Help! The Internet Just Lied To Me
By Matt McDonald | March 17, 2017, 9:33 EDT
Are you a victim of Fake News?
Are you in recovery?
The new guide to Fake News pushed by the Harvard University library system has gotten justified criticism for blending web sites that try to deceive with web sites that merely present a conservative point of view.
Examples abound, but my own favorite on the list is The Union Leader of Manchester, New Hampshire, which is listed as “unknown.” It’s the largest newspaper in the state and one of the best in New England. (Full disclosure: I’m an alumnus. But my judgment is based on reading it.)
Yet there’s a bigger problem here: The idea that would-be readers have to be protected from possibly being misled.
As should be obvious to anyone who spends more than a half-hour on it: The Internet is not a safe space. Moreover, shielding yourself from unknown presentations isn’t the best way to determine what’s real and what isn’t. Experience does that for you.
The basics of figuring out what’s purely fake and what isn’t aren’t that hard to figure out.
Does it sound right? Is it presented in a way that’s believable? Is anything the article says verifiable? Does the source of the information have a good track record? Is any other news entity picking up on the information?
Is it April 1?
And what if you end up reading an article, believing it, and then later learn that every fact in it is untrue?
Get over it.
Because there’s a much more insidious problem on the Internet. There are all kinds of web sites purporting to be news outlets that take a few actual facts, concoct an absurd narrative, and then endlessly repeat it, all the while looking for new stray facts to advance the absurd narrative.
If you are a believer in the Trump-Russia election scandal, for instance, then you are a victim.
Do you get the impression that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have been hiding something about Russia’s connection to the presidential election during his confirmation hearing in January?
They got you again.
Let’s look at an example of how it works.
On Tuesday, February 28, President Donald Trump gave the finest address to Congress by a president in memory. The next day we get “breaking” news that Sessions a month and a half before claimed he didn’t have contact with the Russians despite having met with the Russian ambassador twice during the campaign season.
You may think you know this story, but if all you’ve done so far is skim a few headlines, read on. You may be surprised by what this is all about.
During the confirmation hearing in January, Senator Al Franken read from a just-published CNN story about an intelligence report that included bombshell claims about Trump’s behavior in Russia years ago and his campaign’s contacts with the Russian government. (Note: These claims have never been verified by anyone in the government, including the anti-Trump leakers.)
“These documents also allegedly show, quote, ‘There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’ Now again, I’m telling you this is coming out, so … [pause] … But, if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious. And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”
“Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment.”
The context makes it obvious what Sessions was talking about. As a campaign surrogate, he was saying, he never talked with the Russians.
It’s not a direct answer to Franken’s question, which was about what Sessions would do (presumably as attorney general) if he learned the information was true. (Franken in an interview after the story broke said he was hoping Sessions would say he would recuse himself from any investigation of it.)
Franken on Thursday, March 2 called for Sessions to hold a press conference to explain himself. That’s what he did.
What happened at the press conference?
Well, here’s how The Boston Globe described it:
“In an attempt to defend himself from charges he lied under oath, Sessions insisted he thought his meetings with Kislyak were not worthy of mention.”
No, he didn’t. That’s not what he said. A reporter asked Sessions if he didn’t think it was worthy of mention. (“When you answered Senator Franken’s question, were you just not thinking of the meeting of the Russian ambassador, or did you not consider it relevant?”)
Sessions actually said he was thinking about the suggestion that Trump campaign affiliates were colluding with the Russians.
In fact, what Sessions actually said contradicts the way the Globe framed it:
“I was taken aback a little bit by this brand-new information, this allegation that surrogates — and I had been called a surrogate for Donald Trump — had been meeting continuously with Russian officials. It struck me very hard and that’s what I focused my answer on. In retrospect I should have slowed down and said, ‘But I did meet one Russian official a couple of times,’ that would be the ambassador.”
In other words, Sessions said he wishes he’d given a more complete answer — not that he “didn’t think it was worthy of mention.”
Sessions’s prepared statement, which he read from earlier in the press conference, flatly denied meeting with Russian operatives about the Trump campaign.
A United States senator meeting with a foreign ambassador isn’t surprising or noteworthy. Sessions said he also met last year with the ambassadors of Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Japan, Canada, Australia.
Too many details?
Then let’s look at the big picture.
Do you believe the Russian government had the ability to hack into the email of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign? Do you believe the Russians had the ability to forward those email messages to WikiLeaks? Do you think the Russians had motivation to do it?
Then what did they need the Trump campaign for?
According to the mainstream media, after all, there barely was a Trump campaign. And what existed was incompetent, perhaps the worst campaign ever run. Remember all those stories?
And these people conspired with the Russians? And they sent Jeff Sessions to make the deal?
Come to think of it, maybe Harvard is onto something. That guide to Fake News needs a second edition.