ake news” as a denunciation peddled by Republican and Trump apparatchiks is an old-fashioned, fascist-style Big Lie with a neat capitalist twist. The obvious lie is that most of the media, accused of reporting “fake news,” actually report real news – with real corrections when they get something wrong. This is the antithesis of the way the “conservative” con machine has operated for decades. Among the world’s shortest books would be “Setting the Record Straight by Republican Senators” or “The Collected Corrections of Donald Trump.” These are people whose common currency is falsehood rooted in deceit for the good of themselves and not much of anyone else, certainly not most of the people that they were elected to represent, wink-wink. Chronic right-wing lying is hardly a new phenomenon. Lies about FDR and the Red Menace live on long after the imaginary threats have passed into history. So, too, with Saddam Hussein’s fictitious weapons of mass destruction, the WMDs that turned out to be, in reality, members of the Bush administration. In recent decades the right-wing lying machine has grown increasingly institutionalized, like a great false culture network producing serial hit jobs based on deliberately fraudulent premises such as Obama’s birth certificate, ISR bias against Tea Party 501(c)(4) applicants, or Hillary Clinton’s bloodbath at Benghazi. Now the soullessness of unending mendacity has overtaken the White House, and the country is awash in liars claiming lies are truth and calling truth-tellers liars.
Well, why not? It’s a business model that has worked. Since 1996, with Fox News and the Drudge Report, businesses built on peddling lies as commodities have flourished. Their ilk have proliferated beyond enumeration in a still-expanding market. Breitbart News joined that market in 2007 and within a decade seated itself in the White House with an administration equally uninterested in anything like intellectual integrity. The Fake News industry is now in power, with the enviably perverse opportunity of calling its opponents “fake news” purveyors. That this Orwellian inversion of reality is widely believed reflects the success of the Fake News outlets in making alternative facts seem credible. Years of repeated lies, met with weak or no serious challenge, and sometimes with collusion, have encouraged a populaces to believe whatever it wants to believe, regardless of fact-based evidence. The Fake News industry seems unlikely to go away any time soon, despite increasing popular pushback. The raw material for dishonesty is inexpensive and inexhaustible. When one lie doesn’t turn a profit, monetarily or politically, that lie is easily abandoned (and denied) in favor of the next lie that may catch on.
“The best defense against usurpatory government is an assertive citizenry.” – William F. Buckley, Jr.
A current example of a predatory lie designed to undercut citizen assertiveness, probably still in beta, arrived February 27 from the White House:
There is an incredible spirit of optimism sweeping across the Nation….
The President is checking off the promises he made to the American people, and he won’t stop until the job is done.
The forgotten men and women of this great Nation will be forgotten no longer.
That is the heart of this movement. As President Trump has made clear, this is your country and this is your Government, and now we want to hear from you.
The email conveying this version of reality also invites the reader to take a White House survey. The first section invites the reader to select the “most significant accomplishments” of the Trump administration from a list of ten, NONE of which are actual accomplishments (at best, plans that may lead to accomplishments). Unsurprisingly, the list omits any reference to special ops in Yemen or any aspect of immigration. The second section includes a list of 12 “issues,” mostly vague and abstract (such as “Budget,” “Taxes,” “Jobs”) but occasionally pointed (such as “National Security and Fighting ISIS” or “Repeal and Replace Obamacare”). Among the issues omitted are ending the war in Afghanistan (or fill-in-the-blank) or replacing Obamacare with single payer healthcare (or any other alternative). The form also offers boxes for “ideas” and “comments.” One respondent’s ideas included “End foreign wars” and “End domestic terror (white nationalists, police violence, clinic bombing, etc).” The same respondent’s comments included “Tell the truth. About everything. Start with the President’s taxes and business ties.”
The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People! – Donald Trump, tweet Feb 17, 2017
A few days ago, I called the fake news “the enemy of the people” -- and they are. They are the enemy of the people. – Donald Trump, CPAC 2017
For the Trump White House, the media include real enemies, naming The New York Times and CNN among them (Unlike Nixon’s enemies list, Trump’s list is at least partly public.). In response to continuing White House hostility, the Times ran a supposedly “hard-hitting” 30-second TV ad during the Oscars, its first TV advertising since 2010. “The Truth is hard,” the $2 million Times ad told viewers. So was watching the ad, which began with a verbal montage, first a couple of apparently true statements (“The trust in our nation is more divided than ever” and “The truth is alternative facts are lies”) before ducking down a rabbit hole of absurdist contradiction. This starts ungrammatically with “The truth is the media is dishonest,” then “The truth is a woman should dress like a woman” then “The Truth is women’s rights are human rights” and then a speeded-up welter of assertions more confusing than compelling. The Times ad ends by slowly making its point: “The truth is hard… to find… to know…. The truth is more important now than ever.”
All this may be true, but the Times spent $2 million to tell us the obvious, with the apparent subliminal message that we can trust the Times to tell the truth. The problem is: we can’t. This is the same Times that, through the good offices of Judith Miller and her editors, helped the Bush administration take us into a stupid war now well into its second decade with little more to show for it than regional chaos and a distrust in the US government heightened to the point that we’ve elected a president dedicated to taking that government apart, if not destroying it. Instead of self-servingly investing in its own image, the Times could have done more public good by confronting just one Trump lie unambiguously head-on. There are at least 100 Trump falsehoods to choose from, some of them admittedly petty taken alone, but impressive as part of a pattern of prevarication. That might have been too much for a short ad. The repeated Trump lie that he inherited “a mess” from Obama might have been too complicated for a short ad, since the “mess” included a stable economy and no foreign crisis. But the Times might have made a stronger point using this statement from White House press secretary Sean Spicer on February 21, talking about the mass roundup of immigrants and suspected immigrants:
The president needed to give guidance, especially after what they went through in the last administration, where there were so many carve-outs that ICE agents and CBP members didn’t—had to figure out each individual, whether or not they fit in a particular category, and they could adjudicate that case. The president wanted to take the shackles off individuals in these agencies and say, "You have a mission. There are laws that need to be followed. You should do your mission and follow the law."
Those “carve-outs,” adjudicating each case on its own merits, that’s fundamental due process of law. And the “guidance” the White House says it gave to ICE agents is, no matter how you read it, violate the Constitution. There’s no lie there. The President tells government officials to violate the Constitution, as confirmed by his press secretary and observed on the streets, and this gets little attention? Isn’t that a form of fake news?