Tag Archives: fake news

How is the New Fascism Different?


Ippolito Caffi, “Interior of the Colosseum”, 1850s, National Gallery

Fascism has been frequently defined as “the merger of state and corporate power.” This phrase is commonly attributed to Mussolini, though there’s no evidence he said it. Regardless, this soundbite has resonated exists as the most common coherent definition of fascism and works well as a still object against which I can attempt to measure society’s current rapid motion.

The current fascist consolidation isn’t the same as the one that rose in the first half of the 20th century. The earlier fascism rose in a cultural moment of technological ascension that was genuinely convincing. The possibility of utopia seemed real in concrete ways that hadn’t prior; in just a generation the material constraints that had defined humanity had lifted. This possibility also contrasted with what historians of WWI have dubbed “the possibility of total annihilation” and that Eric Hobsbawm discusses in The Age of Extremes-the act of warfare was now the possibility of complete annihilation without even a corpse as a remnant. This tide of fascism was effectively bookended with the ultimate realization of total physical annihilation-the atom bomb. While regional fascisms continued after WWII, fascism in toto was seen until recently as a response to the interwar period. Until 2016 anyway.

What has changed in the interim and how do we need to adjust our understanding of fascism so we can effectively respond to it? I feel like the current situation is primarily driven by two factors: 1) A population that consciously/subconsciously understands that there is a very strong possibility of an extinction event or at least severe version of what evolution science calls “a bottleneck”. 2) The overt merger of corporate and state power being caused by the transition/collapse of capitalism into what I would call competitive feudalism.

Both of these subjects could and have been the core of numerous long books. For brevity’s sake I’m going to lay out the bones of my argument in numbered observations:

1. Fascism in its initial incarnation was Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism/Maoism’s mirror image. Each saw the possibility of social perfection in the broader project of mass industrialization but defined utopia differently. Nazism was aesthetically an attempt by a society to embody the orderly image of standardized mechanical production, as opposed to Stalinism/Maoism’s attempts to rapidly industrialize so that industrialization could be (at least in theory) harnessed for the good of the majority population. This note is strictly referring to the projected self-image of these three movements and not their actualities, which, as we all know, were far messier and eventually catastrophic. The “alt-right” fascism of 2016 was born out of chaos and is happy to project an outward image of chaos-Donald Trump’s bizarre self-contradiction and embrace of domestic terrorist organizations not directly under his command is much closer to Mao’s tactics for consolidating power during the Chinese Cultural Revolution than Hitler’s deification of orderly militarism.

2. The new fascism has grown in a period defined by the proliferation of very possible (probable?) end of human civilization, and possibly life on Earth itself. This would be either through a third world war going nuclear or an unseen multiplier effect to climate change. This isn’t an argument on the probability of either event-their omnipresence in discussion and mass consciousness is more than enough to engender complex and bizarre effects. Increasingly erratic weather can’t help but give a morbid pall to even sunny warm days, particularly when they’re falling in the middle of February. Pretending that the chaotic novelty of recent politics isn’t related to climate change or the clear end of the viability of capitalism just because its adherents claim not to believe in climate change or the potential that capitalism could ever end is ridiculous. The zombie-neoliberalism-professionalism of the Democrats and the lulz-racism-deathcult of the Republicans are both clearly responses to the constant obvious reminders of the very real possibility none of us are going to reach our sell-by date. The Democrats think that rigid adherence to capitalism as it was will rise a dead thing, or worse that technological accelerationism will save us just in the nick of time. The Republicans/neo-fascist parties worldwide think that if they can ritually cleanse society of people/things that annoy them or their constituents (everything from the guy serving them at McDonalds having an accent to invented wars on Christmas) they can return to an imagined and fictional happy equilibrium. Confusing correlation with causation isn’t a result of ignorance but a psychological tool for releasing cognitive dissonance. The feeling of “powerlessness” among young white men is not solely attributable to economic prospects declining but to the larger cultural sense that there very well could not be a future.

3. The new fascism is not a politics of possibility but a politics of exhaustion. It’s not founded in the shadow of imagined utopia but in the shadow of imagined extinction. Hitler had Speer drawing up plans for a grand new Berlin, Trump can’t even say whether he’s going to actually do any of that infrastructure whatever he was vaguely talking about.

4. The ready accessibility of more information than can possibly be processed even by people who spend all day trying to make sense of what’s going on, compounded by the strong probability most of this information is fake or misleading compounds this sense of helplessness. The internet has shifted from an object of liberation hopes to one of Orwellian control that Orwell didn’t have enough of the puzzle pieces to put together. Instead of a TV that watches us, we have a dispassionate TV where we flail up and down to get its attention-several thousand people do this for a living now. Social media as a primary distribution outlet for information is incompatible

5. The best way to measure this breakdown of public trust in well…the very concept of trust: satire requires a social narrative with clear boundaries regarding what can credibly be accepted as real. These boundaries have broken down. This is the age of #nottheonion, an age featuring traits both of Baudrillard’s simulacra and Debord’s Spectacle, where reality has finally outpaced speculative fiction. We are in the thing after satire and after capitalism, not because either collapsed but because both have triumphantly ascended to omnipresence and by doing so lost the other whose differance defined them.

6. The way that power is distributed through media, due to #4, is basically a thing that can only be mastered by a small group of people with extremely specialized skill sets. Social media as a primary distribution outlet for information is incompatible with representative democracy. The famous line is “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Now that everyone ostensibly owns a printing press, outside of the questionable credibility of something going “viral”, access to readership is pretty much entirely a matter of training in and adherence to what were once termed counterinsurgency principles or the money to continually push posts. Access to the kind of AI/data crunching capabilities that allow someone like Robert Mercer to get Donald Trump elected or get Britain to decide to leave the EU cost several million dollars at the bare minimum and is limited to those who have the infrastructure and the highly qualified/extremely limited number of individuals that can run such an operation. The more polarized and scared the country is, the more money Facebook makes.

7. Accordingly, the practice of psychology has revealed itself as being a tool of mass control first and a sort of therapeutic thing second. The part that benefits the ruling classes is not the therapeutic part and much of the “progress” that has occurred in the last 150 years both in the social and hard sciences rewrite society in a manner more akin to Adorno’s Negative Dialectics than a coming tech utopia or “luxury communism”.

8. The fact that the current business model of the largest companies in the country is “disrupt and then take advantage of however long we can maintain a monopoly” speaks to the fact that there isn’t any more space for capital to expand. The fact that the capitalist warlords can directly govern now instead of ruling through proxies speaks more to where the country was already headed than any huge seismic shift caused by Trumpism. Much of the country feels powerless because in terms of the broad levers of power, they are. The struggles going on between the tech and oil/old-new money takes on an apocalyptic Twilight of the Idols feel. They’re fighting over who gets to own the pie when the turnover of capitalism settles into a single totalistic owner-subject state not given over to whatever struggles of consolidation in the marketplace are still left.

The Fake News Panic is a US Media Credibility Crisis

On November 13th of 2016, every major media outlet in the United States of America ran front page articles centered around a newly invented term. “Fake news“, papers papered and online distributors distributed, was a serious and modern and unique problem being faced by the nation.

Specifically, mainstream media outlets equivocated all alternative sources of information to themselves with ‘fake news’, but had trouble bringing up specific instances. Notably a few examples of fake news articles have been traded by supporters of this panic, for example by NPR, and mostly they amount to three or four specific articles that had little readership and little impact. Among the touted examples found in a subsequent online witch hunt arose a combination of satirical articles from the Onion and other humor websites, some very obviously politicized articles heavily spinning current events, and articles from bloggers and citizens who produced confused accounts trying to consolidate perspectives provided to them by multiple outlets into a coherent single.

Fake news for liberals: misinformation starts to lean left under Trump” the Guardian writes, citing a number of fabricated, spun, misreported, and misleading stories trending on left-wing social media. Others point to right-wing websites that abused their headlines to make fast passersbys misinterpret the content of the news story: to deliver a misrepresentative synopsis of article content.

The abuse of headlines is (unfortunately) a common practice in news journalism editing, encouraged by the bottom line of the business as well as political and national security sensibilities. It is a well established fact that headlines are read in lieu of actual articles, and outlets abuse this to strategically misinform readership who browse headlines and to color the perspective of those that do go on to read full articles.

Famously, the New York Times published an article during the Israeli invasion of Palestinian Gaza about the killing of schoolchildren playing soccer by missile strike and the general tactic of using untargetted mass killing of civilians and hospitals as punitive measures during the offensive. This article was given the headline “Missile at Beachside Gaza Cafe Finds Patrons Poised for World Cup.”

The article could have been headlined “Israel Continues to Implement Collective Punishment; Kills Children Playing Soccer” which is far more descriptive of the contents of the article. But that wouldn’t do. It calls into question Israel’s tactical ethics, the defense relationship Americans have with an important US ally, and would leave those who skim the NYT with the impression that Israel’s military invasion of Palestine was offensive and aggressive in nature – in direct contradiction to the professional obligation of US media to present the war fighting and civilian casualties as justified and defensive.

After a controversy, the NYT retitled the headline (after it was no longer news) and has since edited the headline to read “In Rubble of Gaza Seaside Cafe, Hunt for Victims Who Had Come for Soccer.”

The headline is descriptive of the article, and much less whitewashed than “Missile at Beachside Gaza Cafe Finds Patrons Poised for World Cup” but still does the reader injustice by framing away the context of the article. The new headline still did not mention the missile was launched by Israel, the controversy of its recent military incursion, and it invokes the World Cup as a distractionary measure as though this were more important context than the Middle Eastern peace accords, military law, or the international effort to call Israel into question for war crimes.

During the surge to get the United States involved in the Syrian proxy war against the Iranian and Russian ally Syria, reports about the barbarity of the Islamic State group made headlines. Selective reporting about the realities of war are destabilizing to the sensitivities of American vote makers and motivate their sense of exasperation that ‘something must be done’.  A US propaganda outlet established during the war on Iraq (“iraqinews.com“) reported, on the condition of anonymity for their source, that Islamic State prisoners of war were being executed and then their bodies dissolved in acid: but ran this with the headline “ISIS uses nitric acid to kill and torture citizens in Mosul” with a picture of people in jumpsuits, in a cage, submerged in liquid.

American domestic media outlets picked up this story, and as though by a game of telephone, the headline read “ISIS execute 25 people by DISSOLVING them in nitric acid” with the rumor growing – now sounding as though twenty-five souls were tied dangling over a bubbling pot of acid, as though it were a scene from a evil villain cartoon. It is difficult to discern exactly how and when the spies were killed by the Islamic State group before their bodies disposed, with escalatory and malinformative rumors originally publicized by military propaganda units republished domestically with no fact checking and with no investigatory journalism capable of cross checking facts or even getting clarity from the original, anonymous source.

Similar stories ran amuck in the US media industry regarding presumed ISIS and Islamist burning of Christians and Christian children to death, with Snopes thankfully posting articles providing context about the pictures used to promulgate the misinformation.

As American and allied propaganda slowly turned from building support against ISIS to the building support against the government of Syria, the US media industry followed suite. Foreign reporting from the BBC and the Independent, as well as from al Jazeera (a state-run propaganda outlet by the authoritarian government of Qatar), and domestic US news such as CNN and VICE, ran fake news stories about a little girl by the name of Marianna Mazeh (“Starving Syria Girl“) in a run of stories about a town being liberated by the Syrian government from rebel forces allied with al Qaeda. The girl is okay, not starving, and lives in Jordan.

At this point in time the Islamic State group hardly makes headlines at all, and most news concerning Syria is spun instead against the Syrian government. Recently, the United States ran an effort to associate Russian activity in Syria with war crimes to punish it for successfully backing the government of Syria against foreign efforts for regime change. Coordination between State Department messaging, Press Office contacts and UN diplomatic efforts gave domestic media a series of rumors about Russian bombing of hospitals in Syria, despite the US government’s official on-the-record position being that they did not know, had no evidence and nor could provide sources that implicated Russia in any of the activity they were being associated with in the press.

In contrast leaked audio recordings of a meeting between John Kerry and Syrian opposition war fighters had the United States Secretary of State clearly express that US activity in Syria – including the potential missile defense systems and air support being speculated about at the time – would be extremely limited in scope by international law, whereas Russia, as invited by the internationally recognized government of Syria, had a legal basis for its military operations and logistical support. The Obama Administration has, to date, been remiss to break international law as the United States has been suffering international condemnation for recent illegitimate incursions into Serbia and Iraq.

The New York Times coverage of this phone call was deeply misleading. For instance, someone reading that coverage would assume that the United States had a legal basis to take action against the Assad government in Syria and that Russia was in violation of international law. They cherrypicked exactly the words that seemed to imply this and left out Secretary of State Kirby’s admission:  “And we don’t have a basis, our lawyers, unless we have a UN security council resolution, which the Russians can veto and the Chinese, or unless we are under attack from the folks there, or unless we are invited in. Russia is invited in by the legitimate regime – well, it’s illegitimate in my mind – but by the regime.” The remainder of the coverage was similar: sound bites were selectively chosen that presented the US efforts as deeply committed to Syrian proxy forces, whereas in the recording the opposition was complaining about the lack of support they had been receiving and were desiring that the US involved themselves directly in the conflict.

The encouragement of misinformative rumors is commonly traded in the mainstream American media. According to every official European and American report, Ukrainian separatists in possession of an air missile defense system in an active war zone misidentified a target during the Crimean Russia-NATO proxy war, firing on a commercial airliner (“MH17”), killing hundreds of innocent passengers including AIDS researchers travelling between an HIV conference.

This tragedy was exploited in the US press by an incredible feat of spin. Titles such as “MH17 report: Plane downed by Buk missile from Russia” equivocated Russia itself as having fired the surface-to-air missile. Discussions with friends and family as well as a search over social media quickly identified that the public understanding  was that Russia had attacked an airliner and then, tried to cover it up or walk it back.

There was no discussion in the media of the relevant US firing on the Iranian Air Flight 655, in which the US navy killed hundreds of citizens transiting over the Gulf where the US Naval is present (in opposition to UNCLOS – the UN Charter on the Law Of the Sea – an international law the United States refuses to sign because it insists it must be able to perform military operations in other countries’ territorial waters).

The was no similar discussion in the media about the use of US weaponry by allies and proxies that have killed orders of magnitudes more innocent people. Collective contentment was found with a mass illusion about who fired the missile.

Selective attention to leaked material is no stranger to US mainstream spinning of news. During the start of the Ukraine proxy war, an audio recording surfaced  implicating Victoria Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt discussing plans to support a political transition in Ukraine. The coverage of this phone call in the US domestic press, however, belied the fact that Ukraine has been a long-standing location of spheres of influence, with Western media outlets exclusively covering Victoria Nuland’s use of a curse word during the conversation. This is another tactic effectively applied to spin information to American audiences: when there is a legitimate controversy, create a fake controversy to compete with it.

When the US supported proxies in Libya were used to take down the Qaddafi government, creating the vacuum visible by today’s failed state, it quickly exited and turned toward other ongoing foreign operations, including Yemen and Syria. The United States left behind some intelligence and special operations facilities near the capitol in Tripoli – in Benghazi where the original American support for Libyan terrorist forces was based. Among ongoing missions in Benghazi was the transport of weapons caches from Libya into Syria (through Turkey) to support terrorists fighting the Assad regime, this being a sensitive and highly illegal intelligence operation.

Warfighting elements in Libya’s failed state are al Qaeda affliates, not happy with either dictatorial rule or proxy governance from foreign magistrates. They targeted, on September 11, the remaining State Department buildings where Ambassador Stevens was embedded to facilitate weapons transfers into Syria. And when the Ambassador his CIA detail fled the State Department to the formerly-secret CIA annex on the same compound, the regional war fighting units followed and continued their attack, ultimately leading to the deaths of American special agents and diplomatic personnel.

Initial intelligence estimates correctly identified the nature of the attack as related to al Qaeda affiliated war fighters and the attack symbolically executed on September 11th. However, the United States did not have a legal mechanism to intervene, as it is the host country (Libya) who is in charge of diplomatic building security and the US did not have clearance from a United Nations body to move troops across territorial boundaries – what would technically be an invasion.

The news to the American homeland was different than the story on the ground. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in coordination with the national security team and press office, issued a statement purposefully confusing the 9/11 attack on the Benghazi compound with protests in Egypt centered around an offensive youtube video (a maliciously dubbed movie taunting Muslims and Islam) hundreds of miles away in Cairo. The media industry played ball, propelling the story that what had happened in the war-torn Libyan compound was related to a protest about a controversial youtube video, and there were public appeals to have the youtube video removed.

A public frenzy over youtube, censorship, sensitivities and Muslim identity transpired – and no collective understanding among Americans that their overseas embassy had been attacked by al Qaeda on the anniversary of 9/11, leading to the first death of an American ambassador in decades. Later, Hollywood would produce an action packed triller – “Zero Dark Thirty”, which had received input from the CIA in its direction – that further obscured what had happened, ignoring that the US continued presence in Libya had implicated their country in international criminal behavior, indeed the transfer of weapons that Turkey and Saudi Arabia used to arm the Islamic State group in Syria in their attempt to break and replace the country with friendly political leadership.

Like most events this probably would have been the end of it. Additional controversy ensued when an Eastern European hacker named Guccifer compromised the email account of Hillary Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal and released copies of prior emails to Clinton to the press. These emails included information contradicting the story the Secretary had given to the public. Washington officials and Congressmen, expressing anger over the leaks, the ham-fisted approach by the State Department to respond to the attack and then to cover it up – and as political slight to the prior Secretary who was in the middle of running for presidential nomination – a public investigation into Benghazi was issued, centered around an accusation that the Obama Administration and former Secretary had mishandled the situation.

However, it was not in the interest of the investigation to litigate American war crimes, and main criticism applied was that Mrs. Clinton had not done enough to protect the embassy or its ambassador, and that the administration had not taken the Libyan security situation seriously enough. The off the record portion of the hearing may have included national security and international criminal elements, but these class of hearings are routinely kept secret from the American public and no transcript, to date, is available.

What Americans know of the “Benghazi scandal” today has nothing to do with illegal international arms smuggling, an attack on 9/11, the death of an ambassador or domestic propaganda. Americans think it has something to do with Clinton’s emails. Or something. Ask someone and you’ll get either a blank stare or a rant inspired by Zero Dark Thirty about how the CIA agents there were real American heroes and it was a shame the Obama Administration didn’t save them.

Similar parallel controversy was used to confuse the American public during a series of intelligence leaks that implicated the United States and allied countries in engaging in whole-sale warrantless global surveillance. A Halliburton contractor who had previously worked for CIA named Edward Snowden used his access as a system administrator to mass download documents from the National Security Agency (a powerful and once secret US intelligence agency). After exhausting channels inside the US government to call attention to illegal mass surveillance programmes, Edward Snowden had contacted multiple media organizations and escaped from Hawaii to Hong Kong, China, where he met with US journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald. Snowden expressed exasperation that most news outlets in the United States had refused to cover the mass surveillance story – and that many had instead reported him through established government contacts for trying to blow the whistle on the operation. Indeed, James Risen had tried to bring the story of mass surveillance to the American people in 2004, but Washington pressured the media to suppress the story, arguing it may interfere with the then-ongoing Bush/Kerry presidential election. In the intervening decade, Americans who tried to talk about domestic surveillance, including myself, were laughed down and chided with remarks about tinfoil hats and aliens.

What transpired is likely to be a case study in propaganda war colleges in future decades. Journalists and media outlets, notably The Guardian of England and Der Speigel of Germany, went to bat statement-for-statement with Washington. Before the US government would announce who they suspected the whistleblower was, Snowden through Greenwald broadcast a message to the world with his full name and a statement of why he felt compelled to bring the covert ubiquitous surveillance to the front of the public attention. When the US government denied that Snowden had left with any secret information, The Guardian immediately published documents showing that the archive was real. Washington refused to acknowledge the documents as legitimate, but put out a statement denying the US performed espionage on partner countries. The Guardian immediately published documents that provably disputed this claim.

This continued, with a whose-who of media outlets contracting with federal government such as CNN, Fox, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and others repeating the official position of the state, even adding their own flourishes and versions of the statements, as though they had been the original source of an independent investigation. These outlets voluntarily adopted the ‘official’ version of events, covering the gross affront to civil rights as ‘bulk collection’ over the more accurate and damning ‘mass surveillance.’ When the US argued that, yes, there were some ‘bulk collection’ (sic) activities, but never on the domestic population of the United States. The Guardian once again produced documents contradicting the assertion.

Eventually, the White House Press Office went quiet and refused to acknowledge at all or respond to the continuing leaks while the media establishment also stopped covering the disclosures in favor of interest stories. “Germany’s Angela Merkel: Relations with U.S. ‘severely shaken’ over spying claims” one headline read, in defiance of revelations that the US had partnered with major US providers like Google and Microsoft to collect information on citizens around the world. “Snowden: Hero or Traitor?” pundits discussed until they found stories to distract from the existence of leaks at all. “Snowden a Russian Spy?” mainstream news networks spread conspiracy theories that persist in the American consciousness today.

When a shootout at the NSA headquarters occurred during the leaks, establishment media spread rumors – never to be followed up on – that there was a transexual in the car outside the NSA, and dovetailed into tangents about transexualism. In a similar stroke, the mainstream media almost exclusively covered the transexual Caitlyn Jenner while Congress renewed and extended the authorities used by the NSA for surveillance and stories broke that the FBI had been flying aircraft over the United States to track the minute, daily movements of American people across hundreds of American cities.

There was a palpable desperation to cover anything but the content of the leaks, which implicated the United States in spying on foreign companies to give advantages to American companies, hacking into other countries to understand their positions before global warming meetings (which the US then controversially stalled at and prevented anything from being done), and that the NSA had been collecting information on hundreds of millions of Americans, stored years of domestic phone conversations in huge data warehouses, had covertly infiltrated any US company who would not willingly backdoor their products for intelligence services, and backdoored the cryptographic standards it forces companies to use around the world. The leaks implicated the UK in collecting the web browsing behavior of nearly every person in the world, and had mass manipulation capabilities including those to change polls, rerank the order of social media posts, and upvote and downvote content on social media to hide/reveal content, as well as using their capabilities for mass propaganda on the Falkland islands – a territory disputed by England and Argentina.

Similar obscurantism flashed into display when the German BND (foreign intelligence agency) stated that the NSA had backdoored the Trusted Platform Module – a security chip built into many computer systems today. Mainstream media immediately dismissed the idea, and provided other – unconvincing – explanations about how to interpret the intelligence agency’s declaration and after meeting with the United States delegation the BND revised their statement and deleted their earlier statement of fact.

Perhaps the most damaging fake news promulgated by the American media industry was war news reporting leading up to the Iraq War. What would eventually give Kenneth Thomlinson, the former chairman of the US propaganda office BBG, a hushed and wealthy retirement by golden parachute the Bush Administration was implicated in a mass domestic propaganda campaign to justify a war effort and an invasion of the country Iraq, a recent allied power in a divide and conquer campaign against its neighbor Iran. Note the headline of this New York Times article: “Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged TV News”. Kenneth Thomlinson and the BBG ran efforts through the WCIA and Office of Broadcasting Service to fill American television with unattributed war propaganda.

But this was hardly the extent. Journalist Judith Miller then at the New York Times and now at Fox worked with the CIA and Iraqi National Council (a US operation in Iraq) to publish a fake news article presuming to have proof that the Saddam Hussein government had access to and had been building a nuclear program specifically, and generally “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” This narrative of the Iraqi government was entirely a fabrication of the administration, and a lie that American media happily sold traded access and grant money with the US government to bring to the American people. The Administration, then-President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice then pointed to this story from Judith Miller as independent verification of Administration claims and called for war.

Between direct executive branch activity and news media complicity, Americans even today believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, something to do with anthrax, and something to do with WMDs – all misinformation created deliberately to build public support for an aggressive and disastrous invasion that ultimately cost over a million civilians their lives in a war offensive known for “shock and awe” attacks, its use of depleted uranium and white phosphorous (destructive chemicals) and for the destruction of civilian infrastructure and non-military targets so brutal the international community (including Europe) demanded at the UN that the Americans retreat: another fact not covered in the domestic press.

Fake news featured daily in the American press, from manufactured soldier memoirs, manufactured hero stories and parallel Hollywood coverage of Jessica Lynch, invented and distributed rumors about incubator babies, and emotion-wrenching re-displays of the Twin Tower attacks in the middle of September, 2001, an attack carried out by war fighters with the financial and material support of the government of Saudi Arabia – a connection whose disclosure through a hard fought legislative battle came and went without any major domestic news media coverage.When it came to the recent 2016 election, the American people expected something different. Yet it became apparent after Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and disclosed their email records through the online distributor Wikileaks that the industry would not be reporting from an investigative mindset. Indeed, CNN spread a false rumor that looking at the DNC leaks could be illegal.

The DNC leaks implicated the chairwoman of the Democratic Party Debbie Wasserman Shultz (“DWS”) using Democratic Party resources to run a damage campaign against her political opponent Tim Canova to preserve her own party leadership. They implicated top and mid level officials (including the press spokesperson) in organizing the party to infiltrate and sabotage Senator Sander’s campaign. They exposed discussions within the DNC on political appointments (e.g. ambassadorships) offered to donors in exchange for their donations. The leaks showed coordination and planning of news media coverage of the elections including opponents (Sanders and the RNC). They leaks detailed the hiring of covert online commentators and fake protesters.

These stories from the DNC leaks did not make the press. Sure, there were journalists working on them, but the media industry in America refused to make revelations from the emails top headline topics. Online social media was bombarded by recently created accounts that purported to have read the emails that “found nothing interesting in them.” Instead, the media broadly spent time mulling over rumors, such as the completely unfounded conspiracy theory to date that Trump was/is a Russian patsy, or that President Elect Donald Trump and President of Russia Vladimir Putin are actual real life best friends. NBC publicized a fact-finding report about Hillary Clinton’s server, which had been used to circumvent Federal record keeping laws, and wiped clean of data before being handed over to investigators. Liar Liar, it scolded: while Donald Trump accused Clinton of “acid washing” her server, she had in fact wiped it instead with antiforensics software called BleachBit.

Then when it came time for election night on November 8th mainstream media reassured, based on the ‘research they had done’, that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election: effortlessly. Indeed, the predictions were unanimous across the entire industy. Even FiveThirtyEight, which had perfectly predicted the surprise win by President Obama in 2008 down to electoral college numbers, had Clinton winning the election.

What resulted when Donald Trump took the election with a wide margin was a collective existential crisis, with the massive American audience of mainstream media shocked dumb, unable to process the result of the election and in need of an explanation consistent with the coverage that they had received to date. Today, pundits, analysts and academics are churning out endless reports on various ways and perspectives to understand the events. It was Comey. It was racists. It was white people. It was voter intimidation. Bernie bros and the progressive wing of the Democratic party. The Democratic Party itself. Clinton’s weakness. Trump’s domination of the media. Third parties as a spoiler. Fake news. Alt-righter neo nazis. The working middle class. The Russians. Hacked voting machines. Uneducated Americans. FBI Director Comey.

The explanation that hundreds of millions of Americans voted entirely out of deep wells of racism, the explanation consistent with prior reporting, rings hallow. Conspiracy theories and fearmongering about Russian hacking of election booths too, quickly died down as the experts spoke out about media contortions of their testimony.

On the 13th of November, the industry found its narrative. The election was shocking to the mass of American people because of fake news. Not the spin, rumors, conspiracy theories, misinformation or distracting alarmism it itself had been producing, but fake news from anyone who wasn’t the mainstream media. The mainstream media had it right, all along, and the giant mirage and all the confusion was the work of someone else and was someone else’s dereliction of duty.

In DC, the election was compared with the Brexit vote in Britain – a groundswell of populist opinion voting “no” on the current establishment, current institutions and practices, trends in civil rights, and inequality of wealth as well as political representation.

Analysis of key demographics show that districts that had mobilized to elect Obama, when he was once and briefly considered a Washington outsider himself, had mobilized against Clinton. Public diplomacy has been on full steam the past months in an effort to create an American consensus that we want our information more tightly controlled: a list of fact checkers with political biases including a group in Serbia that publicly supports the independence of Kosovo.

At some level the American psyche understands that it is not the customer of news media. It does not pay news media for information. Others – government, industries, corporations – pay news media to deliver stories that narrate American perception. Journalists who pursue stories to reveal corruption or report corporate wrongdoing, as a rule, do not have customers, can’t find work and don’t have partners who provide them access. Reports who play ball, as those who contract with US intelligence, Departments and Agencies of the Executive Branch, banks and industries, and lobbyists and corporations are successful. They have customers, funds, and a steady stream of stories.

News media organizations have landing pages soliciting sponsored content. Got a story? Pay us and we’ll run it for you. We even have experts that can help you run a campaign of stories to get your perspective heard.

National Security personnel are fond of the phrase “nature abhors a vacuum” in which they intend to describe the pattern that, if the US does not exercise power the lack of power will attract someone or something to control the space.

What we’ve witnessed is such a vacuum created from an ever-widening credibility gap. Given the consistently inaccurate, poorly predictive and heavily biased propaganda from the US domestic news media industry, we’ve seen an enormous loss in credibility. This a continuation of a trend that has been in effect for decades, and today American trust of media is rated at the all time low of less than 20%.

A combination of private interest, national security propaganda, and a culture that revels in suspending disbelief have crippled America’s ability to take its own highly editorialized existence seriously.

Framing the Violence Narrative


In the past few months the term “fake news” has come into the mainstream in a major way. A cursory definition based on its usage would have you believe it’s just an updated synonym for the old standby “propaganda,” but is this true? Yes and no. Our full assimilation into the information age has drastically transformed the way propaganda functions. Whereas in the past it was possible to withhold information and only present your preferred narrative, the current climate invites everybody to share all their information for the express purpose of cutting it all down and putting it on the same playing field. The idea is to put it in people’s heads that no information is reliable, no matter the source. Once this has occurred you have successfully discredited rigorous investigative journalism based on truth and fact. It’s suddenly no more credible than the .com ramblings of some kook in his rural Texas basement or perhaps more foreboding, the media apparatus of the state (i.e. @realDonaldTrump). This has long been a part of Vladimir Putin’s playbook where the cardinal rule is that in order to get people to believe in something, you first have to get them to believe in nothing.

To simplify (TL:DR in modern web speak);

Pre-information age propaganda = limiting access to information

Post-information age propaganda = discrediting all information (ie, fake news)

If information isn’t credible, framing and emotional narrative rise to the forefront of importance. What you say is less important than how you say it and the cognitive effect it has on the person you are speaking to. This is why Democrats lose election after election in spite of superior policy – Republicans know how to appeal to emotion while Democrats don’t think they have to play that game. We’re seeing how this plays out in reality, and it’s not pretty. The latest activity on this matter is the development of the “violence narrative” –  an attempt to take the riotous activity of the anarchist group Black Bloc and associate it with the entire left-wing, liberal worldview. I will explain this soon but I want to start with a more obvious example of an expert in post-information age propaganda. I don’t mean Donald Trump (though he does qualify) but another media figure who has been compared to a more verbose version of Trump. That being cartoonist Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame.

This is the first paragraph of an article he recently wrote on climate change;

Before I start, let me say as clearly as possible that I agree with the scientific consensus on climate change. If science says something is true – according to most scientists, and consistent with the scientific method – I accept their verdict.

This is the third paragraph;

“So when I say I agree with the scientific consensus on climate change, I’m endorsing the scientific consensus for the same reason I endorsed Hillary Clinton for the first part of the election – as a strategy to protect myself. I endorse the scientific consensus on climate change to protect my career and reputation. To do otherwise would be dumb, at least in my situation.”

What have here is a massive contradiction, but one stated with authority and conviction, not unlike the way President Trump plows through his own non-truths. The first thing Scott Adams wants you to know is that he accepts climate change is a real thing. It’s the first sentence in his article on the topic, so therefore it must be really really true. A professional like Mr. Adams would not dare deny the work of science when he himself is just a cultural media figure. Therefore it should come as a shock when two paragraphs later he states that the only reason he accepts the science on climate change is to protect his reputation. In other words he is saying that he doesn’t accept the scientific consensus on climate change but he wants to confuse the reader into thinking he does so that he has more credibility. He’s giving you the runaround, like the narcissist he strives to be.

If we want to take Adams at his word in that he cares about his reputation and career (and this seems reasonable given that narcissists usually do care about this stuff)  I’d posit that he has an anti-climate change agenda. Despite his claims, that’s more beneficial to him personally and professionally at this point seeing he’s become a bit of a right wing media darling in a similar vein as Mike Rowe. As the article continues Adams goes to great lengths to disguise himself as being balanced, saying hyperbolic things like “this is the only place you’ll see both sides of the issue!” That isn’t to say he doesn’t make good or interesting points but that’s always been the hallmark of good propaganda, no matter what era it comes from. It always knows just where and when to sprinkle in just enough truth to lend itself credibility.

On surface level Adams seems to be writing about the difficulty in figuring out the truth behind climate change. In the era of fake news however only suckers read things surface level. Look not at content or facts but framing and intent. Then you might see that this piece is designed not to bring people closer to truthful concepts but rather to fan the flames of debate in order to increase his popularity with his new niche audience. He is playing into the recent right wing promotion of information chaos, which in turn helps to discredit the order and limits imposed by science (liberally biased, naturally). This helps push the right’s anti-climate change agenda which they need in order to pull back all those pesky regulations that prevent enterprising American capitalists from exploiting the environment for profit er… um… I mean creating bountiful high paying jobs for the working class.

When analyzing fake news  what one says often has less importance than when they say it – timing is everything. Just like you never get a second chance at a first impression, the first statement one makes tends to be the most revealing. Adams first statement was that he accepted climate change, though he carefully omitted his reasons for this until later. He dropped in a very mainstream point of view to set the frame that he was a credible guy. Compare this tactic to one used in numerous conservative responses to the recent punching of Richard Spencer on the day of Trump’s inauguration. This article by John Nolte of conservative news blog “Daily Wire” is a perfect example, though interestingly it’s a little bit trickier than what you get from a so called “master persuader” like Scott Adams. There’s some build up, starting with the first paragraph;

“Okay, fine, somewhere in my Twitter stream you will find a joke about my not being too terribly upset over this creep Richard Spencer getting sucker-punched on TV last week. My tweet was a joke, though, and I am clearly on record, time and time again, speaking out against violence and the encouraging/excusing of violence. Also, I am not The New York Times.”

Nolte is humanizing himself by letting us all know that yeah, he felt none too bad to see physical violence enacted against the self proclaimed leader of the “alt-right” (which is now synonymous with white supremacy). He goes as far as to call the guy a creep, just to make sure we all know that Mr. Nolte in no way approves of the viewpoints of Mr. Spencer. He also clarifies the he’s very much anti-violence in any way, shape or form (he was just joking, after all!), thus further laying down the frame that he’s a decent guy with good values. What follows is an overly elaborate and hypothetical construction of Spencer as an actual Nazi. Hypothetical because in reality Nolte wants to enforce the notion that really the guy is just an unpleasant kook and nowhere on the level of actual Hitler. This is down to downplay the danger people like Spencer represent to society and in particular minorities. This is summed up in his fourth “paragraph” (just one sentence, for potency I guess);

“For argument’s sake, I am ready to stipulate that Richard Spencer is one sick and twisted piece of racist garbage.”

In his next “paragraph” (again, one sentence) he drops the true bombshell, already hinted at in paragraph one;

“Nevertheless, in its attempt to normalize and excuse and rationalize any kind of political violence against anyone, even a Nazi, The New York Times is more a Nazi than Spencer.”

Though not as direct as Adams, the tactic Nolte uses is essentially the same. Adams emphatically stated that he believed in climate change but then quickly made that belief subordinate to another point about the fuzziness of truth and unreliability of science. Nolte emphatically states that he despises Spencer and goes as far to paint a picture of him as an honest to god Nazi before revealing his true target – the NYTimes and by proxy, the liberal left. From one of the final paragraphs in his piece;

“This push for and encouragement and normalizing of violence among the left and our national media, is no joke. It’s been going on for years, in Ferguson, in Baltimore, from the Obama White House, and within the institutional left.”

Let’s overlook the fact that a death from a purely ideological left wing terrorist attack hasn’t occurred on American soil since 1981. During that same time period since then there have been numerous deaths associated with domestic right wing terrorism in multiple attacks. That’s merely a side point to the fact that right-wing motivated violence is more likely to be state sponsored than left-wing violence which tends to come in the form of civil disobedience that generally spares harming  individuals in favor of property destruction. This paradigm works very well for the right because state sponsored violence is not only legal but far more brutal and effective than anything pesky civil disobedience can muster up. The military and police have wide latitude to do what they want and not face legal repercussions, for better or worse (some may argue they need that latitude to perform a tough thankless job, but that’s another topic).

State sponsored violence however doesn’t have to come from an organized and sanctioned group.  It can also be self-defense, and thus legal (ie Trayvon Martin). This point is reinforced by the creepy way Nolte’s article ends;

“Buy guns, America. You need to be able to defend yourselves and your loved ones.”

So just like Adams wrote an article denouncing climate change disguised as an article about the fuzzy nature of truth, Nolte has written an article essentially endorsing violence disguised as an article about how the left should be villainized because they endorse violence. Left is right. Up is down, something something 1984. It’s all very confusing and intellectually draining to try and follow. What’s not confusing is how Nolte comes very close to advocating the murder of political opponents by planting the seed in people’s minds that if you don’t kill the leftist first than the leftist might… um, sucker punch you in the face.

What we have seen happen here is an example of the right wing media writing about political violence in a way that falsely frames it as purely a leftist phenomenon. Were this just some rambling kook on a right wing dumping ground then this wouldn’t be much of a problem but sadly these things don’t stay so neatly contained. The extensive media coverage of the riots at UC  Berkeley in response to a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos handed the right wing media a golden opportunity for a more concentrated effort to paint the left as violent and threatening and possibly even something worth countering with violent force of your own, if necessary. This narrative has been created and framed independently of the facts, which in the case of both Berkeley and the Spencer punching still seem rather fuzzy, lost in the tides of information and “fake news”.

There is no doubt that violence is occurring in America in 2017 but who is really being harmed? Rather than accept right wing narratives at surface level, people need to be asking deeper questions. Is the broken window at Wells Fargo bank in downtown Berkeley really more egregious than the thousands of sick and disabled people who could die with the repeal of the ACA? Is Spencer taking a sucker punch more disconcerting than the fear minorities live in thanks to the spread of his ideas? To me the answers here are obvious but perhaps the kind of violence I’m talking about is too esoteric to play well on CNN. On a logical level I think most of us know where the most harm is being committed but thanks to their expertise at controlling narratives, the right wing has put the emotional view front and center and are using it for political gain. Luckily enough their act is not a hard one to replicate, and the facts being on your side makes for a more definitive tie breaker than a Mike Pence trip to the Senate. It’s time the left learned how to beat the Breitbart’s and Daily Wire’s of the world at their own game.