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Lies do not equal news

Op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof, in his latest piece for The New York Times, reflects on how the media (some of it so-called) dealt with, if at all, the repeated lies of Trump as he he electioneered his way to the White House.

Considerable blame can be heaped on to the media for not only giving Trump so much free airplay and oxygen but not vigorously challenging and testing his continuous lies.   As many are now saying the media were talking to themselves - and from lofty heights.  

"As I’ve argued for most of this year, I think we in the mainstream media — especially cable television — sometimes bungled coverage of Trump. There was too much uncritical television coverage of Trump because he was good for ratings; then there was not enough investigation of his business dealings, racism and history of sexual assaults, and too much false equivalency that equated the two candidates as equally flawed.

More broadly, we in the mainstream media are out of touch with working-class America; we spend too much time chatting up senators, and not enough visiting unemployed steel workers.

Yet for all of our sins in the mainstream media, these alt-right websites are both far more pernicious and increasingly influential. President-Elect Trump was, after all, propelled into politics partly as a champion of the lie that President Obama was born abroad and ineligible for the White House.

Even now, only 44 percent of Republicans accept the reality that Obama was born in the U.S.

While the poisonous 2016 campaign is behind us, these alt-right websites will continue to spew misinformation that undermines tolerance and democracy. I find them particularly loathsome because they do their best to magnify prejudice against blacks, Muslims and Latinos, tearing our social fabric.

The venom directed at minorities is staggering: Alt-right kooks suggest that Obama is literally the devil and is trying to destroy humanity through vaccines.

A BuzzFeed investigation found that of the Facebook posts it examined from three major right-wing websites, 38 percent were either false or a mixture of truth and falsehood. More discouraging, it was the lies that readers were particularly eager to share and thus profitable to publish. Freedom Daily had the most inaccurate Facebook page reviewed, and also produced the right-wing content most likely to go viral.

Some of the people promoting these sites aren’t even conservatives; they’re foreign entrepreneurs trying to build websites that gain a large audience and thus advertising dollars.

Alt-right and fake news sites for some reason have emerged in particular in Macedonia, in the former Yugoslavia. BuzzFeed found more than 100 sites about U.S. politics from a single town, Veles, population 45,000, in Macedonia. “I started the site for a easy way to make money,” a 17-year-old Macedonian who runs told BuzzFeed.

Facebook has been a powerful platform to disseminate these lies. If people see many articles on their Facebook feed, shared by numerous conservative friends, all indicating that Hillary Clinton is about to be indicted for crimes she committed, they may believe it.

These sites were dubbed “alt-right” because they originally were an alternative to mainstream conservatism. Today they have morphed into the mainstream: After all, Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart, one of these sites full of misinformation, ran Trump’s campaign.

It’s particularly troubling that alt-right sites agitate for racial hatred. Freedom Daily lately has had “trending now” headlines like “Black Lives Thug Rapes/Kills 69 y/o White Woman.” In fact, the killer was black but seems to have had no connection to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the murder happened in 2015.

There are also hyperpartisan left-wing websites with inaccuracies, but they are less prone to fabrication than the right-wing sites. Indeed, the Macedonian entrepreneurs originally came up with leftist websites targeting Bernie Sanders supporters but didn’t find much reader interest in them.

Rather, the problem with mainstream news sources is in part that we’re out of touch with many of the ordinary voters whom we purport to care about."


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