Media Sauce: Post-truth news from #Pizzagate to the Pontiff's poo missive

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Donald Trump’s supporters have given birth to a conspiracy theory that became a deadly shootout in a Washington pizza parlour and a new hashtag #pizzagate. Doc Martin writes that this is a scary example of the new "post-truth" world, in which the Pope gets shitty with the media.

I HAVE started writing my next book, a “how to” manual for people outside the mainstream keen to work in the news media. I’m hopeful that Navigating Social Journalism will be a “bestseller” and that it will help mobilise a new army of motivated and politically-savvy citizen journalists to fill the information void left by the declining mainstream media.

In my humble opinion, the timing for this tome couldn’t be better, because this year we have seen the news media caught with its collective pants around its ankles as a tide of fake news washes over the planet. As 2016 winds down, it’s a good time to take stock of what has been, to say the least, an interesting year in the field of journalism.

Is it time to say “bye-bye” to the traditional newsroom?

Newsrooms right around the world are shrinking, and this is an opportunity for the social journalists out there to start making (or making up) their own versions of the news. Australia is not immune and this week we heard about the loss of 42 journalists’ positions at News Corp Australia as the company tries to retrieve $40 million in “savings”, which is a euphemism for putting more money in Rupert’s pocket at the expense of employees and customers.

Things are no better over at Fairfax Media where jobs are being shed faster than CEO Greg Hywood’s few remaining hairs. In the broadcast media, it’s the same sad story. The ABC is bleeding to death and the commercials are downsizing in proportion to their shrinking ad revenues.

By my quick count, which I admit is unscientific, there has been in excess of 500 jobs in the Australian news industry disappear in 2016, including 120 at Fairfax, 300 at Australian Regional Media, 20 or more at the ABC and now another 50 or so at News. It’s only going to get worse, with Fairfax reportedly looking at shedding another 1,900 jobs over the next three years, and job losses at The Australian will be catastrophic once Rupert dies and his children shut down this rabid vanity publication.

Things are not great on the other side of the ideological media fence. The beacon of progressive journalism (insofar as it goes), The Guardian is losing a reported $AU89.4 million per year globally and is looking to cut more than 20 per cent of its budget annually to rein in costs. This cut translates to 250 jobs across the paper’s global operations.

The Guardian is now asking people to become “supporters” because the Scott Trust, which funds it, is expected to burn its £758m investment in less than a decade. When a once-proud journal puts out the begging bowl to support itself, the end is nigh.

The problem, for all of these media giants is that the rate of profit attached to news is declining as advertisers abandon legacy platforms in favour of digital media — the internet and mobile apps. In a capitalist economy, if there is no return on investment, there is no investment. Unprofitable commodities are no longer produced and journalism is becoming an unsellable commodity. So where does this leave us, the intelligent citizens desperate for solid, accurate news to inform our world view and animate us to change the world before it’s too late?

If we’re not careful, it could leave us drowning in a giant puddle of media poo. This is such a dire consequence that the Pope has felt compelled to warn us about it.

Are we in danger of eating our own shit?

When the Pontiff starts comparing the consumption of “fake news” to coprophagy you know we’re in deep shit (pardon to Papal punning).

An article in the New York Post yesterday, reported the following interview with the Pope, published on Wednesday this week:

Pope Francis told the Belgian Catholic weekly Tertio that spreading disinformation was “probably the greatest damage that the media can do” and using communications for this rather than to educate the public amounted to a sin.

Using precise psychological terms, he said scandal-mongering media risked falling prey to coprophilia, or arousal from excrement, and consumers of these media risked coprophagia, or eating excrement.

The imagery is rather revolting, my lips are pursed just writing about it, let alone having the taste in my mouth. What we really need to do – and the Pope is incapable of thinking beyond the toilet bowl as plate metaphor – is ask ourselves: "Why has it come to this?"

The reasons are complex, but so-called “fake news” has itself become an item of intense media scrutiny since the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America.

The very idea of a Trump presidency fills all decent people with a deep loathing and about as much disgust as a “shit sandwich a-la-Pope”, but for the basket of deplorables now basking in Trump’s bright orange afterglow, the same shit sandwich is manna from the Gods, or at least from the man that many on the #AltRight are calling “Emperor” or even, believe it nor not, “God-Emperor”. The term has moved on from being a tongue-in-cheek reference to an item of core belief for Trump’s most diehard fanbois.

Post-truth: Happy lies are better than reality

I’m sure you have caught up with the Oxford Dictionaries’ “word-of-the-year”, which is actually two words, but who’s complaining. So the “compound term” of 2016 is the adjective-noun compound "post-truth".

The Oxford Dictionary has labelled “post-truth” as an adjective defined as:

‘... relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.'

We can also usefully accept the term as a short-hand definition of the age we now find ourselves in; the era of post-truth as a time beyond truth or a time when truth no longer matters, at least not as much as it used to and, at least, not to some people.

Our own Kellie Tranter has recently written about the Coalition’s acceptance of post-truth logic evident in the Federal Government’s appalling and illegal treatment of asylum-seekers.

Kellie began her excellent piece in the following terms:

‘HOW DANGEROUS things have become in an era marked by post-truth. As opposed to appeals to the heart, objective facts are no longer able to influence public opinion. Look no further than Australia’s offshore detention program in post-truth terms.’

However, it is in the United States where the election of Trump has ushered in the age of post-truth in the most dramatic of terms.

In fact, one writer and marketer of fake news stories actually claimed in a Washington Post interview that he helped put Donald Trump in the White House. It seems like an incredible claim and it’s certainly hard to prove or disprove, but the fact that one man can make such a claim shows just how widespread the problem of “fake” news has become.

The man interviewed by the WaPo is a serial hoaxer who claims to make a very good living from writing and publishing fake news on his website National Report. In his interview with WaPo’s digital culture critic, Caitlin Dewey, National Report founder and chief writer, Paul Horner said he believed Donald Trump was president “because of me”. Horner said he got away with it because Trump’s supporters were prepared to believe his anti-Clinton stories and “don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything”.

An incident earlier this week shows how false news reports can have deadly consequences in a world where the truth no longer matters. It is also a salutary lesson that followers of the new “God Emperor” Trump will say and do anything in order to advance their false narratives and post-truth assertions.

Welcome to the bizzarro world of #Pizzagate

On Sunday 4 December, a pizza store owner in Washington DC was confronted by a gun-wielding attacker after his name was linked to the Clinton campaign in emails leaked by WikiLeaks. The owner of Comet Ping Pong, James Alefantis, was a Hillary Clinton supporter and had previously donated to the Democratic Party.

Pro-Trump members of online forums used the link between Alefantis and Clinton adviser John Podesta to claim that Comet Ping Pong was at the centre of an alleged (but ficticious) child sex abuse scandal. According to media reports, as a result, Alefantis and other business owners in the neighbourhood were threatened and an armed man entered the pizza store to “self-investigate” the false allegations. He fired several shots and was arrested by heavily-armed police.

After starting in pro-Trump threads on the popular social media platforms 4Chan and Reddit, the conspiracy theories went global. They were picked up by elements of the Turkish media and then recycled back into the USA via Turkish Twitter users with the hashtag #Pizzagate.

The scariest aspects of the #pizzagate story were written up on Glenn Greenwald’s excellent news site, The Intercept (I recommend you put it on your "must read" list).

The Intercept’s senior reporter Robert Mackey has written the most comprehensive account of how the ridiculous and nasty libel of James Alefantis is closely tied to some of Donald Trump’s most strident supporters and even to one of his close advisors.

Mackey makes the incontrovertible point that it was not “fake news” that helped Trump win the White House, but rather a deliberate campaign of disinformation directed by the President-elect’s inner-sanctum.

"the campaign of disinformation that lifted Trump

to the presidency continue and even accelerate

after Election Day poses an obvious challenge

for professional journalists, whose careers

are dedicated to the premise that facts matter."

Robert Mackey, ‘Disinformation, not fake news, got Trump elected and it’s not stopping’, The Intercept, 7 December 2016.

Mackey’s evidence is laid out methodically and he exposed the involvement of Michael Flynn Jnr in the deliberate promotion of the fake “pedophile” link between Alefantis and the Clinton campaign.

Screenshot from The Intercept.

This is important because Michael Flynn the-younger is the son of Trump’s newly-appointed National Security Advisor who, according to media reports, also tweeted links to the fake #pizzagate stories.

Flynn Jnr was fired from Trump’s transition team after Mackey’s story came out, his father has to face confirmation hearings in the next few weeks, which might prove difficult for the retired general who has infamously said he loves killing bad guys and that he’s been “at war with Islam” for more than 10 years.

Do you know, this story has actually even more disturbing elements than the fact that the conspiracy to “fake news the Donald” into the Presidency goes to the heart of the Trump machine. And, the more disturbing thing is that the promoters of this false story even tried to propose that the whole event was a “false flag” conspiracy by Clinton supporters to deflect attention from the real issue — the paedophile ring at the centre of the original attack.

Yep, that’s doubling down on the weird. That’s like a piece of shit between two really shitty pieces of bread, then rolled in chocolate and coconut sprinkles to resemble a really shitty lamington.

One of the chief shitty lamington promoters is a guy called Paul Joseph Watson, who tweets the handle @PrisonPlanet and who works with the unstable conspiracy theorist par-excellence Alex Jones.


Screenshot from The Intercept.

Watson is a rightwing “libertarian” who writes for Jones’ website, InfoWars.com and is a notorious apologist for the racist neo-fascist #AltRight movement. He gets upset when actual Nazis start attaching themselves to the Alt Right label. Well, not really, he just wishes that they would only do the fascist salute behind closed doors, away from the media lens.

Watson has also written recently about “fake news” — yet another attempt to take the heat off his own shoulders by shifting the blame elsewhere. Not surprisingly, he blames the New York Times, among other mainstream outlets, while ignoring his own role in #pizzagate, and the circulation of pro-Trump propaganda and disinformation.

I have no brief to defend mainstream news and journalists at all costs, and regular readers of Media Sauce will know that I am prepared to call them out for shoddy and unprincipled journalism. However, I disagree vehemently with the politics of people like Watson, he is effectively promoting Trump’s agenda of belligerent militarism, white nationalism and muscular xenophobia, which will, if unchecked eviscerate democracy and entrench the interests of big business — that is the real prison planet.

Meme by @ethicalmartini.

That’s why we should not turn our backs, but should stand and call-out the modern "hate media".

Read more by Dr Martin Hirst on his blog Ethical Martini and follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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