Friday, February 1, 2019

On Fake News and Russian Collusion

In a recent interview in AcTIVism, Glenn Greenwald, one of few people Edward Snowden agreed to speak to, shamed other countries that benefited from Snowden's revelations but refused to grant him safe passage. Because of Snowden, many are taking means to protect their personal privacy online, but his revelations had an even bigger impact on our relationship with government. Fewer people trust government anymore. At all.

On the other hand, media support for Assange and Wikileaks "has more or less evaporated now that they see him . . . as an arm of Russian intelligence, which is something they say with great regularity notwithstanding the fact that there is no evidence for it." Assange interfered in the political process, but so do all journalists who cover an election: "it's called reporting." He published confidential documents, but "The New York Times published Donald Trump's tax returns even though they had no idea who sent it to them."
I think the main attack on Wikileaks has been to say that they have too much power and along with that they work with the Russian government. But again, I mean, for decades the New York Times was the place where every major national security leak ended up. When Daniel Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times that was the argument of the Nixon administration used to try and get the Supreme Court to censor them as why should the editor of the New York Times have so much power that he gets to decide which government secrets are published and which ones remain concealed. And the answer is: That's what a free press does. . . . So if we’re going to accept the theory that Julian Assange has too much power because he gets to make decisions about what's published and what isn't, then again you're stripping away first amendment or free press protections from every working investigative journalist, and I don't think that's something that any of us want to do.
The Mueller investigation is ongoing, but we don't yet have any evidence that anyone criminally conspired with the Russians to interfere in the election.
"Thus far, the Mueller probe has produced no indictments, no convictions and no evidence relating to let alone demonstrating any of that to be the case. . . . Jonathan Karl who is the chief White House correspondent of ABC, just 4 days ago said that the Mueller report when it comes is highly likely to be anti-climatic."
Then he gets into the inaccurate stories being published in U.S. media, like when BuzzFeed reported that Trump directed Cohen to lie a couple weeks ago, which was false.
"So, over and over and over again, it's the kind of reporting that basically led to the American public believing that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons . . . these stories are falling apart because they are published with no evidence, simply because intelligence officials who are trained to lie, who are born to lie, tell these media officials to go say it, and they obediently go and say it. And then it reverberates all around the world. . . . The US media outlets are very, very adept, and acting with extreme levels of melodramatic outrage whenever they're called fake news, they declare these insults to be a grave threat to democracy. . . . But they spend almost no time, unfortunately, asking themselves why those attacks resonate, why faith in media institutions has collapsed, why Trump thinks it is a good strategy to turn the media into his enemy. . . . There is a general loss of faith in the ruling class institutions. . . . And the ruling class seems to be responding, including the media class, by calling everybody names who expresses dissatisfaction, but spending very little time engaging in self-critique or self-analysis. And until they start figuring out what it is that they're doing that's causing a lot of these political developments, I think things are only going to continue to get worse." 
Shortly after the interview, Greenwald made a listicle to bring some clarity on this issue in The Intercept: "Beyond BuzzFeed: The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story."
"Note that all of these “errors” go only in one direction: namely, exaggerating the grave threat posed by Moscow and the Trump circle’s connection to it. It’s inevitable that media outlets will make mistakes on complex stories. If that’s being done in good faith, one would expect the errors would be roughly 50/50 in terms of the agenda served by the false stories. That is most definitely not the case here. Just as was true in 2002 and 2003, when the media clearly wanted to exaggerate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and thus all of its “errors” went in that direction, virtually all of its major “errors” in this story are devoted to the same agenda and script."
In an article about Greenwald written a year ago, "Does This Man Know More Than Robert Mueller?" Simon van Zuylen-Wood said,
"Rather than see Trump as a product of a rotten power structure, as Greenwald does, and the 2016 election as a wild reaction against that power structure, as Greenwald also does, it was easier for most American liberals to frame his victory as an accident. And rather than look within to eradicate the conditions that wrought Trump, it was more comforting to pin his rise on an external foe."
Unfortunately, if we accepted what Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out in "Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds," then it doesn't matter that Greenwald is busy pointing out all these errors:
"Once formed, impressions are remarkably perseverant. . . . Even after the evidence 'for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs.' . . . Humans' biggest advantage over other species is our ability to cooperate. Cooperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve teh problems posed by living in collaborative groups." 
Reason evolve in humans to "prevent us from getting screwed by the other members of our group" but, now with huge innovations and social media and globalization, Kolbert says,
"the environment changed too quickly for natural selection to catch up. . . . As people invented new tools for new ways of living, they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance. . . . When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering. Where it gets us into trouble is in the political domain. . . . people experience genuine pleasure--a rush of dopamine--when processing information that supports their beliefs. 'It feels good to stick to our guns even if we are wrong.'"
We don't need to understand how our phones work in order to use them, but we follow that same logic when we form opinions about immigration or Russian collusion with an imperfect, or completely inaccurate, understanding of how it all works.

Greenwald's solution is individual action:
"And so I think the number one duty of a citizen is to make certain that no matter who it is that is telling you something, no matter how much you think they’re trustworthy, no matter how politically aligned they are with you, that you not believe things until you see actual evidence for them. That if a government makes a claim, don’t be satisfied to put your faith or trust in that political official as though they’re a figure of the church unless they show you the documentary evidence that you can look at and evaluate and see for yourself. When you read something online, don’t believe it unless there is evidence presented for it. I think the most important thing is for citizens to develop and apply critical thought processes to everyone and everything. As long as they can continue to do that, the ability of people to deceive and mislead will gradually weaken."
Good luck with that. Nobody's got time to do that level of digging while they catch up on the news at  breakfast. Instead, what I do, and what I encourage students to do, is to carefully follow a few people who seem reasonable and who will do my digging for me. Greenwald is one of them. And then, from time to time, search up criticisms of them. There are always criticisms, but whether or not they made minor errors or allowed huge issues to pass without correction is the determining factor in whether or not we continue to believe them. And we have to accept that sometimes the whole truth doesn't come out for a few years. We have to remain skeptical and take a few steps back from it until someone like Jared Diamond or Chris Hedges writes a book.

Greenwald sums up with concerns with frightening voting trends worldwide:
"So unless we start asking ourselves what is it about the ruling class philosophy of neoliberalism and militarism that is making so many people so desperate and angry that they are turning to extremists and charlatans and con artists and frauds as long as they’re just positioned outside of the power structure. Until we start asking ourselves that question in a very honest and constructive way to figure out how to change it, we can stomp our feet all we want, we can call everybody racist who are supporting these people, or fascist, we can march in the street if we want. But as long as we have democracy and support an ideology that is destroying the futures of tens of millions of people, they’re going to continue to vote in ways that we don’t like. And although it might be more satisfying to call people names or to denounce people using very harsh labels, it just doesn’t seem to me very constructive. And so if the idea is to figure out how to stop this movement, then necessarily one has to evaluate the alternative and the flaws in that alternative and how to make it more appealing and more attractive."
We don't have the left of Tommy Douglas or Roosevelt anymore. And we desperately need that back.


The Mound of Sound said...

I've lost my trust in Greenwald's objectivity. He says that Assange interfered in the election but so do all journalists. Wrong. Assange's email dump on the same day as the Access Hollywood tape became public was co-ordinated, an overt effort to distract attention from Trump's groping problem. In what conceivable way does that constitute journalism of any description? I have admired Greenwald but those days are gone. He's just another shill.

Marie Snyder said...

I'm sorry to hear that. It's so hard to find people to bank on, that I want to believe he's still got some integrity.

Anonymous said...

A good post. There are other journos who abandoned the Guardian, and the best are Jonathan Cook, who lives in Nazareth and the bunch who run Greenwald is, I believe, rather interested in himself- I pay him scant attention.

If one sits around gazing at the New York Times, believing it's not an arm of the State Dept, CIA and the neocons which in main is the Democratic party, then all you can do is sit around in a state of mild excitement waiting for Mueller to "get" Trump. The so-called progressive is someone who hopes against hope that there is some decency and honour left in the US press, and that Hillary Clinton is a saint rather than a warhawk. So I frequently find myself in disagreement with MOS on foreign policy and who we should be afraid of. He can be lofty in response.

What I do is read other aggregators of non-mainstream thought. Decarie's blog got me started years ago. and are the two main ones. Here's where you have to apply common sense. You have to read them long enough to figure out which authors are reliable, who are flakes, and who are paid propagandists of the Russkies. Any reasonably intelligent person should be capable of that if they have the interest in the subject matter. It'll expose you to a far wider outlook than the dumbed down corporate press we read daily, the single view endlessly repeated until it becomes stuckin the mind as truth.

What you will get is a far broader view of what's going on in this world, absent the underlying completeloyalty to the Western outlook - ooh, Mum, that Venezuela is baaad! Russians are coming to get us! The US constitution is wonderful! And so on. Read Zinn's History of the US, it's online.

Having read this post, and seeing you're looking for more than mainstream guff, I think you might enjoy perusing some different points of view.

Bill Malcolm

Marie Snyder said...

I read the New York Times and the Guardian, but then I also look up other views on specific issues - from Truthdig or Aljazeera or Tyee. And then wait for a book to give the big issues the scope they require. I've read Zinn, but I'll check out Cook and Decarie too and add them to my page of alternatives that I try to keep current for my students.

I don't entirely agree that any reasonably intelligent person should be capable of figuring out who's full of crap and who's done their research. Maybe it's because I teach high school, but what I see is a desperate need for these skills, like how to reason well, to be explicitly taught to people. I do that in class, but my courses are electives which require lots of reading, so they're not as popular as some others. We need kids to learn reasoning skills each year in mandatory courses.