Fake news: the medium is not the message

by John Q on January 27, 2019

A study of fake news on Twitter Facebook has found that the biggest propagators are Republicans over 65. No surprises there, but the researchers muddy the waters by suggesting that this group is prone to believing and spreading lies because they are “digital immigrants”, rather than “digital natives”, a distinction I thought had disappeared.

A moment’s thought should have suggested a different interpretation. The same group, after all, constitutes the primary audience for Fox News and (globally) the core readership of the Murdoch press. Even before the emergence of a distinctively partisan rightwing media, evangelicals eagerly spread fake news by word of mouth.

And this study defined fake news in the narrow sense covering reports that Obama is a lizardoid Muslim and similar. A more accurate definition, encompassing deliberate denial of overwhelming evidence, would encompass the entire rightwing media universe, going beyond the Murdoch press to include the output of thinktanks like AEI, Cato, Heritage and Heartland. The extreme cases studied on Twitter are the core of an onion wrapped in multiple layers of denial and defense mechanisms.

Until recently, the most obvious case was that of climate change, but now they have Trump. It’s now impossible to survive on the right without giving Trump a pass for his thousands of glaring lies. In these circumstances, it’s scarcely surprising that Republican activists who have been steeped in this environment for decades. see it as virtuous to circulate talking points regardless of their truth or falsity. Far from misleading this cohort, Twitter Facebook simply provided them with an amplifier.



Patrick 01.27.19 at 10:01 am

I had a similar thought when I saw articles about that study. 1) Of course its Republican old people, and 2) they weren’t any better before Facebook.

I think that if you trace back the people engaged in this particular subculture of wacky conspiracy mongering, you’d find decades and decades of prelude to the present moment.

People don’t believe in wacky conspiracy theories just because. It takes, for lack of a better word, intellectual infrastructure. Justifications have to be crafted. Experts have to be discredited. Journalists have to be discredited. New experts and journalists have to be swapped in. And usually the explanations turned to these purposes are broad and easily repurposed for the next conspiracy theory.

Which of course they are, because there’s money to be made from this stuff, and that means there’s a motley collection of people actively egging it on at any given moment.

There’s a reason you can instantly tell whether a media figure is a conservative conspiracy grifter just by looking at his advertisers. If he’s hawking brain pills, certificates of ownership in gold bars, commemorative plates, or collectible guns, he’s going to also by selling a fabricated world view.

This is why I get so nervous when the left starts trying to use shady reasoning and dubious stats to discredit societal institutions or create moral panics rather than seeking to address issues more calmly and accurately. I can see people trying to use faulty arguments to discredit institutions and experts and journalists in favor of “alternate” world views.

The left is NOWHERE near where the right is now. And it takes generations of time to get there.

So maybe it will never even get close. Maybe it can’t. Maybe the sound and fury of some of the more toxic aspects of the left (twitter call out culture, certain pseudo journalistic outlets, etc) are incapable of meaningfully affecting our culture on a larger scale.

But look at the Never Trump conservatives. I see most of them as people who happily marched to the gates of hell, through, and straight up to the gaping maw of Satan… then stepped aside to say, “Come on, really?” as everyone else jumped in.

I don’t want to be that guy in thirty years, and I guess the only way I know to avoid it is to occasionally speak up when bad ideas are being spread.


Roland Papp 01.27.19 at 11:24 am

What I have noticed is that one of the defining characteristics of fake news is that it is always on the other side. Luckily, no one is affected.


Lee A. Arnold 01.27.19 at 1:07 pm

In the future we may look back on this era as yet another case of a technology development gone awry, before most people got their bearings and the major impact of the problem that it caused was understood and corrected. The gullible, we will always have with us, as well as the grifters who seek to mislead them for profit or other advantage. But no one was ready beforehand for the total impact of the internet, social media, and cell phones — how could we be? — and only a very few foresaw the enormous advantages it would incidentally give to propaganda and populist misconceptions. Yet now we see it, and consequently these have turned out to be rather short-lived advantages. We see that the advantages it has given to the fakers has made them no more powerful and their shams are more quickly revealed. I remember remarking in these comments almost 15 years ago that the internet was going to need new kinds of aggregators of truthful content, refiguring the editorial function. What we are getting instead, and it has begun to work somewhat, are the surviving old-school newspapers and networks incorporating on-line functions to get news faster and test its truth better, and in some few instances also explicitly working to call out the fake news organizations themselves. I think we should encourage a lot more of that calling-out and make it a daily feature on the front pages. It would be like the old newspaper wars of the late 19th-early 20th centuries. You could even imagine a movie or two coming out of it, like the great Warner Bros. social-problem dramas of the 1930’s.


Corbin Dallas 01.27.19 at 1:12 pm

Is there a link to this study?

I also wonder about the age demographics about the centrist/neoliberal spread of “russia is responsible for DJT” myth rather than the more prosaic, and less satisfying, fact that HRC simply underestimated her opponent and simply did not campaign enough, especially in Wisconsin or Michigan enough to gain the electoral votes necessary.


Jon D Rudd 01.27.19 at 2:30 pm

When it comes to examining our home-grown conspiracy theorists the more extreme Brexiters can be a useful basis for comparison.
This goes to the heart of the right-wing mentality, in the USA as well as the UK.
There’s an old joke that the most sadistic thing that can be done to masochists is not to hurt them. In a similar way…the worst thing for Ultra Brexiters is to be given what they ask for, because what they actually want is, precisely, to be betrayed and in that way to have their sense of victimhood confirmed.


Chip Daniels 01.27.19 at 3:26 pm

I’m the same age as most Fox viewers, which means I am old enough to remember when the far right trafficked in “None Dare Call It Treason”, with its grainy photos of European bankers and college professors engaged in a global Communist conspiracy to add fluoride to the American water supply.

The same era had Reader’s Digest regularly publish a two minute hate on some liberal outrage of the day, the stuff that Ronald Reagan would repeat on the campaign trail.

Those stories like hippies spitting on returning veterans, innocent teenagers getting high on acid and jumping off roofs, welfare queens driving Cadillacs…these were were all telling the same story, that the Rightful Order was being usurped. The actual truth didn’t matter, because the underlying moral panic was so deeply felt to be true.


Heliopause 01.27.19 at 5:36 pm

“And this study defined fake news in the narrow sense… A more accurate definition, encompassing deliberate denial of overwhelming evidence, would encompass the entire rightwing media universe”

Well, actually, a more accurate definition would include elite media outlets that have long been peddling garbage on any and all conceivable subjects. The most pointed examples from recent times are summarized in this Twitter thread: https://mobile.twitter.com/djjohnso/status/1086428701170888704?p=v
(the author, by the way, is fiercely antiTrump). He’s up to 40+ major stories in the supposedly non-fake media on the whole Trump-Russia thing that don’t just contain errors but are either fundamentally flawed or outright fraudulent. And that’s just stories in the Trump-Russia subset. One could go on and on about elite media’s endless lying and omissions in regards to events outside U.S. borders, especially in the Middle East, but I aim to be brief.


derrida derider 01.27.19 at 10:12 pm

What others said – fake news has always been with us, in fact I think often more so in the past than now, and its always been grumpy old SOB’s that are most likely to swallow it whole. And it has also never been the sole preserve of one part of the political spectrum, although the angry right does seem at the moment to have more than its fair share.

I don’t think social media has made a whit of difference to it.


JimV 01.28.19 at 12:54 am

Is it fake news that Trump got a plank removed from the GOP platform calling for sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine events? Is it fake news that he seems to be trying to weaken or disband NATO? Is it fake news that he said he would take Putin’s word over his own intelligence agencies? Is it fake news that he met with Putin without any other American in the room? Is it fake news that Trump’s campaign people have been indicted for lying under oath about involvements with Russia and WikiLeaks?

Is it also fake news that Comey’s last-minute announcement (while remaining silent about more salient investigations of Trump) had an effect on the election; and that the NYT’s negative coverage of HRC’s emails outweighed their investigative reporting on Trump by at least 5:1?

That’s the sort of things I see on the liberal blogs I read. Should I be denouncing them for publishing fake news? If so, I would really like to know. They all seem to be documented fairly well to me. Some of the hyperbole used to blow off steam about these events isn’t meant to be taken seriously, I grant.


John Quiggin 01.28.19 at 1:25 am

@4 I’ve added the link, and corrected the OP to say the study is about Facebook, not Twitter.

On your other point, these explanations aren’t inconsistent. Clinton lost by 50 000 votes, so anything that cost her 50 000 votes is a sufficient explanation for her defeat. Other things equal, she would have won if she had campaigned better, and she would have won if it weren’t for the Russia/Wikileaks hack.


John Quiggin 01.28.19 at 1:35 am

@Heliopause, your link leads to a tweet denouncing as fake news the claim that “RT (formerly Russia Today) is part of the Russian state media complex.”, on the basis of a nitpicking quibble.

That’s pretty underwhelming. Can you point to some better examples?


Lobsterman 01.28.19 at 1:51 am

I grew up with the white folks over 65 — they were the white folks in their 20s and 30s when I was a kid. My parents, my friends’ parents, my teachers, my significant others’ parents.

There’s a simple explanation. They are, almost to a person, awful. They’re sadistic, cruel, incapable of feeling love, and defined by a combination of racism and narcissism.

They like lying, and they like other people who lie. They like hurting people. They never engage with reality under any circumstances.

They’ll die soon. Thank goodness.


faustusnotes 01.28.19 at 1:54 am

I’ve been saying for some time that the problem is not facebook, but its readers. There is nothing new or special in the content on Facebook and often when people decry modern “innovations” in social media, they are complaining about age-old strategies. In fact Facebook and other social networks are a radical and transformative technology that gives us the chance to radically improve our relationship with our political leaders and with media figures. This is why Republicans want to regulate it and the Chinese government blocks it. There is a reason that you can read the Guardian or Wapo in China but can’t access Facebook, instagram or twitter.

The reason that the medium is not more transformative is that it is run by Mark Zuckerberg, who is a wannabe fascist and who loves him some right wing hate. If it was a worker-owned company, US republicans would be absolutely terrified of it.


dr ngo 01.28.19 at 5:42 am


I grew up with the white folks over 65 — they were the white folks in their 20s and 30s when I was a kid. My parents, my friends’ parents, my teachers, my significant others’ parents.

There’s a simple explanation. They are, almost to a person, awful. They’re sadistic, cruel, incapable of feeling love, and defined by a combination of racism and narcissism.

They like lying, and they like other people who lie. They like hurting people. They never engage with reality under any circumstances.

They’ll die soon. Thank goodness.

I just turned 75, and my wife, aged [mumble], has a birthday today, so we fit that cohort, but not that description.

We may die soon, but at the moment I’m thinking I’ll stay alive, if only to spite you, you ignorant, bigoted, worthless son-of-a-bitch.


faustusnotes 01.28.19 at 7:26 am

Rather than Lobsterman’s somewhat extreme view of this generation, I would say that they are much more poorly educated than the subsequent generations. More specifically, I would say that they are the first generation in human history whose education is uniquely unsuited to the times they find themselves in. For older generations, the world changed slowly enough that the education you received 50 years ago is sufficient to navigate its complexities. For subsequent generations (especially gen X onward), the education was sufficiently high quality and equity in education sufficiently good that they are able to adapt to the challenges of a world that has changed rapidly. But people over 60 or so were able to leave school with very low education and be successful, and they faced simple challenges for which a middle school education was perhaps sufficient. They now find themselves facing a world of complex new ideas and complex interrelated systemic challenges (like global warming) that a middle school education is insufficient to understand. The mathematical and literacy level required to understand basic discussion of problems in the modern world is high – you need to be able to understand graphs, figures, often statistics, sometimes stuff to do with high technology and things like genetic modification or modern transgender debates that require a sophisticated understanding of evolution, biology, etc.

I see this with my father all the time – he left school at 15 to be a tradesman, and is old enough to have been schooled at a time when the schooling of a 15 year old would be equivalent to that of a 12 year old now. He simply isn’t able to cope with the information and analysis requirements of modern political debates. So he retreats into stereotypes and ideology, and increasingly sees the kind of debate that younger people understand and can participate in as elitist, since he doesn’t have the education to grasp what to younger generations is fairly simple stuff.

I think they’re the first generation in the history of humanity to face this problem, and I think it’s clear to everyone that they’re not handling it well …


bad Jim 01.28.19 at 9:13 am

In the case of my family, it’s one nephew who has been sucked into the right wing sink hole. The first indication was his opposition to gay marriage; he contended that it was a threat, though he couldn’t explain why. Then of course he denies global warming, or quibbles about evidence, or complains about attempts to mitigate the threat; he’s impossible to pin down. For the last year he’s been all about the immigrant threat and thinks a great big wall would work.

What happened? His father-in-law, perhaps, or working from home, a diet of Fox News and talk radio resulting in epistemic closure. An atheist upbringing and a college education were not sufficient to instill a habit of critical thinking. He lives in a gated exurban tract, a beautiful place high on a mountain slope, far from anything like a city.


bad Jim 01.28.19 at 10:38 am

Let me talk about my nephew some more. His sisters interpreted his opposition to gay marriage as homophobia (where did that come from?) so his global warming denial and immigration alarm are, in some sense, a relief: no particular problem with gays, just a generic right-wing jerk.

The larger point is that issues can be entirely arbitrary. Evangelicals’ most salient concern is abortion, which was originally not an issue for them; contraception was copacetic at first and Roe v. Wade not a problem; nothing in scripture privileges the unborn. This changed suddenly as the result of a political decision to make common cause with Catholics.

Climate change denial is not quite as arbitrary a position, in the sense that fossil fuel interests have been backing right-wing politicians as long as they’ve been in business, but otherwise it’s just another shiny toy in the grab bag.


TM" Yet now we see it, and consequently these have turned out to be rather short-lived advantages. We see that the advantages it has given to the fakers has made them no more powerful and their shams are more quickly revealed. 01.28.19 at 1:39 pm

3: “Yet now we see it, and consequently these have turned out to be rather short-lived advantages. We see that the advantages it has given to the fakers has made them no more powerful and their shams are more quickly revealed.”

What is the evidence that they are “short-lived”?

After 9/11, a colleague sent me a conspiracy hoax (known as the wingdings hoax, you probably heard of it). I looked at it and was for a moment shocked. Then I looked it up in a search engine (I didn’t even know Google at the time but others were good enough) and within seconds had certainty that it was a hoax.

And yet, many years later, there is no sign that the number of people falling for hoaxes – even of the crudest kind – has declined. It has never in world history be so easy to verify factual claims and access true information, and yet there is no sign that people are any better informed than they were before the internet.

It is hard not to despair.


Orange Watch 01.28.19 at 5:25 pm

derrida derider@8:
I don’t think social media has made a whit of difference to it.

Fake news thrives in echo chambers; it’s mostly just feedback loops. What social media did that made a difference WRT traditional fake news was on one hand increasing the size and improving the acoustics of echo chambers, so the average listener is exposed to a broader range of it at once (different old fake news ecosystems were more likely to be geographically limited and did not necessarily overlap even when their content was compatible), and allowing new pieces of fake news to reach the level of background resonance (i.e., “common sense”) far more quickly than in the past. OTOH, it also opened cracks in the echo chamber that let doubters see into them, and let believers see doubters directly challenge them, which increased visibility of it happening but did not disrupt its dynamics overmuch.


Orange Watch 01.28.19 at 7:18 pm

I think they’re the first generation in the history of humanity to face this problem, and I think it’s clear to everyone that they’re not handling it well …

This is only a new phenomena if we’re being extremely Eurocentric and more than a bit socially elitist as well. There have been many instances when a culture (or a distinct subset of a culture) has been taken over by a more socially and/or technologically complex one and the elder generations of that group were unable to cope with things their children grasp readily. That’s normal culture shock stuff. The reason our current future shock looks novel is because historically, the West is the one shocking other cultures so it would only marginal, uninfluential, out-of-sight-out-of-mind others who had been forced to cope with technological and social changes that outpaced their mortality rate. Now we have our own societal elders being being shunted off into obsolescence, but it’s nothing that hasn’t happened many times before to many generations of others.


Patrick 01.28.19 at 7:24 pm

Social media pours gas on the fire.

If you’re a conservative on social media who isn’t a Very Online sort of person, here’s what you experience. You don’t know what a Breitbart is or what gay frogs have to do with White House press passes. But your conservative friends and family occasionally post brief, mostly decontextualized articles about politics. And maybe you click on them and listen for a few seconds and maybe you like a video or quit here or there. And you don’t think too much of it and you aren’t too cynical about it because of your friends and family all already “liked” it, it must be ok, right?

Behind the scenes. Your racist uncle who is so obviously racist that even you and the relatively stable conservatives in the family think he’s a bit off has been sharing videos from Alex Jones. They’re brief, not immediately objectionable at a glance, and have titles like “What the media isn’t telling you about…” And then your Grandma likes his Infowars videos because she clicks Like on literally anything her children and grandchildren post. And your Aunt who isnt as bad as your uncle likes it too. And it bounces around, with each Like coming from someone a little less nuts. Until it’s in your feed. And you aren’t hyper vigilant about it because your sister liked the video, and BOTH of you would have been more careful if you knew this originated with your creepy uncle, but now it’s just a clip of factual assertions you all passively absorb.

And which are all crap. But you didn’t check because you trusted your sister and she trusted her husband and blah, blah, blah, back to the guy with the Infowars subscription.

The result is that people who never would have trusted right wing crackoot sources end up trusting them in little bits and spurts of vital content and zingers.

It’s not great.


TheSophist 01.28.19 at 8:15 pm

While I’m not sure of the extent to which I agree with faustusnotes @13, I would definitely like to say that it’s a really interesting hypothesis. One specific subset of the hypothesis – it’s (relatively) easy to learn stats now because of graphing calculators, but back in the day, ’twas a real pain to do all the arithmetic, so almost nobody ever took a stats class except those who absolutely had to.

I definitely think that the teens I work with understand the world soooo much better than I did at their age. I shudder to think how extensive my ignorance and gullibility would be if I hadn’t worked hard to keep learning for the last 40-odd (some very odd) years.


Hidari 01.28.19 at 9:36 pm

Surprisingly (lol) little discussion here about structural changes in the media environment, which is well embedded into the (pardon my language) capitalist world system.

‘People want to blame the internet for the news industry’s troubles, but the seeds go back to the 1980s. To understand this moment and how to fix it, it means understanding three key forces creating this slow-motion disaster.

The first is a string of bad business decisions that left news companies burdened under mountains of debt even as they avoided investing in newsrooms….

The second force at work was the cratering of news revenues in the middle of the past decade as a quarter-to-quarter focus—and investors’ expectation of hefty profits—came back to bite the industry.

The internet is just one part of the story. Decades of sparse investment and enormous debt service left media companies exposed and hamstrung at a time when investment was needed.
News companies severely misjudged what the internet was. For all our noble beliefs about journalism and democracy, newspapers exist as businesses to create audiences for advertisers that wanted to reach those people, and publications historically built these audiences by helping people meet information needs they have as members of communities or societies. . We focus on the “news” in newspaper, but those needs included things like TV guides, birth and death announcements, and calendars of community events. In the pre-internet world, papers functioned as pseudo-monopolies based on the limits of technology and the radius a delivery truck could travel. Online publishing, with its low cost and global reach, changed everything. Those information needs could be met by a wider, more global array of choices. The newspaper was not the only game in town.

Newspapers that once lacked competitors were competing with everyone, and they were unprepared after decades of scant investment. The tragic mistake these companies made was not that they gave away content for free, as one argument goes, but rather that they took too long to realize the internet had destroyed their local monopoly on meeting citizen’s information needs. They should have safeguarded their connection to this community of readers who were their advertising golden goose. Instead, they hunkered down and treated the internet as just another place to publish, and they paid dearly for it….

This did not happen overnight, but as technology companies slowly replaced the curatorial role of newspapers—for news, yes, but also for those day-to-day human connections we used to rely on old media to make—the revenue began to tumble until it fell off a cliff during the Great Recession. Between 2000 and 2008, newspaper ad revenue dropped more than 60 percent. Companies increasingly diverted money into digital media companies that could deliver the audiences once reserved for newspaper oligopolies but on a global scale. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s essentially what Google and Facebook do, and it’s no surprise that they are the big winners in this new environment. Google’s parent company Alphabet is the world’s biggest media company in terms of revenue; 21 years ago, Google did not exist….

The third force was how these companies reacted to the effects of those first two factors—devastating cuts to news resources that only accelerated the problem.’


At the same time and largely because of this: ‘Over time the amount of media merging has increased and the number of media outlets have increased. That translates to fewer companies owning more media outlets, increasing the concentration of ownership. In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by 50 companies; in 2012, 90% was controlled by just 6 companies.’


I don’t know whether Fake News is really much more of a problem than it was (or that the problem starts is just in the media: most of what I was taught in school, especially on politics and recent history, was complete and total bullshit). But nevertheless, few and few journalists, paid less and less, doing more and more work, for an ever decreasing number of international tax dodging conglomerates, is not a healthy media environment. And so: ‘Between 2003 and 2016, the percentage of Americans who said they have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the media fell from 54% to 32% before recovering somewhat to 41% in 2017 as trust among Democrats rebounded.’ (https://www.knightfoundation.org/reports/indicators-of-news-media-trust)

These are long term trends towards monopoly (did someone mention anything about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall? No? Must have been my imagination), and so the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better, if it ever does.

Trust is easily lost but hard to get back.


Hidari 01.28.19 at 9:46 pm

Incidentally, has anyone actually read the story linked to?

‘ Sharing articles from fake news domains was a rare activity. We find some evidence that the most conservative users were more likely to share this content—the vast majority of which was pro-Trump in orientation—than were other Facebook users, although this is sensitive to coding and based on a small number of respondents

It is important to be clear about how rare this behavior is on social platforms: The vast majority of Facebook users in our data did not share any articles from fake news domains in 2016 at all…

over 90% of our respondents shared no stories from fake news domains…

On average, a conservative respondent shared 0.75 such stories [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.537 to 0.969], and a very conservative respondent shared 1.0 (95% CI, 0.775 to 1.225). This is consistent with the pro-Trump slant of most fake news articles produced during the 2016 campaign, and of the tendency of respondents to share articles they agree with, and thus might not represent a greater tendency of conservatives to share fake news than liberals conditional on being exposed to it

These data are consistent with the hypothesis that people who share many links are more familiar with what they are seeing and are able to distinguish fake news from real news. (We note that we have no measure as to whether or not respondents know that what they are sharing is fake news.) …

we lack data on the composition of respondents’ Facebook News Feeds. It is possible, for instance, that very conservative Facebook users were exposed to more fake news articles in their networks and that the patterns we observe are not due to differential willingness to believe or share false content across the political spectrum….’

Final Conclusion:

‘Using unique behavioral data on Facebook activity linked to individual-level survey data, we find, first, that sharing fake news was quite rare during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. This is important context given the prominence of fake news in post-election narratives about the role of social media disinformation campaigns. ‘


John Quiggin 01.29.19 at 8:57 am

@24 It’s useful to think about this in the context of the OP. If there are more fake news stories targeted at conservatives, that’s because there is a longstanding demand for this kind of stuff. In terms of the ratio of broadcasters to receivers, Facebook lies somewhere between Fox and word of mouth. Even in the days of word of mouth, only a fraction of opinion leaders actively spread conspiracy theories and so on. As I said in the OP, Far from misleading this cohort, Twitter Facebook simply provided them with an amplifier.


faustusnotes 01.29.19 at 9:09 am

Following on Hidari, it is interesting that so much time and effort is spent on debating fake news and Facebook’s role in spreading it while the president and king of fake news is live tweeting Fox & Friends. The Guardian had an article about five victims of conspiracy theories this week, and three of those five were victims of conspiracies that were started by Alex Jones. The Guardian of course presented this discussion in terms of the role of social media, but it should be pretty clear what the common factor is here – and Alex Jones is just old media, really.

Social media may have been useful in winning the election for Trump but that is at least partly a consequence of the electoral college, which means that even a small number of people affected by fake news in the right area can have a huge impact. In the UK with Brexit, and in much of US political debate until now, the toxic force has been the media and bog-standard promotional strategies like driving around in a bus with a massive lie painted on the side. Boris Johnson is writing his opinions on the Daily Telegraph, not vlogging them, and he’s doing that for a reason …


Z 01.29.19 at 9:59 am

John Quiggin A more accurate definition, encompassing deliberate denial of overwhelming evidence, would encompass the entire rightwing media universe, going beyond the Murdoch press to include the output of thinktanks like AEI, Cato, Heritage and Heartland.

I agree with Hidari @23. Unfortunately, under this definition, which I agree is more accurate, it is the entire mainstream* media universe, not only the entire rightwing media universe, which falls into the fake news category (just consider the Iraq war, or for contemporary examples the current war in Yemen). And where does that leave us?

*For lack of a better term. Anything with a non-negligible share of audience in its sector and is owned by a large corporation qualifies.


SusanC 01.29.19 at 1:10 pm

A few days ago, some versions of Microsoft’s browser were giving a fake news warning message for the Daily Mail’s website.

The Daily Mail existed before the Internet, of course.


Cian 01.29.19 at 2:37 pm

JimV @9: Yes a lot of that stuff is either fake news, or real news that has been distorted so that it can fit into a (pretty crazy TBH) conspiracy theory about Trump. Conspiracy theorists see a news story/fact, and always interpret it in a way that supports their existing conspiracy theory, no matter how implausible that interpretation. Having spent my life on the left I’m familiar with the virus and think it’s sad that so many liberals have been infected by it. Trump derangement syndrome is a real thing.

As an exercise look at lots of the ‘big’ stories about Trump/Putin/Russia/indictments over the past couple of years, and then look at how many of them have been (quietly) dropped a few days later. The media’s not even capable of getting basic things right, like the various Mueller indictments.


JimV 01.29.19 at 2:39 pm

“Evangelicals’ most salient concern is abortion, which was originally not an issue for them; contraception was copacetic at first and Roe v. Wade not a problem; nothing in scripture privileges the unborn. This changed suddenly as the result of a political decision to make common cause with Catholics.”

Speaking of fake news … (sorry, I don’t enjoy being contentious, but maybe it is somewhat on topic) I grew up in a semi-evangelical family in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, and abortion was never considered acceptable among them. Then roughly 15-20 years ago I saw an article claiming the opposite which cited two cherry-picked sources (purported evangelical ministers who did not have a totally-closed position on abortion; I believe one could also find two atheists who are not blanket-supporters of abortion). I did a bit of armchair research which consisted of trying to find out Billy Sunday’s position. Billy Sunday was Billy Graham before Billy Graham (maybe neither of those names resonate with most readers now?). He was filling revival tents and theaters around 1900-1930. It has been several years since I did the research and may be off on the dates. Anyway, he was a major founder and promoter of the evangelical movement in the early 20th century, and his position on abortion was simple: he said abortion was murder. He held a women-only revival meeting in a theater and told them there was secret shame in America: the murdering of unborn children.

In my opinion, abortion was not a political issue for evangelicals until Roe v. Wade mostly because it did not need to be; abortion was illegal (and why was that if Protestants had no problem with it?).

I have a grandniece-in-law who has three small children (oldest about eight) and is pregnant with the fourth. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. It is a type that can be treated chemotherapically with a high success rate, but this would endanger the pregnancy so she and her husband have decided to wait until the child is born, which is several months away. Frankly, with her husband in a low-paying job as a youth counselor and the possibility of him having to raise the three small kids on a single income, only a belief in miracles and an after-life would make this seem like a reasonable decision to me. (Granted they have and will have a lot of family support, including financial support from me.) Anyway, in my experience, abortion prohibition is a very sincere and long-held emotional position for evangelicals. (A lot of things were done in the Old Testament which they don’t agree with and therefore ignore, including human and animal sacrifice.)

I may be wrong, but I think that what seems to have become a main-stream belief of atheists and agnostics about evangelicals and abortion is fake news. (Which is not to say I agree with evangelicals about abortion, or much else.) Someone is wrong on the Internet! (Of course, it may be me.)


Cian 01.29.19 at 2:41 pm

Lobsterman: @12 – I live around white folks in their 60s and 70s and many of them extremely kind, thoughtful and generous people with shitty politics. I also know some deeply awful people with pretty good politics.


Patrick 01.29.19 at 4:13 pm

I think we can validly draw a “bad news versus fake news” line between mainstream news reporting overly credulously on the Bush administrations claims about Iraq, and Infowars writing yet another article claiming that Michelle Obama has a secret penis.


Lee A. Arnold 01.29.19 at 4:52 pm

TM #18: “What is the evidence that [advantages of propaganda and popular misconception] are ‘short-lived?’… there is no sign that people are any better informed than they were before the internet.”

Sure, people are gullible as ever, and now the internet & social media enable their misconceptions to be more rapidly spread. But then afterward, opposing evidence is more easily found and rapidly spread too. The lies are destroyed a lot faster. So in the end it will be a wash — no gain in advantage for the propagandists after their initial surge. I’m guessing that they will lose more ground as the novelty of these new social media forms wears off, and fatigue sets in. The platforms themselves will become as untrustworthy to most people as advertising for corn flakes.

The disappointments in things like Brexit and Trump could accelerate this process. In the US, Trump’s exaggerations and lies finally undermined his credibility when he needed it most, when it was necessary for him to have credibility in order to push his policy forward, i.e. get funding for the border wall. He destroyed himself. A similar thing may be true of the social media he is using to communicate his nonsense.

This is a very different milieu of public conversation than individuals once experienced. In the old days, the mainstream media narrative of what was going on in the world ruled the public conversation. Think for example of the mainstream narrative of US foreign policy in the Cold War era. It was hard to find alternative information; you had to chance upon a copy of Ramparts or Chomsky. That mainstream advantage is gone too.

In the new media environment you can find everything, and it is also accelerated. This guarantees over-satiation and fatigue. We still see the same type of sudden populist faddish emergences as in the old days. What’s different now is the relatively stronger tribal silos or echo-chambers. But the accelerated ear-splitting volume of all of it, plus the repeated failure to match much of the information to reality, suggests that for most individuals, one-by-one, there will be a threshold of cognitive fatigue until the whole phenomenon may subside in credibility and importance to the back of a box of cereal.


Cian 01.29.19 at 6:06 pm

Patrick @21 – Maybe, but I think what I’ve more noticed (I live in the South, so my sample size is quite large) is that there are two groups of not insanely online conservative types:

Type 1: They tune it out as basically shouting, but sort of contextualize it as both sides are as bad as each other, what are you going to do, politics is broken, etc.
Type 2: Claim that they’re not very online people, because they don’t want people to think they’re an insane racist uncle (or are embarrassed by the wingnut husband). They have the posting under control, but clearly are consuming the same wing nuttery and basically believe it.

It’s not helped that if you’re a Repub (and this applies to Democrats too), the only people online that you realize are Democrats, are the people screaming on Facebook – so you kind of assume the other side are at least equally insane, because you kind of discount the people who just refuse to engage with this stuff. Which I think is most people really.


Patrick 01.29.19 at 10:32 pm

Cian- My point, in part, was that the people you describe as Type 1 (tune everything out as basically shouting, both sides, etc, but still identify as conservatives) don’t tune it ALL out. They tune a lot of it out, and then end up accepting in little bits and pieces of ideas and concepts and conspiracy theories they got from their social circle. And the way social media contributes to that is by creating a sort of idea laundering system that crafts a conveyor belt from the fever swamp to the easily shareable, popular meme.


John Quiggin 01.30.19 at 2:09 am

Z @27 MSM coverage of the Yemen war has been, as far as I can see, almost uniformly critical of the US-led coalition, as well as of their opponents. This seems to me to be entirely accurate and justified. In what sense is it “fake news”?

It’s certainly true that the MSM, at least in the US, swallowed, and reproduced the lies of the Bush Administration regarding Iraq. But (while still giving too much credence to Republican lies) they do seem to have learned some lessons from this, unlike their counterparts on the right.


steven t johnson 01.30.19 at 2:31 am

John Quiggin@36 “MSM coverage of the Yemen war has been, as far as I can see, almost uniformly critical of the US-led coalition, as well as of their opponents.”

It amazes me to discover the MSM considers the Yemen war to be led by the US. I don’t even remember the criticism of Obama for going to war in yet another Middle Eastern country. Somehow I’ve misremembered the MSM as presuming that calling the Houthis Iranian agents is, maybe, controversial. The recent battles to cut off the last port feeding the interior of the entire country aren’t siege warfare against the whole population, as I remember the MSM. For that matter, I’m not even sure the MSM is clear on how the Kingdom depends upon the US and therefore everything it does is with US support.


John Quiggin 01.30.19 at 3:50 am

@37 Perhaps Google (or another search engine) might help your memory. Try “US policy starving Yemenis”. A pretty representative* result is this piece by Kristof in the NYTimes, headlined “This Is What Our Yemen Policy Looks Like” and showing a picture of a starving 12 year old.

In two senses. Kristof’s piece is representative of the search results, and Kristof himself is generally representative of middle-of-the-road MSM opinion. Even supporters of the war admit that they are losing in the media. For example, this piece in The Hill https://thehill.com/opinion/international/420375-whats-at-stake-in-yemen-affects-us-all admits that “The urgency to end the war reduces that conflict, and its drivers, to a morality play, with the coalition of Arab states cast as the bloodthirsty villain killing and starving Yemeni civilians.”


faustusnotes 01.30.19 at 5:20 am

Steven t johnson, it took one google search to reveal this article from 2012 describing Obama’s escalation of drone strikes in Yemen, reporting criticisms from congress, and referencing another Washington Post editorial that criticizes his decision.

From another google search, top link, is this article disputing that the Houthis are Iranian puppets.

Here is an article from the New Yorker that describes the siege of Yemen through its port and asks whether it is the future of warfare (not in a good way)?

Perhaps you should check whether you “don’t remember” or “don’t want to remember”?


bad Jim 01.30.19 at 8:14 am

Jim V., my understanding of the history of the evangelical stance on abortion is derived entirely from the writing of Fred Clark at Slacktivist. I have no personal experience in this matter, but I find his writing and citations persuasive.

See, for example, The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal. There’s much more; Clark has written extensively on the subject.

It may well be the case that abortion was generally deprecated before it was legalized, but at first only the Catholics were scandalized. The point is that it wasn’t a salient issue for Protestants until the late 1970’s, at which point it suddenly became The Most Important Issue In The World, the moral equivalent of the Holocaust.


Dipper 01.30.19 at 10:30 am

Here in Brexit land we have accusations of Fake news and unicorns flying thick and fast, so I thought I’d give a Brexiteer’s view of fake news.

Much of the MSM and the political establishment has a consistent high-level narrative which generally goes unchallenged. Two statements stand out through repetition; “the four freedoms are indivisible”, and “the GFA requires an open border.”

The single market in services is one of the four freedoms, and for wholesale financial products it is pretty much the case, but in retail financial services, it isn’t. For example, “As one expert witness said to the House of Lords enquiry into Brexit and financial services, “national retail markets have distinctive national characteristics and, as a result, distinctive national regulations”. So, in other words, there isn’t a single market in Retail financial services, just national ones, and my understanding is that is because a single market in retail financial services would have wiped out a lot of non-UK firms. So when I hear “the four freedoms are indivisible” I think that’s european politicians telling fibs, and the MSM in reporting this as fact is spreading Fake news. I’ve never heard a journalist on TV or Radio challenge this, although there was an article in The New Statesman which says “Germany does not accept another pillar of the single market. It blocks free trade in services to maintain German professional standards and to prevent dilution of its privacy laws in a digital single market. France resists another pillar, free movement of capital, if this results in French firms being taken over.”. The article was written by none other than Vince Cable (leader of the Lib Dems who’s only policy is to rejoin join the EU).

The there’s the GFA. Much has been made of the requirement for an open border. Funnily enough, I’ve never heard anyone quote the section, and neither on here as anyone quoted the specific section when challenged. So, here is the GFA or Belfast Agreement. And to make your lives easier the word border crops up ten times. Typical statements are “to use best endeavours to reach agreement on the adoption of common policies, in areas where there is a mutual cross-border and all- island benefit,”, “to take decisions by agreement on policies and action at an all-island and cross-border level”. So there is nothing specific on keeping an open border. Yet this is constantly referred to in the MSM as though this is close 1 section 12 in black and white.

Where the GFA is specific is “It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland”. So the Withdrawal agreement by effectively annexing NI is, some argue, a clear breach of the GFA. this goes generally unquestioned in the MSM.

I would also add the GFA says this “recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status,” so it would seem reasonable to argue that the fact the majority of voters in NI voted to remain in the EU would mean, under the GFA, that NI should remain in the EU. However, I’ve never heard any political or journalist refer to this section. Just open border blah blah.

So on the basis of that, I’d say that most MSM news is slogans and generalities, that “Truth” is whatever accords with the listeners prejudices, and “Fake News” is whatever doesn’t.


steven t johnson 01.30.19 at 2:37 pm

John Quiggin@38 tells me that something called “The Hill” is MSM. I would first list ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN. Or for that matter, he Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the LA Times. Online, MSN counts I think. As to the smoking gun? The discovery that an op-ed piece discovers years after Obama approved the invasion of Yemen that it’s now horrible strikes me more as a smoking cap pistol. I am even so cynical as to think it may have something to do with disapproving Trump.

Generalization is hard but the notion that the MSM generally affirms Obama approved the war, that the US actively leads the Saudis in targeting (not just “backs”,) that the war has systematically been aimed at the population, that every claim the Houthis are Iranian agents is black propaganda supported by the US government and prima facie evidence of bad faith…No, I still don’t think so.

Faustusnotes@39 thinks an article critical of drone strikes is about the US leading an invasion of Yemen. This is not correct. As to the New Yorker article, if the New Yorker is MSM, so is National Review. The Hill notwithstanding, I’m not certain the government is losing the opinion war until opposition pieces are appearing in the larger part of the MSM. It is true the Washington Post is MSM. Is it true “The Moneky Cage” blog is? It seems a lot to me like a ghetto for token expert opinions


Z 01.30.19 at 3:21 pm

@John Quiggin MSM coverage of the Yemen war has been, as far as I can see, almost uniformly critical of the US-led coalition, as well as of their opponents. This seems to me to be entirely accurate and justified. In what sense is it “fake news”?

I consider the statement that Mohammed Bin Salman’s regime is incomparably worse than Maduro’s or Castro’s (whatever the metric chosen – domestic repression, respect for democracy, brute number of people who suffer horrendously under it…) a statement backed up by “overwhelming evidence”. I doubt one would come out with this impression* from an examination of front-pages, headlines, editorials and lead paragraphs of the American MSM, but if you say otherwise, I’m ready to take your word for it.

*One could argue that a careful reading of the MSM would indeed lead to the conclusion the MBS’s Saudi Arabia is way worse than Maduro’s Venezuela, but I think this “careful reading” standard is way too lenient. News, as opposed to fake news, when consumed should increase your knowledge, not decrease it. To give an example, a front-page article with the title “The smoking gun – that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud” with a 12th paragraph mentioning that El-Baradei and Blix denied that Iraq had revived its nuclear weapons program does contain all relevant facts, yet it does not produce the same effect as an article with the title “No nuclear weapon program in Iraq – say experts in charge of inspections”.


afeman 01.30.19 at 4:21 pm

John Quiggin: Other things equal, she would have won if she had campaigned better, and she would have won if it weren’t for the Russia/Wikileaks hack.

Does anybody have any positive quantitative analysis suggesting the latter? What little I’ve seen indicates that Russian spending on Facebook (the majority of which I understand to have occurred after the election) was inadequate to move voting even the by the small margins involved. See point 3 here: http://www.carlbeijer.com/2018/07/the-lefts-take-on-russian-election.html

I recall analysis shortly after the election that identified a drop in Clinton’s favorability right after the Comey letter, but now he’s a hero of the #Resistance.


John Quiggin 01.30.19 at 9:19 pm

afeman; Apart from the irrelevant aside about Comey, you seem to have answered your own question. The email hack, along with the largely confected private server scandal, was damaging enough to account for Clinton’s loss. Equally, as I said, so was her poor campaigning. Other things equal, either would have been sufficient.

I agree that no one knows whether specifically Russian fake news on Facebook was a big deal – it appears to have been a tiny fraction of the fake news items on Facebook, which in turn (as I observed in the OP) was only one medium for the dissemination of fake news.


John Quiggin 01.30.19 at 9:54 pm

Z For what it’s worth, my impression is that Maduro is typically classed with Orban, Putin, Erdogan and others as an example of illiberal democracy, as in this piece


while MBS is routinely compared to Pinochet, and even Hitler


But even if your perception were correct, it’s a piece of false equivalence. There’s a huge difference between reporting on two dictators similarly when one is much worse than the other (your case) and claiming that Sandy Hook was a fraud (the far-right fake news0, or that climate science is a giant conspiracy (the respectable right version).


JimV 01.30.19 at 10:22 pm

Bad Jim, thanks for the response and the link. I think the linked article presents much the same case as the one I remembered reading, citing a couple of theologians. I have heard it said that one of the surest ways to lose one’s faith is to become a (christian) theologian (and learn exactly what is in the Bible and how it got there). As I mentioned, a lot of things were done in the Old Testament that no evangelical would countenance, or consider evidence that their God/Jesus approved them; and of course they were more complacent about such radical (to them) views (as expressed by the cited theologians) at a time when their own position was law. So I still find the argument one-sided and not logically compelling as to the hypocrisy of the typical evangelical.

(The theologian’s argument citing Leviticus is a bad argument, by the way. I could have written the rebuttal so I’ll bet many did.)

Wikipedia says Billy Sunday was the ” most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century.” Not a theologian, but someone who drew admiring crowds. and influenced millions. He preached that abortion was murder of a child. How does Fred Clarke rationalize that, or did he not do that research?

One can disagree with evangelical positions without assuming they are insincere, and there is no better way to harden those positions than by arguing their sincerity. Of course, there are a lot of grifters who aren’t sincere, on all sides, but to accuse the mass of evangelicals of having changed their position on abortion the cited evidence seems thin to me. One could argue that it didn’t used to be a rallying point and the issue has become inflamed after Roe v. Wade, but that is better explained as the exacerbation of a natural tendency than an artificial creation, it seems to me.


steven t johnson 01.30.19 at 10:26 pm

John Quiggin@46 believes the Washington Post’s vehement distaste for MBS reflect MSM consensus, rather than the opinion of Kashoggi’s employers. The discovery there was a Yemen war sometimes seems to have come after Kashoggi’s murder, stemming from anger at Trump’s response. Well, perhaps the consensus has indeed recently changed and I’m behind.

Perhaps one way of judging the takeaway from the MSM is how it’s reflected in entertainment. There Venezuela is generally deemed a dictatorship. The villains hide out there, safely plot there, flee there when caught. This “illiberal democracy” isn’t an idea in entertainment.


Orange Watch 01.30.19 at 11:05 pm

Much of the MSM and the political establishment has a consistent high-level narrative which generally goes unchallenged[…] “the GFA requires an open border.”
Yet this is constantly referred to in the MSM as though this is close 1 section 12 in black and white.

First hit I saw on Google: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-46988529


Faustusnotes 01.31.19 at 12:26 am

This article gives some information about the origin of early objections to gmos:


Among the early “thinkers” on the health effects of gmos are prince Charles in the daily telegraph, giving religious motivations; Jeremy rifling in The NY Times; and 19th century French winemakers. The humane society is mentioned, but the animal rights movement are not environmentalists and their opposition is grounded in animal rights not environmental concerns (eg they oppose growing human organs in transgenic pigs because of the pigs’ rights, not the health impact on humans – indeed a lot of animal rights activists are willing to retard human health to improve animal rights).

I think it’s a stretch to claim these people are representative of the environmental movement or even vaguely left wing. I’d like to see some attention to basic history before these claims are made.


bad Jim 01.31.19 at 5:40 am

JimV, Fred Clark has subsequently provided quite a bit of history to buttress the point, but I won’t belabor it. Moreover, my thesis, that the specific positions taken by different sides are often arbitrary, is pretty dubious. Authoritarianism is reliably associated with racism, sexism, militarism and religiosity.

I’m primarily trying to understand why my nephew holds the opinions he does, and my hypothesis is that they’re the result of his politics rather than his psychology. His primary pastime is camping in the mountains, yet he isn’t an environmentalist. Does not compute.


Z 01.31.19 at 9:03 am

John @46, I have no real commitment to this argument, but I want to register my strong disagreement with what you wrote.

First of all, you quoted two opinion pieces, which by definitions may not reflect the position of the editorial board, and both from the Washington Post, an outlet considered on the left of the mainstream spectrum and with particularly good reasons to be hostile to MBS post-Kashoggi. As point of comparison, take these two obituaries from the paper of record. Are they really well-characterized as “reporting on two dictators similarly”?



Also I consider your description of MBS and Maduro as “two dictators” already quite misleading, for both of them in fact.

More importantly you argue that this kind of reporting is anyway not comparable to denying that Sandy Hook happened or that global warning is real. But I think you are too complacent here. Very few right-wing outlets, even on the fringe, actually systematically deny that climate change is real. In those I read (pretty far on the right, like Ann Coulter or Powerline), it’s more “really nothing is happening” 5% of the time, “something might be happening but we don’t know for sure what or how important it is” 30% of the time, “something is definitely happening but these leftist scientists are real crooks” 40% of the time, “something is definitely happening but the solutions proposed by crooked leftist politicians would be way worse than continuing business as usual” 20% of the time and finally “yeah, something is really happening and we should do something about it but America is great, so we’ll figure it out” the remaining 5%.

That doesn’t strike me as so much different from the coverage of Saudi Arabia in the MSM, where it’s “everything there is awesome with our trusted allie and great trade partner”, “something is going on but the Iranians are in the axis of evil”, “yeah they are shrewd and ruthless autocrats but it is better than any alternative” and “yeah we should do something about it but America is such a great defender of democracy that we’ll figure it out” in roughly the same proportions. And, sure, very few MSM outlets will straight out invent a conspiracy to deny the existence of a massacre, it is mainstream after all, but they’ll call it “allegations of massacres” years or even decades after the facts or just omit mentions of them (have a look at the NYT obituary of Ariel Sharon, or for that matter that of George Bush, for typical examples).

And my feeling about this is not at all restricted to the treatment of US foreign policy by US domestic press (always a low point in a domestic press). I have roughly the same impression with a lot of economic reporting on the living conditions of the bottom half in terms of income and education, for instance.

Generally speaking, the idea that there are quality media outlets producing news and battling the “alternate fact” media environment (on Facebook and Twitter) seems to me quite false; backwards in fact. I think a picture in which media outlets have channelled so disproportionately the positions of the educated and affluent elite for so long that people outside this circle have lost any trust in it and have fallen back on alternative sources is closer to the truth. Which (ironically, perhaps) mean that I’m in total agreement with your OP: when it comes to fake news, the medium is absolutely not the message.


nastywoman 01.31.19 at 9:16 am

”His primary pastime is camping in the mountains, yet he isn’t an environmentalist. Does not compute”.

Just like me! –
I always have spend a lot of time ”in the environment” (too) –
mainly in ”the liquid one” – the water –
but as I’m not ”that bright” – it took quite some time (too) – to understand that thusly I deeply cared about ”the environment’ – and really didn’t want anything ”bad” happen to IT- and I really want to ”keep it clean’ and ”en natural” – or in other words I suddenly had to realize that I really could be ”an environmentalist” without knowing it myself – for all this time – which could bring US to the post about ”the nukes” – where I later –
-(after I have thought more about ”the whole deal”) – will explain how this whole thing with ”the environment” works…


nastywoman 01.31.19 at 11:55 am

”I think a picture in which media outlets have channelled so disproportionately the positions of the educated and affluent elite for so long that people outside this circle have lost any trust in it and have fallen back on alternative sources is closer to the truth”.

I think a picture in which media outlets have channelled so disproportionately the positions of the educated and affluent elite for so long that people outside this circle have lost any trust in it and have fallen back on ”alternative truth” – is closer to the truth.


afeman 01.31.19 at 12:00 pm

JQ: My point is that what I’ve seen, aside from guesswork, indicates that the email hack probably, and the Facebook ads very probably, were insufficient to account for Clinton’s loss, other things being equal. I’m asking if there is evidence, something better than guesswork, that either or both were damaging enough to account for Clinton’s loss. If I answered my own question, then the answer is “probably not”.

The aside about the Comey letter is to illustrate the contrast in the relative popular attribution of harm. By my lights it was an outrageous intervention in a puffed up scandal, flogged by the NYT, and lined up with shifts on polls such that it at least plausibly tipped it in for Trump. The popular assumption that Facebook ads were sufficient, other things being equal, while Comey enjoys status as a resistance hero (albeit not with you) cries out for examination.


faustusnotes 01.31.19 at 12:22 pm

Z, the president of the united states denies global warming is real, directly and vocally. I don’t think you should equivocate on US right wing views of global warming: whatever they think privately, in public they deny it’s happening. Certainly at the vintage of the two articles you cite from WaPo (in 2013 and 2015): in 2015 James Inhofe did the snowball stunt in congress. And contrary to what you wrote, in 2015 Ann Coulter was openly identifying herself as someone who doesn’t believe in global warming – ie she thinks it’s false – and claiming she was being persecuted for her belief. She’s not alone in this either. Even among the rightists who supposedly “believe” in global warming, really their “belief” is just a fig-leaf over denialism to ensure they can still be taken seriously by the (idiot) newspapers like NYT.

You can’t fight these things if you don’t understand them. The vast majority of right wing politicians, pundits, grifters and media figures in the USA think global warming is not happening. At all. This does not compare to equivocating on the legacy of dictators. They’re high on their supply, completely crazy. It’s really important to understand that, and to understand how they are all fake news, if you want to know what they’re trying to do and what to do about them.


nastywoman 01.31.19 at 12:40 pm

And thinking about? – and thinking about:
”But I know words. I have the best words” –
concerning ”Fake News” Baron Von Clownstick could be ”right” –
(as in: understanding ”whassup”) – and thusly tells ”the truth”?

As -(especially on teh Internet) – there are so many ”GREAT” writers – who know so many words and have the best words – that they think they have to use them all – instead of just saying:


And I say that – BE-cause I just read in the comment sections of ”the Intercept” and ”Breitbart” – the funniest… words – which all proved the theory of a seminar (about ”subtext”) we all should take – that it’s the words commenters don’t use – which –
says it all?


JimV 01.31.19 at 12:56 pm

“Fred Clark has subsequently provided quite a bit of history to buttress the point”

As people do, and sometimes it is called cherry-picking. As my friend Mario liked to say about disputed issues, “They have their German scientists and we have our German scientists” (alluding to various GS’s such as Von Braun imigrating to the USA or Soviet Union after WWII). My history is personal family history and an hour or so online tracking down Billy Sunday’s position in a book (in Google Books) about the history of evangelism in the USA. I didn’t know what I would find, but felt it would be significant and largely dispositive, one way or the other.

The only thing I am somewhat sure of when it comes to people’s beliefs is that people will believe anything. It seems to be a natural human tendency (something to do with neuronal pattern-seeking), which we have to fight against by double-checking our facts and those on the other side. (Not that I always do that myself–but I should.)


steven t johnson 01.31.19 at 7:28 pm

“WHEREAS, Christians in the American society today are faced with difficult decisions about abortion; and

WHEREAS, Some advocate that there be no abortion legislation, thus making the decision a purely private matter between a woman and her doctor; and

WHEREAS, Others advocate no legal abortion, or would permit abortion only if the life of the mother is threatened;

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, that this Convention express the belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother”

Southern Baptist Convention, 1971

Compare to 1982:
“WHEREAS, Both medical science and biblical references indicate that human life begins at conception, and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists have traditionally upheld the sanctity and worth of all human life, both born and pre-born, as being created in the image of God, and

WHEREAS, Current judicial opinion gives no guarantee of protection of pre-born persons, thus permitting the widespread practice of abortion on demand, which has led to the killing of an estimated four thousand developing human beings daily in the United States, and

WHEREAS, Social acceptance of abortion has begun to dull society’s respect for all human life, leading to growing occurrences of infanticide, child abuse, and active euthanasia.

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That the messengers to the 1982 Southern Baptist Convention affirm that all human life, both born and pre-born, is sacred, bearing the image of God, and is not subject to personal judgments as to “quality of life” based on such subjective criteria as stage of development, abnormality, intelligence level, degree of dependency, cost of medical treatment, or inconvenience to parents.

Be it further RESOLVED, That we abhor the use of federal, state or local tax money; public, tax-supported medical facilities; or Southern Baptist supported medical facilities for the practice of selfish, medically unnecessary abortions and/or the practice of withholding treatment from unwanted or defective newly born infants.

Be it finally RESOLVED, That we support and will work for appropriate legislation and/or constitutional amendment which will prohibit abortions except to save the physical life of the mother, and that we also support and will work for legislation which will prohibit the practice of infanticide.”

Further compare a 2003 resolution:

WHEREAS, Scripture reveals that all human life is created in the image of God, and therefore sacred to our Creator (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 9:6); and

WHEREAS, The Bible affirms that the unborn baby is a person bearing the image of God from the moment of conception (Psalm 139:13–16; Luke 1:44); and

WHEREAS, Scripture further commands the people of God to plead for protection for the innocent and justice for the fatherless (Psalm 72:12–14; Psalm 82:3; James 1:27); and

WHEREAS, January 2003 marked thirty years since the 1973 United States Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in all fifty states; and

WHEREAS, Resolutions passed by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1971 and 1974 accepted unbiblical premises of the abortion rights movement, forfeiting the opportunity to advocate the protection of defenseless women and children; and

WHEREAS, During the early years of the post-Roe era, some of those then in leadership positions within the denomination endorsed and furthered the “pro-choice” abortion rights agenda outlined in Roe v. Wade; and

WHEREAS, Some political leaders have referenced 1970s-era Southern Baptist Convention resolutions and statements by former Southern Baptist Convention leaders to oppose legislative efforts to protect women and children from abortion; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptist churches have effected a renewal of biblical orthodoxy and confessional integrity in our denomination, beginning with the Southern Baptist Convention presidential election of 1979; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has maintained a robust commitment to the sanctity of all human life, including that of the unborn, beginning with a landmark pro-life resolution in 1982; and

WHEREAS, Our confessional statement, The Baptist Faith and Message, affirms that children “from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord”; and further affirms that Southern Baptists are mandated by Scripture to “speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death”; and

WHEREAS, The legacy of Roe v. Wade has grown to include ongoing assaults on human life such as euthanasia, the harvesting of human embryos for the purposes of medical experimentation, and an accelerating move toward human cloning; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 17–18, 2003, reiterate our conviction that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of the United States Constitution, human embryology, and the basic principles of human rights; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we reaffirm our belief that the Roe v. Wade decision was an act of injustice against innocent unborn children as well as against vulnerable women in crisis pregnancy situations, both of which have been victimized by a “sexual revolution” that empowers predatory and irresponsible men and by a lucrative abortion industry that has fought against even the most minimal restrictions on abortion; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we offer our prayers, our love, and our advocacy for women and men who have been abused by abortion and the emotional, spiritual, and physical aftermath of this horrific practice; affirming that the gospel of Jesus Christ grants complete forgiveness for any sin, including that of abortion; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we lament and renounce statements and actions by previous Conventions and previous denominational leadership that offered support to the abortion culture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we humbly confess that the initial blindness of many in our Convention to the enormity of Roe v. Wade should serve as a warning to contemporary Southern Baptists of the subtlety of the spirit of the age in obscuring a biblical worldview; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge our Southern Baptist churches to remain vigilant in the protection of human life by preaching the whole counsel of God on matters of human sexuality and the sanctity of life, by encouraging and empowering Southern Baptists to adopt unwanted children, by providing spiritual, emotional, and financial support for women in crisis pregnancies, and by calling on our government officials to take action to protect the lives of women and children; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we express our appreciation to both houses of Congress for their passage of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, and we applaud President Bush for his commitment to sign this bill into law; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge Congress to act swiftly to deliver this bill to President Bush for his signature; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we pray and work for the repeal of the Roe v. Wade decision and for the day when the act of abortion will be not only illegal, but also unthinkable.”

And, to get up to date, 2018:
“WHEREAS, In the beginning, the Triune God chose to create humanity in His image and according to His likeness, such that “God created man in His own image; He created Him in the image of God; He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:26–27); and

WHEREAS, God judged His creation of humanity to be very good indeed (Genesis 1:31), crowned humanity with honor and glory, making them rulers over the works of His hands (Psalm 8:5–6), and put eternity in all human hearts so we might seek after Him (Ecclesiastes 3:11); and

WHEREAS, God’s precious likeness and image was passed down from Adam to his posterity, the human race, through generations (Genesis 5:3); and

WHEREAS, God sent His own perfect image, Jesus Christ, into the world (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3), intending through the sufferings of Christ (Hebrews 2:10) for human beings to become conformed, renewed, and transformed into the same image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:9–10); and

WHEREAS, God intends to bless human beings to “bear the image of the man of heaven,” Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:49; cf. 1 John 3:2), and “wants everyone to be saved” through hearing and believing His gospel (1 Timothy 2:4; cf. Ezekiel 18:23; Matthew 23:37; 2 Peter 3:9); and

WHEREAS, Significant challenges threaten the dignity and worthiness of human beings who do not possess power or advantage, including but not limited to the heinous murder of the unborn child in the womb, the enforced withdrawal of life-sustaining medical care from the ill or infirm, the prejudices and discriminations of racism and ethnocentrism, various abuses of other human persons, the denigration of opposing political groups, and persecutions of religious minorities; and

WHEREAS, Article III of The Baptist Faith and Message clearly affirms that human dignity is an inviolable status, stating, “The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love”; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Dallas, Texas, June 12–13, 2018, reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation whatsoever; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every unborn child and denounce every act of abortion except to save the mother’s physical life; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being, whether or not any political, legal, or medical authority considers a human being possessive of “viable” life regardless of cognitive or physical disability, and denounce every act that would wrongly limit the life of any human at any stage or state of life; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being of whatever ethnicity and denounce every form and practice of racism and ethnocentrism; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being, whether male or female, young or old, weak or strong, and denounce any and every form of abuse, whether physical, sexual, verbal, or psychological; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being of whatever political or legal status or party and denounce rhetoric that diminishes the humanity of anyone; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being of whatever religion or creed and denounce any unjust violation of the first freedom of religious liberty; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that the full dignity of every human being can never be removed, diminished, or modified by any human decision or action whatsoever; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we affirm the full dignity of every human being and commit to model God’s saving love by sharing the eternal hope found in the gospel, to call all people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19–20; 2 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Peter 3:14–17), and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39; Romans 12:10, 15; Philippians 2:4–7).”

It is entirely unclear how they still manage to except saving the life of the mother. I suspect they believe that any right-thinking doctor will hesitate to affirm the absolute necessity, sufficiency and guaranty of any abortion to save the life of the mother at any time.

These resolutions were passed by messengers from the churches. As such they are indicators of the variety of opinion ( or unanimity) on abortion by delegates of actual congregations. It is not clear to me how many of Billy Sunday’s audience took each of his remarks seriously. There was a strong element of entertainment in attending popular preachers, hard as that may be for people from an unchurched way of life to believe.

The moral of the story, I suspect, is that sometimes your German scientist is Dr. Mengele, and sometimes our German scientist is Werner von Braun.


bad Jim 02.01.19 at 6:03 am

Thank you, steven t johnson.

I’ve been going through Fred Clark’s postings, and ran across his mischievous take on the trial by abortifacient in Numbers, the accused wife having to drink a cup of holy water with a sprinkling of dust, suggesting that it was a theatrical spectacle meant to quell the suspicions of a jealous husband.

Okay, found the thread I was looking for: Part 1. This is not cherry-picking. This is scholarship. This is chronology.

It’s also the least damning part of the history of Southern Baptists, who seceded from the rest of the denomination in 1845 for some obscure reason.


TM 02.01.19 at 10:50 pm

“media outlets have channelled so disproportionately the positions of the educated and affluent elite for so long that people outside this circle have lost any trust”

And when exactly was that golden age when media outlets haven’t channeled the positions of the affluent elite?

And: Which is it – the educated or the affluent? Unless you think these groups are coextensive, in which case you have fallen for let’s call it fake news. The trope of the “educated and affluent elite” is typical right wing rhetoric, usually used by those who hate the educated and love the plutocrats. Trumpists, in a word.

Comments on this entry are closed.