Lies, Damn Lies, and Fake News

The first thing you notice about the newly-launched Free Telegraph is its politics. But then, with headlines like, “Vice President Mike Pence To Campaign For GOP Gubernatorial Nominee Ed Gillespie In Virginia”, and. “Leaked Memo Shows Rhode Island Dem Gov Gina Raimondo More Focused On PR Than Leading The State”, it does not particularly stand out from the panoply of conservative news media that has populated the internet in the era birthed by the Drudge Report and whelped by Fox News.

No different, that is, except for one thing: the site is funded by the Republican Governors Association, a 527 organization — so named after the section of the tax code that governs its existence — dedicated to the promotion and election of Republican gubernatorial candidates across the United States. This might not have been much of a problem, except that the website did not initially list its affiliation, only making it visible once it became clear that the Associated Press was going to run a story about the site’s true origins.

Such a story might seem strange, but the war over what constitutes “news” or “newsworthiness” is one that has raged for years.

This issue has been raised perhaps most vociferously by anti-war activists who see their demonstrations minimized or even ignored altogether by mainstream media. The demonstrations at the outset of the Iraq War, where crowds by the hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest what would become one of the longest and most toxic foreign boondoggles in the history of the United States, could not match the media’s Pentagon-fueled war machine and their determination to solidify public opinion behind going to war. In some cases, the “rally around the flag” effect was taken literally: Fox News led the charge in placing waving flag graphics at the bottom of the news screen at all times, leaving no doubt where they stood on this affair.

The media landscape looks a lot different than it did in 2003, as the proliferation of news sources has quickened at a bewildering pace. This might have been thought, at one point, to be a good thing. In the course of about 30 years, we have gone from news being filtered through the big three — ABC, CBS, NBC — and the local newspaper of choice to being able to get news from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. But even that has not been without controversy, especially since the conclusion of the last presidential election.

But while the big controversies over this issue of late have revolved around Russian influence, liberals would do well to focus a bit closer to home. After all, Russia is not making Facebook censor certain political news (something they seem to do a better job of than, I don’t know, sanctioning racists), nor is Russia responsible for mainstream media coverage of protest events focusing more on property damage than the message of the protesters. You have seen a lot about the perfidy of anti-fascist — or antifa — protests denying “free speech” to the likes of Richard Spencer, but you have probably heard less of the gratitude from people like Dr. Cornel West, who stated that at Charlottesville:

The next day, for example, those 20 of us who were standing, many of them clergy, we would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists who approached, over 300, 350 anti-fascists. We just had 20. And we’re singing “This Little Light of Mine,” you know what I mean? So that the….the anti-fascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that.

The fact is, information has always been a contested space like any other, and that battle has only now become truly visible in 2017. A media whose default view is from nowhere is unfit and unable to be part of a defense of our communities against incipient fascism. Is it any surprise, then, that one of the techniques used by Trump to tap into the resentment of white America is constant attacks on the press?

Only through organizing and pushing back against the heaps of right-wing propaganda that suffuses the media can we start to stem this rising fascist tide. We cannot falter here. The fundamental shape of American life is at stake.

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