Saturday, February 10, 2018

The propaganda problem described clearly, but no solution identified

You really should read Ezra Klein's terrific column at Vox:  Donald Trump, Fox News and the Logic of Alternative Facts.

It's a clear and convincing identification of how Right wing propaganda is working, with one key point being:
What Conway and others understand is that if you’re just trying to activate your tribe, you don’t have to win the argument, you just need to have an argument; you need to give your side something to say, something to believe. Something like the Nunes memo or the various out-of-context texts aren’t part of a search for truth — they’re an ammo drop, or, to go back to the way Ball put it, “a semi-plausible (if not entirely coherent) counternarrative.”

Charlie Sykes, a conservative talk radio host turned Trump critic, put it well. “The essence of propaganda is not necessarily to convince you of a certain set of facts. It is to overwhelm your critical sensibilities. It’s to make you doubt the existence of a knowable truth. The conservative media is a giant fog machine designed to confuse and disorient people.”.....
And so, although fact checking can show how the "counternarrative" is not true, those who already chose to believe it cannot be bothered following the fact checking process:
If you want to believe that the Nunes memo, the FBI texts, or the Warner texts show an anti-Trump witch hunt on the part of the FBI, and if you’re following politicians and media organizations that want you to believe that, it’s easy enough to believe it. The argument has internal logic, it sounds plausible, it fits what you’re hearing, it aligns with whom you trust, and you’re seeing what looks like documentary evidence. 

Yes, there are plenty of outlets trying to fact-check these claims, plenty of outlets working hard to align their reporting with reality, plenty of outlets trying to explain what’s actually happening. Explaining why it’s not true takes some time, it takes dates, and it takes an interest in the explanation and some interest in the people delivering it. This work never reaches most of the people convinced by the original stories, and it likely wouldn’t be credible to them even if it did. As David Roberts wrote in his important essay on tribal epistemology:
Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. “Good for our side” and “true” begin to blur into one.
Now, while there has been despair about how to counter this (people interested in getting governments to make sensible climate change policies have been debating how to deal with propaganda for a  good decade), there are a couple of points I don't hear said enough:

*   Political spin is one thing;   outrageously misleading and inflammatory claims made with no regard for truth is something else.   It's ethically wrong and in the case of Fox News as a money making machine, cynical to the point of evil.    (Who really believes that the drama queen acts of Hannity and that ridiculous Jeanine Pirro are entirely sincere?   If it is, they're so stupid they should be taken off the air anyway.)

My point is:  as far as I can tell, the network continues to host at least 2, maybe 3?, token moderate  journalists/hosts who don't go along with the lines put out by the overwhelmingly pro Trump propaganda machine that the network is.  

They shouldn't stay there!   No ethical person should participate in such a corrupt machine in the interests of thinking it needs them to give it a shred of credibility.    Their co-workers (and presumably, the bosses) are cynical propagandists with no interest in truth and objectivity - and as Klein explains, no counter explanation given by them is going to be accepted by the 95% of  viewers who are there for the propagandists anyway.

*   There needs to be more calling out of such deliberate deception as evil, not by other journalists, but by everyone with any moral standing and a public voice.   Stop pretending it's just politics and spin that's always been with us - it isn't.    It is sophisticated and cynical manipulation of people who have given up caring if they are being manipulated.   It is dangerous, and anathema to good decision making in a democratic system.   Call it out. 

No comments: