Tuesday, 14 February 2017

When Media Twit and Tweet

Self-Destructive Emotional Exhaustion

The Federalist has published a piece on the media's use and abuse of "fake news".  It details 16 fake stories that for some strange reason made it past the editors and sub-editors.  Then, once the headlines trumpeted the falsehood, retractions and corrections were made in fine print at the bottom of page 23, days later, after the damage has been done.

This is happening far too often to be co-incidence.  Not that we are suggesting a formal conspiracy is at work.  But a reckless animadversion, bent against what we might generally call a conservative or classical liberal world-and-life view, is clearly evident.

Here are some examples, cited in the Federalist article:

December 1: The 27-Cent Foreclosure
At Politico on December 1, Lorraine Woellert published a shocking essay claiming that Trump’s pick for secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, had overseen a company that “foreclosed on a 90-year-old woman after a 27-cent payment error.” According to Woellert: “After confusion over insurance coverage, a OneWest subsidiary sent [Ossie] Lofton a bill for $423.30. She sent a check for $423. The bank sent another bill, for 30 cents. Lofton, 90, sent a check for three cents. In November 2014, the bank foreclosed.”

The story received widespread coverage, being shared nearly 17,000 times on Facebook. The New York Times’s Steven Rattner shared it on Twitter (1,300 retweets), as did NBC News’s Brad Jaffy (1,200 retweets), the AP’s David Beard (1,900 retweets) and many others.

The problem? The central scandalous claims of Woellert’s article were simply untrue. As the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Ted Frank pointed out, the woman in question was never foreclosed on, and never lost her home. Moreover, “It wasn’t Mnuchin’s bank that brought the suit.”  Politico eventually corrected these serious and glaring errors. But the damage was done: the story had been repeated by numerous media outlets including Huffington Post (shared 25,000 times on Facebook), the New York Post, Vanity Fair, and many others.  [Daniel Payne, The Federalist]
Here is another:
January 20: Betsy DeVos, Grizzly Fighter
During her confirmation hearing, education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos was asked whether schools should be able to have guns on their campuses. As NBC News reported, DeVos felt it was “best left to locales and states to decide.” She pointed out that one school in Wyoming had a fence around it to protect the students from wildlife. “I would imagine,” she said, “that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

This was an utterly noncontroversial stance to take. DeVos was simply pointing out that different states and localities have different needs, and attempting to mandate a nationwide one-size-fits-all policy for every American school is imprudent.

How did the media run with it? By lying through their teeth. “Betsy DeVos Says Guns Should Be Allowed in Schools. They Might Be Needed to Shoot Grizzlies” (Slate). “Betsy DeVos: Schools May Need Guns to Fight Off Bears” (The Daily Beast). “Citing grizzlies, education nominee says states should determine school gun policies” (CNN). “Betsy DeVos says guns in schools may be necessary to protect students from grizzly bears” (ThinkProgress.) “Betsy DeVos says guns shouldn’t be banned in schools … because grizzly bears” (Vox). “Betsy DeVos tells Senate hearing she supports guns in schools because of grizzly bears” (The Week). “Trump’s Education Pick Cites ‘Potential Grizzlies’ As A Reason To Have Guns In Schools” (BuzzFeed).

The intellectual dishonesty at play here is hard to overstate. DeVos never said or even intimated that every American school or even very many of them might need to shoot bears. She merely used one school as an example of the necessity of federalism and as-local-as-possible control of the education system.  Rather than report accurately on her stance, these media outlets created a fake news event to smear a reasonable woman’s perfectly reasonable opinion. 
Payne's article details sixteen such smears or blatant falsehoods, many of which were propagated and promoted by "respected" media outlets, with little or no evidence, but "grounded" in rumour, or deliberate misrepresentation.  [The oh-so-intellectual-media call this "framing the story".  Like medical doctors, only the qualified and certified pseudo-intellectuals working in the media are allowed to practise "framing".]  Payne argues that this is a completely self-inflicted crisis and could well end up in the profession of journalism disappearing forever into the sewers.

In the short term, however, the impact is likely to weaken the political strength of the Left even further.  All of these "stories" are false; there are doubtless many more similar incidents of journalistic mendacity that could be documented.  There are many more to come.  Some will have already made it into the Academy of Urban Legends.  But the emotional energy will quickly dissipate.  One cannot survive living under the exhaustive emotional demands of an outrage-du-jour.

But not only will the Left be consigned to the ennui of perpetual calamity, two other consequences will likely flow.  The first is that the general public will become even more scathing and disrespectful of "the media", and, by association, of the Left.  The public cognitive dissonance with respect to the media will mushroom.  The second is that to sustain the daily hit, the Left will need to become even more extreme in its speculations--which, in turn, will drive the whole world-view into self-defeating positions.

As a consequence, the Democratic Party may end up spending a long time in the political wilderness, and may never recover.  Before long we may all be witnessing a public re-launch of the Socialist Party of the United States, with Bernard Sanders as its patron saint.

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