Category Archives: News

Trump and Fake News

 

Mind you, I give Trump no credit for knowledgeable and skilled use of  social media. And even though I will examine his use of fake news this does not imply that Trump has conscious strategic understanding of what he is doing. This analysis concerns new media. The perpetrators of fake news or propaganda can easily find like-minded supporters who confirm each other’s perceptions and pre-existing prejudices. So fake news can become “reality” very quickly and easily. Trump benefited tremendously from this phenomenon. He would take the crowd size estimate at a political rally and deny it immediately claiming the crowd was bigger than the newspaper reported. They, according to Trump, reported lower numbers because they were prejudiced against him and not because it was an accurate calculation. Trump accused the media (e.g., the New York Times) of publishing fake news (crowds were smaller than they actually were)

Fake news is directly responsible for intervening in the civic sensibilities of the state. When Trump tweets that the news is fake, he is redirecting attention away from social goods such as public health, immigration policy, health insurance, or some other social value. This results in purposeful and systematic renegotiation of attention. Often, ignoring certain issues is just the policy position a political leader takes and this is exactly what the Trump administration did with respect to detention of immigrant children, government health insurance programs, Russian spying, and was even part of government’s approach to the Covid crisis.

 

Fake news causes information disorder. It contaminates the news streams. Figure 1 represents three types of information disorder discussed by Wardle (2020). Fake news can be simply misinformation where the information problems are unintentional and characterized by mistakes and inaccuracies that were hard to avoid. Or, it can be somewhat more extreme and be disinformation which is increasingly nefarious because it is fabricated deliberately. Disinformation causes

confusion and pollutes the social media with the intent of deliberately harming others. And the third is malinformation which is intentionally designed to cause harm such as deliberately revealing personal information. The key point here is that fake news, which influences the information environment in some way, is more complex and pernicious in the modern technological world. That some news is user-generated means that the collection and interpretation of such information is already predisposed toward certain presuppositions and power relations.

Fake news takes on a serious philosophical bent because it concerns the distinction between truth and post truth and the destabilization of objective facts. And fake news is particularly insidious with respect to open democratic societies. It has become increasingly important to all forms of social media that, as a whole, constitute the political talk of the culture. Fake news is similar to propaganda and propaganda is distorted political speech. Fake news is thus political speech and the quality of such political speech is dependent on the quality of a democracy.

Consequently, fake news is instrumental in determining who talks to whom and becomes a significant force in the determination of democracies and their trajectory.

Wardle, C. (2020). Journalism and the new information echo system: Responsibilities and challenges. In fake news (Ed.) Zimdars, M. & McLeod, K. (pp) 71-85. MIT press.

Beware of Sinclair: The Next Wave of Fake News

As if the propaganda and distortions that ooze out of Fox News isn’t enough to damage to the quality of public discourse, Fox has a younger sibling who is growing and gaining strength and influence. This is Sinclair news and “Media Matters” recently reported on their newfound influence. We are in the middle of an unprecedented war with the press prompted mostly by the President and his conscious attempts to manipulate the public impressions of what the press is trying to do. The Sinclair corporation has focused on local news and blatantly controls content so as to propagate conservative influences.

Sinclair is known for some particularly manipulative tactics: acquiring and consolidating local news stations and then deceitfully blending advertising with news, including cutting budgets and taking shortcuts with any production of content that meets journalistic standards.

Sinclair has been around for some time but it recently is gaining in strength and influence. It is increasingly—and blatantly—running a right wing message and has taken its cues from Roger Ailes and Fox when it comes to ensuring that its political perspective is foregrounded. Sinclair has hired a Trump aide (Boris Epshteyn) who is charged with ensuring that Sinclair’s right wing proclivities find their way properly into the content of the media.

What is even worse, according to Media Matters, is that the Trump presidency is assisting Sinclair with changing FCC regulations that currently limit its ownership so that Sinclair can grow. And, it should be noted, that Sinclair is trying to operate in markets deemed most useful to meeting the needs of national elections.

Boris Epshteyn is known for his strict adherence to his own policy of “must run.” That is, he forces the affiliates to run certain segments that meet the political preferences of the corporation. His policy at times has been so outrageous that it prompted John Oliver to make fun of it (video is 19 minutes long but should watch at least 10 minutes) which is yet another indication of its growing presence.

Sinclair has made a conscious choice to focus on “local” news for three reasons. First, data show that local news is more respected and considered more trustworthy than national news. Viewers simply think that organizations like CNN or CBS are more biased. Second, the policy of “must run” means that the prepared statements are from the hand of corporate headquarters but the words are spoken from the mouth of the local newscaster who is typically more trusted. The local newscaster, who is recognizable and congenial and even speaks in the local dialect, is forced to utter and account for the political message. And third, local markets are less saturated and developed and ripe for exploitation.

“Media Matters” has provided a full list of stations owned or operated by Sinclair on its website, and here is the full list of stations Sinclair is set to acquire with its purchase of Tribune Media.

The key issue here is not necessarily that a station leans left or right since all media has at least some political leaning. But that is not what we are seeing in the contemporary discourse. Rather, it is the purposeful distortions and deliberate attempts to manipulate the discourse based not on argument or reason preference but on implications, conspiracies, and factoids. When “real” news is called “fake” news, and millions of people casually accept this distinction, the quality of the political culture is threatened, and Sinclair takes a step forward.

 

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