Tuesday, September 04, 2018

"Fake News," "Enemies Of The People," And General Folderol

     Richard M. Nixon became President when I was nearly eleven, resigned while I was in high school and the very first election I voted in pitted his former Vice-President Gerald Ford against Jimmy Carter.*  During that time, I was part of the news staff of a school newspaper and, later, of the closed-circuit TV station, which produced a short newscast every weekday.   My parents were lifelong Republicans; my Mom even held an appointed office (Township Assessor) under the elected County official.  The press's war with Mr. Nixon and his war with them was a constant feature of my growing up.  President Reagan and the Presidents Bush got similar treatment, not quite so harsh, and in the case of Mr. Reagan, there was an element of "happy warrior" on each side: he and the Press gave as good as they got.

     So when the Press took off after candidate and then President Trump, it was more of the usual; I figure all Presidents need plenty of oversight, and if it's harshly critical, well, that comes with the job -- and so does pushing back.

     I'm not especially comfortable with President's Trump sweeping and often-repeated characterization of journalists as "enemies of the people."  It's dirty pool.  (Which is not to say he doesn't come in for unsubtle, dirty-pool digs from the Press, as well).  "Fake news" is an oversimplification, sloppily piling together overt bias, unconscious bias and the context-stripping necessary to a focused report, but it's got a grain of truth.  Calling out the news media as a whole under a turn of phrase still reeking of Stalinism, that's something else.

     Of course the media has counter-attacked, and of course a lot of it was predictably partisan, as overheated as anything tweeted from the White House -- but not all.  Azcentral -- part of the USA Today conglomerate -- published an editorial more sensible than most by a large margin.  I think it's worth reading.  The tl;dr version?  "Just do your job."  It's good advice.

     Journalists -- by which I mean reporters and editors who cover news  -- are not noble, shining heroes; they're people doing a job.  You should look on their work as they, ideally, look on the world: with a healthy dose of skepticism and an eye for the underlying facts.  The best of them try to be unbiased, but they're as opinionated as as anyone.  A lot of them have vastly different notions about politics than I do -- even so, I don't think they're enemies of The People.
* An interesting measure of the transition resulting from that election is that I know he was President James Earl Carter, Jr., just as I know Gerald Ford's middle initial was "R." but I couldn't possibly use his full name without it reading oddly.


Douglas2/Unknown said...

Riding in the car with my spouse, who has currently spends most of her time with lots of friends and colleagues who are on the west-south-west of a nolan-chart, I will often get the question "Can you believe that Trump said (n)????", to which I always have to respond "No, not without seeing it in context."

I've just done a search through three pages of my google search results on the search phrases "Trump" and "enemies of the people". I came up with three pages of journalists and editorialists who are keen to tell me that Trump is wrong for calling journalists "enemies of the people", but none who are willing to provide a link to allow me to read/hear/view for myself where he said it and the context thereof.

It is still calumny if you use someone's actual words, but relate them in a way that imputes their meaning to be something worse than what an ordinary listener would understand them to mean if heard in the context where they were actually used.

During the last presidential primary campaign I was reading a biography of LBJ, who was a rather coarse man. There were many times when some controversial current or past statement of a current candidate was nearly word-for-word identical to what LBJ was reported to have said in a conversation in my book, so I would relate the circumstances and quote to someone and ask what LBJ meant -- almost invariably my subject would use the "principle of charity" to impute a rational, non-racist, non-sexist meaning, but when I would continue with "but Trump said . . . " the priming that they had gotten about what Trump "meant" was so strong that they could not see a less horrible interpretation.

I try to stay informed about current events, but like in the google-search above I find that I spend far too much time researching things that I really don't care about, because my BS detector is triggered -- and 90% of the time I find that I'm right to be skeptical. If I research and find that a politician has been misrepresented, then I'm obligated to point it out whenever the quote comes up in conversation, and find myself constantly defending politicians that I detest. So all these controversies about what some politician said that violates some taboo of either side, I just try hard to tune out.

Douglas2/Unknown said...

I also, BTW, wonder how Mr. Folderol ever got beyond the rank if field officer.

pigpen51 said...

President Trump was a product of our times. He came along when people were fed up with the behavior of those in Washington to the point that they were willing to elect even a buffoon, if he promised to clean out the sewer that is politics in D.C. Unfortunately, what they found is that one person cannot do it alone, because of the entrenched lifetime base who are planning on staying put, damned who may come and try and remove them.
My local small town newspaper has always had a very partisan slant towards the left, no matter what the issue. I have equated them to be similar to Will Rogers, in that they never met a tax increase that they didn't like. No matter what the money is proposed for, they always come out in favor of it. It is as if there is no problem that cannot be solved with more money.
I have watched network news, and read national newspapers, and tried to find just how they actually trend liberal. Their reporting is not actually completely slanted, but what they do is to chose their stories and their talking heads to be only from a leftward point of view. Even on the talking head shows, where they pick several people speaking, and they get one so called right winger to balance things out, it is always a centrist, and not a totally right wing spokesperson. To be fair, I have seen the same thing with Fox News and their news shows, when they get a leftist, they either get a centrist, or a left wing nut, who can't defend the left position from a high school debate squad member.
That is why it is so, so important that people who actually care about the direction of our nation seek our information from primary sources as much as possible. And if someone gives links, follow them, and check them out, instead of just taking their word for it. At times, it does become enticing to simply withdraw from the whole thing, and ignore politics completely. After all, does anyones individual matter?

RandyGC said...

My general disgust and contempt of "journalism" as practiced at the national level these days (I can still find local folks that do a decent job) comes from my time as an Intel puke. My attitude comes for two reasons.

1. I feel that Intel and Journalism should be in basically in the same business: the collection and correlation of information into as coherent a picture of possible, with a hard line between what we know vs what our analysis of that information means.
Based on that definition, I've met or seen very few current day journalists that could meet all aspects of that definition. Quite frankly, I doubt many of the "top tier" of national journalists, particularly in TV, could make it half way through the Basic Intel course before washing out. Quite frankly, they don't meet my standards.

2. Having had the inside track of many national and international news items back in the day, the constant flow of half stories, cherry picked sources,slanted stories, fabrications and outright BS pretty much killed any credibility the national media had in my opinion. Nothing has happened lately to change that assessment.

So I just try to apply BS filters (fortunately years of reading translations of Pravda, the People's Daily and Rodong Sinmun was good training) and pick out what info I can. If you treat all news stories as maskirovka and dezinformatsiya put out by people not bright enough to fully mask all the facts, it usually works out.

Jerry said...

One should never forget that the first mission of any media outlet is to make money and they are not above stirring the pot a bit to get people to read or view their efforts.

Roberta X said...

A) General Folderol was a hell of a dancer, which is how he managed to advance so far. Brought down by hanky-panky eventually, which anyone who knew him as a cadet frequently dinged for skylarking could have predicted.

B) Any of you who would like to take a stab at explaining the context in which calling a free and independent Press an "enemy of the people," is right and proper go right ahead. I'll wait.

As far as I am concerned, the critical, skeptical Press we get during Republican administrations is the way they ought to be *all* *of* *the* *time.* Any news outlet that tonguebathes any party or any politician or group of them should be viewed with suspicion. They're not supposed to be buddies.

waepnedmann said...

I never take news stories at face value.
I can remember, during a journalism class I took eons ago, that reporters were to just report the facts and not influence the reader's opinions.
Never gonna happen.
We all have bias we are not even aware of unless we are routinely introspective and self-aware even then sometime we put ourselves in an echo chamber.
Some news agencies are an arm of the government or of political parties and their mission is to aid and abet then in accomplishing their goals while making money. Some do not even have to make money. They are supported by the state.

Truth vs facts.

Back when the Soviet Union touted that their technology and people were superior to all things western there was a joke (I assume it was a joke):
The Soviets arranged a automobile race from Vladivostok to Moscow.
After the race Pravda reported that while the Soviet car finished the race in second place the American car only finished second to last.
There were only two cars in the race.
Was the report true?
Were the facts accurate?
Did the reader come away with the wrong conclusion.
As you said, primary sources are vital for correct information, but even then you have to make sure any instruments used or statements quoted have not been "recalibrated for accuracy."

Paul said...

A free and independent press should not like any politician.

The ones we have only report dirt on Republicans. Democrats can and do get a pass.

I am sorry you feel that way but as far as I am concerned they are the enemy.

Roberta X said...

So, Paul, are you including Fox News and the Wall Street Journal in your list of "The ones we have" that "only report dirt on Republicans?" Reason magazine?

How broad a brush are you willing to wave around?

Will said...

you seem to have an amazing naivety regarding the news industry here in the US. I'm guessing it can be attributed to your working in it or around it, in your early years.

One of the major problems is that it is pretty much a closed society now. Polls of people who work in it show it to be Democrat voters above 90%, IIRC. That is just the rank and file. The management/owners run about 100%. The only right-wing people in that industry are closeted if they want to continue to collect a paycheck.

The problem with this is exactly the same as it is in DC. The people they work and socialize with are all the same mindset. They think this is correct for good people. Therefore, flyover country is filled with bad people.

This sort of mindset has been very obvious since AT LEAST the late 80's. It's been going on a lot longer than that, of course. I stopped my subscription to my local paper in the early 90's, as I got tired of reading all the lies they were printing. When I tried to correct them on their inaccuracies on the subject of guns, they blew me off, and kept repeating the same bullshit. It occurred to me that if they were lying on one subject, an important one, how did I know what else was a lie? I started paying more attention to other issues they were pushing, and saw enough to conclude that they were not a credible source of news. This was the San Jose Mercury News, a big deal in newspapers. They gathered the moniker "the Murky News" about that timeframe, I think.

Do you recall "Uncle Walter" Cronkite? Turns out he was lying about the Vietnam war to such an extend that he has been credited with some blame for the way it ended. (Turns out the US Military was a lot more accurate in reporting than our news media was.) He waited until he retired to announce that he was a card carrying member of the Communist Party. He was lying about those subjects, what else was he doing?

IIRC, Fox is now owned by a British publisher, so I would be very hesitant to accord them with any degree of accuracy in any sort of political arena.

The WSJ seems to be reasonably accurate, but I suspect that is mainly due to their narrow focus on business and finance. I've seen bullshit from them on the subject of guns, but it isn't consistent, so I don't think they have an obvious agenda regarding that. So far.

pigpen51 said...

This of course is a difficult topic to discuss, just because everyone has their opinion, which of course they know without a doubt is the right one. For myself, I often struggle with knowing just who is telling the truth and who is telling partial truth. I hope it is seldom the case that any news outlet would out and out lie.

I am a little concerned that the NY Times published an OpEd under an anonymous byline this past weekend, dealing dirt on the Trump White House. Not because of the topic, what so ever, since there is enough dirt their to grow crops to feed all the people in Ethiopia. But because of the fact that for a paper with a reputation such as the Times to not name names, as it were, on that sort of piece, is in some ways, gutless. I mean, anyone can write something like that, with made up facts, and then post it on their OpEd page, and use it to sway opinion with no regards for the end result.
I must be honest, and say that I have not yet read the piece, which I plan on doing right now. But the NY Times used to be one of the nations most respected newspapers, even if it was a liberal paper. The reporting was usually top notch, and could be counted on to be correct, even if it often skewed left.

Of course, with the way that news is covered now, with the internet and cable news and the never ending 24 hour cycle, we are seeing changes to how news is not only delivered, but how it is handled. No longer is there the evening newscast with the anchor that you can trust, like a Walter Cronkite, or a Howard K. Smith. Even though that trust might have been just a good illusion, it was still there, something that the American people counted on. No longer can we count on a calm and stable voice to assure us that everything was going to be all right, when deep down we know it often is not going to be all right. But that stability was what gave middle America hope in the midst of despair, like during the Vietnam war era, or when JFK was shot.

In some ways, I think that we as a nation, have been forced to grow up, and we might not like it. But if we wish to live in the past, and let some news group tell us what to think, without thinking for ourselves, then just what have we actually learned over the past decades? If as a nation we want to continue to move forward, we must learn to not only think for ourselves, but to refuse to let others shame us for doing so. Whether they are a president or anyone else. I will be the first to admit that at times, I find myself letting others do my thinking, and then find myself being wrong. But I change my thinking when I learn the truth. That is perhaps the most important part of growing, being willing to change when proven wrong.

Paul said...

A wide brush. I have seen sympathetic news for Democrats on all news channels.

As to dirt, they all report on republicans, Fox News and Wall Street might be a little less breathless as MSNBC and CNN and ABC and CBS. If you listen they all have slants on how to make capitalism, freedom, and the american way sound bad.

I have a weather rock in my yard. It I trust. the rest not so much.

Roberta X said...

Will, you *don't* work in news media and like many people -- including plenty in the media -- you don't distinguish between commentary and reporting.

But set that aside. Say the media is every bit as partisan as you claim (and you must not have paid much attention to my piece, since I never claimed the media was without bias). Even at that, it's not an "enemy of the people." At worst, it's an "enemy" of the political opinions of about half the people. That's a very different thing. And in fact, there are conservative-leaning news outlets, from Fox News to newspapers, and no shortage at all of Republican commentators.

A free press is right there in the First Amendment. Its not an "enemy of the people" and to make such a claim is to spout pompous, rabble-rousing nonsense.

Try to bear in mind that I am not a member of either of the two big parties. In the past, the GOP has possessed the virtue of its worst BS being easier to get around than the worst impulses of the Dems. They seem to be working on changing that. I don't view it as an improvement.

I wrote that the media is generally too cozy with Democrats. I don't have a bit of problem with them "digging up dirt," since that's their job; I just want them to do so for politicians from both parties. On average, the media as a whole treat Republican politicians they way I'd like them to treat all politicians.

The relationship between news media and government is not convivial and should not be. The relationship between politicians and reporters may be courteous but must always be tinged with a large amount of skepticism on the part of the reporters.

I'm still in the news business; I just happen to do technical work, not journalism. The reporters and producers who are my co-workers are a wildly assorted lot, Right, Left, Center and Indifferent. They're not out to slant anything; they're out to fit it into a minute-thirty with a coherent and compelling narrative. A lot of news is made by government actions and they end up covering a lot of it -- but what they cover directly is all local. For the remainder, they're as dependent on wire services and national networks as any viewer. Don't lecture me about "naivete" with a scraped-up collection of poorly-attributed talking points when you haven't been in a newsroom and you know nothing about how it works.