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Did Media Literacy Backfire? (datasociety.net)
82 points by grzm on Jan 7, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 131 comments

This is what Ben Rhodes, chief propagandist selling Obama's Iran deal had to say:

“All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus. Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. . . The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

What happened was that the newspaper/media industry was gutted when social media became popular. Most people, especially under 40, are unwilling to pay for news that they can just get from a Tweet.

Because of this, they can't pay to send a journalist overseas anymore. Most news has become conjecture, rumors, and anything that can be done in the comfort of a nice office.

Nearly all large, independent news organizations (Breitbart, Huffpo) were started by wealthy individuals with a political axe to grind. The rest have been grandfathered in from before the days of social media (CNN/Foxnews) and can survive based on pure momentum.

We need real journalism again.

It's not really social media, but internet in general. Low cost media sources are more profitable that dying print Media. Selling subscriptions is hard because internet content is usually free.

This started well before "social media" was a thing. Newspapers weren't done in by Twitter, but by their own online editions, and by Google unseating them as the best place to advertise.

And because we're talking about media literacy and trust, here's the source and context for that quote:


Another great quote in there is:

>“We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

And they wonder why people are starting to question the narratives they're given. I consider myself a liberal, but the mainstream media really is terrible a lot of the time. When talking about science, they only misconstrue the message, and when talking about policy, they happily forward whatever the government is saying. Folks like the New York Times are better than the Daily Mail or Breitbart, of course, but that's not a high bar.

Wow. Could not agree more, and I consider myself a conservative. I especially get incensed when science reporting is mangled, or the sponsored, corporate junk science is pushed as being legitimate.

That explains a lot. Curious what happened - did the business model break to the extent that seasoned journalists that can manage foreign assignments are no longer on payroll or sought after? Is this a consequence of cost-cutting at news outlets?

Yes on both counts. Media consolidation led to lots of layoffs and belt tightening, and the internet just made things worse.

Journalism in this country has become a bit of a joke, and that's all on the lack of oversight by lawmakers. These giant media conglomerates should never have been allowed to form in the first place for the very reasons we are discussing now; poor journalism and nearly worthless commodity reporting.

In the old days, subscriptions kept the lights on, and advertising was gravy.

Today, subscriptions don't exist and advertising barely keeps the lights on. That kind of economic corruption is seen on all level of news and reporting.

As someone else said, yes and yes.

In addition to the simple fact that advertising is down, it's because newspapers were/are bundles. When they had local monopolies (or at least duopolies) on information and certain advertising, this let them do things like fill a lot of cheap column inches with sports scores and wire copy while maintaining (in many cases) prestige investigative units and foreign bureaus. These never came close to paying for themselves in the sense that subscribers would pay for them as standalone writing. But they lent gravitas to the paper as a whole, helping to make the paper as a whole a moneymaking proposition.

Bit of scaremongering in that piece:

    Think about how this might play out in communities where
    the “liberal media” is viewed with disdain as an
    untrustworthy source of information… or in those where
    science is seen as contradicting the knowledge of religious
I'm a 'religious person', and my children attend a Christian High School. Being Canadian we tend to look upon all American media with skepticism because it is so much more sensational than our media outlets. We are always talking about how to discern truth from error. For example, I recently picked up this book on logical reasoning: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1502713764

Yes, there are other religious people out there who are terrified of everything, but don't lump all of us together. Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Oxford... these are all universities that were founded as theological seminaries (and still have those departments). Sound reasoning is not only the backbone of Science and Technology, but also Christian Theology.

> Yes, there are other religious people out there who are terrified of everything, but don't lump all of us together.

The article didn't lump all Christian together. Ironically, the quote you pulled proves that point. The article was specifically talking about "communities ... where science is seen as contradicting the knowledge of people." Such communities do exist, in the U.S., and they have real political influence.

"For the past three years, my assignment has been to try to help this newspaper live up to its own high journalistic standards as it covered a historic presidential election, two wars, the Great Recession, violence in the Middle East and more. I have deplored the overuse of anonymous sources, warned against the creep of opinion into news analysis and worried about the preservation of Times quality on the Internet. But, in truth, I have sometimes felt less like a keeper of the flame and more like an internal affairs cop," said Clark Hoyt, who was departing as the public editor of The New York Times in 2010; Hoyt had been serving as the NYT internal representative for the readers.

Source: http://nytimes.com/2010/06/13/opinion/13pubed.html

In many ways, this fake news* epidemic feels like the early days of spam/phishing emails. The news that has problems are like marketing emails: There's a valid question about the level of legitimacy we should afford them, but they're not the same as "sEXy MILfS SeLL1ng V1AGrA".

I disagree with the article that media literacy was the problem. Quite the opposite, the lack of media literacy necessary to manage a flood of new information in the internet age is how we got here.

And like spam/phishing emails, which managed to rope in even otherwise intelligent, logical people before they knew what it was, we're going to have a painful adjustment period. And some people will never quite get the memo.

* When I say fake news, I'm not talking about stuff you disagree with, or poorly reported news or even sensationalist headlines. That's a different conversation. I'm talking about stuff that is made up from whole cloth. Stories like Trump personally rescuing 200 stranded marines with his private plane in Desert Storm. There is not an ounce of truth to that, and is not based on any verifiable facts. Yet it was one of the top viral stories of 2016.

Can someone provide some links to fake news articles? I feel like the term "fake news" became popular after the election yet I haven't actually seen any fake news. Maybe it's because I don't use Facebook?

Leading up to the election Macedonian teenagers pumped out a bunch of pro Trump made up "news" for profit.

They didn't care about Trump per se, they went where the money was. Pro Trump got the page views like nothing else.

The stories were mainly spread through Facebook shares.


>"Yes, the info in the blogs is bad, false, and misleading but the rationale is that 'if it gets the people to click on it and engage, then use it,'" said a university student in Veles[a Macedonian town] who started a US politics site

> I feel like the term "fake news" became popular after the election

You're not wrong. It seemed like suddenly this phrase was everywhere.


The only question is why wasn't it everywhere before the election?

Because the mainstream media thought that Trump won't win, and articles attacking him were thought to be "enough". After he won, they needed a new propaganda strategy.

It was a bit complacent of them, and complaining now isn't going to affect the result. The existence of Macedonian web sites with completely made-up news stories was known about well before the US presidential election, e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/aug/24/facebook-...

This should have been a big story before the election, but it seems to have been barely reported on.

"Fake news" was news before Trump won the election

It most definitely was, but a heated, nearly year and a half long election provided a big economic opportunity for fake news.

As the Republican coalition is made up of finance people and arms dealers, the Democratic coalition is made up of PR companies and management consultants (a lot like UK Labour.) They overestimated their effectiveness over a general populace, but there's no questioning their expertise in thought-leading the cosmopolitan middle class.

Best place to check for the latest in fake news is, as always, snopes.com

I can't imagine the kind of pressure they've been under the past year to debunk all these absurd viral stories.

Why do you trust snopes for political fact checking?

I don't use them for political fact checking in the nuanced sense of, for instance, how much repealing Obamacare will add to the deficit. Something that is open for interpretation, difficult to nail down, and politically sensitive. That kind of thing is not their specialty.

I do use them to see if headlines are completely made up. For instance, take the story,

"FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apartment in murder-suicide"

This simply didn't happen, and the source is a website masquerading as a news organization. Snopes is good for rooting out stories such as this, that have no corroboration, no basis in fact or reality.


The point is, you shouldn't. He's generally pretty accurate though, because he actually investigates stories instead of just accepting them. And that's what you should do if you don't want to be caught out. Some stories are just urban myths (David Mikkelson's/Snopes's original focus), many are just press releases, some are planted by various PR outfits, others are planted by people with a particular agenda. Be skeptical, and investigate whenever you can.

He? Kim LaCapria was doing a lot of the fact checking on political articles during the campaign.

I'm not familiar with the other contributors. I know of David Mikkelson and Barbara Hamel from alt.folklore.urban, and snopes.com was founded by them, and was originally exclusively about urban myths (the "Archive" part).

I think one of the problems is that people who are familiar with the original contributors are transferring that trust to new staff doing the political side.

Can you share your reasons for not trusting snopes debunking of fake news?

Because they hired an author who is a liberal pundit[1][2]. I'm fine with her being a liberal. I also fine with honest pundits of all stripes, but I'm not ok with that in a fact checking site. I think if you are going to claim to do political fact checking, you really need to hire someone who isn't a political pundit. It results in other pundit sites doing this[3].

1) http://www.inquisitr.com/132960/good-job-teahadists-obama-ad...

2) http://www.inquisitr.com/402558/scandal-envy-behind-petraeus...

3) http://dailycaller.com/2016/07/28/snopes-caught-lying-about-...

Same here. I see hysteria about it everywhere, and have yet to see a single instance of it.

This thread is full of examples.


If you believe that these sources (ok, I maybe concede on infowars...) are fake news, then the machine behind this campaign has at least worked on you.

>When I say fake news, I'm not talking about stuff you disagree with, or poorly reported news or even sensationalist headlines.

Is there a list of left wing fake news sites? Just asking...

the last left wing fake news was JFK and the missile gap, good luck.

Please don't quote me while defending infowars. #pizzagate and gay frogs and fema camps are the epitome of fake news.

You can also add the huffington post and salon to your list.

"Fake news" is itself fake news. Look at the timing: immediately after Clinton lost, a consensus emerged among the losers that we have to do something about all the "fake news" floating around the internet. The timing is a huge DNC banner in the sky.

The whole fake news hullabaloo is obviously partisan. It provides a psychological relief valve that allows the left to blame its terrible loss on some external evil. It also provides the left a mental system for justifying literal censorship of the right. "Fake news" isn't about public responsibility. It's a strategy for winning the next election.

So we're just going to pretend that Donald Trump didn't claim the media was manufacturing negative coverage about him, making up quotes or taking quotes out of context and altering poll numbers throughout his entire campaign?

Or that Fox News doesn't exist because the American right has been convinced that "fake news" has been a thing for years?

Or that fringe sites on both ends of the political spectrum don't actually make up "news" stories as clickbait?

Or that various governments don't employ propaganda and disinformation campaigns through various forms of media, including the planting of false stories and rumors, and have been for decades?

It's all just something the DNC made up just now?


Or maybe we can concede that the meme of "fake news" is distinct from the actual phenomenon of "fake news"?

> Donald Trump didn't claim the media was manufacturing negative coverage about him, making up quotes or taking quotes out of context and altering poll numbers throughout his entire campaign?

He did make those claims, and as it turns out, the media really was doing these things --- not only against Trump, but as it turns out, against anyone not-Clinton in the primaries.

"Fake news" is psychological projection.

>"Fake news" is psychological projection

Yes, in other words, contrary to the premise behind your earlier comment...

   "Fake news" is itself fake news. Look at the timing: 
    immediately after Clinton lost, a consensus emerged 
    among the losers that we have to do something about 
    all the "fake news" floating around the internet. 
    The timing is a huge DNC banner in the sky.
..."fake news" was not concocted whole cloth by the DNC and leftists in order to discredit Trump's campaign. Because Trump himself invoked it, because it's been a reliable Republican hobbyhorse for years, and because it demonstrably exists.

The psychological projection is on the part of Trump supporters, who want people to believe that either fake news doesn't exist, or it does, but it's entirely manufactured by the left.

I mean this past week WAPO had to all but retracted a fake news story about Russia hacking a laptop when it was revealed the laptop was not connected to the electrical grid had Russian malware that anyone can buy and use on the open market. They failed to contact the power company in question to confirm the information and went with anonymous sources. We all know they ran with the story because it fit the DNC talking point that Russia hacked the election and are hacking other systems as well. Too bad it was fake.

This isn't fake news.

"Hands up, don't shoot" <-- false news. When all the dust cleared after the grand trial and all the facts came out multiple witnesses said he didn't raise his hands but was in fact charging at the police officer.

"George Zimmerman used stand your ground laws to defend himself" <--false news. He actually just claimed self defense. However the media became obsessed with Stand Your Ground laws.

"2 years after the san bernardino attacks we still don't know the reason for the attack" <-- false news. The media and FBI may not know but the rest of America knows, it was Islamic Jihad.

It is funny how the media can spread fake/false news like wildfire but all of the sudden they care about 100% truth after the election. I mean the mainstream media is almost always wrong when it covers self defense trials and in general any story involving a gun. The amount of misinformation in regard to the Zimmerman trial was truly staggering and if anyone watched the trial it was obvious the state had no case but prosecuted it anyways to appease the masses. I mean the media even invented a term, "White Hispanic" any order to make the story about race.

Regardless of the election, the fact that stories like:

"Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge Of Allegience In Schools Nationwide"

This got 2,177,000 shares on Facebook.

These are the issue. I'm of the mind that Hillary Clinton lost because she was a lackluster candidate who didn't address blue collar issues properly, thinking that anti-poverty and welfare programs would be equivalent.

But just because the Democrats are sounding the alarm for reasons you find partisan, doesn't mean the problem goes away.

Fake news is the social web's version of fwd: fwd: fwd:, and we've always known that was hugely problematic. Well, now it's gone viral on a global scale. We can't ignore that.

"...Hillary Clinton lost because she was a lackluster candidate who didn't address blue collar issues properly, thinking that anti-poverty and welfare programs would be equivalent."

This is mostly correct.

HRC didn't win enough. Democratic candidates have to also overcome structural flaws in our system.

HRC didn't inspire like Obama and Bernie did. IMHO, her biggest mistake was getting into the gutter with Trump with all the negative attacks. Obama didn't do that. Voters are sick of it, so those Obama voters simply stayed home.

But she's a Clinton. The War Room & triangulation strategies that worked so well before failed her in 2008 primary and 2016 general.

Too bad she didn't learn from Obama's campaign successes.

all the negative attacks. Obama didn't do that.


"Did Obama run the most negative ads in us history?" (Probably not, but he ran a lot of them. The article goes into detail on numbers)


The reality is, negative ads work, so politicians will continue to use them.

Thanks for the links.

"Negative ads have been a hallmark of presidential campaigns for decades, because polls show they work.

But conservative strategist Frank Luntz, president and CEO of Luntz Global, LLC, has conducted various focus groups on the effectiveness of political ads, and says this latest batch is different in one key way.

"It's one thing to be negative," he observes. "It's another thing to demonize your opponent.""

Me quoting Frank Luntz, of all people.

Luntz is closer to the mark. The demonization of each other during 2016 was stomach turning.

McCain and Obama never did that, that I recall. (Their surrogates certainly did, of course.) McCain even batted down the birthism crap and defended Obama's patriotism.

It's really a last ditch effort for the MSM to remain relevant by appointing themselves as the only source of "real" news.

The election was hugely damaging to them, as most outlets predicted a Clinton victory with certainty, and their bias was on full display (see: the Clinton campaign giving direct orders to some journalists). The surge in "fake news" hysteria is simply a way to discredit any independent news source.

You don't seem to be aware of the actual fake news that was spread very widely during the election.

For example, an article claiming the Pope endorsed Donald Trump was shared millions of times on Facebook. This is objectively false. Literally fake.

The problem of fake news is not about independent news sources, it is about active deception.

At this point, it's become partisan. Some how bias and opinion/click bait head lines are now fake news. Someone has moved the argument, And it has been an amazingly effective tactic.

so, if you are wary of the left, and see them talk about fake news after an election, you assume they are wrong because it aligns with their interests.

this is exactly what the OP and the article author are denouncing.

And exactly what you're doing. You're ascribing a psychological motivation for the comment that you're replying to that aligns with your own prejudices, rather then replying to its content. There's nothing in the comment you replied to that implies that they are not on the left themselves.

Free speech is a central tenet of western democracies, and democratic republics like the USA.

Suppressing 'Fake News' argues against this differentiator from authoritarian control of information by non democratic government.

Just as music radio lost its credibility and audience when Clearchannel dumbed it down to automated playlists in the intersts of maximizing corporate profits, 'main stream news' (MSN) has lost most of its credibility this decade. There is no 'news', there is only information to be parsed and compared.

The media is owned by a few large global conglomerates and there are no investigative reporters under their employ.

"Suppressing 'Fake News' argues against this..."

Anyone fluffed up about 'fake news' is ignorant of the history of journalism. It's always been yellow journalism, propaganda, pamphleteering, grinding of axes. William Randolph Hearst?

We had brief respite from 1945 to maybe 1990. And sadly we thought the pretense of objectivity and efforts at fact checking was the norm.

"The media is owned by a few large global conglomerates and there are no investigative reporters under their employ."

There are four styles. Ad-based, subscription/endowment supported (Economist, CSM), reader/viewer supported (eg public radio), and whacko bloggers [0].

It's all about the incentives. "MSM" is corporate media infotainment, nothing more.

A comment down-thread suggests that any media that is ad-supported is now suspect. I agree.

[0] Like me. I was an activist who blogged. FOIAs, public hearings, fact checking.

Your 4th media style 'whacko bloggers' disrespects the many people writing very coherent, logical and well thought out commentaries and ideas.

Yes there are plenty of crazy people - always has been - but these days the MSM reproduces tweets and steals from bloggers. I would argue free speech on the internet is very important to counter all the yellow journalism, paid promo pieces and straight up propoganda...

You have to be more than a little crazy to keep at it as long as I did. Fighting city hall doesn't pay very well. Burnout is intense. Opportunity costs. Family. Etc.

Some are able to make the jump to a sustainable living. Greg Palast, Mark Crispin Miller, Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman, Digby? Struggling to think of examples. Having patronage, doing the book tour circuit, selling bling, commissions.

Actually, I don't have any ready example of other wackos like me (working on local issues) that have been able to keep it (independently) up long term.

Edit #1: Aha, I just thought of one. Alice Woldt and the Washington Public Campaigns crew have been plugging away for at least a decade.

Edit #2: Oops. How could I forget my bestie Garret Cobarr's privacy work. His magnum opus book about privacy and identity should be out this spring. Gods willing, he'll be able to pay rent doing privacy work. And, for the record, Garret's at least as crazy as me. https://twitter.com/garrettcobarr

Activist bloggers do find gigs as reporters and policy wonks.

I've seen some parlay their activism into a non-profit org 501(c)(3) that they then run. Some friends are doing that right now with regards to education funding. Though I doubt their org will become their full time jobs. Alas, I wasn't able to work the non-profit angle.

This all reminds me of the situation in Eastern Germany just before the German unification. In the elections campaigns in Eastern Germany just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, politicians were lobbying for reunification with rather overblown promises for the future of Eastern Germany after the reunification. It should have been clear that these promises weren't realistic, and this was in fact pointed out at the time. But people dismissed these warnings, as they came from the (now free) Eastern German media. It seems that many people now thought that everything the old media said was a lie and dismissed as false everything they were saying. This feels quite similar to the attitudes about the "lying press" that are currently circulating.

  But people dismissed these warnings, as they came
  from the (now free) Eastern German media
As an East German who participated in the demonstrations (17 at the time), your version is completely and utterly wrong in the main part. Yes, the reuniuon was painted in a way too nice light. No, we East Germans did NOT vote for it because we were mislead - the vast majority of East Germans would have voted for it in any case! There was no alternative.

The vision of being stuck with a useless currency without any value, in the middle of crumbling infrastructure (and whatever problems US infrastructure may have - and I lived in the US for a decade - it's not even close to East Germany, and yes, we had plenty of lead pipes too, in my own house for example), incapable of traveling anywhere (no money), a dead-end society. Our environment was a huge disaster!!

Without reunification everybody who could would have moved West. You may argue that has happened anyway, but I would say not nearly as much as what would have happened if the GDR had remained.

As far as "cost" - this is a somewhat silly argument on the level of an economy. For me, yes, I have to look at my costs, same as for a business. But in an economy somebody's cost is somebody else's income! The US does a lot of "socialism" and planned economy via military spending. Germany did the reunification. I think the German money was well-spend in comparison. Okay sorry, that wasn't supposed to be an argument about US military spending, I have no idea about its overall effects, but I know about the effects of the German reunification.

The environmental cleanup alone was HUGE, you have no idea (it seems to me). I lived next to a very large chemical fiber factory (where I learned too), such filth, huge mountains(!) of ash nearby form the (horribly dirty) power plant, the river that ran by without much life and you didn't want to touch the water. Today: The water is near perfect, the ash-mountains gone (there is a big new modern factory), the power plant modernized, everything is clean. Yes there are a lot less people in the area, but overall I consider it a huge plus.

The depopulation problem is not actually alone that people moved out of East Germany: Quite a few larger cities there are gaining. A big part of it is people moving to cities. Same reason why some areas in the US (Bay Area, where I lived) are gaining, or Munich or Berlin in Germany, or Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia, while villages suffer. East Germany had been the less populated and more rural part of Germany before too!

So no, overall what they promised about the reunification was not all that oversold. Some individuals may disagree, the majority though most definitely does not regret voting the way they did.

However, your misrepresentation of what happened does remind me of what is going on now. Trump is the work of Russian hackers! People are mislead! As someone who feels actually pretty left (at least socially very much so, and when it comes to risks and rewards distribution in society), I am disgusted by what I have to read from "my" camp. Zero reflection, zero analysis. Trump brought out the worst, that is true! I see a lot of it in many of those arguing against him though.

I also was at the demonstrations and I also think that there was no realistic alternative to a reunification.

But at the time people were discussing different ways of performing the reunification. The SPD under Lafontaine proposed a slower approach rather than an immediate reunification. He made the point that because of the crumbling infrastructure and desolate state of the economy, a unification wouldn't be easy, resulting in unemployment etc.

These warnings turned out to be true, and people should have known. But people didn't listen and voted for CDU in great numbers, because they promised it all. And I think one reason for this is that the warnings also came from the old media, so many people thought "They've been lying for so long, this must be false."

  proposed a slower approach rather than an
  immediate reunification
And that was out of the question. I too would have left the GDR immediately if that would have happened, and pretty much everybody I know too.

It's not true, that's all. We voted for reunification because we wanted it, that's all. A clean fast cut was the right way to go instead of continuing to muddle through. It was impossible to do a "smoother" transition - not unless the BRD would have disallowed people to move there and would have forced us to remain!

> And that was out of the question. I too would have left the GDR immediately if that would have happened, and pretty much everybody I know too.

So what? Depopulation happened anyway due to unemployment. I'm not convinced that substantially more people would have left if reunification had been planned for 1995, for example.

There would have been no difference in outcome if it had been "planned" for 1995 - so no reason not to do it right away. Do you really believe anything would have been better for the East German industry? It was nothing but junk, yes even what was supposed to be the best factories.

Except for a minority in East Germany there was no reason for a delay. The difficult and hard adaptation was inevitable! The GDR was a complete wreck.

The mass media had all the power, for some time, they controlled all the information. They used that power to publish biased articles, half truths, etc.

People got tired of that, and therefore, started distrusting the mass media. And now the mass media says "this hurricane of fake news, this has to be stopped!"

The mass media forgets: this is all your fault. This monster, you created it. In this past election, most newspapers decided to side with Clinton. Why would you do that? Now all Trump supporters and even some Clinton supporters hate you and won't trust you again for a long time.

You had the power and the responsibility to tell the truth. You decided to publish half truths because you had certain interests. Money, power. People got tired and they went for the ONLY alternative that there is: the tabloids, the liars.

It's ALL your fault. You are shameless scoundrels, writing a title that says that "media literacy backfired". No, your strategy of manipulating the public backfired. Now deal with it.

Myself (a liberal, NYT reader for decades), was upset when I realized that the publication was pushing Clinton so hard without telling the other side of the story. And then leaks confirmed that the press was, err, too friendly with the candidate (sharing articles before they were published, passing on debate questions, staging interviews...) Sigh.

Remember that the New York Times published fake news that helped the Government launch the War in Iraq, costing the country trillions of dollars and thousands of combat causalities, tens of thousands of more deaths Iraq, destabilizing the middle east, helping the rise of ISIS and the current wave of terror. This is something the New York Times did. They own it.


Please don't conflate poor journalism with fake news.

Reporting what the government said with no deeper context is poor journalism. The government really did say there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The New York Times reported those statements, not faked evidence of the weapons.

Fake news is just making shit up, like inventing a dead body and saying it was killed by Clinton.

There's a question of journalistic integrity.

If you read NYT as I do you expect to be told "the whole story" and not be reading a glorified crafted PR statement. I think that's irresponsible and as good as fake

The institutional failure of much of mass media is a problem. Trading on access, parroting PR, things like that.

But it's a different problem than the one where people literally completely make up click bait articles and present them as news. Not hastily written, fact light articles about real events, articles about things that simply never happened.

We do ourselves a favor when we treat them as separate issues.

I think it's related because they discredit themselves by rebroadcasting government lies, then they say "But don't you pay attention to that PatriotTruth2016.com website, that's fake what we broadcast is real and when it happens to not be true, well it's a truthful rebroadcast of some information that just happened to be false.

Also, being a faithful transmitter of the government line is not something to aspire to. Everything Pravda ever published was true insofar as it was the official line of the government of the USSR. If the NYT is the Pravda of the USA then I think we might just be better off with PatriotTruth2016.com.

Your also is misplaced, I called it poor journalism, not something to aspire to.

The point is that "fake news" hit the lexicon based on the completely made up bullshit and now people are confusing the issue by trying to broaden it out to include poor journalism. We have the words to talk about them separately, I'm not going to give up trying to get people to do that just yet.

FWIW National Enquirer etc. existed for ages and no one seemed to mind. There's plenty of fake news to go around...

What about "I am a NYT reader and I read it every day with the hopes to tell me who is a better candidate" and I read it, diligently, not knowing that the information is being fed from one candidate? Isn't that lousy?

The people that sued them (many won!) cared. Celebrities winning a libel suit means you are doing a pretty shitty job.


And like I said, it's totally fine to be concerned with the quality of the content of the NYT. Just don't mix it up with the quality problems at the National Enquirer, which are a different thing entirely.

That's not a great characterization of your link. The Enquirer has a very good record for a publication so venerable and vicious, and rarely loses libel suits. People tend to confuse it mentally with the Weekly World News, which was awesome, proud to be fake news of no consequence, and shelved in checkout lines right next to the Enquirer.

I don't think the line is that sharp. The NYT was peddling completely false stories and attributing them to anonymous administration officials. I'm not willing to say that's not fake news; their sources had/have complete deniability to the point that there's no way that we can say for sure that the stories weren't being directly inserted by the government especially being largely laundered through a single fake journalist[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Miller

There's a difference between a reporter lying to the institution they work for and a couple guys in a garage making shit up for ad views.

I'd very much like to see less anonymous sourcing and PR parroting and so on. It's my belief that conflating those activities with the folks making shit up entirely harms that goal.

Scoundrels, really?

Most newspapers decided to call out Trump because – with any sense of perspective – he is unelectable to a degree that made further insistence on fake balance untenable. That is "the truth". You definition of "truth" would require journalists to reprint the phone book and nothing else – because even the decision what makes a story relevant requires a value judgement that you no longer see as legitimate.

The article is really talking about that attitude, and much better than I can. Unfortunately, the US may be past the point of no return. There is now group of people that has turned their backs on the civil society build over generations. Even republicans are having trouble adjust to the new reality where you can blatantly lie, call for violence at your rallies and (I still can't believe this one) use a presidential debate to relitigate a 10-year-old feud where someone made fun of the size of your hands. But with 40%+ believing in #Pizzagate, they now feel emboldened to a point where they have almost officially given up even the pretence of acting with a coherent ideology that aims to improve anything.

A society needs strong institutions, shared values, and a basic assumption of good faith. If you succeed with the current mission to tear down the NYT/WSJ/WashPo and the two or three other remaining actual news organizations, you'll find yourself in a world of just Mother Jones and Infowars. Are people's lives really dramatically bad so as to justify a roll of the dice of that magnitude?

> decided to call out Trump because – with any sense of perspective – he is unelectable

fake news

I don't think there's such a thing as "truth" in the idealistic way you mean it.

When you seek to describe something as complicated as the economy of a gigantic country or some event involving millions of people, you necessarily create abstractions that capture only a tiny fraction of "truth." And yes, which fraction you end up capturing probably depends on your own personal biases.

You postulate conspiracy: that "[the media] decided to publish half truths because you had certain interests." I think these "half truths" (AKA inaccuracies) are a necessary result of any attempt to describe complex things.

In my opinion, the rational way to live in a world like this is to read widely and take everything with a grain of salt. Or unplug completely. But don't expect or accept any single source of truth.

> You postulate conspiracy

Your use of the word "conspiracy" there has a larger consequence than you think / intended.

You are yelling at danah boyd, an academic and researcher, as if she's a journalist. She's not. She's someone who researches stuff like this for a living.

Stop treating the mass media as a monolith and realize there are individuals making difficult decisions on a daily basis. And that not everyone who writes an article is a member of the mass media.

Good comment. I would only add the generalization that when institutions lose the value of self-restraint, they decay and die. Self-restraint is the key, and it must be used to maintain principle, even at the expense of loyalty.

When you look at institutional problems today, the common thread is that they seem to value loyalty over principle. The most stark example are cops not "ratting" on each other. But scientists have done it too, by gaming the system instead of defending the system against gamesmanship.

I speculate that one contributing factor to this decline is the focus on measurement. Objective measurement is particularly important to capitalists who ultimately fuel much of our institutional activity. This includes those positions in government that, for example, decide which departments to fund, which in turn decide where to put the grants. How do you measure the value of art? The value of research? The value of a piece of news? One measure is attention, which is the precursor to all other interactions, including the all-important transaction. Media has views, scientists have publications and cites. (Artists are perhaps the most honest of all, in that they rely entirely on a nebulous network of "experts" and "buzz" to drive demand.)

News is interesting because you can characterize it as a moving attention dot across an enormously complex information space (a planet with 7.5B people doing all the things people do). If you include the fact that each individual is a primary dot, and they integrate different secondary dots, then each individual is easily combinatorially unique. News is inherently tribal (at least WRT values) because you'll want to know about things you want to change, and those are the things that displease you.

Imagine a personal news service that only told you facts about the world that you personally care about, with a summary of reactions of people you respect (and perhaps disrespect), and an option to dig deeper. That's the kind of news service I'm waiting for!

The Media were playing along with the narrative that Clinton was the most corrupt politician ever, maybe in an effort to appease the right? They also gave Trump way too much air time. The Overton window moved so much during the campaign.

The DNC strategy was to amplify Trump because they thought he'd be an easy-lose candidate, and so they did.


And the DNC/Clinton campaign worked closely with a number of outlets (like NYT) to publish various stories.


This comes from the leaked e-mails, not hearsay.

More that Clinton stories of little consequence were dragged out forever because of her inability to give a straight answer or admit any mistakes without burying them in weasel words.

Those Goldman speeches were a constant hum throughout a year of campaigning, and when they were finally released against her will, they were a no-op. If she had released them the minute they were asked for, and apologized for anything in them that didn't agree with her current stances, they would have been gone in one news cycle. The emails went on forever, because instead of saying sorry and claiming technical ignorance, she blamed everyone but herself. Every time she blamed someone or something else - that's a new story that has to be written.

edit: The main feature of these two stories? Nobody is even claiming that Russians had anything to do with either of them. The leaked emails that the usual suspects are blaming on the Russians just had the effect of confirming Sanders supporters' suspicions; she lost their votes when she characterized them all as privileged white male children.

They gave Trump lots of air time because ppl were interested in watching him act like a clown, and that's $$$ for those websites. Those editors, writers, etc only care about money and power.

The exposure they gave Trump is something that also backfired. :-)

>They used that power to publish biased articles, half truths, etc.

No they didn't. They just didn't post what people wanted.

>started distrusting the mass media.

People were told to distrust the media, and they followed through because it tickles people's ego's.

The Post wasn't great before Bezos, now they're building 5000 word editorials from single tweets, putting them in the news section, and giving them headlines that would shame Buzzfeed.


Are you seriously going to try to treat a blip from one publisher and act like it's characteristic of the whole ecosystem?

For your information, other publishers that are apart of the "MSM" called out the Rolling Stone article.

What do you think about InfoWars & co?

I personally don't blame InfoWars or Breitbart [0]. They don't have the institutional backing nor the legacy that the main stream media has. I blame the main stream media for virtually forcing a segment of the population to tune themselves out and exclusively follow these far-right sources.

I'll give you my own example. Typing "c" on my address bar and pressing enter was a very common thing for me. It would take me to CNN. It was muscle memory. Same for "ny". But in 2016, most of these websites were becoming insufferable and I just started tuning them out. Even I, as someone who disliked Trump, could see the absolute blatant bias and I had the feeling that this was going to backfire very strongly [1].

Some people took it to the other extreme. They got disillusioned by the main stream media but then ended up elevating fringe far-right groups like Breitbart, InfoWars. Those groups didn't become big by spending VC money on ads... they were elevated by a new readership after the dismissal of MSM. Think Digg->Reddit.

[0] It's sad that I even have to say this: I abhor what they publish and the crazy radio host at infowars.

[1] I actually took out a bet in Trump's favor in Jan 2016 to validate my criticism with my friends.

They are rubbish. There are no serious conservative news outlets that I know of. I usually read the news on liberal websites (such as the NYT) but I take everything with a pinch of salt... or a fistful of salt :-)

Could I do the same with conservative websites? No. Breitbart for example looks like a parody website. Also, being a conservative, I think I'd be more inclined to believe their lies, which is something I'd rather not do.

The WSJ is as much to the right as the NYT is to the left, which in actual terms is "not that much, as long as you understand that newspapers have an opinion section that is separate from the newsroom.

There's a sort of "from first principle" theory of journalism currently going around that I can only assume is a misunderstanding of some middle-school civics class. In that world view, any mention of "cars" is evidence of bias in favour of those who believe cars exist.

I try to remember that the most value from newspapers comes not from their political coverage, but the fact that they cover basically everything else (although politics is certainly flashy).

WSJ and NYT both do an admirable job on the other stuff.

Is there an equivalent to The Spectator http://www.spectator.co.uk/ in the US? It is a conservative publication that has been running for nearly 200 years.

Any ambitious conservative writers seem to have quite an opportunity at the moment.

I don't think so, there isn't much of a market for smart, well informed conservative writing at the moment in the USA. The Republican audience is quite anti-intellectual.

Drudge Report is actually quite good, if you can parse out the obvious conservative bias. Drudge is the undisputed king of independent media, and in my experience stories get broken and fleshed out on Drudge faster than any other source.

How about WSJ? Some articles in the Economist tend rightward.

The author argues that when 'the plebs' (look, we know what you're getting at) come up with independent beliefs, serious mistakes can happen. There are some arguments about expertise, but the part that will stick out to most readers is the argument against "individuality."

I'd like to point out that millions of perfectly aligned and polarized poor critical thinkers is a far more terrifying prospect.

A smattering of "fake news" stories that need to be debunked is a really small price to pay if it means we gain a larger portion of the population that actually attempts to think for themselves, question sources and stories critically, etc.

I think back to the MSM "glory days" of the early 2000s. Independent sources were nearly nonexistent, and it felt like the entire country happily accepted whatever narrative they were given (see: WMD in Iraq, invasion)

I think when clicks equal money, there's a lot less room for ethics in journalism.

See: https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Still, as the article points out, efforts to sanitize reporting will fail. But I think that's OK. I'd rather see a populace interested and misinformed, than one uninterested and uninformed.

> I'd rather see a populace interested and misinformed

Really? Isn't that the worst possible combination for making it easier to spread propaganda?

Quoting Confucious - To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.

As a counterpoint to this article, I recommend Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Intellectual, Yet Idiot" piece:


Elites, heal thyself.

That's some top notch ranting. the ad hominem-to-factual argument ratio is through the roof, and the amount of bare assertions is splendid.

It's fine if you don't agree with the post, but if that's the case you do your position a disservice by posting this inanity.

I regard Taleb as a useful source of "possibilities to think about", generally presented in an entertaining way.

If you're reading it expecting evidence for said possibilities, then, yes, you'll be disappointed - but this tends to be true of pop sci style writing in general.

NNT is well worth reading and taking seriously, regardless if you agree with him or not.

But yes, he is a master of the rant.

This obsession with fake news is predicated on the assumption that the electorate in the Midwest voted for Trump because they were misinformed or confused.

I think that for very many people, enough to cost Clinton the election, the choice to support Trump or to stay home came not from confusion or misinformation or racism or xenophobia but from the realization that Clinton is going to do absolutely nothing to help them, and that while Trump will probably not help them either, there is at least a chance he might. At one point he asked "what have you got to lose?" I think that's a line that resonated very well in the Midwest.

This obsession with fake news on the left is disturbing to me for two reasons. One, quite frankly, is the notion that fake news was only deployed by the right to hurt Clinton, and only being transmitted from "disreputable" news sites (with ties to Putin of course) across Facebook.

I recall the fake news about Bernie supporters throwing chairs in Nevada being broadcast on NPR, then in the evening NPR broadcasting that they knew it was fake (on on-the-media I believe) then the following morning, mentioning it again as if it were true.

The implication here is that if we could just keep all the news transmission in the hands of "responsible gatekeepers" in the media then fake news could be eliminated. But if NPR isn't a responsible gatekeeper, then who is?

Secondly I'm disturbed to watch my party, the party I want to see win elections, go down a navel gazing rabbit hole rather than addressing the very real fundamental structural problems with its operation.

How the least popular politician in America, clouded by scandal, became the Democratic nominee is a question the party should be asking. Why the party managed to disconnect so thoroughly with its base is a question that should be asking. How the party could run such lousy campaigns with such horrible management of resources not just at the presidential level but in congress at at the state level, that's something the party leadership needs to explain, and we who support the party need to demand accountability for.

If the Democratic party and Democratic supporters keep going off into the weeds and obsessing about things that aren't pertinent like "fake news" or sneering at all the xenophobic voters then they're going to keep on losing elections and the Republicans will have carte blanche to push whatever agenda they want.

Well said. There's this assumption that when people don't do what you would do, that they're misinformed, when in fact, they may very well have the same information, it's just that they disagree with you. In other words, different people have different values and vote accordingly.

>realization that Clinton is going to do absolutely nothing to help them, and that while Trump will probably not help them either, there is at least a chance he might. At one point he asked "what have you got to lose?" I think that's a line that resonated very well in the Midwest.

Same thing explained trough prospect theory:

Does Prospect Theory explain Trump and Brexit votes? http://cognitionandculture.net/blog/christophe-heintzs-blog/...

I wish this comment could be on the nightly news and widely distributed. You nailed it.

I see it as Trump, the master negotiator, knowing the one thing the media can't afford to point out, and then Trump the politician doing just that: Manufacturing Consent.

I don't understand the obsession with finding the perfect news source, the one source of truth, devoid of any bias. It will never happen.

During the election, I would go back and forth between super left wing and super right wing news sources. I found that was the best way to filter out the bullshit.

This is the only way to read the news. By reading many different sources of news, each with their own wild biases, you can triangulate the actual facts.

We should just be grateful that in the modern world we have access to so many different sources, instead of just a few.

Overall the cause of the issue can be, in my opinion, summarized as cognitive isolation. People either never learn to or stop challenging their own views and knowledge.

This ranges from rather simple cases where people live in less advanced areas, living hard but repetitive lives, to the well-educated and experienced who stopped debating with people of the same level of mastery of some subject, thus, constantly amplifying their perception of a subject and eventually also ceasing to pick up nuanced disagreements from those who at least challenge a small part of the respective topic. The intent being, at best, to win an argument and validate one's perspective rather than letting others to convince oneself

In simpler terms, many people--whether educated by well-grounded or misleading sources--do not understand or neglect that even if you have trained, studied, researched in-depth for years, you are quite rarely capable of considering and addressing enough of the relevant approaches to a certain matter and that you have to continue to "peer-review" your own points of view your whole life.

Misconception of that often leading to the misinterpretation of the importance and the nuanced workings of trust in our societies which a whole new world of dangerous paths one can take.

Maybe fake news is a blessing in disguise in that it makes you distrust everything. Which is a good thing. Because despite what some people want to believe, media as it is today is a healthy dose of garbage shoveled down your throat by people with various interests. All focused on self-interest without considering the broader implications of their actions. Fake news is the lowest form of this, but we have many higher forms that pass without ridicule.

People believe in information that confirms their priors.

This is one way to look at the problem and one that fits in with the contemporary interest in cognitive bias. An alternative explanation is that people more easily intake information that activates their schema.

What every news consumer should consider is that every source has a bias. Only by considering multiple sources can you have something approaching "truth".

This is a good read. It's from danah boyd, whom I've disagreed with on some points before, but this article looks at why certain people distrust mainstream media or the opinions of experts, and traces it back to America's individualist message taught to children early on coupled with an ever more acute class conflict, as opposed to a more condescending conclusion typically implied by previous analyses.

Have a look at this segment of an interview with John Pilger on the state of journalism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1Ho8OrBzig&feature=youtu.be...

We do not have many journalists anymore. We have too many anti-journalists.

"Wherever I go, my first object, if I wish to find out the truth, is to get hold of the Free Press in France as in England, and even in America. But I know that wherever I get hold of such an organ it will be very strongly coloured with the opinion, or even fanaticism, of some minority. The Free Press, as a whole, if you add it all up and cancel out one exaggerated statement against another, does give you a true view of the state of society in which you live. The Official Press to-day gives you an absurdly false one everywhere. What a caricature—and what a base, empty caricature—of England or France or Italy you get in the "Times," or the "Manchester Guardian," the "Matin," or the "Tribune"! No one of them is in any sense general—or really national.

The Free Press gives you the truth; but only in disjointed sections, for it is disparate and it is particularist: it is marked with isolation—and it is so marked because its origin lay in various and most diverse propaganda: because it came later than the official Press of Capitalism, and was, in its origins, but a reaction against it."


"Partly it [the Teflon-like ability of some to resist the charge of “irrationality” or “extremism”] is a matter of a general cynicism in our culture about the power or even the relevance of rational argument to matters sufficiently fundamental. Fideism has a large, not always articulate, body of adherents, and not only among the members of those Protestant churches and movements which openly proclaim it; there are plenty of secular fideists. And partly it is because of a strong and sometimes justified suspicion by those against whom the charge is leveled that those who level it do so, not so much because they themselves are genuinely moved by rational argument, as by appealing to argument they are able to exercise a kind of power which favors their own interests and privileges, the interests and privileges of a class which has arrogated the rhetorically effective use of argument to itself for its own purposes.

Arguments, that is to say, have come to be understood in some circles not as expressions of rationality, but as weapons, the techniques for deploying which furnish a key part of the professional skills of lawyers, academics, economists, and journalists who thereby dominate the dialectically unfluent and inarticulate. There is thus a remarkable concordance in the way in which apparently very different types of social and cultural groups envisage each other’s commitments. To the readership of the New York Times, or at least that part of it which shares the presuppositions of those who write that parish magazine of affluent and self-congratulatory liberal enlightenment, the congregations of evangelical fundamentalism appear unfashionably unenlightened. But to the members of those congregations that readership appears to be just as much a community of pre-rational faith as they themselves are but one whose members, unlike themselves, fail to recognize themselves for what they are, and hence are in no position to level charges of irrationality at them or anyone else."


The old media has been lying for years, especially about race, gender, and sexuality. People saw through these lies, because the reality asserts itself to anyone who sees and hears, but most felt trapped, unable to report the evidence of their eyes without losing friends, family, and jobs. When these people saw new media come along that told the truth about the things they saw with their on eyes, people felt a sense of relief and began believing everything these new media reported, even things about which old media has been truthful and about which new media is lying.

The lesson here is that if you have a platform and social trust, don't abuse that platform to lie, even in the name of "social justice". It's tempting, but it won't work. The truth will come out, and you'll have irreversibly damaged your reputation.

Are you able to point to any academic papers or even concrete examples of the old media lying about race, gender or sexuality? I am legitimately curious about this claim.


> Are you able to point to any academic papers or even concrete examples of the old media lying about race, gender or sexuality

The fact that you would ask such a question belies a fundamental misunderstanding of how things work. You are thoroughly embedded in the system and don't realize it yet :) The academy (which is overwhelmingly left wing outside of the hard sciences, math, and engineering) establishes the "truth" regarding matters of "race, gender or sexuality" - whereby "truth" means the opinions you may express without being exiled from polite urban society, without losing your job, without being vociferously attacked by an enraged mob.

Note that the old media is staffed by people who were all educated by the very academy you are expecting to perform a truth-checking function! To be clear, there are no "marching orders", but everyone understands the game, and everyone is incentivized to say what they are supposed to say. You may as well ask for Soviet academic papers giving concrete examples of Pravda lying about industrial production!

You'll have to do some research off-HN, sorry. I'm already treading very thin ground by questioning the polite consensus on these topics. It's too dangerous to bring up the real issues at a place like HN.

Try scanning, say, the Unz Review once in a while. Hold your nose and look at the content. Yes, everyone respectable will denounce the place, but make up your own mind. Occasionally, you'll see an article that makes you say, "Hrm. That makes sense." You'll have been trained to reject this feeling, to attribute it to something evil within yourself. You'll want to go running back to your comfortable lies. Ignore this sensation, just for a moment, and give new ideas the benefit of the doubt.

I suppose one thing that's safe to talk about is the campus rape issue. The official story is that the American college is about as dangerous as a third world country when it came to sexual assault. After Rolling Stone's piece was revealed to be a complete fabrication, this claim started to lose its currency. But until this debunking, everyone went along with the idea that campus was some sort of awful, dangerous place and that men were demons. The Jackie article was far from the first one painting an unreal image of gender relations.

I'm having a hard time thinking of anything other examples I can denounce in polite company. All I can say is that the official story is that human being are blank slates upon birth, with all characteristics socially constructed, and that this idea is false. Nothing in our society makes sense if you ascribe to the blank slate idea, but the media pushes it anyway. The intellectual contortions that the mainstream media uses to preserve the blank slake hypothesis are embarrassing and credibility-destroying.

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