is so that the press can report and comment on it, and on political issues, freely.

        But the Nerve only looks at government one way: as an inherently bad thing that needs to be “exposed” for the awful thing it is. The proper role of the press is to cover all of government — good, bad and indifferent, which includes exposés of bad stuff along with all the rest. In the normal course of events, media will concentrate more on the bad than the good, because that’s what you most need to know about, so we can do something about it.

        But something has gone wrong when a media outlets sees “exposing government” as its sole aim. Among other things, it means there is a specific political point — related to the various streams of anti-government feeling that have been infesting our politics in recent years, from Ayn Rand through the Reagan era (“government is the problem”) through the Club for Growth, the Tea Party, Trumpism, etc.

        I seldom have a beef with any of the specific reporting the Nerve does. In fact, I’d go farther than Kevin. He says “The problem is when those within the system knowingly take advantage of the inefficiency to line their pockets, help family and friends and/or get re-elected.” No, I’d say the problem comes before that — the inefficiency itself should be “exposed” and addressed, whether there’s a venal individual involved or not.

        What I have a problem with is the attitude, the political bias, behind that fact that the Nerve exists to do nothing else, which on the whole makes it a negative force in a society that already suffers from too much loss of faith in the idea of a free people governing themselves in a republic.

        That’s my problem with it. That, and the fact that its parent organization, the Policy Council, refuses to disclose where it gets its money. With a newspaper, you know — you see the ads. With the Nerve, you don’t know who’s pushing this negative worldview…

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        1. Kevin Dietrich

          Thank you for the kind words, Brad. I do know that at the time The Nerve was started – and certainly since then – coverage of State House affairs had decreased due to cutbacks at newspapers (radio and television has never been able to hold a candle to newspapers in terms of in-depth coverage over the long haul, in my opinion). The Nerve sought to fill that void. In some ways, I suppose, it was more like a magazine, focusing on a niche. And, as well all know, “bad” news sells a lot more easily than good news, which is why the problematic aspects of government got the large share of attention at The Nerve.

          Speaking only for myself, I have never believed that all government was bad or unnecessary. I understand, though, that government, as creation of man, has flaws and those flaws needed to be written about. You and I almost certainly differ on government’s role in society, but we’re in agreement that the press should seek to discover and highlight that which prevents government from being as efficient as possible.

          As to funding, that was above my pay grade.

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          1. Doug Ross

            ” The proper role of the press is to cover all of government”

            And that is what you get with the combined efforts of the press. That one small entity chooses to focus on one area is not a problem. Ideally, the amount of news that The Nerve could produce regarding the inefficiency of government should diminish the more that they focus on it — unfortunately, with the way the government is structured and executed, there is a never ending supply of waste, inefficiency, and corruption.

            I am grateful for outlets like The Nerve and Ron Aiken’s Quorom – that shine the light on government in a way that other media outlets choose not to (and it IS a choice). The extensive reporting Aiken did last week with his piece on “How Norman Jackson Violated State Law To Interfere With Staff In Protecting And Defending Female Protege That Ultimately Cost County $175K” was fantastic news reporting — with a depth of research and a timeline of events that I have never seen in The State. It’s being reprinted over three weeks in the Blythewood weekly paper and should be required reading for everyone in Richland County. I pay for access to Quorom without any hesitation because Aiken is doing what the rest of the local media are unwilling or unable to do.

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            1. Doug Ross

              Brad – you COULD set up an alternate blog that allows for stories about the good things government does. I could even give you an example – the National Park Service is excellent based on my experience. I’d love to see the federal government shift a couple billion defense dollars into their coffers. At Zion National Park last week, one staffer mentioned that visitors had increased from 2.8 million to 4.3 million over the past few years and that their staffing had not been increased. Yet every employee we came in contact with was doing their job with skill and great attitude. That’s all I ask for from public employees. Do Your Job.

              Locally, the Richland County Library system has always been a top notch organization. It can be done. But it takes rooting out the dead weight and those who are motivated by their own personal interests.

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              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Yikes! “set up an alternate blog that allows for stories about the good things government does?”

                But if I did THAT, all the fellas would give me the business and call me a Pollyanna! I wouldn’t be one of the cool kids any more!

                I certainly appreciate the encouragement, but for now, I think I’ll just say encouraging things as warranted as they occur to me here.

                I think you’re right about both the Park Service and Richland Library (disclosure: ADCO did their rebrand awhile back) — although I wouldn’t take the funding from Defense, which I think also does a pretty terrific and difficult job, as I suppose I should have mentioned on Memorial Day (sorry, troops, I was traveling that day).

                Speaking of traveling, I was also impressed by the job the Georgia parks people do. You’d think the Little White House would be a federal thing, but the state handles it.

                I was also pleased to drive on Georgia’s nice roads. As soon as we crossed the line back into SC, my wife asked me, “The gas tax passed, right? WHEN does it go into effect?”

                By the way, I was also impressed by the private sector in Georgia. There’s some pretty country and nice farms on the back roads to Warm Springs. We stopped on the way back Monday at a country store in Shady Dale and spent quite awhile chatting with Mr. Champion, who moved to that area back in the early 60s. He and his wife (whom he married in 1949) only had $3 when they started out, he said. But he had built this store, and his lumber business (which is the largest part of the general store’s business) and the sawmill out back — he cuts all the lumber he sells. He had another business, connected to the sawmill, that he sold awhile back, so he’s doing all right.

                Sadly, his wife died a few weeks ago, and it was pretty sudden, so he’s still dealing with that. Also, it’s hard to get suppliers to provide him with groceries and such (being way out in the country), so the store part of the operation (minus the lumber) had been shut down for awhile and he’s just getting that started back, so he apologized for the lack of stock. But he had a good bit of hardware on hand.

                Before we left, I bought a C clamp from him — I had needed one and didn’t have it Saturday, so next time I’ll be set — and my wife got an ice cream sandwich. We just wanted to do some business with him…

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  3. Bryan Caskey

    I know it’s not correct to give an example when asked for a definition. However, like Euthyphro attempting to define piety to Socrates by giving a list of actions that are pious, I’ll submit this an example of fake news from the last week:

    BBC News Diplomatic Correspondence James Landale put out a Tweet in which he says “A short clip that sums up this G7 summit: look who has chosen not to hear a translation of his Italian host’s speech” and then puts up this video:


    As you can see, this reporter’s tweet has over 20,000 retweets ([people passing it around) and about the same number of “likes” which is a way to bookmark a tweet to save for easy recall later. I think it’s fair to say this was a pretty big moment for Mr. Landale and the BBC as far as getting some “news” out there.

    The problem?

    It wasn’t true. After the White House informed Mr. Landale that Trump wears an earpiece in his right ear for translations (as opposed to a full headset), Mr. Landale put that information out there.

    The only thing is that Mr. Landale’s retraction/correction didn’t get quite the same play that the salacious first video did.


    A mere 192 re-tweets.

    So the false story gets lots of play, is widely disseminated, and everyone gets to snark on Trump. The retraction? Well…that’s not as much fun as snarking on Trump, so it is essentially a one-way false story.

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    1. bud

      Not sure we should believe Trumps explanation yet. He lies constantly about everything so it is plausible he’s lying about this too. He has so completely lost his credibility I would suggest saying “it’s not true” is accepting something as an article of faith that is not warranted. For now I’ll withhold a final judgement.

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      1. bud

        Note the “proof” is a seperate incident. The other leaders are all using headphones, not earpieces. There is no visible wire so we hav no evidence of an earpiece. Given the extraordinary level of mendacity by this administration I suggest NEVER a accept what they say at face value. NEVER.

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        1. Bryan Caskey

          “Note the “proof” is a seperate incident. The other leaders are all using headphones, not earpieces. There is no visible wire so we hav no evidence of an earpiece. Given the extraordinary level of mendacity by this administration I suggest NEVER a accept what they say at face value. NEVER.”

          Okay, here’s a photo from the alternate angle of the same event:


          (Screenshot from Italy’s Sky TG24 TV station)

          If that doesn’t convince you, then I would imagine that you will never be convinced.

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          1. bud

            Ok. But you see how Trumps credibility is so non existent he will be dogged throughout his term with skeptics over things big and small. The fact that people so easily accepted this story just shows what a tough sell he’ll have whenever he claims anything.

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            1. Bryan Caskey

              I hear that. Since I don’t have any personal vote for or against Trump to try and validate, I really feel freed to see each event objectively. I think it’s human nature to try and validate your vote for or against a politician by trying to have subsequent events bear you out. It’s an ego thing for us humans – we want to have been right.

              I always get a kick out of people coming up to me and talking about Trump either good or bad. In my mind, it’s like this:

              There you have it. A Platonic dialogue reference and a movie reference in the same day. I’ll show myself out.

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          2. Guy

            I hate to debunk your point with facts, but:

            1. Trump’s ties don’t match
            2. Chairs don’t match
            3. Beverages don’t match

            Flag order does match, but that is it. You were fed misinformation, Bryan.

            Details matter. Sorry.

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      2. Claus2

        So now we’re arguing about Trump wearing an ear piece instead of a headset… and you wonder why other countries look at us and laugh.

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    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      “like Euthyphro attempting to define piety to Socrates”

      Sorry, today’s post for classical references is over here

      And now, in the name of precision…

      By “the false story,” you mean “the mistake,” right? The error…

      The sort of mistake that is inevitable in an environment in which everyone is expected to report everything immediately, if not sooner, right? We didn’t have these sorts of things — or at least, not as many of them — when there were two news cycles in the day. Landale would have learned of his error long, long before publishing it.

      It’s ironic that people who hate the media revel in the fact that social media allow them to bypass them. But it also undermines the credibility of what people perceive. When you get your news from amateurs, much of your news is indeed “fake.” But it also undermines the quality of the work done by professionals.

      Landale did what you’re supposed to do — immediately corrected his error. But it’s much harder today to do that effectively.

      Reminds me of something Reid Ashe, who was my executive editor at my first job after college, used to say. Someone would demand a “retraction” of a error, and he would say, “We can give you a correction, but a retraction is impossible. The presses don’t run in reverse.” You couldn’t suck all those papers on people’s porches back into the pressroom…

      Of course now, you can delete a tweet. But once it’s gone viral, that’s that…

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      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        On the whole, however, as a news consumer I’ll take Twitter rather than pine for a day when journalists had more time to get things right.

        But I admit there’s a problem: Not everyone accepts without prejudice the fact that the tradeoff is that more mistakes will be made. I accept that in return for the immediacy, which I like. Others see an error and make a moral judgment.

        Don’t get me wrong — errors are inexcusable. Journalists need to hone their senses to a finer edge to avoid errors even when writing stream-of-consciousness.

        But while I don’t excuse them, I know they will occur in this environment….

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      2. Doug Ross

        Seriously, Brad – this wasn’t a case of getting the news out first it was a case of wanting to hammer Trump. The tone of the first tweet was “ha, ha, look at this dope” and the supposed “retraction” didn’t even mention that he was wrong. This was a case of sloppy plus biased plus lazy plus unrepentant. Do you think that will stop him from doing it in the future?

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        1. bud

          No, he just pointed out that a Trump spokesman CLAIMED Trump use an earpiece. Since Trump offered no proof his second tweet is appropriate. You see Doug once you destroy your credibility it’s virtually impossible to get it back. I say to all you Trump defenders out ther understsant this is his own doing.

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          1. Doug Ross

            Once you go off the deep end and claim everything is a lie, you lose all your sanity.

            Yeah, I’m going to believe your theory that he had a disconnected earpiece with a fake translator behind him.

            You make the birthers look sane in comparison.

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            1. bud

              Not sure if bringing up the birther meme bolsters his claim of believability. Remember this is an administration that claimed his inauguration had the largest crowd ever. Trump claimed he personally saw hudreds of Muslims celebrating the fall of the twin towers. They also made contradictory explainations about his firing of Comey. Heck he even lied about the location of an aircraft carrier. So yes the press is skeptical of everything. As well they should. Frankly it is foolish to believe ANYTHING they claim. As George W once said, “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, I won’t get fooled again”

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              1. Doug Ross

                And Benghazi was about a video. And there were no classified emails on the private email server. And Hillary only had one cellphone. And Bill never inhaled. And Bill never had sex with that woman.

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                1. Doug Ross

                  I have the reality that Trump was listening through an earpiece to a translator. You have an alternate view of reality.

                2. bud

                  Doug I’ve maintained an agnostic attitude about the veracity of this earpiece nonsense. But I will not ever accept Trump or his spokesmen at their word. All politicians stretch the truth but Trump is way beyond anyone I’ve ever seen for mendacity, even George W. And given he lied us into war that is saying something.

      3. Bryan Caskey

        “Sorry, today’s post for classical references is over here…”

        I know, right? That’s sort of scary. I got back from lunch and saw the Thucydides post, and thought: Son of a…

        :)

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      4. Bryan Caskey

        I imagine it was not an intentional effort to mislead by Landale. However, he got the video up and then ran with it. I would be interested to know if he tried to corroborate the piece before he put up his tweet, or if he just put it out there without having anyone else at the BBC “grade his paper” so to speak.

        Accordingly, he’s created a situation where the first story (the incorrect one) gets widely published and spread all over everywhere but the correction gets made later with little fanfare. I didn’t close the loop on the result in my original post, but to do so – there have to be now lots and lots of people who saw the first, inaccurate story and don’t know that it’s incorrect.

        So in a certain way of looking at things, the correction doesn’t really matter. No one really sees it. Sure it’s out there, but it’s not effective as the first. And as you mention, he leaves the original tweet up there to continue going viral and being disseminated higgledy-piggledy.

        If I were the subject of an incorrect tweet gone viral and a subsequent correction that languishes in obscurity, I would feel that I had a bit of a gripe to make. In any event, numerous other examples of this paradigm can be found which is:

        1. BREATHLESS reporting on some (scandal, faux pas, event);
        2. Reporting is repeated and picked up by lots of other news outlets in wide coverage;
        3. Subsequent retraction/correction issued by original reporting entity
        4. Retraction/correction doesn’t really get much coverage because we’re all back to #1 again on a different thing.
        5. Everyone only ever really remembers the original story.

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        1. Doug Ross

          I spent the past ten days hiking in the national parks of Utah and only turned on the TV once to watch the end of an NHL Stanley Cup game. Apparently what I missed in ten days of the continuing decline of the Trump administration was a photo op where he pushed aside a guy to get into his assigned position and a rejected hand hold by Melania. Oh, yeah, and a photo of the Pope caught frowning while standing next to Trump. That was important news as well.

          Deep stuff. The end is near.

          Over the same ten days, I almost finished the Hamilton biography and continue to learn just how messed up things were in the early days of the U.S. John Adams was a terrible president – he spent MONTHS away from the capital, retreating to his Boston home for as long as seven straight months because he was such a paranoid, thin skinned, ineffective leader. Meanwhile, Hamilton, Burr, Madison, and Jefferson were all plotting and acting out in ways to further their own political careers. And then there were laws enacted like the Alien and Sedition Acts which prohibited public opposition to the government and attempted to severely restrict immigrants. Sound familiar? Then we had the silly notion of pompous asses dueling over silly statements that cause “offense”. They all come off as priggish fools.

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          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            It is SO like Doug to read an excellent book about some of the greatest Americans who ever lived, and come away with the impression that they were nothing but a bunch of petty, self-absorbed jerks… :)

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            1. Doug Ross

              They weren’t any greater than anyone today. They were flawed human beings with some good ideas and some bad ideas. Hamilton was wrong as often as he was right and had a temper that makes Trump look like Jimmy Carter. Hamilton shot himself in the foot multiple times by publishing book length rants on a variety of topics including attacks on anyone whom he felt had slighted him. He was a combination of Bill Clinton’s libido and wonkishness with George Bush’s war mongering. Sorry, but he doesn’t come across as anything more than a martinet/bureaucrat.

              It’s not like these guys magically created some perfect country. 7 of the first 9 Presidents owned slaves. That’s a hard thing to overlook when it comes to character. The Alien and Sedition Acts were worse than anything Trump could think up. The Federalists and Republicans hated each other as much as Democrats and Republicans do now… except we don’t have politicians staging duels to defend their “honour” these days.

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            2. Doug Ross

              Did or did not Hamilton think that Adams was a horrendous person? And did or did not Adams think the same of Hamilton? Could it be that both were right?

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              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I think they both judged each other by their worst traits.

                I judge them by what they accomplished launching this nation. Maybe if I were one of them, with their accomplishments under my belt, I’d be more inclined to be critical of the other one.

                Too often, it’s hard to see the greatness in the person you know well. Especially if he’s as big a pain as both of these guys could be, and you’re the one who has to deal with him day-to-day…

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        2. bud

          Bryan just explain this, why do you accept, without skepticism, the admistrations explaination? It may be true. But clearly they’ve offered no proof. Damn, this man lies so much a healthy dose of skepticism about every, single thing they claim just seems prudent.

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            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Right. Which the guy who was there, and wasn’t watching it via camera, couldn’t see.

              Woody Allen is often quoted as saying, “80 percent of life is showing up.”

              Yeah, but sometimes being there is overrated.

              Possibly the biggest mistake I’ve seen the media make with Trump was at an event during the campaign when the reporter who told the story was — because of being confined to the press area — unable to see what most others in the crowd of Trump supporters could see.

              The Washington Post later set the record straight in a story headlined: “Trump is right: He didn’t kick a baby out of a campaign rally.” That was based on the account of a reporter who was closer to the mom and baby because he was NOT in the press area.

              That is, they sort of set it straight. What happened is sufficiently confusing, confused even more by Trump’s weird sense of humor, that the story sort of reads like “Rashomon”…

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      5. Brad Warthen Post author

        Further evidence of the errors we make in social media: I initially wrote, “It’s ironic that people who hate the media revel in the fact that social media allow them to bypass it.”

        Obviously, I shouldn’t call the media “it,” since they are more than one…

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  4. Scout

    Actually that’s not what I remember about the origin of the term fake news. I thought it became prominent shortly after the election and was used to describe actual intentionally false rather sensational stories made to look real and planted on sites whose readership would be sure to react and share the link, the author’s purpose being completely monetary to drive clicks for advertising payoffs. More stories of this sort were planted on conservative sites playing to their hatred of liberals than the reverse because, according to the perpetrators, they quickly found that fake stories planted on liberal sites got no traction and died out quickly because liberals did their own fact checking and realized they were fake and didn’t share, whereas on conservative sites, they spread rapidly.

    That right there is a sad commentary, in my opinion.

    I also remember reading about another incident similar to the twitter story where the wrong tweet went viral and the retraction got nothing. It was a story that the Clinton campaign, I think, was bussing in fake protesters for something somewhere in Texas. Some guy saw tour buses, drew his own wrong conclusions, and tweeted. The protesters were real. The buses were from something else going on.

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    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Scout, I remember “fake news” being a thing before the election. For instance, here’s a story from August using it in the headline.

      But you remind me of the aspect that I neglected to mention — the placing of fake news by foreign actors (such as the Russians I suppose) in connection with their disinformation campaign against our election.

      That was the MAIN manifestation of the concept before the election, and the most consequential…

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      1. Doug Ross

        “But you remind me of the aspect that I neglected to mention — the placing of fake news by foreign actors (such as the Russians I suppose) in connection with their disinformation campaign against our election”

        What percent of voters actually saw these fake news items? Now take that number and estimate how many of those who saw the fake news items changed their vote to Trump. It’s a trivial number.

        Now let’s compare that to the REAL news that actually impacted the election: Hillary passing out, Hillary stating she would shut down the coal industry, Hillary lying or obfuscating about the email server for more than a year, Hillary not campaigning hard in the battleground states, Hillary’s inability to connect with people on a personal level, Hillary not getting the same level of black voters as Obama, Hillary being a candidate following a two term President of the same party, Hillary talking more about Trump than about her own plans… Hillary lost due to real news, not fake news.

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          No, she was in a POSITION to lose because of “real news” as you put it. Of all those things you list, only two matter: “Hillary’s inability to connect with people on a personal level” — a lifelong handicap — and the fact that she had been a favorite punching bag on the right for a quarter-century. Another way to put it: People who leaned Republican were willing to vote for the devil himself (or the biggest idiot ever to capture a major-party nomination) rather than Hillary Clinton, and she lacked the political skills to overcome that. By which I mean, she had NO ability to change Republican minds, even the minds of those desperate to stop Trump, and she lacked the political skills to persuade enough independents or inspire a big Democratic turnout.

          But what all that meant was that it would be close, from the start.

          It is impossible to say to what extent the interference by the Russians had on that very close election. A percentage point? Five percentage points? It can’t possibly be quantified — and you can’t possibly convincingly say that it had NO impact.

          In an election this close, with so much at stake, any interference by the Russians trying to tip the balance — to whatever extent they were or were not successful — is an extraordinarily hostile act, one that can’t in good conscience be dismissed.

          I say all this just because you bring up the indefensible argument that it didn’t matter. (I don’t care if it was an Indonesian butterfly flapping its wings; this thing was so close that anything could make the difference.)

          I wasn’t trying to say ANYTHING about what effect it had in bringing it up just now. My purpose in mentioning the foreign interference in this post was purely etymological. I was just trying to reconstruct the development of the phrase. And back in August, September, along in there, it was to a great extent used to refer to foreigners trying to place disinformation and get it to go viral…

          Reply
          1. Doug Ross

            Do you think the American government has ever influenced foreign elections? Is that acceptable?

            I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument that Putin cares who is in the White House. Or if he did, why he would use such lame efforts to try and make it happen. Half of the supposed Russian connection relied on John Podesta being dumb enough to click on an email link to reveal his password. THAT’S what they were hanging their plan on? Let’s be serious.

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I’m being as serious as it gets.

              The aim isn’t anything so short-term as electing this person or that person. Frankly, if the aim were purely to elect Trump, Putin might not have wanted to waste the effort on something intelligent observers saw as impossible.

              The aim, and it succeeded wonderfully, was to undermine confidence in our political system, to decrease trust in democracy. It definitely did that…

              Reply
              1. Doug Ross

                “The aim, and it succeeded wonderfully, was to undermine confidence in our political system, to decrease trust in democracy. It definitely did that…”

                That would presume confidence existed beforehand. It didn’t. All of the voters think half of the country is nuts. Congress had an approval rating somewhere between Jeffrey Dahmer and Used Car Salesmen.

                We do what we can to mess with Russia, they do the same. We spend far too much time worrying about what Russia could do to us while we shoot ourselves in the foot. Unfortunately there are too many people who were indoctrinated into the paranoia of the Cold War who can’t think of any other way to deal with Russia than treat them as an enemy.

                Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  You should have waited until the comment, below, that I was typing as you typed that.

                  No, what I said did NOT “presume confidence existed beforehand.”

                  Putin’s hackers were wading into a demoralized place, seeking to, as I said below, encourage and accelerate Western decline.

                  We were teetering on the edge; the Russians were trying to give us that last kick…

                2. Claus2

                  “Putin’s hackers were wading into a demoralized place, seeking to, as I said below, encourage and accelerate Western decline.”

                  Have you alerted the NSA with this information?

                1. Doug Ross

                  They aren’t doing anything we aren’t doing to them. It’s a big game. If we actually tried to work together then what would all the defense contractors do?

      2. scout

        I guess that story above is when it registered as a term for me, though it certainly likely was bandied about before that. Being negligent and sloppy and unintentionally biased are all very human and understandable, though still sad, but the intentional flat out lying for ulterior motives was pretty galling.

        Reply
  5. Pause

    Here’s a stab at a definition of ”fake news“ based on the discussion above:

    any news source that has a track record of refusing to retract or correct mistaken or distorted reporting and instead often continues to pursue it or moves on to similarly dubious stories.

    Reply

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