Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fake the Nation

The favorability rating for the news media in America is at an all-time low.  Americans don't trust the reporting of the free press.  Those who proclaim themselves Republicans are the primary driver of this trend.  The so-called "liberal media" (ignoring the fact that there is clearly a powerful, competitive "conservative media") has never been more under attack.  

Such skepticism is generally a health thing, in my opinion.   All media should be scrutinized and evaluated based upon a cross-checking of facts and a verification of any seemingly outlandish claims. But, when the media is ignored completely, not verified, not confirmed then we have a problem.  In our case we have the problem of people just simply making shit up because it sounds better to their preconceived (and largely unconfirmed) notions.

"Fake news" abounds in America today.  It crosses the political landscape to include both the Left and the Right. Buzzfeed supplies 50 examples of fake news from 2016 on FaceBook (FakeBook?) alone. But, Buzzfeed itself was probably guilty of fake news when it published the story about President-elect Trump's scandalous "Golden Shower" connection.

Other assorted examples:

And so on.  For both political factions, Left and Right,  it has become preferable to emulate the Joseph Goebbels style of (propaganda) press coverage.  This is a blow for the First Amendment far worse than any government regulation or corporate power play.  Free Speech is only as valuable as it is informed.  There is no constitutional right to make shit up and present it as fact.  That, my dear readers, is not Free Speech - that is intentionally misleading pseudo-speak.  Free Speech is inherently legitimate, even between contradictory speech acts.   It isn't "free expression" if it is an intent to lie.
Rather, Free Speech is an intent to enter into debate with conflicting views and to allow the force of factual argument to carry the day.  This is a cornerstone of American democracy. When voters rely upon fake news to validate their preconceptions out of a desire to be "right" rather than a desire to be "informed", then all of American democracy is in crisis. Free Speech cannot be distinguished from fake speech, the press is no longer allowed to inform the electorate or to legitimately hold authority accountable as part of our cultural "checks and balances", and people invent their reality thereby pushing public policy beyond the perils of partisan rancor and political gridlock into something far worse - policy based upon how people feel regardless of the facts

So we will soon be under the direction of a Fake President.  All politicians put spin on the truth and position the facts to their favor.  Most America politicians have historically stopped short of outright fabrication of facts.  Until recently. Donald Trump is a champion of fake news.  Even conservative media sources questioned the "stunning" phony accusations Trump made about "massive voter fraud" in the 2016 election.   Even when he wasn't personally orchestrating  fake news, Trump benefited from Right-wing fakers.

There is no shortage of Left or Right voters who prefer to believe their own opinions rather than to investigate, inform themselves, and obtain what has traditionally be termed "received wisdom." This is perhaps the most terrifying threat to free speech.

The New York Times reports on what researchers found when they intentionally parodied fake news. A significant swath of the American people (possibly around 15%), enough to sway an election, bought in to it.  The Times summarizes: "It may be less that false information from dubious news sources is shaping their view of the world. Rather, some people (about 8 percent of the adult population, if we take the survey data at face value) are willing to believe anything that sounds plausible and fits their preconceptions about the heroes and villains in politics.

"It suggests that the most straightforwardly fraudulent forms of fake news are a small part of what is shaping how people understand the world. People’s hunger for information that suits their prejudices is powerful, and in the digital media age, a pile of it emerges to satisfy that demand."

It seems to me that the rise of media distrust and the rise of fake news are symptoms reflecting in tandem the same societal disease.  We are sick to the extent we allow fake news to validate our lives. We are inauthentic to the extent that we act in ways that was demonstrably false.  It turns out that America is fundamentally in trouble not because we are no longer ""great" nor because we have a legitimacy crisis in government, equality, privacy, freedom, corporate greed, etc. America is in crisis because the American people are increasingly invested in lies.  This supposedly Christian nation has allowed lying in the public sphere to have unprecedented powers of persuasion and inspiration.  

Though fake news is nothing new to America (we can find examples of it all the way back to the election of 1800) 2016 might well represent the year fake news consistently replaced legitimate news in the minds of the American public.  If 2016 is any indication, large swaths of the voting public are going to vote based upon preconceived prejudices without the benefit of either discourse between candidates to become better informed or the news media to "vet" the positions of candidates based upon reality.

Our democracy has plenty of troubles from the "evil powers" of the government or the "inequality" of corporate greed.  But nothing threatens it more than the American voters themselves.  By discounting factual reporting and meaningful debate in favor of fake news we have elected a fake president who clearly invents his own reality and we have thereby chosen to manifest our political freedom into a fake nation. We get the government we deserve and frankly, we deserve to be lied to, it is what makes so many of us politically happy.

Late Note: The Fakers seem to be running wild in the early days of the Trump administration. Kellyanne Conway, who did a brilliant job of getting Trump elected, claims that the administration is dealing with "alternative facts" - one of the finest examples of outlandish bullshit I've heard in a long time.  Meanwhile, Trump's press secretary's claim that Trump's mediocre Presidential Inauguration had "the largest crowd ever to witness an inauguration" is further proof that this administration is simply going to make shit up as they go along.  Most of this is petty stuff really, but it unfortunately is indicative of a behavioral pattern of lying. Trump is well on his way to becoming our (fake) great nation's Faker-in-chief

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