The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Why I’m Not Worked Up About “Fake News” and Why I Am

So, there’s a lot of BS about fake news. Trump claims that most stories about him are lies (most of them aren’t, some of them are), the media claims that Russians are spreading fake news (yes, like everyone else), and so on.

And, I mean, this is bad. But I find it hard to get super-worked up about it.



This sort of thing is just routine. The vast majority of news stories about Corbyn either misrepresent or lie.

Meanwhile, the New York Times systematically lied about Iraqi WMD to justify the Iraq war.

In the 2004 election, the New York Times held back a story on mass surveillance because they were concerned it would cost George Bush the election. Given how close that election was, the New York Times probably helped ensure a Bush victory by withholding accurate information from voters.

They lie when it supports right-wingers and they withhold true information to protect right-wingers.

And, mostly, they just don’t cover stories they don’t want people to know about.

The media is owned by very rich people. The journalists who work for the media serve the interests of those very rich people.

It takes a special sort of stupidity to think that the media is immune from the rule that people who hire people expect their employees to serve their interests and make sure that they do.

If you want the media to have at least a chance of telling the truth, you need individual outlets to be small, you need there to be many, many outlets and it needs to be cheap to own and run one. In such circumstances, while it will still run towards serving the rich, it won’t serve the super-rich as much as it does today, when a few conglomerates control almost all the media.

Any sector which is a private sector oligopoly (like the media) will obviously serve the interests of the wealthiest in society.

The current conglomerates, online, include Facebook and Google, both of which need to be broken up, and the search engine industry needs to be rigorously regulated, since it decides who sees what. ISPs, without network neutrality, may also take on this role, and obviously network neutrality needs to be reinstated.

Since ISPs provide no value except as a pipeline, they should be regulated as utilities or simply bought by the government. If regulated, their profit should be fixed at 5%+central bank interest rate, or something similar, no stock options and other such nonsense should be allowed, and any profit over that number should simply be taken away by the government. (This will, indirectly, encourage them to build more infrastructure, but you can also do as was done to utilities in the 50s and 60s and specify how much is to be spent.)

ISPs should never be owned by other companies, if allowed to remain private.

Social media is likewise a commons, and should be regulated as such. The way they are currently engineered, they operate as dopamine depleters, and research shows that happiness decreases in direct proportion with engagement to social media. They will have to be forced to stop playing dopamine games, get rid of most of their algorithims, and give control over timelines explicitly to users.

All of this may seem like a lot of work, or an “intrusion,” but we can either control our own lives as voters and members of the public, through government, or we can allow private interests who care only about the benefit to a few people to do so.

So, while in one sense I’m not upset by “fake news,” on the other hand, I am. I’m upset by the control of a few major companies over who gets to spew what propaganda at the public.

Control the major media (and economic) actors, or they will control us.

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White Helmet


The Creation of New Worlds Examined Through Myth


  1. It isn’t so much that the news is “fake”, but, rather, that it is more sophism and specious canards than anything.

  2. Keith in Modesto

    All of this may seem like a lot of work, or an “intrusion”, but we can either control our own lives as voters and members of the public, through government, or we can allow private interests who care only about the benefit to a few people to do so.

    Yes, yes, yes. We need to repeat insights like this over and over. It’s needed to counteract the conservative and neoliberal narrative that government is always to be minimized (and “drowned in a tub”) and the private sphere maximized, believing government to be always bad and trending to tyranny, while the private is always good and the bastion of liberty. Minimizing public governance (i.e. government) just means the wealthy and powerful will rule everyone else through private institutions.
    Of course, the wealthy and powerful can and do also rule through the government. But if we have a government of, by, and for the people (at least in theory), then we can fight to make the government ours. We can fight to make public governance for the public good a reality.

  3. Hugh

    I am shocked, shocked that Ian has so little faith in the good-hearted and deeply wise Mark Zuckerbergs of this world. That he is so deeply cynical about the good intentions of American corporations is troubling. Why just today in the NYT I saw that internet companies are studying how users tap, swipe, and scroll their screens so that they can better identify them and protect them from fraud. Sounds mighty thoughtful and considerate to me. Only a bunch of nitpickers would find anything incredibly intrusive about that.

    As for fake news, we have a fake President. Don’t they cancel out? As someone who actually looks at economic data, I admit I used to get peeved when every economist and talkinghead I saw blatantly showed they neither knew what they were talking about nor cared. But now I have gotten to a point of equanimity that I no longer throw things at the screen but just shut and curse at them. I see this as an improvement.

  4. Dan

    There’s also stuff like the raid on Khataba where the US military, NATO, and UN commit an atrocity, cover it up, and then lie to the press. IIRC, a British paper (the Guardian?) got seriously threatened and pressured for breaking the story. There have been numerous instances of this kind of thing — government generated fake news or under-reporting that many media organs are complicit in by negligence, collusion, or cowardice.

  5. Webstir

    “”[N]or shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

    “ … without just compensation.” Hmmm.

    You’ve aroused the property law geek in me, Ian.
    In my mind, I didn’t think there should be any reason the Takings Clause precedents wouldn’t apply to a taking of intellectual property. And since I thought it, I was pretty sure some other intellectual property lawyer had had the same thought. Sure enough:

    Thinking further, I see no reason why a rider couldn’t be added to a spending bill to compensate Mr. Zuckerberg* at fair market value.

    *Sorry. He’s no Mr.

  6. Webstir


    You read Caitlin Johnstone’s stuff? She’s on it like a fly on stink. For example:

    Just a sample. She’s doing impressive journalism. And one of the things I like best about her? She describes herself as a “Bogan Socialist.” Had to look up what a Bogan is. Cracked me up.

  7. “Control the major media (and economic) actors, or they will control us.”

    I fear that ship has already sunk.

  8. Tom

    I’m reminded of Netanyahu honoring the Irgun Terrorists who blew up the King David Hotel.

    Irgun and Lehi Terrorist Groups routinely massacred Palestinians, just as the IDF does today.

    So I am not worked up when the Palestinians fight back.

  9. Ché Pasa

    In the context of so-called “fake news”, words have no meaning anymore. It’s been an ongoing process of dismantling notions of “facts” and “truth” as conceived by the media. Call it “creative destruction.” New models, thinking, and beliefs emerge, and nothing is more important than the New in the News Business. Right?

    British tabloid media bears a share of responsibility for showing the way. False and defamatory stories are the stock in trade of the genre, but I’m told that Brits are generally able to sort out what’s printed without falling too hard to the fakery. Maybe. The problem is more with teevee “news” and the contemporary predominance of internet sources and social media.

    Add in the tendency of government and corporate sources to polish their own apples regardless of facts and truth and here we are. Media as a whole and individual outlets most definitely have their dogs in the fight.

    But a historical perspective suggests it has never not been thus. Which element of the fakery holds sway is the contention, not whether there is or ought to be fakery at all. It’s all about which — or who — is to be master, that’s all.

  10. Willy

    I remember the old “Bosses of the Senate” political cartoon created way back in the day:

    And now here we are back full circle again, except this time with a big media fatso. But this time there are far too many fake, conflicting and self-serving ‘intellectual truth discussions’ all over the place, when a single historic political cartoon says it all.

    John Sherman once said: “If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life.”

  11. Heliopause

    Trump’s railing about the “fake news” is strictly out of self-interest, of course, but it perhaps has the beneficial side effect of generating greater awareness of how elite media not only shapes reality but sometimes invents it out of whole cloth.

  12. bruce wilder

    Trump’s railing about the “fake news” is strictly out of self-interest, of course, but it perhaps has the beneficial side effect of generating greater awareness of how elite media not only shapes reality but sometimes invents it out of whole cloth.

    I am not so sure that Trump’s doing this isn’t itself symptomatic of the serious pathology of what used to be called, “Public Opinion”.

    Trump, Birther-in-Chief, showed an acute awareness that he could exploit deep, subliminal paranoia in a population, where large numbers of people are ill-informed and already deeply suspicious of what they are told.

    As journalism in mainstream media has declined in its attention to professional standards of integrity and objectivity, it has become harder and harder to learn anything from the Media or trust it. More and more of the bandwidth is taken up with hysterical, counterfactual speculation and gossip, often combined with implicit but highly ideological points-of-view designed (yes, designed!!!) to stimulate (aka entertain) rather than inform or educate. In this political news ecology, memes float around without anchors. Vote suppression elides into voter fraud, healthcare elides into access to health insurance, and “fake news” is located in the enemy camp, whoever’s camp that may be.

    Russia,Russia! has been a mild ratings booster and a huge blockade on important political news. Political news junkies who rely on cable teevee news or major newspapers know next to nothing. Read the front pages of the New York Times or the Washington Post or, and you might as well be relying on drudge — your intelligence will be exhausted trying to parse and sort what is trustworthy and your attention will be directed again and again to stuff that does not matter.

  13. Ché Pasa

    As journalism in mainstream media has declined in its attention to professional standards of integrity and objectivity…

    I submit that we have always been in such a time. The US media as a whole has never been particularly interested in integrity and objectivity. As primarily a marketing enterprise, it has always been primarily interested in sales, ratings and symbiotically serving the interests of power and wealth — which are in many cases the self-same interests of media enterprises.

    If you recall otherwise, I suggest it is a false memory implanted by the very media enterprises you now deplore…

  14. Hugh

    I wrote online scandal lists for Bush and Obama so that both contemporaneous and ongoing accounts of events would be available and not disappear down the rabbit hole. It was very time consuming and by mid-Obama very complicated as scandals became less and less discrete and more and more blurred together. It really needed a team to keep up. This is especially true under Trump where scandals and lies occur multiply daily.

    The media do cover some of this, but I think that Ian’s larger point is that the media (and elites) refuse to cover their own role in the worsening shithole we find ourselves in. I know when I watch cable news they do an OK job of covering the Trump scandal of the day, but the instant they stray an iota from this into policy alternatives, it is just more of the self-serving Establishment BS that caused many voters to prefer gnawing their arm off rather than vote for Hillary Clinton. There is no coverage of what ordinary Americans want, as in what kind of life they would like to have and how to get it to them. Re even bigger issues, there is no coverage of overpopulation and only glancing coverage of climate change and what can be done about them.

  15. nihil obstet

    Just a note on the historical perspective: I think two characteristics of journalism have changed. First, newspaper owners and editors developed the myth of objective reporting. Through the 19th c., newspapers frankly had a point of view: Republican, Democratic, Socialist, whatever, each pointing out that the others were just wrong, suppressing facts et al. When Hearst wired Remington to stay in Cuba to provide lurid pictures, he allegedly said, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” This was loathsome policy, but acceptable use of his newspaper. Then owners and the establishment realized that propaganda that pretended not to be propaganda was more effective. We’re just reaching the end of that era.

    The second characteristic is that working for news organizations became an acceptable middle to upper middle class profession that could lead to high salaries and celebrity, rather than a lower middle class job. The employees joined the owners in their hearts and minds as people who were better, smarter, and more deserving than the majority of their audience.

    There isn’t a big difference from history — the coverage of the Wallace campaign in 1948 was a travesty of bad reporting and repetition of errors, rather reminiscent of what Corbyn has been getting in Britain now. But as long as reporters were like industrial employees, they tended to include labor issues and ordinary hardships in their reporting.

  16. bruce wilder

    Ché Pasa: I submit that we have always been in such a time.

    Recalling a golden era in which ideals flourished is a popular narrative trope and, of course, always false. So is what you are doing here: insisting that the political past is just like the political present. Better, worse, or just different: the political game changes or is changed, the rules change, the strategies and tactics change.

    Insisting, as in the famous phrase, “Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia” is stalinist.

  17. Herman

    It is getting harder and harder to find good news sources these days. The mainstream media is very biased even if they claim to be the Real News. But many alternative news sources have their own biases as well. Then of course you have the conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. So who do you believe?

    I want to stay informed but at the same time I am growing weary of the news wars, moral panics, social media beefs and all of the other nonsense that seems to pervade the modern media landscape. I guess the only thing you can do is to try to apply critical thinking as best as you can.

  18. Hugh

    Herman, I find the mainstream media fairly easy to use. Its biases are those of the Establishment and are class-based in nature. There are some topics they cover that you just ignore. Others you can strip out the class bias to find some underlying meat. And yet others they do a reasonable job on. Finally, others they don’t cover at all and I just go elsewhere.

    For sites like Naked Capitalism, they do good work in some areas, but they go completely goofy when it comes to Russia or MMT. Glenn Greenwald I always take with a grain of salt. I look for libertarian bias or him acting as a gatekeeper.

    Personally, I like primary sources, like economic statistics. But here too it is important to know which statistics to look at, how to look at them, and what their limitations are.

  19. Webstir


    What’s goofy about Naked Capitalism’s work on Russia and MMT?
    Pretty sure the Russia line is the same as Ian’s, and mine. Which, is essentially: So what? It takes an election tampering nation to know one, right?
    As to MMT? When we really, truly, have another economic meltdown I’m not optimistic the current economic order will hold. As Ian was saying in his last post, leadership without belief can only survive on negative reinforcement for so long. And the “leadership” — read 1% — has been surviving so long now on the guise of the western liberal economic order that it’s in full survival mode right now. Few, but the 10% technocrat class, in this country believe what the 1% is selling anymore. When the center comes apart the MMT’ers will have a strong argument. You can only sell a lie for so long, Hugh. Personally, I place zero faith in neoclassical economic’s ability to do macro. Do you?

  20. Hugh

    Webstir, the reason I am no longer at Naked Capitalism is that Yves threatened to kick me out because I took issue with a guiding light of MMT, Randy Wray, and his idiot neoliberal positions on taxing the rich: it’s too hard and taxing corporations: they deserve their profits. MMT’s job guarantee is also a sham. It treats workers not as people but as a commodity, a place to park a “labor stock” when the private sector doesn’t need them and keeping them sufficiently uncomfortable there that the private sector can call them back as needed. You need to understand that virtually all MMT economists started out as neoclassicals and they retain a lot of its features such as blind faith in markets. I have in the past here gone through MMT point by point showing that its claims are either false, misleading, or only trivially true. I have also pointed out that MMT is just bad theory because its proponents have no idea about or interest in the structure of theory. And finally there is the well known cultish nature of MMT, all attack, no facts.

    As for Russia, Putin is a dictator, and it is just embarrassing not to mention intellectually dishonest the lengths that Naked Capitalism and much of its commentariat will go to defend him and his actions. Re Trump and Russia, if anyone else had that many connections to Russia or behaved that bizarrely around Putin, they would be all over it. But as this would get in the way of their illegitimate Russiagate narrative, that is Russiagate is and can only be an overblown illegitimate ploy of anti-Russian Democrats, they simply ignore or contort everything that does not conform to that narrative. In that, how different are they from the mainstream media? Both have agendas and neither lets inconvenient facts get in their way.

  21. Ché Pasa


    Yeah, no. That’s not what I’m saying at all. And strictly speaking, the perpetual warring between Oceania and Eastasia is Orwellian not Stalinist.

    That aside, however, good points about media changes and consistencies through a long and often ignoble history are noted by nihil obstet, the necessity for critical thinking noted by Herman whatever the media says at the moment (“skepticism is a virtue,” as I’ve long said), and Hugh’s detailed look at what’s going on from a foundation in primary sources and statistics — which you also have to be careful of — are part of the framework of my own point of view about media and the role of “news” and elite opinion in our increasingly complicated and dysfunctional world.

    There’s always been an element of fakery in the news business, and at least in the US, there have always been alternatives to mainstream media. Just because it’s an alternative outlet/point of view, however, doesn’t make it any more objective/accurate/correct.

    For example, I generally have high regard for WSWS’s analysis of events, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily definitive. Their news coverage is very good but strictly limited. Just so Al Jazeera and RT in many respects. These are high-end alternative sources that help provide a more complete view of what’s going on than our typical yadda yadda from cable teevee “news” and heaps of irrelevancies and/or rightist elite propaganda from much of the print media.

    Online, the Beeb is practically useless for any purpose whatever. But you can say that about all kinds of outlets whose reputation has sunk.

    Scare-coverage of the Trump regime has taken the place of the formerly standard summer stories of missing white women and shark attacks. (Oh how I miss them now!) There’s not much “news” in other words, but massive amounts of entertainment. Scheduled to last till Labor Day, like an endless episode of “Big Brother/Apprentice.”

    Good luck trying to figure out what’s really going on.

    And so it goes. We try to do our best, no matter.

  22. Webstir

    Hugh —

    Re Russia: (1) “Putin is a dictator” — yeah, so? We support them all the time when it serves our interests; (2) “Russiagate is a ploy by anti-russian Democrats.” Right there is where you go wrong. I don’t think that’s anyone’s position. It sounds like your straw man, to fit your inconvenient facts. Russia! Russia! Russia! is a bi-partisan establishment ploy to de-legitimize Trump. As Radiohead says in Karma Police “This is what you’ll get, when you mess with us.” The issue with that is, as repeatedly pointed out by Yves and Co., the same tactics will be turned upon progressive’s should they find power. Watch it happen if Bernie gets the nom.

    Aa simple thought experiment unmuddies the water in a hurry, Hugh. Just ask yourself: Would we be dealing with Russia! Russia! Russia! if they had hacked our elections and Hillary won? Not a chance.

    Re MMT: Are there issue to work out, and are people actively working to work them out … yes. Now, I’m sure you’re a better economist than Steve Keen (who I draw most of my economic insights from), but Keen is basically on board. See here:

  23. Ché Pasa

    And this: “Fake news.” ¿Que es? In the context of El Caudillo it seems to be anything that displeases him or doesn’t sufficiently celebrate his magnificence, or it is anything written or spoken by those he’s deemed anathema until they get their minds right. (h/t “Cool Hand Luke.”)

    But in the broader context of the long, long history of media criticism (especially on the internet) isn’t it largely about the problem of media focusing on the “narrative” — whatever it may be — and ignoring, dismissing, or misrepresenting anything that doesn’t fit the narrative, that all-important story being told?

    “News” that isn’t really news at all? Or that distorts or deceives or misinforms?

    It’s not necessarily lies. It may be fiction, though. Or creative (destructive?) non-fiction. And as we see every summer, it is diversion from anything important toward escapist entertainment.

    There are times when I am sympathetic with the White House’s incessant complaints about “fake news”.

    But I get over it.

  24. nihil obstet

    Webstir, on MMT — Naked Capitalism does good work. I check it out most days. But they do go tribal on a few issues, one of which is MMT. For a while there, they simply labeled anyone a liar who didn’t agree that MMT was the answer to our economic problems. That’s when they banned Hugh (as I understood it). They just went nutty over objections to Randy Wray’s argument that we shouldn’t tax rich people. They thought it an unforgivable attack on a good person. They said that Wray didn’t really object to taxing rich people, so you’re dishonest if you say that his post saying we shouldn’t tax rich people means he doesn’t believe in taxing rich people. As I say, tribal and nutty. That’s a bit more than “yes, there are issues to work out.”

  25. Hugh

    “Russia! Russia! Russia! is a bi-partisan establishment ploy to de-legitimize Trump.” Actually, no. The Republican base is pretty much on board with Trump, and because it is, most Republican officeholders are too. There are a few talkinghead Republicans, like Joe Scarborough and George Will, who aren’t. But among Republican officeholders, except for the rare comment almost always from someone retiring, we get bupkis.

    Steve Keen is a technician. If I wanted investment advice, I might go to a Warren Buffett, but he’s no economist and I never would make the mistake of asking him about economics.

  26. bruce wilder

    I’ve run afoul of the obsession of Yves Smith and Naked Capitalism with enforcing MMT dogma. It is kind of bizarre and certainly doesn’t reflect well on either Yves Smith or the way MMT has been developing its following.

  27. Webstir

    You guys keep saying that … but giving no reasons. Sounds kinda like mainstream economists.

    And Hugh — Technicians are exactly what economics needs. Actual science. Like Keen is doing. You’re like the Avett Brothers song:

  28. nihil obstet

    Webstir, the subject we’re discussing is how potential news sources report the news. A source that’s very good on many issues goes off-track on a few, and we’ve given the reasons for that opinion. That’s different from an opinion on the issues themselves. Whatever I think of MMT, I disagree that people pointing out the problems (or if you will, the issues that need to be worked out) can be labeled dishonest and banned from the discussion.

    There are more issues than I can research adequately to form a valid opinion. Therefore, I do depend on sources that I think are accurate, clear, and thought-through. When I argue from authority, I need to understand the validity of the authority’s process.

  29. Webstir

    Fair enough, nihil.
    I do disagree with Yves banning folks. I think it’s petty. Lambert and I have had our tiffs as well.
    Personally, though, I think their position is on MMT is brave and necessary.

  30. Hugh

    Technicians aren’t questioners or deep thinkers. They are just very good at doing something, whether or not that something is particularly useful.

    Or to put it another way, if the concept is flawed or a nonstarter, it doesn’t matter how powerful the techniques are you seek to apply it with.

    And that’s the crux of the matter many of the tenets of MMT, as I said above, are false, misleading, or trivial. But just as neoclassical and libertarian economists refuse to question their concepts so many of which are false, MMTers refuse to question theirs. MMT is an intellectual deadend. I can point this out. In the past, I went into detail as to why this is the case, but just as standard economics is not about argument or analysis. Neither is MMT. What both standard economics and MMT have in common is that people believe in them because they believe in them. There really is no argument against that kind of position.

  31. Webstir

    “What both standard economics and MMT have in common is that people believe in them because they believe in them.”

    Of course Hugh. This true anytime one deals with money. I’d be impressed if you could draw an economic example where belief isn’t foundational. There can be no objective economics, Hugh, because the “laws” are man made. You do understand the distinction between natural and social law, right?

    That you’re so off base on this foundational point lends little weight to your argument.

  32. Hugh

    Not really. Practitioners of standard economics believe what they believe about economics despite all the evidence that undercuts, indeed completely trashes, their theories. The same thing happens with practitioners of MMT. I prefer my economics to be both responsible and reality-based.

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