Tag Archives: fake news

There is no proof too much exercise will kill you: health news is the worst

There’s been a piece of “reporting” going around saying that it’s possible to exercise oneself to death. The New York Post’s headline is “You can exercise yourself to death, says new study.” A bunch of articles share that title, or slight variations on it.  Short form: it’s bullshit.  Deep and highly piled bullshit.

The news “stories” is based on a paper that has been electronically distributed by The Mayo Clinic Proceedings titled 25-Year Physical Activity Trajectories and Development of Subclinical Coronary Artery Disease as Measured by Coronary Artery Calcium by Deepika R. Laddu, PhD, Jamal S. Rana, MD, PhD, etc. I’ve provided links so, y’know, you can read it, too, if you’re so inclined. I did.

Continue reading There is no proof too much exercise will kill you: health news is the worst

Bad editing at both Politico and the Brookings Institute: Susan B. Glasser and “Covering Politics in a ‘post-truth’ America”

Susan B. Glasser’s article “Covering Politics in a ‘post-truth’ America'” is an interesting read, though not in the way it was intended. At least, not for me. As usual, the interest comes in the form of fnords, and how it demonstrates bad editing.

What’s the fnord? The whole thesis of the article! The idea that the press is better than it has ever been while also being more hated and more ignored than it has ever been is FUCKING INSANE. “The press is so good, today! It’s too bad that we have poisoned the well and no one respects us or pays attention to us.”

(And, as ever, I will take this time to point the finger at the Brookings Institute guys who let this obviously flawed thesis past the draft stage. The fundamental contradiction in the article is obvious, and I’m hardly an elite editor. If my primary job were to make sure that content was intelligible, I’d be ashamed to have let something this obvious slide by. The thesis makes no sense, and Glasser should have known it, and her editors at the Brookings Institute, too.)

Glasser also ignores some very real items. The biggest is the money.

The press loved Trump because he sold newspapers. So they followed him with a dogged, slavish devotion, hanging on his every word. The amount of free press that Trump got from the traditional media was in the billions of dollars. If they had treated Trump fairly, if they had focused as much on his flaws instead of just his fucking Twitter account, if they hadn’t been so sycophantic in following him, Clinton would have won. And they did this for money. It does not follow the basic principles of journalistic ethics – they prostituted themselves for money, and the whole country will suffer.

And, not for nothing, for the press, there is a hell of a silver lining. Trump is now President, and he’ll keep on selling papers. For them, there was no downside. Middle-class white people – and the press has yet to face the racism in its biz – are going to do fine under Trump. We’ll probably see big tax cuts, even! PLUS, they’ll sell a lot of papers! It made it very easy for the press to ignore how much they profit from Trump, and how that profit makes it hard for them to be objective about what happened in 2016.  Glasser ignoring the role that money played in the media portrayal of Trump is unconscionable.

So when Glasser says that “the big media crisis of the Reagan era was all about the ease with which the journalists could be spun or otherwise co-opted into the Hollywood-produced story line coming out of Reagan’s media-savvy White House,” I think she’s ignoring that media manipulation is a problem we have today. Her article with the Brookings Institute is part of the modern willingness of the press to succumb to manipulation!

After all, part of the very story of the election was the way Trump was manipulating the media. They knew it was happening. It wasn’t a secret. But they let it happen; they let the Trump stories that should have remained in the pages of TMZ and other gossip rags spread through the “real” news and treated his every tweet as important. Sure, there were good stories about Trump’s corruption and incompetence – but they were buried in a non-stop barrage where the news media hung on his every word and movement.

Otherwise, it reads like a paean to the Good Old Days. I understand that Glasser believes that the democratization of media of the Internet age is a good thing. But the fact remains: as the media has been democratized, it has become easier to dismiss. This is not good. So while the technology of the news has improved dramatically, its effects have diminished. If computers ran faster than ever but broke down all the time, we would not say that “computers had improved.” We would yearn for the days when computers worked properly.

The inability of the news media to adapt to modern technology – even as that technology has made parts of their job much easier – means that the media has not improved!

That at this stage of the game they’re only becoming aware of the crisis is, itself, exceptionally telling. The public’s dissatisfaction with the news is old news. The Daily Show – the show is nearly old enough to vote – has been a running commentary on American dissatisfaction with the media. So while Glasser writes her personal history in the news business in the rise of Internet news, she doesn’t talk about how media’s failure with the Internet created the dissatisfaction with the news. It becomes a story of a day late and a dollar short – that the traditional press didn’t understand the significance of the 24-hour cable news, or the Drudge Report, or Facebook, or Twitter.  She doesn’t describe better news, but worse.

Perhaps most tellingly, the article has a chart where age cohort ranks people’s primary news sources. Unsurprisingly, young people mostly get their news from the Internet. Equally unsurprisingly, the older you are, the more likely that you get your news from cable news shows, local news, and newspapers.

But remember Glasser’s thesis – that the Internet, specifically social media, has created insular worldviews that allow people to ignore objective facts.

Her chart, however, seems to indicate, well, the contrary. Young people voted for Clinton, they like gay and trans rights, they are pro-choice and believe in evolution and anthropocentric climate change. Trump’s anti-fact, news-hating cohorts tend to be older Americans, often with limited or no direct Internet access!

By her own data, there is an inverse correlation between getting news on social media and being gulled by anti-news conspiracy theories and counterfactual stories. If anything, it suggests that the real culprit behind hating the traditional news is cable news channels! But it is hardly a story that Fox News has attacked the basis for objectivity in America. However, that’s where Glasser’s data goes.

(And, again, how did this pass editorial muster? I know that analyzing data is hard. I do. But Glasser is the editor of Politico, and I presume there are editors for the Brookings Institute, too. These people are supposed to be the best in the world at editing news stories. I am constantly struck while reading this at how badly it is reasoned and analyzed. Clearly, they don’t even understand the data that they’re looking at, or else they would not have so brazenly printed it!)

Scattered throughout are ads for Politico (“These days, Politico has a newsroom of 200-odd journalists, a glossy award-winning magazine, dozens of daily email newsletters, and 16 subscription policy verticals. It’s a major player in coverage not only of Capitol Hill but many other key parts of the capital, and some months during this election year we had well over 30 million unique visitors to our website, a far cry from the controlled congressional circulation of 35,000 that I remember Roll Call touting in our long-ago sales materials,” and similar nonsense.)

It ends by continuing to ignore the brute fact that the Internet generation is pretty fact-loving – that they aren’t the problem. The people buying the “fake news” and “post-truth” garbage get their news from cable TV and newspapers.  Glasser offers no solutions, not even for the wrong problem her article identifies. She says that traditional news media “took their audience for granted.” She talks about the dearth of investigative reporting and ignores Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowdon and the whistleblower websites that have utterly transformed investigative journalism. She also doesn’t mention the many failures of the news media – not just with Trump, but with, say, the Iraqi war when journalists “embedded” themselves with military units and praised Colin Powell for his “slam dunk” presentation to the UN that was entirely fictitious. Even though UN weapon’s inspectors were highly vocal about Powell’s failure and critical of the American march to war in Iraq – how did THAT happen, hmm? Glasser creates a fairytale where the sole problem with the news media has been a little arrogance, not that they have failed at every turn to both effectively communicate their ideas (which is necessary for their job) combined with factual errors of the highest caliber.

And while bragging about how much Politico is worth, Glasser fails to mention the extent to which editorial greed motivated the news media’s puppy-dog-like prancing after Trump, and how this plays into modern news reporting on all platforms. When Glasser started the job, newspapers were sustained almost by patronage. No one expected to get rich owning a newspaper. Nowadays, that’s the whole point. CNN ushered in an age where news was profitable on a scale large enough to interest big-money investors. And they want their money’s worth. And they were willing to pursue Trump – and be one of the forces that handed him the Presidency – to get it. So by failing to touch on the role of money in news, Glasser doesn’t have to look at the incredible journalistic ethical failures of modern news corporations including Politico and her own compromised status.

I also find it utterly disingenuous by Glasser to admit that the press sabotaged the election with their non-stop coverage of Trump (and, as a corollary, their equally bad coverage of Clinton) but then have a “shucks, who, us?” look on her face.  You can’t grab a bunch of money in defiance of journalistic ethics and then claim that it was just a little mistake.  If she was honest, she would have known that chasing money rather than legitimate, fact-based stories is part of the problem – and part of the reason why the news isn’t trusted.  How many times can the media chase money and fail at their jobs before surrendering their claim to truth?  I would argue we are well past that point.  That skepticism of the news is a rational decision in the face of their money-grubbing and lies.

Which does not make it good for people to fall for conspiracy theories and fake news.  It is, however, a dilemma.  If you can’t rely on the news for accurate facts – and as the Trump election shows, again, we can’t – where does a person go?

Belief in fake news is a call for censorship

I’m here to talk about fake news.  As a political independent over on the left, the current hue and cry over “fake news” is interesting to me because it is evident to me that much of news is “fake.”  In the YouTube video I posted here, Jon Stewart, the former host of The Daily Show, talks about listening to talk radio as he drives and how the right-wing people on the shows he listens to are saying truly insane things.


They are, and always have been, and they’ve long been very popular.  I remember quite clearly when Rush Limbaugh was hitting it big, and my then-friend sang his praises, characterizing him as well-researched news with unimpeachable arguments.  I tuned in for the better part of a month, listening to Limbaugh with horror.  Nothing he said was well-researched, and he engaged in many outright lies – all the while spewing vitriol on anyone who wasn’t exactly like him.  And this was in the 1990s, well before social media and “fake news,” a friend of mine characterized him as both informed and reasonable.


If you go back to the beginning of the country, “fake news” abounded.  The Boston Massacre was ginned up in the news rags of the day.  Then-modern news accounts of the tragedy left out the extent to which the British soldiers were being threatened by an angry mob, insulting them and hurling snowballs, stones, and other objects.  By modern standards, the British soldiers showed incredible restraint, refraining from firing even after being pelted.  Eventually, a soldier struck on the head did fire, without orders, but the tipping point had been reached: the soldiers fired into the crowd.


Wood carvings of the incident show well-regulated British soldiers being ordered to fire into the crowd – including a sniper in a window.  Pamphlets were circulated with stories that the soldiers acted with no provocation, in a calculated fashion under orders.  These accounts were untrue, but the image of the woodcut became the “reality” for colonial Americans, and not the more nuanced view of the riot and subsequent shooting as revealed in the trial of the British soldiers.


Our country was quite literally founded, in part, by “fake news.”


Likewise, “fake news” is seen to be a primarily rightist phenomenon – and while the preponderance of fake news is to the right, it isn’t like the left is free of it, either.  I recently watched a couple of episodes of Keith Olberman’s histrionically named The Resistance and found it rife with fabrications and untruths as serious as anything I’ve heard from Rush Limbaugh.  In particular, for a bit, Olberman was pushing the ridiculous concept that “Russian interference” was substantial enough in our election to justify electors switching their votes to Hillary Clinton.


But where was Olberman when UK-based newspapers like the Guardian effectively stumped for Clinton?  When Russia, through Wikileaks, publishes newsworthy sources, it is a violation of our national sovereignty – but when the Guardian publishes illegally obtained documents from Edward Snowden it’s just journalism?  When the Guardian pushes Clinton as mightily as it can, it’s not interference?  Let us be reasonable, here.  Foreign powers commonly take sides in elections in foreign countries, often expressing a preference one way or another – such as the way the US press and State Department treated Hugo Chavez.  It is standard for countries, both the press and government, to express opinions about outside elections.  The US does it, and we cannot be surprised that Russia does it.


But Olberman happily pushes the lie that Russian interference was someone less severe than, say, the Guardian’s interference in our elections.  The truth is that foreigners are quite allowed to attempt to influence the opinions of Americans.  Olberman knows that, but he is so partisan he preferred the convenient lie to the inconvenient truth.


Would I like it for news to be more, well, reasonable?  More truthful?  Absolutely.  But I live in the United States, and I think freedom of speech and the press is far, far more important than any individual opinion held by any particular person about what the truth “really is,” or how it “should” be presented to the public.  Do I find Limbaugh and his ilk idiotic, yea, pathetic?  Absolutely.  But I feel the same way about Olberman, the Young Turks, and leftist purveyors of false news equally idiotic and pathetic – especially as they cast stones from glass houses about “fake news.”


More generally, I find the uproar against “false news” to be typical of Democratic elitism and how they would cheerfully march towards tyranny if given a chance.  The narrative that surrounds “false news” is that ignorant Midwesterners need to be protected from malevolent freedom of the press!  This has been amplified this election season because most college-educated Americans (who generally vote Republican) instead voted Democratic – the Democrats can tell themselves (and they are) that they are the party of the educated elite who “understand” the world better.
This, after all, is the call-to-arms of all censors – the idea that some subset of the population needs “protection” from exposure to the “wrong” ideas
If you’re honestly worried about “false news,” first, clean your house.  Recognize that false news exists on whatever part of the political spectrum you fall – whether it’s gullible Communist Party USA members valorizing the murderous strongman Josef Stalin, or buying the New York Times’s analysis of Colin Powell’s “slam dunk” UN speech “proving” there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the rightist conspiracy theories of birtherism and Benghazi.  We all have crap news.


Then, move out of your comfort zone.  Recently, a friend asked for me to do research on something expressly because he didn’t want to do “hours of research outside of his comfort zone.”  Fuck the “comfort zone.”  That’s how this starts, right?  People call news that confirms their biases “true,” and news that runs against their biases “false.”  That is lazy and cowardly, if for no other reason than you need to know your rival’s argument to counter it – and if you find you can’t honestly counter it, it shows a hole in your education or even your beliefs.


In the end, though, to get rid of false news requires something very hard – to admit that you are wrong.  Hell, not just that you are wrong, that perhaps you and everyone you know (since we tend to surround ourselves with people who think like us) is wrong.  This will probably require a change in our society, from one that believes holding onto an idea in the face of evidence to the contrary shows strength, into one that knows that changing an idea because of overwhelming evidence is far better – that it takes more energy, knowledge, and even character to hold off from totally committing to a belief than throwing oneself into an ideology and the warm embrace of those who hold it and will buoy your doubts with propaganda.