Fake News and a Field Guide to Lies

fake-newsNew Orleans You have to love headline news about fake news.  Usually fake news is in the stories, not the headlines.  We all have to appreciate the irony contained in articles in almost any newspaper, especially opinion pieces, about fake news when there is no disclosure of inherent biases contained in any of them.  Nonetheless, it is a real and ageless problem.  What do we do about outright lies that take on lives of their own and move public opinion and often become impossible to ever pry loose?

            Admittedly, I’m jaded about this.  For all of the journalists and columnists now trying to act high and mighty because of their fears about the Trump ascension and the host of different tribes in his movement, it seems a case of “whose ox is being gored.”  Don’t make me go into the total fakery involved in contentions around voter fraud versus voter registration errors once again.  Finally, most commentators have sorted this out, but for conservatives in the USA, it’s too little, too late, since so much of this has seeped into the ideological fabric of the right, when it was always a lie, just never called out in a timely fashion, and without defenders when ACORN and others were attacked and decimated.

            Nonetheless, let’s swallow our bitterness hard, and say, better late than never.  Facebook thus far seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth without a real plan that they are willing to throw money and muscle at, as they vacillate between concerns about free speech and the damage of fake news.  Studies indicate that Facebook is a much louder microphone for all of this than Twitter, but they are all swimming in the same stew of privileging eyeballs and advertising regardless of adverse impacts and real harm to millions.

            But, even if they make progress in some directions, ferreting out the facts in all of the news may be harder than any are willing to admit.  Reading neuroscientist Daniel Levitin’s A Field Guide to Lies:  Critical Thinking in the Information Age was a fascinating look at both how easy in our fast moving world it is easy to be fooled if we’re not paying close attention, as well as how determined many of the actors in business and politics are to fool us, and I’m not talking about basement hackers in Russia or scammers in Nigeria.   Some of the bits on advanced math and reasoning might not be helpful to the average bear, but his points on how we are often manipulated by fake facts hidden in preposterous math or deceptive charts and graphs lacking any qualifications or context were excellent and sound a solid cautionary note about how difficult separating facts from fiction may be for many.

            Once again though we have to confront the fact that power plays with fact and fiction.  We do not yet have an accurate count on the number of people who were effectively disenfranchised by the wave of Republican-led voter suppression laws state by state in the recent election, but we know it is in the millions.  We have to weigh all of those unjustly deprived of their votes, particularly among low-and-moderate income and minority families against the right’s argument that even if there are only a handful of actual, proven cases of voter fraud in the US annually they still justify the barriers to voting even if they rob millions of their right to vote.

            Let’s hope the search for truth is not a temporary project or a finger pointing exercise but a real and objective effort to level the playing field with facts rather than fiction.

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The Voting Numbers Say We Must Organize our Communities Now!

latinovotersNew Orleans   The post-mortem on the US election continues but as more data and information becomes available some of the early guesstimates are not as compelling as they were the morning after. It’s not that they were completely wrong, but they are not right enough to point the directions forward. Over and over again it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Clinton loss does not just fall heavily on her shoulders because she was such a flawed candidate, especially since Trump was even more flawed, but points to a massive failure of organization, and not just hers, but all of ours.

Karl Rove, the political mastermind behind George W. Bush, is not a go-to nonpartisan, objective analyst on this or any election, but as a columnist for The Wall Street Journal he’s always worth a read to understand not only what Republicans are thinking, but also as a reality check that we are not drinking our own Kool-Aid. A couple of days ago he made several interesting points based on a pretty deep review of exit polls, admittedly from Fox News, but whatever.

Among them were the following:

 

· “Both candidates this year won fewer white votes – Mr. Trump 1.6 million and Mrs. Clinton 2.3 million – than four years ago.”
· “…Trump didn’t win because he greatly expanded the GOP….”
· “…Clinton lost a significant chunk of the Obama Coalition. Compared with 2012 she dropped 1.8 million African-Americans, one-million voters age 18-29, 1.8 million voters aged 30-44, 2.6 million Catholics, and nearly 4.5 million voters with family incomes of $30,000 or less.”
· “…Clinton received nearly 9.4 million Latino votes, up 180,000 from Mr. Obama’s total in 2012. But because Mr. Trump won 29% of Hispanics, up from Mr. Romney’s 27%, the president-elect won 4.2 million Latino votes, roughly 690,000 more than Mr. Romney.”
· “Only 18% of voters had a high school education or less, down from 24% last time….Trump received 12 million votes from them, 2.2 million fewer than Mr. Romney, Mrs. Clinton got 10.6 million votes, 5.8 million fewer than Mr. Obama.”
· “…Trump’s advantage among voters with some college outweighed Mrs. Clinton’s among people with four-year degrees.”

 

You get the picture. This election was won and lost among low-and-moderate income families. These are our families and the heart of base. This election was also lost by our inability to convert Trump’s blatantly racist and anti-Latino campaign into actual voter turnout in our communities. Before the election I thought that if Clinton won she owed her victory to black and brown voters. In the same way she may owe her defeat to her inability to inspire these votes and our collective failure to build effective organization.

If progressives want to win, we have to go on the offense on issues and actions. The numbers also say that even more importantly we have to go back to the neighborhoods and barrios of our communities and organize people at the grassroots in the kind of organizing that has been the hallmark of ACORN. To the degree that is not happening as broadly and deeply in the United States as it needs to in white, black, and brown communities, these families are grist for the conservative mill, and not only voting against their interest, but more powerfully not voting at all. 43% of the electorate didn’t vote in 2016 with their feet but with their butts, and just sat this one out.

Rove makes one more interesting point which is a warning to Trump and should be a wakeup call to all of us. The numbers say it wasn’t globalization and trade, but the economy, stupid, and the lack of distribution and trickle down to our base.

This is call to go into our communities and rebuild effective organization or this crisis won’t be about the next four years but an entire generation or as long as it takes for us to get back to the streets and do the work.

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