Political Ignorance

Why the Demand for Fake News is a Far More Serious Problem than the Supply

Canadian columnist Andrew Coyne explains why efforts to combat fake news by cutting off supply are barking up the wrong tree.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Since the 2016 election, there has been widespread concern about "fake news" and many proposals to combat it by constraining the supply, particularly that from foreign sources, such as the hostile authoritarian regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Fake news is a genuine problem and Putin really is a ruthless enemy of western liberalism and democracy that western nations should do more to counter. But Canadian columnist Andrew Coyne has a valuable critique of claims that we can overcome the problem by regulating the supply of fake news:

I have an urgent warning for the people of Canada. Even now, certain agents are plotting to influence the result of the next election campaign by means of stealth and deception.

Posing as ordinary Canadians, they plan to use social media to spread falsehoods designed to inflame public opinion, using the latest micro-targeting technologies to tailor their messages to the reader's particular fears and prejudices.

These agents are better known as the political parties….

No one disputes that Russia, China and others have interfered or attempted to interfere in recent elections around the world, notably in the election that gave us Trump (okay, Trump still disputes it)… But the impact of "fake news"…. is more debatable….

I don't want to say that "fake news" doesn't matter. But to the extent that it matters, it would appear the problem is less the supply than the demand: the willingness, indeed the desire of large numbers of people to believe transparent falsehoods. But then, without it what becomes of politics?

What is true of Canada is even more true for the United States: The fake news generated by Russian and other foreign plants is trivial compared to that produced by our own political parties and their homegrown partisan and activist allies. John Sides, Michael Tesler, Lynn Vavreck's new book Identity Crisis, the most thorough social science analysis of the 2016 election, concludes that the impact of Russian-generated fake news was virtually undetectable in the data, and certainly trivial compared to that of homegrown misinformation, xenophobic attitudes and partisan polarization, which helped Trump eke out a narrow victory.

And, as Coyne points out, our own political parties routinely spread politically potent misinformation on a far larger and more effective scale than foreign-generated bots do. That was certainly true of Donald Trump's campaign, which relied extensively on bogus claims about immigration and trade. But while Trump is particularly brazen in his lies and deceptions, conventional politicians also routinely use such tactics, even if more subtly and less indiscriminately. It's hard to point to any one lie told by Trump that was as successful as Barack Obama's "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it," a deserving winner of Politifact's 2013 "Lie of the Year" award. I would be happy to see Trump removed from office. But we should not imagine that the problem of political disinformation is limited to him and his supporters, or that it is mainly caused by Russian plants infiltrating pir otherwise largely pure and wholesome political environment.

Indeed, Coyne's best insight is that the true root of the problem is not the supply of fake news, but the demand for it. In a relatively free society, there will always be people willing to spread lies and disinformation. The real danger is that so many people are willing to consume such material—and eagerly believe it when they do. If not for such avid consumers, political misinformation would cause little, if any, harm.

Part of the reason why many people are susceptible to deceptions and "fake news" is widespread public ignorance. Most voters know very little about government and public policy, in large part because itis actually rational for them to devote no more than a small fraction of their time to following political issues. Since an individual vote has only an infinitesimally small chance of influencing electoral outcomes, it makes little sense for most citizens to spend substantial time and effort learning about politics in order to become better voters. Unfortunately, such individually rational voter behavior can cause harmful collective outcomes. People who know very little about political issues are, by virtue of that ignorance, more susceptible to misinformation. Politicians and interest groups are well aware of this vulnerability, and routinely exploit it.

But the problem here goes beyond simple ignorance. As Coyne suggests, many people are actively eager to believe dubious claims, so long as doing so confirms their preexisting views. Particularly in our current environment of severe political polarization, partisans often act not as truth-seekers, but as "political fans" eager to endorse anything that supports their position or casts the opposing party and its supporters in a bad light. These biases affect not only ordinary voters, but also otherwise highly knowledgeable ones, and even policymakers and politicians. This helps explain why many people eagerly consume crude misinformation, without giving careful thought to the validity of the claims made.

There is no easy solution to these problems. Individual voters can do a lot to better inform themselves and curb their biases. But I am skeptical that many will do anytime soon. In my view, the better approach is systematic reform to limit and decentralize the power of government, so as to reduce the potential harm caused by voter ignorance and bias. There are a variety of other possible solutions, as well. Regardless, the beginning of wisdom on the issue of fake news is to recognize—as Andrew Coyne does—that the root of the problem is demand, not supply. And as long as the demand remains high, there will be plenty of willing suppliers.

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107 responses to “Why the Demand for Fake News is a Far More Serious Problem than the Supply

  1. Ok, hold it.

    All news media are biased. Always have been, always will be. Even the sources I agree with. The idea that the Media could be UN-biased is an absurdity sold to us by the Progressive/Left as they took over the majority of the Media and spread THEIR bias. I have spent too goddamned much of my life listening to non-left people whine about ‘bias in the Media’.

    Newspapers started as political broadsides, and never got far from their roots.

    The point is that people who disagree with the dominant narrative need to stop whining and work to get their own biases before the public.

    1. The point is that people who disagree with the dominant narrative need to stop whining and work to get their own biases before the public.

      Absolutely. But Somin’s point is that there is one “correct:” narrative, which is of course always in concert with his opinions, that everyone must embrace or else be “uninformed”. The rise of “fake news” is mostly the rise of views that people like Somin don’t like and would prefer not get a hearing. Somin didn’t get the memo about it being a free country or ever considered the possibility that the dissenters could be right in some cases.

      1. Somin is a captured example of the study. He still thinks the travel ban was solely about religion despite the glaring example of Iraq being removed for increased security and not decreased Muslim numbers. Somin is on of the ignorant voters he trails against.

        1. Geez. The travel ban was a sop to Trump’s base. Through the election season he repeatedly gushed to supporters he would keep Muslims out of the country. After the election, his base was rewarded with a travel ban justified as an “emergency measure” while more stringent vetting was researched and implemented. There was actually a period of months specified for this process.

          Yet following the first court holds, nothing was done about this vetting process for months, the alleged emergency notwithstanding. Why? Because the ban itself was the point, not its supposed reason. It was mere theater for his base – unconnected to need – which explains why it covers zero countries whose citizens have committed terrorist acts in the US.

          Look : We get it – Trump can lie to you with impunity and you swallow his crap like it’s Michelin Guide three-star dining. Just spare us the faux outrage when others won’t gobble away besides you.

      2. It’s a free country so no one should tell you you’re wrong?

    2. In other words:

      Getting flicked on the wrist hurts.

      So does getting hit with a crowbar.

      Therefore, they must be the same thing!

    3. In other words:

      Getting flicked on the wrist hurts.

      So does getting hit with a crowbar.

      Therefore, they must be the same thing!

  2. “The answer is to….”

    Among other things, support a contrarian and divided government that will be intensely scrutinized by the media. The best thing about the Trump presidency is that the media intensely scrutinizes everything to the point of exhaustion, as opposed to just cheerleading.

    1. But since the contrast between how they treated Obama and Trump is so obvious, they have no credibility no matter how hard they scrutinize Trump. All but the most dedicated of partisans just tune it out. Obama was dangerous because there was nothing he could have done that would not have been ignored or excused by the media. Trump is dangerous because the media has so destroyed itself that there is nothing he could do that the country would believe happened.

      1. John,
        That’s ridiculous. They treat Trump differently than they treated Obama, Bush, Bush, Clinton, and Reagan is because Trump is, himself, so different from prior presidents. Hell, he’s surrounded himself with more crooks than Nixon. And we’ve never had a president that lies pathologically. OF COURSE media should make note of this.

        You sound like the sort of person who would whine, “Stalin gets so much worse press than Mother Theresa. That’s proof of media bias.” I’d argue that Stalin is a much (much much much much) worse person, and therefore deserves every iota of bad press. And Mother Theresa is not perfect, but is actually a very very very good person, and therefore deserves her 99.34% positive media coverage.

        You see the disparity of negative coverage as evidence of something sinister. I see it as evidence that the press are actually trying to do their jobs and are pointing out when the emperor is taking a stroll around the Rose Garden sans pants.

        1. You sound like you didn’t take your meds this week. They treat Trump exactly like they treated both Bushes and Reagan before him. The media accused Bush of trying to kill black people in New Orleans during Katrina and said that he invaded Iraq to make Haliburton rich and too many other absurd lies to list here.

          And yes, rank partisans like yourself will believe anything about Trump and thus believe anything the media tells you about him. But you never voted for Trump. So, convincing you means nothing. Everyone outside of your bubble, sees it for what it is and just pays no attention. You may think that no one notices that the Media never once cared or said boo about Obama’s travel budget and now obsesses over it with Trump, but they do. The media is utterly powerless against Trump. All they can do is generate clicks and ad revenue by preaching to the shrinking numbers of the faithful.

          1. You should not lie, John. Trump was one of the only two candidates that I financially supported (along with Ted Cruz in the primary). And I did vote for him in the primary. By the final election, his racism and lies pushed me away, and I did my customary throwaway write-in vote for John Huntsman (an incredibly qualified man to be president, even though I disagree with him on a score of social issues).

            I am also a registered Republican, and on most of the non-social areas I think Rs are much closer to my views than the Ds. (Except for gun rights, I am pretty firmly aligned with conservatives, although not with the NRA).

            When you confidently assume you know whom someone voted for, you risk looking like an idiot.

            1. Democratic media outlets routinely pick a Republican primary candidate they think might plausibly win the primary, but lose the general election. Then they support them until they’ve secured the nomination, and once that is accomplished, turn on them. Both stages in this process are intended to elect the Democrat. And, following this pattern, Democratic media outlets did boost Trump, then turn on him after the nomination was his.

              Personally, I’m willing to believe what you’re saying, but, “I support a Republican primary candidate until they get the nomination, and then vote for somebody else.” doesn’t really demonstrate that you’re a Republican. It’s exactly what Democrats typically do.

              I’m curious what caused you to change your opinion of Trump after he got the nomination. I didn’t notice any change in his campaign stances.

              1. Democratic media outlets routinely pick a Republican primary candidate they think might plausibly win the primary, but lose the general election.

                You always posit patterns and agendas due to secret liberal plotting. As I recall, in 2015-16 every GOP candidate got a moment in the spotlight congruent with their star rising in the polls.

                1. This isn’t positing patterns, it’s refusing to avoid noticing them. It’s not a new observation about the way the Democratic media operate, and it isn’t original to me. Multiple academic studies of media behavior have confirmed it.

                  The Democratic media pick somebody in the Republican primaries, promote them until they have the nomination, and then as soon as they have a lock on it, turn hostile.

                  The amusing thing is that people like McCain and Romney persist in being surprised by it.

                  1. Multiple academic studies of media behavior have confirmed it.
                    Do I understand you correctly that there are multiple studies supporting the idea that the media picks GOP losers to focus on? That sounds like a pretty difficult study to appropriately metric since who is a loser is vastly more clear in hindsight than foresight.

                    Humans are great at finding patters, especially if they have a narrative they already fervently believe in. But you are consistently the best human on this website at finding them ascribing them to a level of hidden liberal coordination I wouldn’t suspect humans were capable of.

            2. “By the final election, his racism and lies pushed me away”

              His racism? What pray tell made you believe he is a racist? His awards from Jesse Jackson for hiring and promoting minorities in his business’ perhaps? Oh I know, his determination to make illegal immigration stop. pfft (because there CAN”T be any other motive for trying to enforce the law)

              Man, YOU have progressive dog whistles going like cheers at a ball game.

              I get the lying accusation, although I see it more as the constant exaggeration and braggadocios he employed as a developer continued into politics.

              You are registered Republican (I am not) yet, you “did my customary throwaway write-in vote for John Huntsman”? So, if you are not going to vote for Republicans, why would you register as one? Maybe you are just stupid, or maybe you are a progressive who registers as a Republican to disrupt primaries, or maybe you made all of it up, who knows.

              I call bullshit.

              1. This is great.

                Anyone who says they changed their mind about Trump due to racism is lying?

                Also, if you register as a Republican you have to vote for the Republican in the general, or else you are lying about that as well!

                People do lie on the Internet about this kind of stuff all the time, but your evidence seems to be just that you don’t like the implication.

                1. santamonica811 refers to ” my customary throwaway write-in vote ”

                  Wouldn’t you think a Republican’s customary vote in the general election would be for Republicans? I could see a Republican voting for somebody other than Trump as a protest, but if you’re customarily voting for some other party, just to avoid voting Republican, it sounds like your problem isn’t with Trump, it’s with Republicans.

                  1. Gotta get invited to all the cocktail parties.

                    Party X: Yeah, I voted for Dem. candidate Smith.

                    Party Y: Yeah, I’m a Republican.

                2. And I’m a bit dubious about somebody who says they supported Trump in the primaries, and then changed their mind in the general because of racism.

                  Because they weren’t different guys. The general election Trump was the primary election Trump; Why wouldn’t you find him offensive, or acceptable, at both stages?

                  The whole “Trump racist!” line isn’t the sort of thing somebody attracted to Trump over the other Republican candidates would normally take serious anyway. The basis for claiming him racist is stuff that only Democrats take seriously, and even then only if the topic is a Republican.

                  1. “And I’m a bit dubious about somebody who says they supported Trump in the primaries, and then changed their mind in the general because of racism.

                    Because they weren’t different guys”

                    Yes, this does seem a pretty big stretch.

                    For the record, I voted for a different Republican in the primary and then voted for Gary Johnson in the general. Because Trump consistently sucked. However, I didn’t see any sign that he was particularly a racist. He was clearly against letting illegal immigrants and terrorist in to the country. I don’t recall him making any public exceptions because they were white.

              2. MJ,
                John Huntsman IS a republican. You did know that, right?

                Trump was the big runner of the “Obama is not a real American.” Anyone with an IQ north of 80 who believed it for more than 5 minutes is, IMO, a racist.

                Trump made a notation for decades on housing applications to signify who was ‘colored’ and who was not. I consider that racist…you clearly do not.

                Trump made a bunch of anti-Latino comments. Including, but not limited to, ones relating to a highly-respected federal judge. So appalling that Trump was called out as racist by Paul Ryan. Yes, the lifelong, deeply deeply conservative Republican hero, the same one who had been raised as a possible future presidential candidate. But in your world-view, I guess that when Ryan had the integrity and honesty to call a spade a spade, Ryan suddenly also lost his right to call himself a Republican. Do you hear yourself talking?

                I am registered as a Rep because I end up voting for Rs much more than I vote for Libertarians, and much more than I end up voting for Ds. Since I live in California, I have the luxury of voting in each election for the best person…I never have the pleasure or the burden of having to vote for the least-objectionable alternative.

                . . . [cont]. . .

                1. . . . [cont] . . .

                  …I think Trump has done a bunch of good things. (Most importantly, rubberstamping judicial picks that the Federalist Society has pre-approved for him, and having Mitch McC jam them through in the Senate. But also renegotiating some trade deals.) But it’s posters like you that have me totally bemused. How is it possible that people are NOT bothered by incessant lies? Trump promised to hire only the very best. But, very very often, he did not do this. Why can’t every true conservative (and every liberal, independent, and apolitical) point this out?

                  When our president does something really appalling, or when he says something really out there, each one of us should feel good about pointing it out. And we should applaud the various media for also pointing it out. If a side-effect is that it hurts snowflake Trump’s feelings…I could not give a crap about that. (And, 2/6 years from now, if there is a President Warren, I will not give a crap about her hurt feelings, if she lies about, say, her tax policy, is caught, and is then mocked for her dishonesty.)

                2. “Trump made a notation for decades on housing applications to signify who was ‘colored’ and who was not. I consider that racist…you clearly do not.”

                  What, he personally did that?

                  The guy runs a multi-billion dollar business empire. I’m getting kind of tired of the pretense that he’s personally responsible for every single thing anybody working for that empire does.

                  1. The buck stops anywhere but Trump.

                    1. Black unemployment under Trump’s administration is the lowest it has ever been. Trump is a lousy racist.

        2. Your comments get less and less intelligent sm. Deranged?

          Surrounded by criminals… as compared to the Clinton’s? The fact that you dont see disparate treatment shows your partisan bias. It is glaring. Every study done confirms it. Even articles on the economy are more negative than they were under Obama despite higher growth, higher consumer confidence, lower unemployment, and higher wage growth. This fact alone shows you are either full of shit or ignorant. Possibly both.

          1. Wow, Jesse,
            You believe that when you stack up the indictments and investigations of people in Bill Clinton’s orbit the first 2 years of his presidency vs the number for people in Trump’s orbit in his first 2 years, that Clinton comes out looking worse?!?

            The mind boggles. I don’t think you’re deranged. I do think you’ve likely had a stroke or something to that effect . . . I can’t think of more likely explanation.

            1. Actually, that does make Clinton look worse: He engaged in systematic obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, suborning perjury, while Trump allows the Mueller probe to grind on, sucking up people who dared to work for his campaign and destroying them for often specious reasons.

              Look, an entirely honest administration is damned near impossible to assemble, if you have to hire people from the DC swamp. A very low number of indictments is a measure of the extent to which the administration has corrupted the justice system, not of administration honesty.

              1. The Clinton Admin’s lack of indictments show he’s just better at corrupting the system than Trump!

                You’ve created a law of nature – any fact or absence of fact shows that the Clintons are bad.

                1. Do you maybe recall how the Rose law firm billing records, under subpoena for months, magically appeared on a table in the map room a couple days after the statute of limitations expired?

                  Refusing to comply with a subpoena until you’re protected by the statute of limitations doesn’t imply innocence. You do understand that, don’t you?

                  Do you recall how the only reason Clinton was proven to have perjured himself, was that his attempt to obtain and destroy that blue dress failed? Other than that it was all destruction of evidence and subornation of perjury. He was one more destroyed piece of evidence away from you claiming he wasn’t lying on the witness stand.

                  Innocence and successful obstruction of justice aren’t the same thing, and it quite obvious that the Clinton administration was a case of the latter.

                  The contrasts between the Clinton and Trump administrations in this regard are huge.

                  1. God a’mercy….we’re back to the Rose billing records, for goodness sake. Well Brett, maybe you can recall that those Rose billing records (after they “magically appeared on a table in the map room a couple days after the statute of limitations expired”) matched Ms Clinton’s testimony exactly, providing no evidence of wrong-doing whatsoever.

                    It’s a common mistake of your tin-foil-hat conspiracy-mongering-type. Somehow the front half of an elaborate theory of evil never continues to any rational end. In this case, the dangerous top-secret files merely proved Hillary testified truthfully.

                    So you’re left with the blue dress? Aren’t you the least bit embarrassed about that?

                2. “Clintons are bad”

                  Yes.

            2. He stated facts, all the studies show exactly what he said.

              It always fascinates me, that Trump’s election, business associates, and everyone else are being investigated to the nth degree, but despite the stench associated with Bill Clinton’s use of Arkansas troopers to arrange his sexual liaisons, the repeated charges of rape and harassment, the actions of associates AND HIS WIFE to cover up for him, and later the quid pro quo of the Clinton foundations, the investigations were either derailed, or narrow.

              The Mueller investigation has spread far and wide … far more so than Ken Starr’s, and you might recall the Democrats being furious about how far Ken Starr’s went. And even then, Clinton got caught in perjury, paid a fine, surrendered his law license, all under a judge he appointed. (I am just guessing that surprised him, the fix was supposed to be in I bet) So far, Trumps associates are in trouble for “process crimes” or for crimes having nothing to do with Trump or his election, and mostly predating the election by years.

              So yes, in EVERY way, Trump is being investigated much more, for much less, than Bill Clinton was. It is perfectly ok to say that Trump is being investigated properly and Clinton should have been investigated in the same way. To deny that Trump is being investigated more, for less, is just partisanship.

              1. all the studies…?

                Clinton defended himself in court using the tactics he had available. That does not imply guilt. Brett has some pretty firm conclusions about the Clintons and uses that to boostrap his way into a conspiracy because not everyone agrees with his conclusions.

                Your feelings about how wide the Mueller investigation is compared to the Starr investigation are likewise not facts.

                My opinion differs – looks to me like Trump is being investigated because he managed to be shadier than the Clintons. Which I will admit is saying something.

                Of course I agree with my take, which makes it fact to me in EVERY way. Which means that to disagree with me is just partisanship!

                1. “Clinton defended himself in court using the tactics he had available.”

                  Not restricting himself to the tactics which were legally available. The “available” tactics he used were destruction of evidence, perjury, and subornation of perjury.

                  Innocent people don’t need to destroy evidence and perjure themselves to defend themselves in court. Because, being innocent, the evidence and honest testimony demonstrate their innocence.

        3. “And we’ve never had a president that lies pathologically. ”

          Sure, sure.

          1. Well, name another president who lied as much, as consistently, as compulsively.

            Tell ya what, I’ll make it easy for you : Name another president who could tell such a brazen unnecessarily and obvious lie as Trump’s claim he got the majority of the presidential vote. Or that his inauguration was the largest ever.

            DJT is unique in that he lies about big things & small things, weighty concerns of state & trivialities nobody would notice without his untruthful babble, for tactical advantage & from needy insecurity. Trump lies when he’s boasting; he lies when he’s afraid; he lies reflexively, just as a matter of habit.

            And let’s not forget the numbers he racks-up. Your average Clinton may prevaricate occasionally, but more lies spew from Trump’s mouth over a fortnight than a Clinton could manage in a year.

            1. GRB,
              And that’s why I intentionally used the term ‘pathological.’ I firmly believe that all politicians lie. Some more than others. But non-crazy pols lie when there is a tangible benefit to doing so. A rational person looks at the possible benefit of lying, the potential downside of being caught, and the actual costs if you are indeed caught. So, Bill Clinton lying about having sex? That made perfect sense to me. Big benefit to lying. Big cost to being caught. But (I have to assume that he had no idea about the semen on the dress) almost a zero chance of being caught, as long as he kept to his story.

              Obviously, his calculation was wrong.

              Clinton also (IMO) lied about smoking pot, but “not inhaling.” Small benefit to lying. Small downside if caught. Almost zero chance if a lie being proven.

              If Trump *did* collude in some way with Russia, then of course it makes sense for him to lie about it. Huge benefit to the lie, HUGE downside if caught. And–so far–we have no idea what evidence might or might not exist to catch him.

              …[cont]…

              1. …[cont]…
                … But why on earth lie about the size of your crowd at your inauguration? Tiny benefit (zero benefit??) to lying. Small but real cost. And a 100% chance that the lie would be exposed. Usually I am pretty good at being able to figure out why someone lies…it’s what I do in a courtroom almost every day. But Trump’s motivation here was simply baffling.

                And there have been dozens of similar examples, where you just scratch your head and say, “How does any person think she’ll/he’ll get away with that? Anyone with Google can fact-check that in 15 seconds.”

                I am no longer a psychologist. Trump is not my patient, of course. But his comfort with effortlessly telling obvious untruths is pretty troubling. To me, anyway.

                1. The term for what Trump does is “braggadocio”; I find it offensive, but while technically lying, it’s not the sort of lie you expect people to believe, it’s just absurd bragging.

                  It’s not at all like Obama lying about people being able to keep their insurance, or about what caused one of our embassies to be attacked. Those sort of lies are a lot more serious, they’re a deliberate effort to convince people of untruths so that they will act on them. And, worse, Obama actually had somebody jailed in order to lend plausibility to the lie.

                  Rather like the Clinton’s accusing Billy Dale of embezzlement, just to have an excuse to fire the travel office staff and do some patronage hiring.

                  Still less is it analogous to Clinton’s perjuries, committed under oath to lead a judicial proceeding astray.

                  Lies come in in lesser and greater forms. Trump tells a lot of whoppers, but they tend to be inconsequential whoppers. I wish he’d stop anyway, but I’m not going to pretend it’s the same as deceiving an entire nation about the consequences of a major piece of legislation.

                  1. Are you for real?
                    Let’s review just a few of Trump’s lies :

                    (1) Massive tax cuts ? the promises ran as high as 10 trillion dollars ? while eliminating the deficit by “vigorously eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government, ending redundant government programs and growing the economy to increase tax revenues”, plus cutting the budget by 20 percent thru his keen negotiation skill. He also promised on multiple occasions to raise taxes on people as wealthy as himself.

                    (2) Growing the nation’s economy by at least 6 percent yearly.

                    (3) Deporting all estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the US

                    (4) Maintaining troops in Afghanistan because it’s such “a mess.”

                    (5) Mexico will pay for the wall

                    (6) Multiple lobbying bans on former federal employees or members of Congress

                    (7) An ACA replacement promising (a) Insurance for everyone, (b) No cuts to Medicaid, (c) No one losing coverage, (d) No one worse off financially

                    All of these are solid campaign commitments. All are easily the equal of Obama’s coverage promise. All are lies. And I could easily come up another long list, and another. Neither Obama or Clinton made anywhere near the extravagant campaign lies as Trump.

        4. Notice how the Washington Post sat on the accusations of rape against VA Lt Gov. Fairfax while at the exact same time running the much less believable accusations against Kavanaugh.

          By the way, Mother Theresa is an excellent example of PR: She believed that suffering was Godly, and so she denied painkillers to the people she treated, keeping them alive in pain and agony for longer in order to bring them closer to God. She was also an extreme racist and classist.

          But she had a good media coverage, so people like you think she was a “very very very good person, and [who] deserves her 99.34% positive media coverage.”

          1. Going by memory here, but wasn’t this the case :

            (1) The Washington Post ran accounts of accusations against Kavanaugh when they were introduced into the public debate by another party.

            (2) The Washington Post ran accounts of accusations against Fairfax when they were introduced into the public debate by another party.

            Sorry to rain on your Partisan Talking Point Parade, but it seems like the WaPo treated both stories exactly the same. Maybe Fox, Breibart, or your favorite radio talk show host fed you a heap’n spoonful of bull-(expletive) ???

  3. I would say people calling anything they disagree with “fake news” and a “lie” is a bigger problem than lying. Somin does this sort of thing all of the time. Trump’s claim that trade deficits are bad for the economy is an opinion that Somin doesn’t like. It is not a lie or fake news. The article Somin links to refers to it as a lie because Somin isn’t interested in defending his positions on trade and instead just appeals to authority and calls his opponent a liar, rendering it unnecessary to defend his position.

    Our problem is not fake news. Our problem is people taking value judgements like something being better or worse for the economy and treating them as facts. This is how we argue now. We just declare the other person’s opinions and interests to be illegitimate and our opinions to be factual and beyond question and call it a day. Most of what is called “fake news” is just something the speaker doesn’t like but is too lazy or dishonest to actually refute.

    1. Agree with this point. I think Trump has, falsely, labeled opinions he does not like as “fake news” in the hundreds of times. And one of the things he’s sorta known for doing. And it’s worth us pointing out that him doing so is sort of like lying.

      (If Somin does the same thing; of course it should be pointed out and criticized.)

      1. Yes Trump is guilty of all sins. He is the devil incarnate. He is Hitler. The only thing worse than Trump is his deplorable supporters.

        Yes, you hate Trump. You have sufficiently virtue signaled for the evening.

        1. You swallow, enjoy, and promote Trump’s falsehoods and misconduct. You have sufficiently virtue signaled — to the disaffected, retrograde Trump fans — enough for a lifetime.

          1. Rev,

            No amount of posing is going to convince anyone that you are upper class or anything but a backwoods 8th grade drop out. Posing and virtue signaling only goes so far.

      2. Sure he has, but the only reason it works is because the media is regularly pumping out fake news and then attempting to defend it to the death. See Covington brouhaha and Kavanaugh hearings. Not to mention their momory-holed dalliance with Avenatti.

      3. Logic is a powerful thing, let’s try some.

        If the newspaper publishes as FACT that Trump’s trade policies will do thus and so, is publishing OPINION as FACT not lying? If the “news” being published is in this way a lie, is calling it “fake news” (a term I dislike as is emotionally laden) not correct?

        Let’s go a bit further, (and this applies to more than Trump of course) when a newspaper publishes accusations that have not been verified as facts, is that not lying as well? Once again, is calling that “fake news” not essentially correct?

        I dislike the “fake news” label, but the major media have earned that label by the actions they have taken and continue to take. The absurdity of that is the more they are accused of being fake news, the more reckless the have been in their actions and the more strident in claiming they are indispensible , virtuous, neutral, honest, and fair. All of which reminds me of the old truism, “the first step toward getting out of a hole is to stop digging”.

        1. “All of which reminds me of the old truism, “the first step toward getting out of a hole is to stop digging”.”

          When you have an asset that is declining in value regardless of what you do, like a bank account in an inflating currency, the smart thing is to spend it before it becomes totally valueless.

          In the case of the media, the asset is their credibility, and they’re spending it to achieve political influence, and it makes sense for them to do so even if doing it costs them further credibility, because that asset is declining anyway, and the longer they wait, the less they have to spend.

          From their perspective, if they’re successful enough at influencing politics, they won’t need the credibility anymore; They’re aspiring to become state run media in truth, they expect the government they elect to prop them up. Once that happens, who cares if the people believe them? They’re set anyway.

        2. MJ,
          Can you give an example or two of what you’re talking about? I can think of dozens or articles that have analyzed what will be the result of Trump’s foreign deals (or his Sup. Ct picks, or his executive orders, etc). But all of these, in my experience, are clearly written as telling the reader, “This is the likely result” or “This is the possible result” or “One risk about Doing X is that____” In other words, it’s really clear that the writer is expressing an opinion. I am a pretty regular reader of the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, etc., and I do not recall seeing what you have seen yourself.

          Do you have links to articles where people give opinions but mask them as making purely factual claims? I’m sure they exist if you recall reading them. But it would be helpful if you have one or two working links, so we can see the actual words.

          (Yes, if someone is pretending to give pure facts but is actually giving only an opinion, I think that would come close to being “fake news.” It certainly would be dishonest news, even if not fake.)

  4. Particularly in our current environment of severe political polarization, partisans often act not as truth-seekers, but as “political fans” eager to endorse anything that supports their position or casts the opposing party and its supporters in a bad light. These biases affect not only ordinary voters, but also otherwise highly knowledgeable ones, and even policymakers and politicians. This helps explain why many people eagerly consume crude misinformation, without giving careful thought to the validity of the claims made.

    The arrogance and complete lack of self awareness of that passage is astounding. Everyone but the author is out there consuming crude misinformation. Somin is one of the higher beings who is above that sort of thing. He would never consider something he doesn’t like or that doesn’t confirm his prejudices to be “misinformation”. And he of course has perfect access to the truth and always knows what is “misinformation” for the boobs and what the real truth is.

  5. Particularly in our current environment of severe political polarization, partisans often act not as truth-seekers, but as “political fans” eager to endorse anything that supports their position or casts the opposing party and its supporters in a bad light. These biases affect not only ordinary voters, but also otherwise highly knowledgeable ones, and even policymakers and politicians. This helps explain why many people eagerly consume crude misinformation, without giving careful thought to the validity of the claims made.

    The arrogance and complete lack of self awareness of that passage is astounding. Everyone but the author is out there consuming crude misinformation. Somin is one of the higher beings who is above that sort of thing. He would never consider something he doesn’t like or that doesn’t confirm his prejudices to be “misinformation”. And he of course has perfect access to the truth and always knows what is “misinformation” for the boobs and what the real truth is.

  6. Particularly in our current environment of severe political polarization, partisans often act not as truth-seekers, but as “political fans” eager to endorse anything that supports their position or casts the opposing party and its supporters in a bad light. These biases affect not only ordinary voters, but also otherwise highly knowledgeable ones, and even policymakers and politicians. This helps explain why many people eagerly consume crude misinformation, without giving careful thought to the validity of the claims made.

    The arrogance and complete lack of self awareness of that passage is astounding. Everyone but the author is out there consuming crude misinformation. Somin is one of the higher beings who is above that sort of thing. He would never consider something he doesn’t like or that doesn’t confirm his prejudices to be “misinformation”. And he of course has perfect access to the truth and always knows what is “misinformation” for the boobs and what the real truth is.

    1. Apparently the squirrels agree.

  7. I think a lot of people will take the threat of ‘fake news’ over the danger of a monopoly of state/establishment sanctioned ‘news’ they want to impose on us to combat this so called problem that didn’t exist until Trump won.

    1. It’s not the threat of fake news Prof. Somin is talking about – it’s the actual fake news.

      So unless you want to argue ‘I prefer being straight-up lied to when I agree with it’ I don’t know see how you figure.

      1. Define “Fake news” first.
        Somin regularly labels as fake news stuff he simply doesn’t agree with, even when they are factually correct.

        Of course, he also regularly misrepresents or flat out lies about what his cites and sources say, so he may have more trouble with understanding ‘fake news’ than most people.

        1. Toranth,
          Can you give one or two specific examples of Somin doing this? That would be helpful information for us.

  8. “People who know very little about political issues are, by virtue of that ignorance, more susceptible to misinformation.”

    One could also plausibly argue that by virtue of their political ignorance American voters are less susceptible to increasingly sophisticated attempts at propaganda, deepfake videos, etc. One has to be paying attention in order to be fooled.

  9. The last 72 hrs have set my brain on fire with questions like:

    1. What is fake fear over the danger of having an open border? I don’t believe any statistic that claims that illegal immigrants are not a major contributor to the addictive drug crisis and crime in general. I am retired from working in criminal justicety. My eyes didn’t lie.

    2. Super Bowl half-time Adam Levine gets to take his shirt off and flaunt his nipples. A female, of course, would not be allowed to do that. But suppose Adam had started feeling his male gender was an arbitrary, cruel trick played on him by his parents and he wants to be known as Eve. Does this mean she (former Adam) can’t completely bare her breasts anymore now that she is Eve? Why bring up the issue of whether she gets hormone treatments or breast implants because all that implies is that size matters, but size surely can’t be the legal standard. What is?

    3. In tonight’s SOTU the President brought up the radical recent New York e law expanding late term abortion and the embattled Virginia governor’s comments in favor of such legislation. Most Americans probably had no idea what Trump was talking about, because the media have really stonewalled and smoke-screened the expanding absolute right to abort babies that are fully viable, even already alive outside the womb. So is this right-wing Fake News because far-left Democrats don’t want this information to be news at all? Only those who are wildly in favor of it need to know about it?

    1. What is fake fear over the danger of having an open border? I don’t believe any statistic that claims that illegal immigrants are not a major contributor to the addictive drug crisis and crime in general.

      Well then. You’ve answered your own question.

      I am retired from working in criminal justicety. My eyes didn’t lie.

      And? Do you believe that, in your capacity in the criminal justice field, you observed a statistically valid cross-section of the behavior of all illegal immigrants everywhere in the country? Could it be that, because your work focused on the criminal behavior of all types of people, that the ones that you observed were skewed by selection bias towards the more criminally-inclined element, which may or may not be representative of the whole?

      1. “I work at a gym. I see lots of fit people every day. I don’t believe the statistics that there’s an obesity epidemic. My eyes don’t lie!”

        1. oh goody, jeffy is here. sigh

      2. Which studies on immigrant crime attempt to separate illegal and legal populations as well as compensate for the vastly, vastly decreased reporting rate of crime by illegal immigrants?

          1. No, they don’t.

            Directly from the first study you linked to:

            “Criminal aliens is defined as non-U.S. citizen foreigners, which includes legal immigrants who have not naturalized and illegal immigrants. ”

            It looks like you didn’t even bother looking at the study you linked to. Since that quote above is from the first sentence of the second paragraph.

            1. Read further down, dude. “In 2015, Texas police made 815,689 arrests of native-born Americans, 37,776 arrests of illegal immigrants, and 20,323 arrests of legal immigrants…”

    2. the expanding absolute right to abort babies that are fully viable, even already alive outside the womb.

      Who is arguing this position? That is not what the NY law says and that is not what Northam was talking about.

      It is still a crime in NY to kill a born infant.

      http://www.factcheck.org/2019/…..rtion-law/

      1. Seriously, did you even read the fact check yourself? Did you not notice all those sentences with “or” before or after “fetal viability”? That viability doesn’t protect the baby if a doctor rules that a live birth would ‘protect the patient’s life or health“?

        Where “health” includes temporary mental health issues, IOW, the woman being upset at giving live birth.

        Further, while the fact check says, “Killing a baby once born was and is still considered a homicide.”, it then goes on to say, “New York’s RHA also repealed a section of the public health law that required the following: …. and that such babies be provided “immediate legal protection under the laws of the state of New York.””

        So it didn’t change that killing a born baby would be considered homicide, it just stripped such babies of any legal protection against the commission of that homicide. That’s an awfully subtle distinction, between something no longer being homicide, and it merely being a homicide you have no legal protection against.

        You realize the tricky wording here? “Homicide” is killing somebody, but “homicide” isn’t a crime, murder is a crime of wrongful homicide. So, killing the baby is still killing the baby, but it’s no longer a illegal.

        They’re just relying on readers not picking up on that point. The NY law absolutely DID legalize killing a born baby.

        1. Where “health” includes temporary mental health issues, IOW, the woman being upset at giving live birth.

          Do you even know what mental health is?

          1. Yes, I know what mental health is. I also know that a doctor can get away with declaring simply not liking the idea of giving live birth a “mental health” issue, since, per Doe v Bolton, such a determination isn’t subject to review.

            The doctor doesn’t even have to be a mental health professional.

            You do know the meaning of the term “pretextual”, right? The NY law doesn’t really require that the mental health problem be anything more than a pretext, because the doctor faces no consequences if he declares merely not wanting the baby to be a mental health problem.

            1. And the Virginia Gov was talking about a proposed Virginia law. One that was withdrawn after the resulting shit storm.

            2. So you do know, you just don’t care.

              If you assume bad-faith doctors’ evaluations, lots of things look like awful pretexts.

              1. Under the proposed Virginia law*, one doctor can certify.

                The abortion doctor would be able to certify that the abortion he is going to do is legal.

                No possible problem there?

              2. No, I know, the abortionist doesn’t care.

                Yes, I assume that if you deliberately remove any mechanism for identifying and punishing bad faith medical evaluations, you’re going to get more bad faith medical evaluations.

                There are people who think abortion ought to be elective to the moment of birth, even beyond it a few days. A disproportionate number of them are abortionists. Give them the power to make that happen by a simple “white lie”, why wouldn’t they?

          2. Two words: postpartum depression.
            BANG! dead baby who was born alive.
            New York has ABSOLUTELY legalized the killing of live infants outside the womb.

            1. I get it. Every doctor is Kermit Gosnell. Right?

              1. Every doctor who does abortions is, yes.

              2. You do realize Gosnell was getting his patients via referrals from places like Planned Parenthood, right? What did they think he was doing with late term women they sent his way, giving them manicures?

                What Gosnell was doing wasn’t a secret, a lot of people knew, and approved of it. He didn’t keep it up all those years without a lot of people covering for him.

              3. As Bob beat me to it, every abortionist is a murderer. It would be perfectly acceptable to shoot them dead in the defense of others.

                * The baby is, of course, innocent and was not the aggressor.
                * Since the abortionist’s goal is the baby’s death, fully lethal force is allowed against the abortionist.
                * The baby cannot retreat to avoid the attack.
                * The only thing is imminence; it’s only legal to shoot abortionists right before they start their attack.

        2. First, as Sarcastro noted, your whole argument simply assumes that doctors can’t be trusted to act responsibly, professionally and ethically within their field of practice. You’re basically assuming all doctors are wanna-be Kermit Gosnells. If this is the case, then does that mean we need cops and lawyers and politicians looking over the shoulder of every doctor to make sure that they are actually doing their jobs? At some point, we should say that doctors are for the most part responsible people, and won’t risk their reputations, or a charge of murder for that matter, for killing a born child based on a flimsy pretext of “oh the woman had a headache” or “oh the woman felt sad”. This argument really isn’t even about abortion. It is about your complete distrust of doctors and wanting to substitute the judgment of politicians for the judgment of doctors. I don’t necessarily trust every professional I come across either, but I do trust their own desire to preserve their professional reputation and act responsibly and ethically; and for those few who don’t, the real monsters like Kermit Gosnell, those are the exception rather than the rule. And I frankly trust politicians even less than doctors.

          Second, your parsing of this statute is exceptionally tendentious. Really? It’s homicide, but not homicide-homicide?

          1. “First, as Sarcastro noted, your whole argument simply assumes that doctors can’t be trusted to act responsibly, professionally and ethically within their field of practice. ”

            NOBODY can be trusted to act responsibly, professionally, and ethically within their field of practice, if the contrary has been made legally inconsequential. Every profession has its bad apples, and they’re weeded out by monitoring and review, and consequence for being caught out as a bad apple.

            But abortion is, by Supreme court decree, a unique medical procedure, in that if a doctor declares an abortion, but no other medical procedure, “necessary”, the judgment can’t be reviewed. You have to take his word for it.

            So there’s nothing to weed out bad apples, abortionists willing to declare medical “necessity” on a pretextual basis.

            And this isn’t about doctors in general, or medicine in general, it’s about abortion, a procedure most doctors find abhorrent, and refuse to practice. Abortionists aren’t ordinary doctors, they’re a tiny subset of doctors who don’t find killing babies offensive.

            Would they lie about medical necessity to turn a restrictive abortion regulation regime into a de facto elective abortion regime? Sure they would. Why not? Nobody can do anything to them for doing it, it’s risk free.

          2. “Second, your parsing of this statute is exceptionally tendentious. Really? It’s homicide, but not homicide-homicide?”

            Was I somehow unclear?

            “Homicide” is the act of killing somebody. “Homicide” isn’t a crime. People legally commit “homicide” every day.

            It was the “Fact check” that was tendentious, declaring that the law hadn’t changed the fact that killing a newborn baby was “homicide”. No shit, no law could change that, when homicide just means killing.

            But the statute did remove from newborn babies “immediate legal protection under the laws of the state of New York.” What did you think that means? It means that the babies were no longer protected by the laws of the state of New York.

            You know, like the laws that make “homicide” into a crime if it’s “wrongful”?

  10. A quibble here: Consumers of fake news don’t typically demand fake news, setting aside people who visit the Onion or the Babylon Bee. What they want is congenial news, news that agrees with their opinions.

    The people who actually demand fake news are the people who pay for its production, in order to exploit that normal human tendency to consume news that says things you like.

    So, yeah, actually the problem IS chiefly on the production end. Consuming news is how you find out what’s happening, it feeds you the data that you would use to identify when you’re being lied to. Inserting lies into that stream disables the checking function for most people, who don’t remotely have time to do the news media’s work for them.

    The normal solution to this is to consume a variety of news sources with different ideological motivations, so that you can pick up on the contradictions and identify when SOMEBODY is feeding you BS, and you need to look deeper. This doesn’t work for conventional media anymore, because the conventional media are almost all of the same ideology now.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well for unconventional media either, because that’s delivered up by search engines that reinforce rather than challenge your own biases. Again, the production/delivery end, not the consumption end.

    The consumption end of the news cycle hasn’t really changed, the changes causing this problem are all at the other end of the news cycle, production and delivery.

  11. Does anyone even do a cursory proofreading of these articles before they’re posted? So many grammatical errors.

  12. ‘The problem cocaine isn’t all the dealers, its that people love cocaine.’

    I mean, it’s not wrong, but it’s also not useful when making policy.

  13. And Prof. Somin uses an article ostensibly about fake news to once again push his theory that political ignorance is the root of all problems, everyone but him and folks like him are politically ignorant, and that if we’d just let him and the politically knowledgeable run things, it’d be better for us all.

    1. ‘Let elites like me run things’ is very much not this thesis.

  14. So anyhow, Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies in the next couple weeks and THEN watch the debate over late-term viability of the born and unborn really take off. Add this element to it—soon doctors will be able to pull a 16 week fetus from the womb of a mother (perhaps a dead mother, accidents happen) and float it in an artificial womb. Eventually, this technology may improve so much that such a fetus will enjoy an even safer and more consistently ideal environment to develop than it would enjoy inside most typical women, and certainly better than in some ladies with a ragged lifestyle.

    That medical progress is going to change the abortion debate as well.

    1. That’s for sure: Pretty hard to justify an abortion for the health of the mother, if the baby isn’t in the mother to begin with.

      Hm, but wait: The ‘mental health’ basis neatly covers that, doesn’t it?

      1. Sure does. As I noted above, possible postpartum depression would count. Heck, saying that the woman would “feel anguish” over giving up the baby for adoption would count.

  15. Any post or article that does not discuss NYT, WaPo, CNN etc. as purveyors of fake news too is useless.

    1. Hehe – anything that disagrees with Bob’s worldview, he will ignore!

      1. Its one sided, “fake” news” is from the Russkies or politicians, never from mainstream publications.

        This is an actual New York Times tweet and headline [since changed] from the Virginia racism scandal today:

        “Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says he dressed up in a wig and brown makeup as part of a costume while a university student”

        “brown makeup” = “blackface”

        The tweet was highly misleading, correct? Technically true perhaps but aimed at protecting a Dem pol.

        1. The thing that amazes me about this, is they haven’t been able to find any Republican politicians who were photographed in blackface or Klan robes 20 years ago? Not one?

          Because you can be awfully sure that, if they’d found any, they’d be publicizing them. They must have been desperately searching for some.

          1. The new GOP Secy of State in Florida resigned over one about a month ago.

            Also, mocked Katrina survivors for extra badness.

  16. Actually, the artificial in utero proposition I mentioned came from surfing the web and spotting the embryo of a calf happily growing inside a warm plastic bag full of near-bovine amniotic fluid.

  17. I would be happy to see Trump removed from office

    I’m going to assume you don’t mean losing the next election so much, as that is a funny way to put it.

    So are you hoping:

    A. It is true he is treasonous with some Russian deal to ease sanctions in exchange for something?

    Or

    B. You are fine with one political faction digging and digging with the hopes of hurting a political opponent, against the spirit of much of the Constitution?

    1. Because both are abysmal situations for this nation.

  18. The fixation on fake news, regardless of where it comes from, serves to generalize and discriminate against political opinions you don’t like. One of the reasons Trump keeps winning despite such vehement hatred of him is that his supporters know that their legitimate policy grievances (demographic and cultural transformation, blue collar recession/grim outlook for the future, burgeoning government influence on daily life via excessive bureaucracy and taxation, morality of abortion and the culture war in general, etc.) are not taken seriously by most politicians. Matter of fact, they are outright dismissed and considered to be horrible bigots for daring to share such opinions even though they are not in fact bigoted and there never was significant societal discourse on the alleged bigotry of these issues.

    If people want better discourse, they should drop the fake news scapegoat ASAP and start responding to the actual merits of one’s arguments. When you don’t take someone’s views seriously, they act a bit hostile. Respecting their opinions and genuinely trying to understand why they hold them produces positive discourse. Surprise surprise.

  19. Trump’s campaign wasn’t bogus on immigration and trade — you are.

    You’re also lagging behind on your knowledge of the subject of this post. Try researching and learning about NewsGuard, Microsoft’s new effort to combat fake news, which labels all kinds of fake news as real and real news as fake, taking the approach of just blacklisting or greenlighting entire media outlets along predictable political lines. Then research all of the egregiously one-sided bans, blacklists and censorship efforts of YouTube, Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

  20. A redneck deplorable Catholic is spotted in downtown New York or L.A. wearing a MAGA hat and casual clothing. He disappears, but a few days later he shows up wearing a suit. What do you call him?

    The accused.

  21. I think there’s a lot more nuance the Professor Somin addresses in this interesting post.

    http://huewhite.com/umb/2019/0…..he-masses/

    Hue

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