In Fighting Fake News, the Mainstream Media Has Poisoned Itself

In chemotherapy, you poison the body in order to poison the cancer. The Mainstream Media uses a similar strategy against its all-time worst enemies, Donald J. Trump and the so-called “fake news” that it credits in part for Trump’s success. If the MSM claims that much of the news we’re hearing is fake, it poisons the credibility of the entire system, hoping the fake news dies while the system survives. But the cancer hasn’t died, and the effects on the body are lasting.

In a game-changing 4-hour episode of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast released last week, Joe Rogan and “conspiracy theorist” Alex Jones go head-to-head on a thousand issues from Pizza Gate to chemtrails. Rogan challenges Jones, but Jones does a surprisingly good job of defending himself. Every time you think “ok, now he really is crazy,” Jones presents some piece of incontrovertible evidence that makes you go “hmm, I had no idea.”

Perhaps the most brazen of these instances occurs over a Jones claim that Megan Kelly of Fox News manipulated a recording of Jones to make him seem crazy in her special about fake news. She held up Jones as the paradigm of fake news, using a clip in which he seems to say that he believes in Pizza Gate and believes that Hillary Clinton has personally murdered thousands of children.

Rogan plays the clip back to Jones. Jones then digs up the full recording. The claim Jones really made, while intentionally provocative, was a reference to Clinton’s hawkish decisions in the Middle East, not to Pizza Gate. Jones does not, in fact, believe in Pizza Gate. Megan Kelly and Fox News misrepresented Jones. Jones wasn’t saying anything factual at all. He was using hyperbole to draw a connection between Clinton’s decisions and children who have died in conflicts in the Middle East.

Regardless of what Jones actually believes, the problem here is a severe one that should not be ignored. In establishing the idea of fake news as a way to explain and combat the popularity of countercultural voices, the Mainstream Media—which includes Fox News on the center-right, the NYT/CNN cabal on the center-left and everything in between—has unintentionally polluted its own credibility.

Much has been made of the “alternative facts” stance of the Trump administration, and much of that comes from a justified fear of authoritarianism. It (exhaustingly at this point) always comes back to Hitler who, as alleged in the latest New Yorker piece being frantically sent around, “elevated lying to a matter of course” and administered his alternate reality “[o]nly a single pill at a time and then a moment of waiting to observe the effect of its strength, to see whether the world conscience would still digest the dose.”

However, the piece also acknowledges that it was the MSM at the time that opened the door to Hitler’s use of warped facts. “ Eventually, even well-meaning journalists and intellectuals became guilty of what he called “the ‘doping’ of excitement” — an artificial incitement of emotion that culminated, inevitably, in mass hatred and fear.” It is this doping of excitement that often gets glossed over. We forget that the MSM incites us daily to fear Trump’s alternate reality. The MSM is responsible for the poisonous idea of “fake news.”

This might be forgivable if the MSM didn’t produce its own, easily debunked versions of fake news, like in the Fox/Alex Jones example. It points a finger at others while failing to attempt objectivity of its own. Remember the whole fact checking movement during the campaign, the one where news headlines would list a Trump quote and then parenthesis categorically denying that quote?

The are two problems with this tactic. For one, it was used with bias, usually against Trump and not against Clinton (if you’re going to tell me that Clinton never got her facts wrong, you’re an idiot) immediately undermining it as a tool for objectivity. Much worse, is that it uses a categorical factual denial to refute that is not a categorical factual claim. When Trump called Obama the founder of ISIS, did he actually mean that Obama snuck into Iraq, put on a headscarf and founded ISIS? Of course fucking not. They’re trying to pin him on lying, but they’re making misrepresentations in order to do so, just like Megan Kelly did to Alex Jones.

The disease has spread. Today, it an article about Lady Gaga’s body image, fact-doping crept into the MSM’s coverage of pop news. “Gaga was bizarrely attacked by haters who chose to focus on what they described as her ‘pot belly’ (she has none) after the 30-year-old star exposed her tummy by wearing a theatrical crop top in the dramatic final sequence of the show.” This isn’t from an opinion piece. It’s a reporter reporting facts.

Surely, the definition of a pot belly is almost entirely in the eye of the beholder. There are no concrete limits to what constitutes a pot belly. Lady Gaga had some flab on her stomach during the halftime show. Is that a pot belly? There’s no objective answer to that. Yet here we have a MSM reporter telling us that is an absolute fact that people who think that are wrong. That’s not his job. It’s his job to report the facts, not his opinions about things that have no objective basis.

This is a grievous error on the part of the MSM, one that it’s now seeing played out in it’s battle with the White House. Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration is simply throwing the “fake news” allegation right back at them. And unfortunately the media can’t truthfully say back, “we’ve never published misrepresentations,” because they have. By constantly questioning the factual basis of claims that are by definition not factual, they have opened up the door to all facts being questioned—particularly their own.

In court, character evidence—evidence about the general personality and credibility of a given party (e.g. “Sam is a chronic liar”)—is usually inadmissible against by one party against another. However, if a party enters good character evidence about itself, then all character evidence about that party is admissible, good or bad. This is called “opening the door,” and it can be a fatal mistake in defending or prosecuting a case.

In the public trial that is the Trump presidency, the MSM has opened the door to questioning all facts in the marketplace of ideas. In doing so they have struck a blow to fake news, but they have also inadvertently poisoned their own credibility as well, credibility which has been successfully challenged. They used what they thought was a secret weapon, but now everyone has the weapon. The poison is in the bloodstream. We’re approaching a dangerous state where the truth is only what the most people believe.

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