Playing the Indian Card

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Fake Fake News News

National Post has published a piece from Bloomberg News taking umbrage over Trump's “Fake News” Awards.

The piece is, alarmingly, presented not as opinion, but straight news. But get this for a nice, balanced, objective lede: “President Donald Trump announced the recipients of his so-called Fake News Awards, on Wednesday, his latest attack on the press that has drawn objections from within his own party.”

Near the top, it notes “Trump’s announcement came as two senators from his own party excoriated him for his incessant attacks on the free press.”

“The free press”? Why this qualifying adjective? Is there another press in the US, well-known to readers, large and worthy of mention, that is not free?

No. Surely the implication is that any criticism of the press, or any part of the press, is an attack on press freedom.

If you think so, and want to argue so, you do not believe in mere freedom of the press. You believe in dictatorship of the press.

It then complains that Trump has called on journalists to be fired for “minor” mistakes.

Doesn't calling the unspecified mistakes “minor” there sound like an expression of opinion more than objective reporting? Shouldn't it be substantiated in some way?

The article then asks:
The “Fake News Awards” announced on the Republican National Committee website and touted by President Donald Trump pose a conundrum: Does it really count if the news organization admits error?

Everyone makes mistakes – and the point is not to play gotcha. News organizations operate in a competitive arena and mistakes are bound to be made. The key test is whether an error is acknowledged and corrected.
Since they ask, yes, it does count. It would be worse, no doubt, if the error were never acknowledged. But people rely on the media, the press, to be authoritative. They are supposed to have layers of editors and fact-checkers to ensure that it is. That is what the people are paying their quarter, or their dollar, for—that reliability. Otherwise they could get all their news on the streetcorner. If an error nevertheless gets printed, that is certainly worthy of condemnation, just as if GM put out a car that burst into flames when the brake was applied. A later recall does not erase the fault.

Moreover, if the error is something that any layperson would expect to have been caught by even a cursory fact-check before publication, we have the right to suspect it was a deliberate case of fake news. The danger is that, at best, the papers no longer check the factuality of assertions they agree with. Then they will run a correction if (and only if) they are caught out. Oops. But no matter—the damage is often already done.

The National Post piece then gets down to specifics. It objects that the story of Trump removing a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King from the Oval Office—an event that never happened—was not fake news, because “This is is reference to a tweet by a reporter – which was quickly corrected. Do tweets really count as ‘news’? This did not appear as a news article.”

This rebuttal is itself fake news. The assertion was not only in a tweet; it was included in a pool report at the time, and in Time magazine's own news article. Time's own website writes: “A TIME story that included the error was corrected.” And here is the actual correction:

Correction: An earlier version of the story said that a bust of Martin Luther King had been moved. It is still in the Oval Office.

So let's see: how did the present author manage to know something that was just not true? How did Bloomberg never fact-check? How did the National Post, in turn, never fact-check? One begins to get suspicious.

The notorious koi story is a similar case. CNN released a video showing Trump dumping food into a koi pond, and this was widely reported as boorish behaviour. The video did not show that Trump was simply following the lead of Japanese PM Abe.

The NatPost piece's defense, again, is that this was “just a tweet.”

However, a quick trip to Snopes shows that actual news stories were indeed filed with this fake news:

The Guardian: “Trump dump: president throws entire box of fish food into precious koi carp pond.”

Jezebel: “Big Stupid Baby Dumps Load Of Fish Food On Japanese Koi Pond.”

CNN's one headline was “Trump feeds fish, winds up pouring entire box of food into koi pond.”

It certainly sounds as though they are making dumping the entire box the focus of the story.

The NatPost commentator insists CNN is off the hook because they added, down in the fifth paragraph, “Abe, who actually appeared to dump out his box of food ahead of Trump.” But buried this deep, and contradicting their own lede, it looks like it was only there to cover butt if necessary.

And the CNN news story includes the deceptively edited clip. It was not just a tweet; it was both a tweet and a full news story.

Evidently the legacy media have no thought to reform. They are determined to go down with all hands on deck and with all guns blazing.

It is a magnificent thing to watch.

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