Surprise! No book review today. Instead I wanted to talk about what I have been reading in the news and I want to particularly point out an alarming upward trend of fake news stories aimed at the political left.
Like many of you, ever since the election I have been reading news stories in the Washington Post, New York Times, The Economist and from many other sources, a lot of which I find in my Facebook feed.
I live in the suburbs of Washington DC, so when Pizzagate happened it hit really close to home. Pizzagate seemed to define the insanity of right wing conspiracy news. Who would seriously think that Hillary Clinton would be trafficking children out of a pizza restaurant in DC? Evidently, a lot of people. And one person in particular who was taking matters into his own hands and came to DC to free the children armed with a rifle!
I confess to feeling a bit smug about all this never thinking that those on the left could fall for this kind of crazy stuff, but I have been a bit shocked by some of the things that end up in my news feed on FB and what friends tell me is on Twitter. Not only are people on the political left reading this kind of stuff, they are actually falling for it just like people on the political right did. In February The Atlantic did a piece on this very issue. Their conclusion was that, ‘[g]iven the choice, democratic citizens will not seek out news that challenges their beliefs; instead, they will opt for content that confirms their suspicions.” To me this is a shocking statement. I pride myself on being a reader of a pretty wide spectrum sources of information.
But people on the left fall for the silly stuff too, like the “fake news” that Queen Elizabeth ll had claimed she could kill Trump with a sword if he ever visited Buckingham Palace. While most of us probably did not fall for that one, there has been a more disturbing trend where nuance and context have been removed causing the story to be more lopsided and outrageous than it really was. The recent kerfuffle over the dress code in the Speaker’s lobby on the Hill is a case in point. The rules governing women’s and mens attire has been in place for a long time. CBS, who was pretty even handed in their coverage stated that the rules were rather vague and unclear but that the same rules that are in effect now were in effect under Nancy Pelosi when she was Speaker. Additionally, they noted that there has been some variance in enforcement among members on the House side while it is not enforced at all on the Senate side. The reporter in question was stopped as she was trying to cross the lobby. The patrol who stopped her offered to find her a sweater just like they often offer to provide a tie or suit coat for men who are caught without. So when Speaker Ryan suggested that “Members should periodically rededicate themselves to the core principles of proper parliamentary practice that are so essential to maintaining order and deliberacy here in the House,” and “[m]embers should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House however brief their appearance on the floor may be,” he was not trying to impose new and stricter rules rather just trying to remind members of what was already there.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not a fan of the current dress code. I think it should be reviewed and revised. But what I am talking about is that even though this was a fairly straight up news story, coverage from many liberal sites was not very factual like this Tweet that pictured Ryan in an unflattering pose and implying that he was imposing new rules that were more draconian or this tweet from Mediate that implied Ryan was establishing a new “no sleeveless” policy. Admittedly these are just tweets and not “news” per se, but it is troubling that people are spreading misleading and even false stories as if they were true.
I think the most shocking incident, however was when Democratic Senator Ed Markey stated during an interview with CNN that a grand jury had been impaneled in New York to investigate the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. It wasn’t true! He was just repeating something he had seen in his FB news feed.
This rumor had been all over social media and had been written about in the Palmer Report, a liberal blog know for its conspiracy theories and by Twitter star for the left, Louise Mensch. Markey had to retract his statement and The Atlantic wrote a sobering article about the event, entitled, How the Left Lost Its Mind. One of the things that struck me in that article is that in the final weeks leading up to the 2016 election 20% of the stories posted on Occupy Democrats, The Other 98% and Addicting Info, “…were either partly or mostly false.”
Occupy Democrats is one of the sources on my FB news feed that I read regularly. I also read the Palmer Report and Seth Abrahamson’s breathless tweet sagas about the legal ramifications of the latest Trump scandal and it made me realize that I had fallen into the trap of reading not what would challenge my beliefs but what would confirm my suspicions. So now what do I do?
Tune in next week as I share the steps I am taking to wean myself from fake news aimed at the left.