Supplemental: Farhi starts to get it right!


So does the Washington Post:
Just for the record, we never discuss our private conversations with the Washington Post's Paul Farhi, even though, some years ago, one such conversation occurred.

Whatever! This morning, Farhi has started getting it right—and so has the Washington Post. We refer to the analysis piece on the paper's front page, an analysis piece which appears beneath these hard-copy headlines:
Misinformation enters mainstream with Trump
Sources come in from fringe to help perpetuate questionable contentions
"Questionable" contentions? Some editor may have started getting cold feet in composing that sub-headline, and in composing the weaker headlines which now appear on line.

One example: "Thanks to Trump, fringe news enters the mainstream"

"Fringe news?" "Questionable contentions?" In his report, Farhi discusses claims by Candidate Trump which he describes as false.

He writes about Candidate Trump's "non-facts,"
about his "inaccurate statements," about the "misinformation" he has helped promote. He even writes about this disgraceful episode—an episode the mainstream press has almost completely avoided in the six months since Trump launched his astounding campaign:
FARHI (12/12/15): Trump’s most famously false contention, of course, was his long, pre-campaign embrace of “birtherism,” the notion that Obama wasn’t born on American soil and is therefore ineligible to be president. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, including a birth certificate issued in Hawaii and a contemporaneous newspaper birth announcement, birther sites—from to—are strewn across the Internet, actively promoting a debunked thesis.

Accurate or not, the constant sowing of doubt has had a cumulative effect: Some 20 percent of people in a recent CNN/ORC poll said they believe Obama was born outside the country; 29 percent (and 43 percent of Republicans) said they believe Obama is a Muslim despite Obama’s profession of the Christian faith.
Those paragraphs don't begin to do justice to the sweep of Trump's disgraceful behavior in 2011 and 2012, which remains unexamined and unexplained. But they at least start to review that history—and Farhi refers to a "false contention," not to a "questionable" claim.

Whatever! For many years, we have been asking, begging, pleading for this kind of front-page reporting. We have said it again and again:

When major figures spread misinformation on a widespread basis, that behavior is news in itself. It should be reported as such.

Back in the day, we were talking about figures like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. Farhi writes about Candidate Trump and his crackpot muse, Alex Jones. But this is a very important type of front-page news report. Major newspapers like the Post should do more of this type of reporting—and it should be done on those papers' front pages.

Farhi is off to a good start today. Let's note some imperfections:

First, a relatively minor point. It drives us crazy when journalists take it upon themselves to downplay the size of misconduct:
FARHI: Trump isn’t the first politician with a tenuous grasp of the facts, of course. But he may be the first politician to exploit both widespread, bipartisan distrust of conventional news sources and the alternative reality provided by the digital grass roots, from sites such as Jones’s Infowars to chain emails to social media.

For example, Trump’s recent evidence-free assertion that “thousands” of Muslim Americans in New Jersey celebrated the fall of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 parallels stories that have appeared in various forms in chain emails and elsewhere on the Web for years.
Doggone it! In his original statement, Trump actually said that he saw "thousands and thousands" of Muslims behaving that way.

"Thousands and thousands" is more than mere "thousands." Why do we choose to reduce the size of a misstatement that way?

A second note:

At one point, Farhi seems to suggest that misinformation and disinformation are only spread on the right. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Over here in our own tribe, we've been developing our own favorite bogus statistics and our own preferred misleading accounts of certain major events.

Those efforts at fudge are important too. They too may belong on major newspapers' front pages.

A third complaint came into clearest focus at the end of Farhi's report. In this passage, Farhi discusses the death of journalistic gatekeepers—but he fudges another key point:
FARHI: Hemsley, the co-author of “Going Viral,” about the rapid spread of information, said the days when the nation had “a somewhat unifying story” from newspapers and the leading TV news networks are gone. Nowadays, people tend to pick their own news, and like-minded social contacts, which tends to reinforce their beliefs rather than challenge them.

This makes it increasingly difficult to dislodge misinformation, he said. Good information can still drive out bad, but usually only when “the truth is sexier than the lie.”

“Facts may be undervalued or losing their value in today’s world,” said Robert Mason, a University of Washington professor who has researched the spread of false information. “If you say it loud enough or long enough, people will believe it. That’s okay in theory, but when people act on it, that’s a problem."
According to Farhi's sources, "the days when the nation had 'a somewhat unifying story' from newspapers and the leading TV news networks are gone." As a result, "facts may be losing their value in today's world."

Those statement are basically true, of course. That said, that passage fudges another key point—at certain times in the past thirty years, misinformation and disinformation have flowed, in major ways, directly from the mainstream press corps' "unifying stories."

That was certainly true in the War Against Gore, which Farhi's newspaper helped invent and maintain from March 1999 right through the November 2000 election. We aren't likely to read about the reams of bogus statements and claims which constituted that war's "unifying stories," not even from someone like Farhi.

Final point: Information which gets disappeared is also part of this larger story. There are various important facts which our big newspapers tend to avoid like the plague. When basic facts are widely withheld, that produces a disabling type of misinformation too.

Misinformation can take many forms. That said, Alex Jones and Candidate Trump provide a good place to start in an attempt at pushback.

At any rate, "misinformation" has reached the headlines on the Washington Post's front page! Even after all these years, your incomparable DAILY HOWLER just keeps cranking out those results!


  1. Ben Carson lied about himself but Trump lies about himself and others. Obama isn't running for office but other Republican candidates are. Trump's statements about them are largely confined to personality characteristics -- who is low energy or a loser. Trump lies about other groups of people, calling them rapists or saying "they knew" about terrorism. In that sense he is scapegoating. My point is that it is harder to pin him down when he tells general lies about groups of people that tend to reflect negative attitudes that are widely held. It sounds like telling the truth to his followers, telling it like it is.

    No one is going to hold Trump accountable for saying "thousands and thousands" to mean "many" just as no one cared when Sagan said there were billions and billions of stars. Waiting for a situation when "many" can be contrasted with "none" is difficult, so Trump isn't being called out on his lies. He is careful about his lying because he says things difficult to pin down or challenge without looking foolish.

    So, I'm not sure journalists will have an easy time calling him on his lies without appearing to persecute him, something he will exploit.

    1. Chris Cuomo tried to pin down Fiorina on her lies about Planned Parenthood. People sympathetic to her will think she won that exchange because she never admitted she was wrong. This was an excellent effort to confront the lying but I don't think it worked. What then are journalists supposed to do?

    2. Sagan didn't say there were billions and billions of stars. He said there were billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars. That's billions x billions, not billions + billions.

    3. These days the estimate is that there are "more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe." [At 1:27 in this LINK] Carl Sagan's estimate was of the same order of magnitude. [LINK]

  2. I'm glad to see Trump's lies pointed out. I wish the media would do the same for prominent Democrats.

    Like the previous commenter, I don't think Trump will be hurt, at least not in the primary elections. First of all, the public knows that all politicians lie. Secondly, conservatives have learned to distrust the mainstream media. Media attacks might even help Trump among conservative voters.

    1. Prominent Democrats don't tell whoppers like the Republican candidates do. All politicians do not lie, so if the public "knows" that, it is wrong, another lie told by those who do lie about those who do not. Conservatives haven't "learned" to distrust the media. They dislike being called on their lies so they have blatantly attacked the media (the best defense is a good offense). Any attack on Trump will help him -- that was my point above. Once again, you don't seem to read what others write here.

    2. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.

      No classified material was transmitted on my private server.

      ISIS has nothing whatever to do with Islam.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. "If you like your plan, ..." This was true of about 98% of Americans. And some of the remaining 2% would have lost their plan anyway, because every year insurance companies discontinue some plans. So to suggest this is a "whopper" is bullshit.

      "No classified material..." She said no material was transmitted that was marked classified at the time it was transmitted, which as far as I know is perfectly accurate.

      "ISIS has nothing..." This isn't a lie. If by "Islam" you mean the mainstream variants which denounce ISIS and its interpretation of Islam, then it's perfectly accurate. And besides, even if this were a lie, it would be more than justified. There are higher goods than mere honesty. If you can avoid alienating some Muslims and prevent some of them from joining ISIS by simply saying "ISIS has nothing to do with Islam," you are fully justified in doing so, even if it were a lie.

    5. And there's another good reason to dissociate ISIS and their ilk from Islam in general -- because some idiots on your side of the political aisle can't seem to make the distinction:

    6. Hahaha. It's only a Whopper, Jr. I guess.

      Your quote from Hillary is her fallback position, after she said "no classified material.'

      The problem with the lie about ISIS/Islam is that it's so preposterous that no one really believes it, not even you. Blatant falsehoods from the government leads directly to something like the Trump phenomenon.

    7. Cicero, I presume. I can always tell because of the obnoxiousness, (unjustified) sense of certainty, and refusal to acknowledge even the possibility of error.

      Go ahead, show me where Clinton said "no classified material" without any further qualification. (And pay attention to context.)

      Regarding the "lie" about ISIS/Islam . . . you clearly have no idea what you're talking about. Even George Bush realized it was bad strategy to associate jihadi terrorists with "Islam":

      And what you (wrongly) call "blatant falsehoods from the government" has nothing to do with Trump. Trump is the product of the right-wing propaganda machine that began with Limbaugh and snowballed from there into an enormous "ecosystem" that now includes Fox News, most of talk radio, and all the right-wing nuttery that pervades so much of the internet. This propaganda machine in combination with the bigotry, nativism, lack of education, xenophobia, and exaggerated fears of a benighted segment of the population is what gave us Trump and the other horrors of the Republican party.

    8. Hillary said it at her March 10, 2015 press conference.
      Too bad you have no method of argumentation other than crude insults.

    9. As so often happens, once I start really thinking through some right-wing meme (like Clinton's supposed "lie" about classified information), I realize it's complete bullshit.

      1. In that press conference, she says SHE didn't email classified information. She doesn't say whether any classified info was sent TO her, which would not have been her fault. But to keep your "Clinton lied" meme going, you conveniently "paraphrased" what she said in an inaccurate way.

      2. As you indicated above, Clinton's press conference was on March 10th. As far as I can tell, that was BEFORE the big debate between government agencies over whether or not some of the information in Clinton's emails contained classified information. So when Clinton made her statement, it's not clear that she even knew there was what some government agency(s) considered classified information on her server.

      And regarding this: "Too bad you have no method of argumentation..." What are you talking about? I addressed each one of your claims with facts and logic and provided links if you cared to pursue the topics further. You're delusional. And just to head you off at the pass: I'm done commenting here, because I realize it's a total waste of time. Every time I start digging into some right-wing meme that you parrot on here, it turns out to be baseless or misleading or in some other way bullshit. So if you reply, just know that a lack of reply on my part is not an indication that I have no counter-argument. It's simply an indication that I refuse to waste any more of my time.

  3. You know who did a story on Alex Jones connection to Donald Trump.

    Did it before Farhi?

    Did it while Bob Somerby was savaging her for other
    segments on her show?

    Oh, and while you are guessing, guess where the post on rejecting our tribal bombs, promised for yesterday, will appear?

    1. Do you imagine this redeems her for her other sins? Shouldn't a cross be involved for that to occur?

    2. Once a demagogue has identified the scapegoat as the source of all evil for his feeble-minded sycophants, all their "sins" -- usually imagined -- are always unforgiveable.

      For Trump and his followers, its Muslims and Mexicans. For Somerby and his very few remaining followers, it's Maddow.

    3. Information which gets disappeared is also part of this larger story. There are various important facts which our old blogger tends to avoid like the plague. When basic facts are widely withheld, that produces a disabling type of misinformation too.

    4. "Do you imagine this redeems her for her other sins? asked @1:26.

      No. I know it means it is more likely that "Your Rachel Maddow Show gets results" is an accurate statement in respect to Farhi's article than "your DAILY HOWLER just keeps cranking out those results!"

    5. Sick burn. You're the cranker of results bro!

  4. Just for the record, we never discuss our private conversations with the Washington Post's Paul Farhi, even though, some years ago, one such conversation occurred.

    Whatever! This morning, Farhi did not return our call asking if he had ever spoken with Bob Somerby.

    Whatever! This morning, Farhi has started getting it right

  5. What happened to the follow up on the dumb comments of Bernie Snders?

  6. This particular moment in our country's history cries out for Mark Twain. He wrote in acid ink about the bellicose braggadocio of babbling carny barkers that occasionally infest American public life.

    Twain is often credited with writing the "Lies travel halfway round the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on" (Ironically, that too is a lie - he did not).

    But Jonathan Swift, also sorely needed in times like these, did write: "Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”

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