Feb 28, 2017

Fake News Isn't Anything New

In 2004, I was working in Ohio for a Get-Out-The-Vote organization called America Coming Together. One day while going to door-to-door in a trailer park in Licking County (forgot which town, but not the unique interaction with the voter) I spoke with a man who wasn't that concerned about the upcoming presidential election as he was concerned about the "newspaper" reporting about Bill Clinton having been caught having yet another affair. I was astonished, then I asked what newspaper broke the story (I had already checked the New York Times, Columbus Dispatch, and the Newark Advocate (OH) earlier that day and even if they had been scooped they all would've reported on the news outlet that broke the story). The man told me to wait while he fetched the "newspaper". When he returned he showed me the frontpage headline of the Weekly World News, right there next there most recent update to Batboy.

I pointed out that just as there is no Batboy, I don't think Bill Clinton had been caught in another affair, he simply replied "That's what they say happened" oblivious to clear objective truth that facts was not what the Weekly World News deals with. I didn't change his mind, and he probably thought that I didn't really know how the world works, that the Illumnati and the Masons rigged the world for some unknown purposes and that the scandals brought from the weekly tabloids are the only real source of news unlike those boring endless articles brought by wire service reporters distributed by the likes of the Columbus Dispatch.

Humans want to be distracted, we want the world to be simple, and would love if it were clear cut good vs evil and without any nuance; but the world is full of grey and gradations. There are no explicit bad guys or good guys, the Vietnam War didn't pit the "good capitalists" against the "evil communists" there was good and evil on both sides. The Spanish American War was kicked off by the U.S.S. Maine blowing up, presumably by some Spanish royalist, there again it was framed as "good democracy" versus "evil monarchy". In both instances whether 50 years ago or 115 years ago the spark of the war was fake news, the U.S.S. Maine was not blown up by any Spanish ne'erdo-well, nor was the North Vietnamese attacking American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, the sensationalism of the moment carried our nation off to war either to impose American Imperialism or Capitalism around the world.

Currently we have a president that regurgitates statements from the most sensationalist news outlet of our time in pithy 140 character bites via Twitter or from the podium of speeches. Without much (or any) reflection, the Republican president decides over dinner to send Seal Team 6 into Yemen and doesn't even think it's worth his time to be in the situation room while the operation occurs, he still declares it a success after the fact despite the lack of planning that certainly contributed to the death of Chief Special Warfare Officer William “Ryan” Owens in Yemen and the deaths of upwards of 30 non-combatants including 8-year old Nawar "Nora" Anwar al-Awlaki, daughter of American born Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed by an American drone strike in 2011. Nora al-Awlaki was just as American as Alberta Canada born Senator Ted Cruz and was killed without any due process or even any thorough planning by the commander in chief.

Americans have already died because too many people willfully refuse to critically think about the world, and challenge whatever feels truthful to them or as The Colbert Report famously declared in 2006 "that truthiness is more important than the Truth". We need to accept that our emotions are meaningless, and our opinions if unchanging despite new information are harmful if not fatal to ourselves. It's distraction to read whole cloth falsehoods that give you the impression of being let in on a secret, but it's no means a harmless distraction. Ignoring the harm and refusing to accept reality will come home to roost as it did in the aftermath of the Spanish American War where the souls of American servicemen were lost as they committed heinous crimes against their fellow humans in Philippines or the 50,000 servicemen who gave their lives in the Vietnam War just so they could drink Coca-Cola and eat McDonald's which they ended up doing anyway. The individual that is convinced of a lie, will be more willing to suffer through harm than suffer through the shame of being hoodwinked by the lie.