Fake News

How to Sniff Out Fake News

You don't need (and definitely do not want) the government to serve as a lie detector.

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True vs. False
Boarding1now / Dreamstime.com

Say you're a person of average intelligence (or higher) who likes to keep abreast of the news and who therefore follows several sources of it. Lately you've seen a number of people, not least among them the president of the United States, screaming about Fake News. You may well be wondering how, in the current fractured media landscape, you're supposed to discern who is telling the truth, who is lying—and who is telling the truth or lying about who is telling the truth. What is to be done?

Here's one thing that is emphatically not to be done: Emulate Malaysia, which has just outlawed "fake news" and authorized prison terms of up to six years for so-called offenders. If there's anything worse than having giant news corporations, social-media censors, and search-engine algorithms decide what you can and cannot see, it's having the government make that decision.

Besides: Teasing out the true from the false is really not so hard. A few tips:

(1) Know the source. Say what you will about media bias—and there will be more to say in a few paragraphs—established media organizations work hard to get their facts right. They hate—hate, hate, hate—getting the story wrong.

Some do, sometimes. Sometimes they get badly burned. Janet Cooke at The Washington Post won a Pulitzer for a fabricated story about an 8-year-old heroin addict. Jayson Blair at The New York Times plagiarized and fabricated stories. There have been other instances. But here's the thing: After each of these scandals, the news organizations made very public, excruciatingly detailed confessions laying out their own mistakes. Sketchy outlets never even correct minor mistakes, let alone big ones.

That doesn't mean traditional media should automatically be believed about everything. It does make them more believable than some random website you stumble across on the internet.

(2) Check the sources. Good news media cite them: A story on the federal deficit, for instance, will cite and perhaps link to the Congressional Budget Office. A story on highway fatalities might cite the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If you see a story about a study purporting to find no link between drunk driving and highway deaths, you might want to know whether it came from the Centers for Disease Control or, say, the Distilled Spirits Council of America.

(3) Investigate. If a Facebook post claims scientists in Atlantis have invented a perpetual-motion machine, look it up. And here's a pro tip: Don't just Google it. Confine your search to a reputable source of information by using the search term "site:"—as in, "site:scientificamerican.com" or site:theatlantic.com. (This is also a good way to frustrate search algorithms that clutter your results with ads.)

(4) Read both sides. News sources aren't the only ones that are biased. So are consumers. (Insert shocked face here.) Example: A Gallup-Knight Foundation survey recently found that 42 percent of Republicans, and 17 percent of Democrats, consider accurate but unflattering articles "fake news." This is a classic case of confirmation bias: the tendency to reject information that challenges our established beliefs.

Some media have built entire business models around catering to partisan bias (here's looking at you, Fox and MSNBC). This means that while they will not knowingly report anything false, they will leave out a great deal that is true.

For instance, shortly after Donald Trump was inaugurated, The New York Times ran a series of prominent stories about the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, linking them to the political tenor of the day. But as Commentary's Seth Mandel, Algemeiner's Ira Stoll, and others pointed out, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries is nothing new. Yet The Times largely ignored or downplayed it until January, 2017—leaving the dangerous impression that anti-Semitism is contingent on U.S. presidential politics, rather than a persistent virulence unto its own vile self.

5) Don't be paranoid. Watch out for "news" sources that claim they are telling you secrets "the media don't want you to know." Respectable news outlets almost never sit on a big story; breaking big news is their reason for existing. If none of the major news outlets has reported that the president is actually a space alien, it's probably because he is not a space alien.

6) Watch out for bias. It is not true that the media are "out to get" one side or the other. The reality is actually worse: Many in the media have no clue just how biased they really are. Newsroom stylebooks don't dictate that reporters refer routinely to "the gun lobby" but never to "the abortion lobby," for example. Newsrooms just tend to have far more sympathy for the latter than the former. Likewise, they tend to be far more interested in fearmongering stories about the harm from too little regulation than from too much of it.

Sometimes the bias is toward the sensational. (Insert shocked face again.) E.g., it's much more dramatic to write a story about mortgage discrimination that begins, "Redheads are rejected for bank loans four times as often as blondes are" than one that begins, "Redheads are approved for bank loans 96 percent of the time, compared to 99 percent of the time for blondes."

Finally, watch out for fearmongering about fake news itself. There's little evidence that, say, the bogus story about the Pope endorsing Trump for president swayed any votes. Which isn't to say that we needn't concern ourselves with the truth at all. As Yale professor Timothy Snyder put it so well in his book on tyranny, "To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so."

NEXT: Trillion-Dollar Deficits Are Back and Here to Stay

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  1. You may well be wondering how, in the current fractured media landscape, you’re supposed to discern who is telling the truth, who is lying…

    Obviously, if it reinforces what I already thought…

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      3. There is actually one very simple criteria: if the “news” contains a “satirical” accusation directed against a highly respected member of the community, it is certainly fake. Particularly if the individual in question is a distinguished envoy to the Vatican. And let’s be clear, this kind of fake news is a crime punishable by jail. See the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “parody” case at:

        https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

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  2. That’s ridiculous. According to the First Amendment I want the federal government to Issue press licenses that allow certain trusted people to talk. Like ABC CBS NBC and NPR.

    Everyone else can shut up.

    Then we can go back to the good old days when everyone in the USA agreed on what reality was, and bad policy didn’t happen: the 60s and 70s.

    1. You left out C-Span1 and C-Span2, along with MSN, CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN U. In fact, there’s really only 1 too many news sources. Which one do you imagine might be the one that’s “one too many”?

      Come on now ?. you can figure it out.

      1. Nobody needs 47 different kinds of news sources.

        1. It’s 23 different kinds, damnit. Robert Anton Wilson is turning in his grave.

          1. I see you spotted the fake news.

    2. ^^^ This guy boomers

  3. But here’s the thing: After each of these scandals, the news organizations made very public, excruciatingly detailed confessions laying out their own mistakes.

    But ONLY when they get caught.
    I fact check the damn date on the Washington Post and New York Times front page. And I do not consider the NYT citing WaPo, or vise versa as citing a reliable source.

    1. What did CBS change after the Rather scandal?

      And why is the press, such as CNN, taking Rather seriously to this day after it?

      Rather himself has ALWAYS defended the TANG story, as laughable as it was.

  4. Emulate Malaysia, which has just outlawed “fake news” and authorized prison terms of up to six years for so-called offenders.

    There is a lawmaker/wannabe tyrant in Sacramento who wants to do exactly this. The whole “fake news” nonsense is an authoritarian’s wet dream.

    established media organizations work hard to get their facts right. They hate?hate, hate, hate?getting the story wrong

    LOL. Oh, you’re serious?!

    1. Yeah, that was an insane comment. I’d buy that media outlets “make mistakes” if the mistakes didn’t seem to be one-sided as badly as they are. Reporters are lazy. That Reason, who happily punctures the myth of the noble police, STILL subscribes to the noble reporter fallacy speaks poorly of them.

    2. “The whole “fake news” nonsense is an authoritarian’s wet dream.” thats why it was revamped by Hillary the biggest authoritarian there would have ever been

    3. Of course, fake news is unambiguously protected by the first amendment. Not that that will stop all authoritarians from trying.

  5. (7) If one of your older relatives shared it on facebook, there’s about a 90% chance it’s total bullshit.

    1. ? but not one of your younger relatives?? “Youth” rhymes with “truth.” Like in the Wenatchee witch hunt??

      1. Young people don’t use Facebook.

    2. (7) If one of your older relatives anyone shared it on facebook, there’s about a 90% chance it’s total bullshit.

      FTFY.

    3. If you read it on an image macro, it’s probably fake

  6. “[M]y job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” — Judith Miller

  7. “Sniffing Out Fake News Isn’t Hard”

    Then why do Palin’s Buttplug and Tony keep falling for it?

    1. Their combined IQ’s are still in the double digits?

    2. They’ve been afflicted by hihnsanity?

  8. No actually people love fake news not because they are foolish and lazy but because they are trolling the ‘above average intelligence’ people like us, the libertarians. They love to drive us completely bonkers. And they do. Which is why banning it will only have the counterproductive effect of making it even more appealing and convincing. And ironically, this article is full of fake news. E.g. antisemitism is not a “persistent virulence unto its own vile self”, it is a Zionist conspiracy. See how that works?

  9. Holy shit, Bart, 7 tips? That’s waaaaaay too much work. I’ll just go with Fist’s single tip.

    1. “I’ll just go with Fist’s single tip.”

      Said no girls, ever.

      1. We’ll see how it goes from there.

  10. (1) Know the source. Say what you will about media bias?and there will be more to say in a few paragraphs?established media organizations work hard to get their facts right. They hate?hate, hate, hate?getting the story wrong.

    1. No they just hating getting caught. As for bias, recognize it because it is ever present.

  11. I still remember the WaPo talking about how Russia hacked the Vermont electric grid. Retraction was half-hearted at best.

    I have a better option: stop reading the “news”. There’s essentially zero benefit to being up to date on the stuff, and the short-cycle stuff seems to have severe accuracy problems even beyond just what’s caused by bias.

    I’d flat-out a news site with a self-imposed ban on reporting on anything that happened less than a year ago. Would have spared me 80% of the “Russia hacked the election”, “Trump election results in hate-crime wave”, and “Your children will die from eating Tide Pods” bullshit.

    1. “I’d flat-out prefer a news site”.

    2. I could go for a background check and 10 day wait time before publication. And definitely a ban on all electronic devices being used to produce said “news”! 😉

  12. an addict who is jonesing for a fix so badly she wants to rip off her own skin and so sick from withdrawal she can hardly stand up

    an addict who has emptied her life savings to feed her addiction

    Tell the addict who has been to rehab after rehab that her problem is, she doesn’t really want to quit.

    HAHA please lecture us more about fake news, Barton.

  13. If none of the major news outlets has reported that the president is actually a space alien molesting the staff, it’s probably because he is not a space alien molesting the staff.

    FTFY.

  14. Q: How can you tell if a story is fake?

    A: You saw it on social media!

    1. A: You saw it on CNN?

  15. I have to be honest when I say, I think this is falling on mostly deaf ears. I think many of the people who could benefit from this message are interested in proving that they are correct above all else.

    1. I think many of the people who could benefit from this message are interested in proving that they are correct above all else.

      I think most people are more interested in winning than being factually correct.

  16. If it’s CNN or MSNBC, it’s not news, it’s Marxist propaganda

    1. Could be both. Propaganda isn’t necessarily fabricated.

    2. Says a committed corporate socialist who couldn’t back up his claims about CNN or MSNBC if his life depended on it.

  17. Respectable news outlets almost never sit on a big story; breaking big news is their reason for existing

    Actually, crafting a narrative is their reason for existing. So I don’t doubt for a second that they would sit on a big story that would not support the narrative.

    1. True. This article is ‘fake news’ because the purpose is to entrench existing narratives. If anything new comes out, then it must be a lie because obviously the big guys would be reporting it. Now be a good libertarian and get back to sucking the dick of the established media.

    2. Kurt Gosnell.

    3. ?.. and that’s the reason we have lots of different media outlets and news sources, some of whom will not sit on a big story.

    4. The Lewinsky scandal was broken by the Drudge Report. The John Edwards scandal was broken by the National frickin Enquirer. The press sits on big stories all the time, as long as those stories could make a Democrat look bad.

      1. That is the problem; it’s not so much factually inaccurate news [and of course that happens] but more of media choosing what to report, how much to report, and the slant in doing so. We see every day how statistics are configured so as to bolster a particular narrative, and of course what goes in to a story and what gets left out can create an entirely different take. The fourth estate doesn’t give a damn about informing, they are about persuading.

    5. That reminds me… I wonder what’s going on with that family of grifters who had full access to half the Democrats in Congress’ email before they absconded with hundreds of thousands of dollars off to… Pakistan, was it? Enh, I guess it doesn’t really matter.

      1. Enh, I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

        Well duh. They were hired by the Democratic party. Now if they had been hired by Republicans and/or Trump, then a Special counsel would be mandatory.

      2. I love it when people get called “grifters”.

  18. According to highly placed professional propagandists who wish to remain anonymous, the best fake news is so fine, so perfect, so on point, even the creators aren’t sure if they’re faking it. (source: extremelyincredibleultranewzzz.com)

  19. Brain Williams, Dan Rather disprove your number one about Trusting major media.
    wasn’t it Dan rather when found he used known fake documents about president bush was given an award he was never punished.

    1. In fact, he is now seem as some sort of expert on fake news and how to fight it. I see him popping up on Facebook and in news shows again, always represented as some journalistic icon. It is farcical.

  20. Say, didja ever notice there’s a lot of bullshit on the internet? I tellya, these kids today. Wutya gonna do?

    1. So progressive… *swoon*

  21. I get my news only from reputable sources like “A Washington Post” and “A New York Times”.

    1. LMAO. Thanx for the laugh!!!

  22. Is the news “fake” or is it mainly just the “spin?” If I report facts and line up six “experts” to comment on it, and none of the six are in opposition to any of the others, then the facts haven’t changed but the perception has.

  23. The issue is the same as it ever was. The solution has always been to treat information with a grain of salt and some due cynicism. Cynicism gets a bad rep. You don’t have to assume everyone is lying, but do assume that there are mistakes and that if you are going to repeat or base your reasoning off of a report, do some due diligence and look elsewhere for more information.

    The thing that concerns me is those that seem to believe this is a new issue, or this is in someway particularly endemic to our times. Personally, I believe it’s better. Error and bias has always existed, but traditionally there was only a handful of entrenched sources for people to get their information from. This tended to lead to very entrenched bias.

    1. The thing that concerns me is those that seem to believe this is a new issue, or this is in someway particularly endemic to our times.

      They don’t believe that; they’re just using it as a convenient excuse to push for more restrictions on free speech.

      1. I see many people in the public who seem to think so. I’m less sold that the powers that be believe it, but the populace seems to.

  24. I’m commenting on Hit & Run in order to buy sex.

    Anybody got a problem with that? I’m asking you, FOSTA/SESTA!

  25. What is to be done?

    Do what I do. Believe nothing.

  26. Wait. Are you saying Trump isn’t a space alien?

  27. If there is a science story that seems too weird, check back and you’ll probably learn that the reporters did not understand what the scientists were saying and got the entire gist of their findings wrong.

    There seems plenty if evidence that major news outlets hate getting the story wrong much less than putting forth a story that contradicts what they would like to be true, such as, say, what motivated the Pulse shooter.

  28. Solution:

    Private sector board certified journalists.

    Create a board. Have the board come up with a list of qualities to be found in respectable journalists. Certify members.

    Media outlets would fall over each other to advertise “Board Certified Journalists”. Competition takes care of the rest.

    Establish a grievance process, where the public can complain about transgressions. If found legitimate, the board pulls its certification, and hopefully, the offender loses their job.

    Free market solution

    1. Interesting… all that will be needed after that is a law forbidding the practicing of journalism without a license.

      1. Not needed. You simply can’t advertise that your crew is board certified. If you can’t and your competitor can, they gain cred and you lose it.

        No government required

        1. C’mon, just a little government… you know, to keep the fake news out.

        2. Sounds nice, but who runs the board?

          The real problem is that Americans lack critical thinking skills, and lack education in civics and economics.

          In other words, the de facto nationalization of our school system is the real problem.

          1. People would prolly pay a fee to get certified. Yearly dues. You could set yourself up in business while doing the world a great service.

    2. LOVE IT. Can we do the same with commenters? Don’t even need a grievance process. Just ban and forget about it.

      Also – thanks for not droning me today, Franky!

  29. How did the Republic ever survive the National Enquirer and the World Weekly News, purveyors of “fake news” if ever there was? These papers were strategically sold right by checkout counters in supermarkets so that their headlines could be read even by customers who didn’t buy them. My grandmother and great-aunt read these papers religiously and believed every word. Yet, somehow, American democracy survived.

    1. Did you mean Weekly World News, the parody magazine, or is World Weekly News something I’m unaware of?

  30. It’s not so much factually inaccurate news [and of course that happens] but more of media choosing what to report, how much to report, and the slant in doing so. We see every day how statistics are configured so as to bolster a particular narrative, and of course what goes in to a story and what gets left out can create an entirely different take. The fourth estate doesn’t give a damn about informing, they are about persuading.

    1. Even if they were all about informing, what you describe would still be the case. There is a practically infinite set of facts in the world, and a large numbers of sensible interpretations of the facts you choose to notice.

  31. Of course, Malaysia has just provided a much simpler way to spot fake news. Just check foreign news sites using Tor to bypass government censorship–if a story appears only on foreign sites or is different on foreign sites from what the government-approved media is reporting, the foreign version is accurate.

  32. “It is not true that the media are “out to get” one side or the other.”

    JournaList is evidence that the media is “”out to get” one side. Surely no one believes that just because the journalist on JournaList got outed, that they have changed their behavior.

  33. Fake news aside . . . If Trump walked across the Potomac the Times, Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSMBC and NPR (combined as the world’s greatest ever propaganda pump) would headline “Trump fails to swim ? violating boaters rights”.

    Seems to me the fundamental question is not one of fact, but of spin. Trump’s attackers who, for the most part, are being manipulated tend to take the “news” at face value.

    1. Yeah, when the MSM isn’t outright lying about Trump, they spin the facts to paint him in as poor of a light as possible.

      As an aside, one of my favorite lines by the media is “President Trump, without any evidence, claims…”

      Ever hear them say that about Obama? “President Obama claims, without any evidence, that health care costs will go down.”

      The news media is a joke. It is nothing but DNC propaganda, wall to wall, with Fox News making a killing by pretending to be opposition until it really matters.

      1. Yeah Trump is a Bastion of Truth
        How dare the media report when he’s lying. Or when there really isn’t any evidence to support his his claims.

        Dude you are Hannitized
        .sad.

      2. Give me two examples of the media lying about Trump.
        You’re very credibility is at stake.

  34. Before everyone piles on with “the media has an agenda that is out to get Republicans”, please note that it was the major media that:
    (1) broke the Hillary Clinton server story
    (2) broke the IRS targeting story
    (3) broke the DOJ Fast & Furious story (as far as I can recall, anyway)

    Yes they have sat on other big stories (Lewinsky, John Edwards) but it’s more complex than just “out to get Republicans”.

    1. A danger, I think, is to believe that bias is something that can be overcome, rather than it being inherent. That’s one reason you advocate for many different sources, to have variety of bias competing against each other with some hope that you can come up with a truth from it.

    2. The Fast and Furious story was broken by a couple bloggers, with the media ignoring it for months. I don’t remember who broke the other stories.

  35. Here’s one thing that is emphatically not to be done: Emulate Malaysia, which has just outlawed “fake news” and authorized prison terms of up to six years for so-called offenders.

    Okay. So that ridiculous level of thing won’t be done. We do have slander and libel laws though.

    It is quite true that we should be discerning readers. Disclosure laws can help there to some degree, including narrow ones involving foreign sources. See, e.g., disclosure requirements upheld in Citizens United.

    Using sources with a long history of validity, including some clear expertise in the field (e.g., a Reason piece refuted the opinion of a local gossip columnist on some issue … something of a waste of time), is helpful. The mass of material out there, however, is somewhat overwhelming. And, the average reader is not going to be able to research each and every thing — there is a limit to even the well read person’s abilities there.

    This provides a value to individuals and groups that provide an oversight function. Thus, e.g., local papers with editors are helpful even in this era of “cheap speech” — see, e.g., a recent article by Rick Hasen on that topic.

    1. ETA: The Reason tease: “Sniffing Out Fake News Isn’t Hard: New at Reason Asking the government to decide is definitely not the answer.” When you click on, “isn’t hard” is not part of the title.

      Misleading clickbait — putting aside if this is an example — is something to watch out for. People have just so much time & glance over articles, often the title and maybe the first paragraph or so. The discerning reader would best read the whole thing or at least skim the whole thing. Often an article is deeper than the simplistic summary put out there.

  36. So, I’m supposed to check sources and investigate so I can know that news is real? So what you’re telling me is, I should quit my job and become a reporter because I can’t trust the fuckin’ reporters to report.

    Who the hell has time for this shit? This is why I’ve withdrawn from almost all the news I had been consuming. I don’t have time to fact check every goddamn thing I read, see, and hear. It was becoming a full-time job.

    Now I just try to enjoy life and that plan seems to be bearing fruit because I’m much happier not consuming everyone’s propaganda all the time and trying to figure out what’s true.

    1. So, I’m supposed to check sources and investigate so I can know that news is real? So what you’re telling me is, I should quit my job and become a reporter because I can’t trust the fuckin’ reporters to report.

      Yes, if you are going to base something off of it, do due diligence. This has always been true. Most of the time the news is merely entertainment though, so if you don’t find it entertaining, ignore it.

      1. You mean like discussing or debating the news of the day with anyone? Yeah, I guess I can sneak away from the water cooler at work to do my own investigative journalism before I unintentionally pass along the fake news.

  37. You can read the Deerfield Assault Weapons ban and see the exemption for .22 caliber tube fed rifles and then not write an article about how your peashooter is now banned in Deerfield.

    1. Corey you are Fake News.

      If you read the article again you may detect that the Deerfield Assault Weapons ban limited magazines to 10 rounds.

      The ‘peashooter’ in question has a stated capacity of 14 rounds, and hence is banned.

      Well done you provided further evidence for the article; or are you now going to allege that the rifle in question as a lower capacity.

  38. A Gallup-Knight Foundation survey recently found that 42 percent of Republicans, and 17 percent of Democrats, consider accurate but unflattering articles “fake news.” This is a classic case of confirmation bias: the tendency to reject information that challenges our established beliefs.

    Sometimes the confirmation bias is found in the study. What is “accurate”?

    1. People with the truth on their side don’t need to go around asking what truth is.

      1. The fact that you say that un-ironically says everything anyone needs to know about you.

  39. (1) Know the source. Say what you will about media bias?and there will be more to say in a few paragraphs?established media organizations work hard to propagandize for their chosen position. They hate the idea that facts exist that refute it.

    (2) Check the sources. Media lies and will often ‘cite’ themselves or ‘sources that are biased at best and much more usuaklly wildly partisan.

    (3) Investigate. If you can’t find multiple unrelated sources, it’s going to be something the MSM made up.

    con’t

  40. con’t

    (4) There are not two (or more) ‘sides’ if you’re reading facts. The entire ‘both sides’ thing is a way to slip commentary and opinion in as fact. Look for as many sources as you can get, from all the media biases offered, look for unrelated sources. The facts will be the things the MSM decries.
    See this–

    For instance, shortly after Donald Trump was inaugurated, The New York Times ran a series of prominent stories about the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, linking them to the political tenor of the day. But as Commentary’s Seth Mandel, Algemeiner’s Ira Stoll, and others pointed out, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries is nothing new. Yet The Times largely ignored or downplayed it until January, 2017?leaving the dangerous impression that anti-Semitism is contingent on U.S. presidential politics, rather than a persistent virulence unto its own vile self.

    It’s a fake indictment of the MSM. It leaves out the most important part of the story. The perpetrator was, himself, jewish and was doing this because he knew the effect it would have. Instead, they try to avoid mentioning that by trying to look like they’re pointing out that attacking jews pre-dates Trump, so it’s not just his fault.

    See how that works?

    con’t

    1. 5) Watch out for “news” sources that claim they are the ones you can trust. They’ll show you how to recognize ‘fake news’. They’re trying to trick you into accepting them as valid after their repeated publically exposed lies.

      6) Watch all the bias. The media are “out to get” the side that’s refuting them–whoever it is. Don’t believe that their bias is towards drama. If it bleeds in a way that helps anyone but them, it gets buried.

      The most important thing to remember is that this is media, that the writers bias is to protect their own first. That principles are written in sand if you’re a journalist.

  41. Not so fake news:
    FBI raids the office of Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen

    This is what happens with no P.M. Links.

  42. Barton needs a reality check on his sources of sources.
    Scientific American is about as politically and polemically disinterested as The Nation or The Guardian, and The Atlantic has sunk under the thumb of David “Axis of Evil” Frum.

  43. Really easy….if it’s on TV, it’s a lie (not telling the whole truth is as good as a lie), if it comes from the government, it’s a lie.

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