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Bar Sinister Diatribes

Since the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, midget-tossing and movie night, any website that promotes “fake” news has suddenly become one of modernity’s most dreaded existential threats. Even while there has yet to be an adequate example provided anywhere of a website’s perceived fake news stories exhibiting any explicit impact on the campaign trail or election results, certainly not in degrees comparable to the existing bias of accepted commercial media outlets such as CNN, Fox News or MSNBC. Regardless of political persuasion this point remains unbelievably fundamental. And as much as media pundits like to comment on themselves and each other, there is not a news media platform in the western world whose audience encompasses much better than a tiny fraction of the American population.

Nobody holds concrete evidence, merely claims of foreign governmental bodies tampering with or without the participation of whichever sellouts among the domestic establishment. When all of American history reminds us that nobody applies such massive efforts to tampering with governments abroad than does the American government, this amounts to pure projection. What Americans have been doing to the bulk of the world they now blame each other for doing to themselves. And on behalf of this malevolent fear and what it portends the entire debate presents an excruciatingly slippery slope.

Should society elect to indulge the dialogue and somehow nullify whatever fake news sources, then first an agreeable definition of fake must be reached. As no website is physically tangible, then it could be argued that all websites are fake. If fake is attributed only to content based not on facts but on presentation, then wherefore satire? Should the comedic Onion website be compelled to close its proverbial doors? Comedy and satire as a means for pushing objective truths goes all the way back to Voltaire and beyond, so how can we be certain that no comedy is free of ulterior motives? And if websites thriving on parody and spoof would face the chopping block, then what of the many more that exist on the broad gray line in-between fact and fiction, which do seem to take themselves seriously?

In the next level to our abruptly shoe-horned pyramidal metaphor, the brawl over which news is fake and which is not would seem to rest upon separating objective truth from the subjective. If the only news sources allowed are those promoting completely fact-based content, then every website in all of existence would meet its end. The Weather channel as but one example is prone to misinterpreting quite a lot, even if we give them a pass for weathermen generally having no fucking clue what they are talking about, to depths occasionally greater than any mere congressperson. Sometimes fake news stories just stem from basic screw-ups, such as from facts not being triple-checked properly by unpaid college interns. Maybe the teleprompter guy is going through a messy divorce and drank a little too much last night and chose to take out his frustrations with some quick re-writes. Maybe the producer from the sister station vetting the backstory wrongly assumed his eleventh hour voicemail correction was heard by the reporter. Believe it or not, honest mistakes happen everywhere.

As journalist Jim Naureckas and others have pointed out, fake news and propaganda are not the same thing. Although they do each rely on subjective observation. Perspective in all matters is always important, and is ultimately the root of this broader discussion of falseness. Only the most vile persons would hope that opinions be made illegal across the board. There’s an old adage concerning opinions and assholes which I never gave weight to, as I see the opposite as holding more validity. Maybe if more people did possess opinions the world would not be off to such a shaky start in the grand scheme of things. Instead, thousands of review articles on this and that are composed every blink of an eye because most people sincerely cannot think for themselves. Instead of facing prospects of censorship, people should be encouraged to explore all information gathered by their senses as fully as possible. And try reading a book sometime.

Some may argue news presentation is incomplete without a measure of added commentary. Julian Assange and his cohorts have for ten years only published verifiable facts at Wikileaks, without substantial editing or censoring, enabling the public to reach conclusions for themselves. And they are widely blasphemed for this objectivity. Wikileaks might well be better interpreted as a resource for journalists than as a publisher per se, because it is a given that most people will never themselves actually peruse the growing archives of millions of documents available at the Wikileaks website, just as most people do not proactively investigate news stories themselves. If society depends upon journalists, bloggers and reporters to do the heavy lifting of curating, investigation and analysis, then hand in hand with that should journalists, bloggers and reporters doing just that need to be a permissible thing.

If they are afforded trust to decide which content is permissibly covered and to whatever extent, then why would their exact reasoning undergo doubt? How are the two disconnected? The next pyramid step is acknowledging how perspective is what conjoins analysis to commentary. If analysis is the weighing of facts, then commentary is the attempted explanation for conclusions reached. Separated the two are incomplete, facts without subtext or opinions without context, but through perspective they are allowed to define each other. I would say that avoiding perspective is actually how propaganda gets accomplished. Asking questions is not synonymous with expressing opposition.

So, aside from intended comedy and accidents, if perspective is the missing puzzle piece for validating news, then perspective itself is what is ultimately called into question. The slope becomes tragically dangerous. Because arguing over what perspectives are allowed opens the floodgates for negligible definitions, which is precisely what we are currently experiencing in the public discourse. If the rationale of journalists is questioned, then so too should the rationale of those setting standards for agreeable perspectives. Depending on what powers are enjoying their 15 minutes of fame, the stories unflattering of whatever ruling political party could be branded as fake even when categorically true (9/11 was an inside job); and the stories disagreeable to the financial bottom line of corporate interests could be branded as fake even when categorically true (Monsanto multiplies cancer). Either of which is infinitely more likely than saboteur foreign actors who hate American freedoms so gosh darned much.

At the top of the pyramid concepts like true and fake prove irrelevant, with these new standards serving clearly different ends entirely.

By entertaining notions of whip-cracking we are seriously, without any hint of irony, catering to those who would most benefit from completely disavowing free speech in the public dialogue. When we slide helplessly off the pyramid that is irrevocably the bottom line all of society will crash into. Silencing unflattering or disagreeable speech is still basically silencing speech, and in all the five corners of the world there is no logic to rationalize such a thing. If ruling political parties or corporate self-interests are not benefiting from truth, then truth, if the entirety of history is to be believed, will be painted subjectively. Instead of observing the regularity and intensity in how accepted news platforms are already warped by ruling political parties and corporate self-interests, the likes of random though opinionated blogs are cited as somehow being more damaging. A lone voice is more of a threat than all the machinery of government and commerce.

Flattering to be sure, but as absurd as absurd can get.