Friday, December 16, 2016

Fox And Fake News

I just had a lengthy social media exchange that brought up a grievance of conservatives. Trying to represent one person's view as best I can, he said that I fail to understand that many conservatives have been so frustrated with "liberal bias of the mainstream media" that they now feel it is gratifying to see us "complain about fake news" -- finally feeling their pain, so to speak.

But my problem with this is that he conflates bias with fake, which is a big problem.

This exchange also touched on my concerns in a blog post I had drafted but never finished -- now is the chance.

There has been much on the idea of fake news. Most interesting is the Planet Money story on Finding the Fake New King. It became an even more surreal story when covered on Full Frontal a few days later. This is all disturbing, but I can't help worry that it has shifted attention away from Fox News and it's role in the growth of fake news.

I know, I know...this has been dragging on for years and I am sure I sound like just another liberal who can't get out of my National Public Radio, New York Times and New Yorker echo chambers. That is exactly what the person in the above-mentioned exchange told me was my problem. But Fox is and has always been different -- my most recent posting about this being just prior to the election. I don't mind media having a leaning to the left or right. The real crimes are in the demise of journalism. One of the reasons I like The Economist is that is often prefaces its editorial content with a disclaimer about ideological beliefs on free trade or open borders or other elements that affect it's content. But that is not what Fox does. Every time I watch -- and I force myself to do so -- I feel like it's an exercise in bad journalism. Leading questions, implicit assumptions and just half truths.

To be honest, in recent weeks I've really valued and enjoyed reading right wing media that I rarely consumed before. The National Review and Wall Street Journal have some great points and remind me what it felt like to actually have a debate. I feel like my assumptions are challenged. But that isn't how I feel with Fox.

It didn't take me 30 seconds to find clips on Fox that suggest the same talking point that was made to me in this social media exchange I mentioned. Listen to this nonsense on Fox. More shitty reporting! If anyone on Fox took the time to listen to Planet Money or this great interview on Fresh Air with Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed or the countless other investigations on this, they'd understand why the distinction between "fake news" and bias is critical.

What is important about the Fresh Air interview is that it shows pretty clearly why Fox wants to conflate the issue -- conservatives benefit from it! Indeed, I'd say fake news, is the logical outcome of bad journalism, for which I think Fox is the poster child. Can anyone find me a liberal media outlet that is dismissive of "fact-checking"? I only hear this from conservatives.

This was the most interesting bit of the interview with Sliverman was this comment about how Facebook is considering it's role in combatting fake news, by which I mean the shit that is made up by someone for the purpose of making advertising revenue in selling hoaxes.
When you flag something as offensive on Facebook, it's possible that it may automatically then be scanned by an algorithm and realize that that is an image, for example, maybe they've already banned. But a lot of the time it ends up in front of a person on their content review team who has to make a judgment call. And I can tell you from speaking to people in conservative media, [emphasis is mine] they are extremely concerned.
One, they view Facebook as a liberal organization. They think it's biased against conservative points of view. And two, they're extremely concerned that if Facebook starts trying to weed out fakes, they're going to have people with a liberal point of view who disagree with an article potentially suppressing it. And so there is risk now of suppression of free speech and suppression of different points of view if these things were to go in the wrong direction.
The President-elect has shown and shows on a daily basis that he has no problem lying, just like many politicians do (as pointed out by that nonsense Fox clip). The challenge to the media and to those of us who consume it is to believe in facts, or at least that the pursuit of facts is a worthy goal, not matter what Fox's "fair and balanced" news tells you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

No To Rex Tillerson, CEO ExxonMobil

Let's use this topic as a lesson of the media talking past each other. That's a nice way of me saying a lesson in conservative media (WSJ) talk past very legitimate concerns of the liberal media (NYT).

No, Suzanne Maloney, writing-in-the-WSJ, this isn't about the "chattering classes" being aghast at a just any old CEO being nominated for Secretary of State. The NYT made this point fairly emphatically (editorial link above), as do I. It is about that CEO having worked his entire professional career for one company with, allegedly, a long history of strategically working to combat science and, as if that were not enough, that CEO also having conflicts-of-interest with the head of state of a nation currently accused by the CIA of intentionally trying to destabilise the faith in the US electoral process. Your column inches given to the boy scouts is ghastly amid these extremely serious concerns.

Now, of course I can't fully prove that statement about ExxonMobil having a long history of combatting science, but it seems pretty clear, as I have been learning from Doubt is Their Product, that ExxonMobil has been one of the key examples of companies strategically working to create doubt about the negative externalities of their business model.

From Chapter 18, "The Bush Administration's Political Science":
There are thousands of scientists on our side of the debate and a mere handful on the other, but uncertainty can reign in the mass media and the public mind if that handful has a large enough megaphone--and they do because they are underwritten by ExxonMobil, by all analyses the hands-down largest funder of the warming deniers. According to the authors of the internal ExxonMobil memo titled "Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan", "[v]ictory will be achieved when...average citizens 'understand' (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the conventional wisdom." 
Let's be fair. Can we link Tillman to this memo? No. Is he responsible for the whole company? No. Does having worked in Russia disqualify him? No. Does working with oil and gas disqualify him? Of course not.

But...and this is a huge, "but"...why on earth at this time and in this context would Donald Trump select such a person from such a company and with such a working relationship in Russia? Why, after promising to "drain the swamp", would he think that appointing the CEO of a company ranked No. 8 in lobbyists (2014) is a good idea?

I am against Rex Tillerson because his appointment raises doubt about the institutions of the United States in such a way that is extreme. Diversity matters of experience matters! Rex Tillerson does not have a diverse work history and even if he is the best diplomat on the planet, his CV and conflicts of interest radically undermine the very idea that we have checks and balances in our political system.

Without time to read Steve Coll's "Private Empire", you can listen to this 2012 interview on Fresh Air.

Friday, December 09, 2016

"Make America Safe Again", says President-elect Troll

"I almost unleashed my beautiful Twitter account against you, and I still may", said Donald Trump, according to Megan Kelly, when threatening her after she aired a story with Daily Beast reporter who defended articled about Trump's divorce, in which his first wife accuses Trump of rape in sworn testimony, later disavowed. Kelly also makes this clear.

I want to focus on the alleged threat by Trump. This is our future President. And I have been hearing very disturbing stories about this trend in which people (sometimes Trump) point to someone on twitter and all hell breaks out in their lives. Not all of these are linked to Trump, but if you haven't heard, get a taste...

David French, National Review.

Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic.

Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.

And now this, yesterday, aimed at a Union leader, Chuck Jones, who was critical of Trump's recent deal with the Carrier company in Indian. Trump then tweeted and the man's phone started ringing.

Such a "beautiful Twitter account"!

Did Trump attack all these people? No.

But Kelly's accusation basically identifies the behaviour directly (i.e., he knows exactly what he's doing!) and yesterday's tweeting confirms that the President-elect is acting like a troll, or at least using his tweets to direct trolls in very, very disturbing ways.

This must stop! And by must stop, I have no naive expectations that it means trolling will stop. I mean the fucking President-elect must stop and condemn this and work to "Make America Safe Again", which means being able to criticise people without the fear of death and rape threats flooding a person's life and making them fear for the safety of their family and children.

There is much to be said about the Kelly interview on Fresh Air (really, listen to it), but the most important take away is connecting the dots. Troll behaviour is not fun and games and it requires Trump to stop acting like a troll.