I caught part of NPR’s All Things Considered on Friday, and there was a minute or two of commentary saying something to the effect of how they had covered some stories, but it was so hard to choose what to cover, it was such a busy news week. That, I find easy enough to understand. There is so much happening, and within any event or subject, things can be so complex, confused, and cluttered by noise and deception and manipulation, that it can be overwhelming.
That, however, does not mean that a news organization cannot at least do a reasonable job of trying.
This bit at the end of the show, incidentally, was on Friday the 13th, in the last afternoon, Eastern time, before the President of the United States announced that he had ordered a military attack on another country.
If you pay any attention to the news, you know that part of the terribly busy news week that makes it so hard for NPR to cover so many things was the circus of a congressional hearing starring Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. The one thing about this worth noting briefly is the aspect of that wherein government officials sat there in an official hearing criticizing and chastising Zuckerberg for Facebook invading people’s privacy. If that one does not make your irony meter just explode into an atomized mist, I don’t know what will. Seriously, I have to keep running that through my head again, trying to really absorb this… yes, that really happened. So far, in all of the news about that circus, I have not come across anything acknowledging that irony.
Hearing that comment on All Things Considered prompted me to think about the state of American news. The problem is not limited to how much is limited, completely left out, what does make it in, at least as a subject, is likely to be a bad joke.
Many people fully realize that, and the number of them is growing. To be clear about this, I am not making some great statements suggesting there is some sort of “movement” as people like to use that word nowadays. People are just simply taking in what gets pushed out as news and increasingly regard it with a sort of terse critique summarized as “what a load of bullshit!”. There is a word that might be distasteful to some as language to use in a serious discussion about journalism, or lack of same, but, sometimes, blunt and vulgar just fits.
There is, obviously, endless flurries of noise about “fake news” and “legit news”, and one interesting item I just encountered, which might be an item for later, talked about “trusted news sources”.
Let’s hold up a second.
On the face of it, this sounds obvious. The word rhetorical comes to mind. Well, of course! Rely on trusted news sources! How can you argue with that? The trouble, here, is what, exactly, is a trusted news source then?
This is a very serious question, and some people are avoiding facing it. The basic core of the matter there is that the problem with the idea of “trusted news source” is that the practical reality of this is that people use this idea as an easy anchor, with the “trusted news source” idea essentially meaning “a source of news that I can simply take at face value without question and believe everything it says without any further thought or scrutiny”.
One item I should mention is that, on Facebook, I “shared” a link to this article linked right here. I looked at Facebook later, and was surprised and more than a little annoyed to find that my post had been wiped by Facebook, marked as “spam”? Spam? In what way could this be regarded as “spam”. Looking into it further, I eventually found that any link on Facebook, anywhere, to the domain of “veteranstoday.com” was blocked with a page loaded on the Facebook site, instead, with a message saying that the page had been blocked, as a “malicious” site, you know, for your safety.
Along those lines, there is a whole subject in questions about what is happening on YouTube with issues of some videos and channels being squelched by YouTube (with “demonetization” and other issues) for suspicious and/or mysterious reasons.
Let’s push on. Following the launch of a missile attack on Syria on Friday the 13th, an article has appeared via Newsweek (real news! right?).
That article is a whole trove to explore, but a key item here is that the article is about statements from Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The very same Newsweek, roughly two months ago, featured another article, about the very same Secretary of Defense, saying that there was no evidence of Bashir al-Assad of Syria attacking anyone with chemical weapons.
Coming back to the new one, it is amazing. Let’s have a look.
Since the U.S. and its allies attacked Syria Friday in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks on its own people, there has been a significant surge in Russian trolls promoting fake news, the Pentagon announced Saturday.
“As Secretary Mattis said last night, the Russian disinformation campaign has already begun,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a press conference. “There has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours. Therefore, we will keep you all abreast of the facts moving forward.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Friday announced the press briefing would be held Saturday for the specific reason of dispelling false information about the strike coming from Russia, which is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Yes, a 2000% increase in Russian trolls! What does that mean? Seriously, how do they measure “Russian trolls”, anyway, which also begs the question, more fundamentally, of what, exactly, defines a “Russian troll promoting fake news”?
There are a couple of online stories below in the problematic links section. One is from NBC News, a feature of an interview claiming to be a Russian troll working for some organization he is sure is Putin/Kremlin controlled. The other one with it, below, is a classic right off the bat in its title, presenting it as “why Clinton lost”. What Russia did to control the American mind, and put Trump in the White House!
God, it just never ends. That stuff sells to people who still cannot grasp the idea that Hillary Clinton lost the election because she was a horrible choice, and, on top of that, that her campaign was a farce, which I presume is mainly due to her believing, you know, It’s Her Turn, to sum up quite a lot in succinct form.
Moving back to the “Russian trolls” narrative, with all the craziness in the world and squabbles for control and games of governments, I think it is pretty naïve to think there are not all kinds of games played by spy agencies and other agencies, including the Russian government, and including the US government. One thing I have noticed is that every time I have seen something about, more often than not, some Facebook page reported as “Russian trolls pretending to be American posting divisive messages to undermine our democracy and spread Fake News”, or whatever it is, I always look at these and think “who the hell are these guys? I’ve never heard of this one”.
According to the NBC story-
For months, Vitaly Bespalov, 26, was one of hundreds of workers pumping out misinformation online at the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll factory responsible for explosive content seen by 126 million Americans in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election.
Seen by how many? Checking population information, 126 million Americans is half the adult population of the country! So what’s all this Russian trollery?
People are just bombarded by this nonsense, and I’m not talking about “Russian trolls”. The real problem should be obvious by now, that we are bombarded, every day, incessantly, relentlessly, by propaganda (and “divisive messages”, while we’re at this) from inside our own country, and anything that conflicts with that can now, as things have been recently, simply be called “Russian propaganda”.
I keep trying to think of when we had such a severe epidemic of mass insanity in the United States, and I keep coming back to the infamous “Red Scare” epidemic and Joseph McCarthy, before I was born.
But let’s get back to the Newsweek article following the missile attacks on Syria.
White said the U.S. does not seek conflict with Syria but “cannot allow such grievous violations of international law” and attacks on innocent Syrians.
“We will not stand by passively while Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, ignores international law,” White said. “We call upon Russia to honor its commitment to ensure the Assad regime dismantles its chemical weapons program and never uses chemical weapons again.”
I am not expert on international law, but I do recall some history about the Nuremburg trials in Germany following the end of World War II, and if I recall correctly, one part of that was a fundamental declaration that a nation that attacked another nation, not defending itself from attack, was guilty of a war crime.
But that is just one component of this, the other, as has come up before, is that the whole narrative of the Assad government attacking anybody with chemical weapons is extremely suspect at best, and from everything I can gather, is just complete fabrication. In a word; bullshit.
Take a little time, please, and go through these for some background-
The problematic links section:
(yes, I know, it’s here twice)