Media Literacy Quick Shot

There’s a lot of chatter over what is and isn’t “fake news.” I think people are missing the point when they start to pick and choose which publications they consider reliable though.

I guess it’s okay to say (for example) that the New York Times is usually pretty reliable because yadda yadda reasons. But that’s a) only a first approximation; and b) subject to the Judy Miller phenomenon, in which they trade on their credibility to feed you some kind of made-up bullshit.

A better idea than keeping a mental list of good and bad news operations is to LEARN HOW TO READ. How to distinguish fact from opinion from speculation. How to identify supporting facts. How to pick out innuendo and discard it. How to question the sources: “Who is this person? What do they claim to know? How do they claim to know it? What is their motivation for telling the truth? If they’re lying, how would we know? Who’s in a position to contradict them? Are they even telling us something they know about firsthand?”

Don’t tell me “This thing was on CNN so it must be right.” Tell me “There are two main facts here and the sources are named and they have reason to know what they’re talking about and they have no incentive to lie.”

End of today’s media lesson.

I'm pretty sure Rumsfeld would endorse this.

Can we be clear on this one bit of meta-bullshit?

Suppose hypothetically that I am telling you that your hair is on fire. By that I’m really saying two things:

0. Your hair is in fact on fire.
1. I know for a fact that #0 is true. I’m not just guessing.

Now if I randomly tell a stranger their hair is on fire without even bothering to look at their hair? That’s a lie EVEN IF their hair happens to be on fire.

When Trump says that X number of people voted illegally, the fact that he has no idea whether that’s true or not doesn’t make it not a lie. It’s a lie because he’s asserting knowledge that he absolutely doesn’t have.

Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns

Remember this fantastic statement by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld?

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Trump here is going into a new quadrant: The unknown knowns! These are the things we supposedly know, but we have no way of knowing we know them.

(Oddly, Wikipedia has a really interesting analysis of this thing called “the Johari Window” that applies.)

Rule of thumb

When encountering any article or publication or statement about Cleveland’s “renaissance” or “recovery” or “comeback,” you must mentally eliminate any and all claims based on entertainment venues or any kind of real estate development. Those are trailing indicators; they don’t build anything.

Examples

What "moderates" don't get

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A friend posted this fantastic image on Facebook just now. It’s from early this afternoon in Chicago, with the following text: “Over two and a half hours later much of Michigan Ave, Water Tower & many surrounded stores are still SHUTDOWN for Laquan McDonald.” (Photo credit to @MinkuAzad from Chicago.)

Now let me get out in front of something here.

The point of this kind of tactic, I believe, is to take a problem that pretty much only black people care about and make it a problem that corporations have to care about.

It’s a way of creating leverage.

If powerful people in government think this is just about black people who live in the “ghetto” and don’t have much economic power, they will keep doing what they’re doing–which is essentially nothing.

If the same powerful people in government are getting pissed off phone calls from CEOs about losing their supposedly biggest shopping days, and if they’re getting threats from those same CEOs about moving to the suburbs, well… the idea is that they’ll see fit to dole out just enough justice to get the protesters to get out of the street.

I’m not saying it will necessarily work, but it’s logical. If you don’t have direct power over someone, you find a way to get the focused attention of someone who does have direct power over them.

(Yes, I’m implying a few other things here: that the protesters don’t have an effective grip on the electoral process, that the politicians have never really answered to them, and that the corporations that sell things on Michigan Avenue are the real bosses of Chicago.)

What this means for white people

Many people who fancy themselves Black Lives Matter “supporters” continually object to tactics that inconvenience third parties because they fail to understand the concept of leverage.

Either that, or they have a moral objection to causing any harm, no matter how slight, to these “innocent” third parties. But then those people are actually saying “Black Lives Matter, Just Not As Much As Marshall Fields Does.”

If you don’t believe me:

Check out these comments on the original Facebook post.

  • “No justice. No profits.”
  • “Cops tried to cover up a murder…..stores should sue them.”

Stores should sue them. Yes. Well no, not really, the law doesn’t work like that, but people get the power dynamic here.  You don’t go after the most isolated, reinforced, protected part of the power structure; you go after the levers that are unprotected, like downtown traffic. If that makes the store owners angry enough to turn on the political leadership, then it worked.

 

How to read propaganda

A friend posted this link on Facebook recently: Before You Applaud Termination Of Officer, Here’s The One Thing You Missed. Here’s what I think about it after spending some time reading it carefully.

Maybe I overthink.

Maybe I ask a lot of questions. Maybe I see a lot of complexity in things. But that doesn’t mean I shrug and give up on drawing a conclusion just because there’s another opinion out there.

Continue reading “How to read propaganda”

NPR fails again. Teabaggers gotta teabag.

Today’s Morning Edition on NPR featured an interview by Arun Rath with teabagger Tom Cole (OK-4). It’s a great example of the thing I hear again and again on NPR: lots of softball questions, casual acceptance of whatever nonsense “both sides” say, lack of followup, and a complete failure to get at actual facts. Here we go.

In the first twenty seconds, Rath repeats the teabagger line that President Obama is “bypassing Congress” with his plans on immigration reform. That’s bullshit right there. Absolutely nothing in the three and a half minute story backs up the “bypassing” accusation.

Unless by “bypassing” you mean I bypassed Congress by shoveling snow off my own sidewalk this morning, and I bypassed Congress by eating breakfast of my own choosing.

What I’m saying is that when you make an accusation like that, it’s meaningless (i.e., bullshit) without something that makes the action, well, wrong. It’s a loaded term. If NPR wants to take sides in this, great, they can go all Fox and use all the loaded words they want, but without substantiation it’s fake news.

So Rath put it right out there, asking Rep. Cole what he thinks of the administration’s assertion that the new immigration plan is within the President’s powers. “The President’s been on both sides of this issue,” Cole replied, waving around words like “inappropriate,” “unproductive,” and “unconstitutional.” Calling the President out for some perceived inconsistency, Cole went on with “It’s hard for us to understand, when were you [Obama] being disingenuous?”

Now stop right there. Cole did not answer the question. He made an assertion that Obama’s plan exceeds his powers, and when asked to substantiate that charge he switched to calling the President “inconsistent” and “disingenuous.”

Rath failed as a reporter. He simply moved on to the next question, without comment or challenge.

The question of whether Obama’s plan is legal and within his powers is an important one. I’m curious about it myself. I honestly don’t know what the legal issues are in this regard, but my point is that I still don’t know because the reporter didn’t do his job.

What’s wrong with this is that the interview leaves the question hanging out there with no actual information other than one guy’s uninformed opinion about some other guy’s alleged inconsistency on a point that may or may not be relevant.

Rath could have made the interview not useless by asking a simple followup: “I hear you saying that the President has been inconsistent in his own statements on his powers in the realm of immigration, but what I’m asking you is on what basis do you say he is exceeding his legal powers?” If Cole dodged the question again, Rath could have said, “Wait, no, you’re claiming the President is stepping over a legal line, so you must know where that line is. What is the limit of the President’s power in this regard, and how do you know that?”

I realize this is a morning news show, and NPR could only allocate three and a half minutes to the interview, but can we hold them to a higher standard than merely filling time?

Political reporting isn’t supposed to be amateur hour. This story is yet another easily found example of NPR doing C-level work and expecting an A for showing up. I call bullshit. The interview was a waste of time at best, a disingenuous propaganda vehicle at worst.