The War on 'Fake News'

In response to the recent election fiasco, progressives are increasing their efforts to control the internet. They are targeting “fake news.” Since no one is in favor of “fake news”, this should be a clear winning strategy. Progressives can portray themselves as the defenders of democracy and free speech. At the same time they will be able to eliminate some troublesome competitors who might question their own reliability.

The forces arrayed against the powers of falsehood are formidable. They include heads of state, internet providers, major news organizations, and a myriad of private groups. President Obama proclaimed, “There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world.” This is a curious statement since truthiness is defined as ”the quality of seeming to be true according to one's intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence, or the like.” Angela Merkel told the German Bundestag, “Opinions aren't formed the way they were 25 years ago. We must confront this phenomenon and if necessary, regulate it."

Internet providers have joined the effort. Facebook says it will no longer place Facebook-powered ads on “fake news” websites. Google said it would stop letting fake news sites use its ad placement network. Google has created an entity composed of mainstream news outlets. It is called the First Draft Coalition and presents itself as a kind of Ministry of Truth. It will decide which stories are true and which are “fake.” The New York Times is in the vanguard of this movement. It has criticized Facebook and Google for making it possible for fake news to be shared by millions. The Times pointed to the negative outcome of fake news pointing to the ethnic violence in Burma that a “fake news” report contributed to.

The criticism of “fake news” on the internet makes no mention of “fake news” in the mainstream media. The extensive bias in the media is one of the reasons for the attack on the internet. It would require several volumes to list all the examples of “fake news” disseminated by the main stream media. A recent example is the New York Times’ criticism of Senator Ben Sasse. The Times reported that Sasse, “tweeted about people who have been paid to riot against Mr. Trump -- an idea propagated by fake news stories.” In the Washington Post, Paul Horner remarked that Trump’s, “supporters were under the belief that people were getting paid to protest at their rallies, and that’s just insane.” Perhaps the Washington Post and New York Times were unaware that two top Democratic strategists were on video discussing voter fraud and planting paid agitators at campaign events for Donald Trump.

There are countless examples of “fake news” reports. Some of them were relatively harmless like the stories of Janet Cooke and Jayson Blair. Other examples were more significant. Dan Rather’s 2004 report on George Bush’s military service was designed to effect a presidential election. Michael Isikoff’s 2005 article in Newsweek about the U.S. military putting a Koran in the toilet possibly led to 17 deaths during riots in Afghanistan. The Times incorrectly reported, “tracing the firing location of a Syrian sarin-laden rocket in 2013 back to a Syrian military base.” In 2003 CNN head Eason Jordan admitted in a New York Times op-ed piece titled “The News We Kept to Ourselves” that he deliberately whitewashed Saddam Hussein’s atrocities.

Some of these “fake news” stories have had a significant impact on world history. In 1933, Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times correspondent Walter Durante’s downplaying of the Ukrainian famine facilitated President Roosevelt’s recognition of the Soviet Union. More famous is William Randolph Hearst’s comment to artist Frederic Remington who he had sent to Cuba, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war,” shortly before the Spanish American War.

Who has monitored the dissemination of information in the past? In a free society, it should be regulated by the market. When people feel they are not being served they seek alternate sources. A large number of consumers believe that the major media are not serving them adequately. They are seeking information elsewhere. Progressives would like to prevent this. If they want to be successful they should do this patiently without fanfare. Instead they are using people like ex-Stasi agent Anetta Kahane

John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy, Algora Publishing, 2013.