Snopes rips the media for fake news stories

An in-depth analysis of the false allegations and misleading claims made against the 45th President since his inauguration.

Source: The Lies of Donald Trump’s Critics, and How They Shape His Many Personas

Read it, please.

I am not a fan of President Trump, did not support him and I am not involved with either the Democrat or Republican parties. I have watched with disbelief, however, as the full power of propaganda messaging has been brought to play by “professional journalists”. There are many, many, many negative things that can be reported accurately and get the point across – but as Snopes documents, reporters have crossed a line into fantasy writing, as if it is their intent to interfere with democracy itself. I have not previously written about this specific topic – propaganda versus Trump – because the topic is overwhelming in scope.

Thankfully, Snopes does an excellent job addressing the absurd levels to which propaganda messaging has become the default position and concludes:

It has to be acknowledged that since January, many of Trump’s opponents, and even lukewarm supporters, have found considerable fault with his policies and behavior, based on accurate facts. There have been many occasions when Trump himself, undistorted and unfiltered, contributed mightily to the four personas we have outlined.

….

[but regarding poorly produced news stories] these sorts of massive exaggerations and gross distortions are even more corrosive and destructive than fake news about diarrhea on the golf course, because they bear some distant relationship with the truth.

Which is precisely how the best propaganda operates – it has at least some link to truth, but bends and distorts that truth to motivate the target to adopt and agenda or take action.

Years ago, I observed the use and power of propaganda to persuade others to adopt someone’s agenda. That led to much study on the subject and to the creation of this blog and Facebook page.

Politics is a minefield of propaganda messaging not only from politicians but also from their fanatical devotees on social media plus their friends in the mainstream media whose bad reporting is shared on social media as confirmation of allegations.

In the linked post, Snopes eviscerates the credibility of professional media (and some of the professional fake news web sites, especially those on social media) due to the media’s having morphed into a full time propaganda operation. In the future (which could be next week), when the Media screams “Wolf!”, few people will believe them anymore.

Remember, there are many, many issues regarding Trump that can be reported accurately and are quite negative for Trump or his policies. There is plenty to bash by just sticking to facts and policies. But the media, as Snopes documents, has become a giant propaganda messaging operation. Discerning truth from such overwhelming propaganda firepower is difficult.

We worry about allegations of foreign nations interfering in our elections but ignore media actually doing so through lies, distortions and inaccurate reporting.

The remarkable power of propaganda

I just scanned Twitter for items about the Affordable Care Act.

I estimate 99% of the Tweets were lies, contained significant errors, left out key information, or significantly exaggerated points. This included linked news stories at main stream news services such as the Los Angeles Times and NPR and others, which contained significant inaccuracies or left out crucial information and data that refuted the thrust of the article.

How many read the ACA? Probably a number approaching zero.

How many researched any of the topics at all? Probably a very small number.

So why are these people posting so much nonsense on Twitter?

Because of the effectiveness of propaganda that has delivered messages to them, which they in turn, regurgitate online, further spreading the propaganda message.

I covered this previously in National public opinion surveys are propaganda messaging in disguise.

Unfortunately, most national surveys of “American’s opinions” are surveys of propaganda effectiveness. The survey itself then adds to the growing body of propaganda messaging on a subject and becomes, itself, a form of propaganda.

You can go to news.google.com and find similar surveys.

  • 9% of American’s Feel Shingles Vaccination is a Priority
  • Many believe race relations will worsen under Trump
  • 68% of Americans believe humans are causing warming
  • 71% of Americans consider granola bars to be healthy

Surveys often follow a period of concerted propaganda messaging in the media.

In these and other cases, the survey is primarily measuring the effectiveness of the propaganda messaging around a subject. Most American’s understand little of the facts or logic for any of these items (and many more). Survey respondents are regurgitating the view given to them by propaganda messaging and the methods used to persuade masses of people.

 

Solar eclipse will increase fire danger?

“Drought over, but eclipse event will raise fire danger”

That is the odd headline of a KATU local TV news report about Oregon State. Authorities think more people will visit Oregon in the summer of 2017 because of a solar eclipse. Since humans cause wild fires, this will increase the wild fire risk.

To strengthen the claim, the local news story emphasizes:

“According to the National Park Service, 90 percent of wildfires in the United States are caused by humans, from unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes or arson.”

Source: Drought over, but eclipse event will raise fire danger | KATU

Wild fires are a serious threat to life and property and the majority of wild fires in the U.S. are indeed caused by human factors.

But two items in the story are misleading:

  1. The 90% figure comes from here. The actual percentage is 84% (and 44% of total area burned) from the PNAS journal article analysis of wild fire records from 1992-2012. This data point was oddly rounded upwards (0.84 rounds to 0.8, not 0.9) as the larger number has a greater emotional impact, a clue we might be seeing propaganda at work. Further, about 60% of the fires inside National Parks are caused by humans, which is not the figure you perceive given the quote above.
  2. In Oregon 48% of wild fires are human caused, not 90%, according to peer reviewed research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (authored by the same scientist who wrote the 1992-2012 analysis). Click on the link, then click on the SI tab, then download the supporting data PDF. Go to the last page of the downloaded PDF document. Search down for OR and read first 3 columns for % of total fires caused by humans or lightning.

Consider the above in the context of propaganda messaging:  KATU delivered a propaganda message that 90% of wild fires in Oregon are started by humans. This claim is not true for Oregon but is the number anchored in the minds of KATU TV news viewers and web site readers.

This propaganda could lead to state-level activism for increased laws, regulations and funding to reduce “90% of wild fires caused by humans”.

Wild fires are a serious threat to life and property in the U.S. and in Oregon State. The purpose of this post is to illustrate how the news media is an active participant in propaganda messaging and made no effort to verify the authenticity of the information and report on the subject accurately. And given the headline (most people read only headlines on social media!), how many will incorrectly conclude that solar eclipses cause wildfires? 🙂

(I notified KATU news of the above and they did not even acknowledge my note to them. I personally watched the May 20, 2012 solar eclipse visible in Northern California. Oddly, there were no concerns about eclipse related wild fires, even though California was in the midst of a drought.)

Most car crashes caused by cellular phone usage?

I saw an item on a Facebook group where the general meme was that everyone knows cellular phone usage while driving is the cause of most vehicle crashes. The data, however, paints a remarkably different picture. Cellular phone usage, per the government’s own data, is a minor causative factor in vehicle crashes.

There are many causative factors in car crashes: one category of causative factors is “distracted driving”. Cellular phone usage is a subset of “distracted driving”.

The U.S.government’s National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a report in 2016 on distracted driving, with data up to 2014 (the most recent data available).

Here is what they write on page 1:

“A distraction-affected crash is any crash in which a driver was identified as distracted at the time of the crash.

  • Ten percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2014 were reported as distraction-affected crashes…”

Let’s restate this:

  • 10% of fatal crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 18% of injury crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 16% of all reported crashes involved a driver distraction

The proportion of those distracted driving incidents where a cellular phone was a causative factor is a subset of these percentages (see tables in the report):

  • 7% of 10% of fatal crashes or less than 1% of all fatal crashes
  • 13% of 18% of injury crashes or about 2.3% of all injury crashes
  • Cellular phone usage for “all crashes” (including non fatal, non injury) is not provided in the report but is likely similar to the two other categories.

The data provided by the U.S. government does not support the widespread meme that cellular phone usage is the leading cause of vehicle crashes. Is my interpretation off in space? The report uses remarkably plain language for a government report. Am I missing something?

Why do people believe cellular phone usage is a leading cause if not pre-dominant cause of vehicle crashes?  (This was the conclusion of those in a Facebook group discussing this topic.)

There is no official answer to that question so we can only guess:

  1. Selected (cherry picked) emotional stories are given widespread media exposure
  2. Bad journalism/bad reporting (fake news from “non-fake” news sources) – often using a variety of propaganda methods to convey this. One common approach in news reports is to quote an “expert” (appeal to authority) who says “Over 30% of crashes are caused by cellular phone usage”. This is a common quote in many news reports, none of which substantiate the number except by an appeal to authority.
  3. Propaganda efforts by the insurance industry to promote a reduction in risk (and their costs)
  4. The tendency to generalize from n=small numbers (I once saw a bad driver using a cellular phone, therefore most bad driving is due to cellphone usage, and if most bad driving is due to cell phone usage then this must be the cause of most crashes). This is a”logical fallacy“.
  5. Everyone just knows that cellular phone usage by drivers causes most crashes (both the assertion and the get on the bandwagon propaganda methods).
  6. If anyone cites the data in a social media reply, this unleashes a barrage of name calling (another propaganda method) that if you disagree, you are a denier, an idiot or whatever.

Facts and logic are the enemy of propaganda. When many people believe something to be true, and that “something” is not supported by official data, it is likely that propaganda messaging has been used to persuade the public.

Many on social media are misquoting #Wikileaks

Recent releases from Wikileaks are, without question, exposing ethical failures and outright corruption in our government officials. The emails contain enormous evidence that this is occurring and that our government officials are as corrupt as the worst in the world.

That said, numerous people are posting excerpts on social media that are taken 100% out of context, to say something that is not true.

For example, I have seen this quote widely distributed on social media today, being presented as proof that Hillary Clinton was selling government protection to those who donated to her foundation. But that is not what the email is about:

“This is pretty simple stuff. So Algeria is on the terror list, they want off the terror list, the State Department’s making a decision to do it, they write a check for what? How much? How many million dollars do they write a check for? I don’t know, but Algeria writes a check. You’re from Boston, you know how politics works. They write a really big check to the Clinton Foundation,”

Looks damning, doesn’t it? Until you see that it was speculation from a flaky TV reporter.

The original full text is clear: this is a direct quote from MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough who was creating hypothetical scenarios.

Another example was a quote that Hillary Clinton apparently “hates everyday Americans”. Those words appear in the emails. However, this was in reference to her disliking the typical politician’s use of the phrase “everyday Americans”; she disliked the phrase.

With the normal mass media ignoring the 9,000 (so far) emails released by Wikileaks, and ignoring the documents released by DC Leaks and Guccifer 2, it is easy for poorly done crowd sourcing to take control of the story line and spread untrue statements on social media.

Again, the various released documents and emails contain a documented pattern of sleaze and corruption. There is more than enough to share that is legitimate corruption. However, spreading false statements dilutes the message and ultimately harms the messenger.

Disclaimer: I am absolutely not defending Clinton. The emails indicate a clear and unmistakable pattern of deceit and corruption. The purpose of this blog is to look at how social media is used to spread propaganda. In this situation, social media is spreading untrue statements by quickly taking quotes out of context. The use of out context quotes is a typical pattern common in propaganda messaging, whether by experts or social media amateurs. It is just another form of cherry picking to make a point.

Related: Beware of fake documents on social media purporting to be from Wikileaks

 

 

False assertion and False choice: Tesla versus Edison poster

The following poster has appeared many times in my social media feed. The conclusion you are intended to draw is also false.

11863277_867136550022717_8749393187683884450_nSource

 

Another variation:

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TL; DR Summary

  • These posters imply that Tesla cared about people more than making money versus Thomas Edison, who he once worked for as an employee (or another version of the poster, the evil person is George Westinghhouse) who only cared about making money.
  • In reality, Tesla’s nearly 300 patents made him a very rich man. However, he invested in many bad projects and died a pauper. George Westinghouse, who adopted Tesla’s AC electrical system design, personally made sure that Tesla was cared for in old age.
  • While Tesla may have cared about people, he was also a fan of eugenics or the selective breeding of people to eliminate “undesirables” from the population. Other fans of eugenics included the founder of Planned Parenthood and Hitler. Many people were caught up in that movement.
  • My own textbooks all mentioned Tesla; it is unclear why the posters imply we never heard of Tesla.
  • Bottom line: These posters make false assertions and reach false conclusions. The posters are false.

Read on for the details …

Continue reading

Leaving out details to make a story more dramatic

14517523_913408235470624_6271785127124202065_nTL;DR Summary

  • Milwaukee police “accidentally” shot a 13 year old girl at an elementary school after she became “combative”.’
  • By placing the word “accidentally” in quotes, followed by the word “combative”, this propaganda poster sets the viewer up to believe the police intentionally shot a 13 year old “combative” girl.
  • The poster leaves out that the officer’s gun was in the holster and that the MPD weapons do not have holster safeties. This information negates the attempted spin on the story. A little more information here.
  • There are valid questions as to how and why the police officer’s weapon discharged while in its holster. That should not have happened.
  • The purpose of this post is to illustrate how selective information – and leaving out key information – can spin and shape the emotional response to a social media propaganda poster. Keep in mind – propaganda posters are not created to inform you but to persuade you to adopt someone else’s agenda.
  • The above poster appears to have originated with Counter Current News, on Facebook. Counter Current News is an online, social media based for-profit publishing business that target’s conspiracy theory enthusiasts. Many such businesses target political enthusiasts; Occupy Democrats is an online, social media for-profit publishing business that targets left wing political enthusiasts. There are many examples of these for profit publishing businesses that pull at the emotions of their target audience.
  • These types of businesses design propaganda posters to emotionally rile up their target audience, who then share the posters online. To learn more about each poster, viewers are encouraged to click a link to the publisher’s web site, where the full story is accompanied by advertising. This type of social media based publishing has become popular and is aimed at ideological enthusiasts.

Did attack dogs bite a little girl in the face at pipeline protest in North Dakota?

girl-attackedTL;DR Summary

  • Graphic photo of a little girl with bite wounds to her face was presented online as proof that attack dogs were unleashed on Native American and other protesters at an oil pipeline construction site in North Dakota.
  • This photo was then passed on social media, including online comments at “news” sites, as proof of the vicious attacks by dogs.
  • The photo, however, first appeared in a June 26, 2012 NY Daily News report about a dog attack that occurred in Texas. This photo has nothing to do with the events in North Dakota.
  • This is a classic example of social media propaganda used to incite riots based on false information. Social media almost instantly descends into mob mentality, lynching everyone in their path, including the innocent.

Read on to discover the fascinating history behind this false social media meme and how this became an established “fact”, in spite of it being an outright lie.

Continue reading

Bernie Sanders is not a millionaire?

13925041_621169351398978_3231773894843699484_nTL; DR Summary

  • A shared social media poster asserts that Bernie Sanders would have been the first president who wasn’t  a millionaire, since 1945.
  • On the surface, this statement sounds plausible. His Senate disclosure forms list less than $1 million in assets.
  • But it leaves out the value of his retirement savings and his government provided pension. A private sector worker would need at least $1 million in assets to have a pension payout similar to what Sanders will receive at age 74 – and that does not include his own retirement savings. Update: Sanders just bought his 3rd home, with 500 feet of lake front.

Time magazine says the total value of Sanders and his wife’s assets and retirement benefits are well over $1 million and probably over $2 million. See “Sanders is a de facto millionaire“.

In my state, state employees may retire at age 58 or 30 years of service and receive full pension benefits, guaranteed by taxpayers. The Salem Statesman-Journal newspaper found that in Washington, Oregon and California, the average career employee pension at day of retirement has a net present value from $1.5 to $1.7 million dollars.

Pensions have tremendous value.

This post is not arguing whether the pensions are appropriate or not. The point is that a pension, regardless of source, is a bona fide asset. If you did not have the pension, it would take large assets to generate a similar monthly benefit. A pension’s future cash flows are part of your assets!

The above poster is a high quality propaganda poster that furthers Sanders’ public image as being just a regular guy not connected to the powerful. The poster works because of its simple design, the simple portrait, and the simple phrase that is easily processed. Since the claim fits the pre-existing memes about Sanders, it will be quickly processed by System 1 thinking and few will continue on to System 2 and realize that the claim is a stretch.

Note – Sanders did not create the above poster – someone else did. Further, there is nothing wrong with his acquiring assets to prepare for retirement. The problem is that this social media meme is not true yet is passed along, unquestioned, on social media because, as they say, “it fits the narrative”.

How to use charts for misleading propaganda!

This chart appeared on a blog post saying auto sales are “down again” and this should worry us about a recession.  See that blue arrow at the right? Looks horrible!!!!

But this chart design is a real mess.

domestic-auto-sales

First, the blue arrow anchors our view on the blue line and its downturn at the right. But the real chart is the harder to see gray column chart. Column charts are a *terrible* way to show a trend – line charts work much better.

The blue arrow and the blue line is what we see when we look at this chart – but it is the gray columns that show the trend the original writer was referencing!

But look closer. Over 80% of the length of that down arrow, truck sales were growing – and truck sales make up the majority of vehicle sales. The miscolored blue arrow was anchoring our thought processes inadvertently to the truck sales – when it should have been a gray arrow to link us to the columns (which again, are a terrible way to show a trend) – what a mess!

Now look even closer. Truck sales are down during the winter and spring every year:

domestic-auto-REVISISED sales

From merely eye balling the chart, you can see that this years sales drop is less than the prior years sales drop.

Truck sales, are more than 50% of all “auto sales” and every every spring, they drop in a cyclical fashion.

What the chart shows is that truck sales, which are the majority of total auto sales, are doing well. Overall “total auto sales” for May 2016 are greater than May of 2015, although in between sales went still higher and then dropped back.

This chart “works” due to the use of “anchoring” on the blue line and failing to compare sales year-over-year, which rise and fall in a non-linear manner due to seasonal effects.