The face of fake news

Megyn Kelly took on more than just Alex Jones in her NBC “Sunday Night” interview. She took on fake news. I’m glad she did.

Honestly, I was very worried that Kelly would equivocate and underperform like she did with Russian President Vladimir Putin. I was worried that Jones would get a pass and use the performance to pick up even more viewers–and believers.

It turns out I was wrong, as were others who believed the interview was a bad idea.

It was important to expose the abhorrent conspiracies and ideals that Jones represents.

But motivations are really key here. I have to believe that Jones’ motivations are personal. He suffers from the same need for importance and recognition that the other main topic of Kelly’s piece–President Trump–succumbs to. Jones simply wants the clicks, the influence, and the power.

There are plenty of Twitter, Facebook, and web-based Jones wannabes, and some in the main stream media. The New York Times and the Washington Post are not immune from what Kelly termed “reckless accusation, followed by equivocations and excuses.” The MSM simply couches their version in “bombshell” headlines, unnamed sources and back-of-the-paper retractions.

There’s nothing inherently wrong, or un-American, about people like Jones. They’ve been around since before Erwin Wardman coined the term “yellow journalism” in 1998.

But there’s a more pernicious motive floating out there: foreign governments using people like Jones, and teenagers in Eastern European basements, to float their own anti-U.S. propaganda. The Russians are experts at disinformation–they call it “Dezinformatsiya.”

The Washington Post delved deep into the history of Russian fake news right after the election. In 2015, Adrian Chen published a chilling New York Times Magazine piece titled “The Agency” about Russian efforts to create fake news events and use social media “trolls” to promote their own interests.

Russia’s information war might be thought of as the biggest trolling operation in history, and its target is nothing less than the utility of the Internet as a democratic space. In the midst of such a war, the Runet (as the Russian Internet is often called) can be an unpleasant place for anyone caught in the crossfire. Soon after I met Leonid Volkov, he wrote a post on his Facebook wall about our interview, saying that he had spoken with someone from The New York Times. A former pro-Kremlin blogger later warned me about this. Kremlin allies, he explained, monitored Volkov’s page, and now they would be on guard. “That was not smart,” he said.

The fact that President Trump relies on the very same social media tools that the Russians have thoroughly infiltrated and corrupted in order to make his points and win political power–that translates to actual government power–is more than troubling.

It means that Alex Jones, President Trump, and the Russians are all feeding the same cancer of fake news.

I submit there’s very little difference in Trump claiming he’s the victim of a “Witch Hunt” by “deep state” operatives (or hinting at “tapes” of conversations with James Comey), Alex Jones claims that Sandy Hook was a hoax, and the “Internet Research Agency” creating a fake story about a chemical disaster in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana. They are all set ups not in service of truth, but in service of other motives.

But when we can’t tell the difference between real Russian interference and the president’s tweetstorms and Jones’ conspiracies, in a culture where these events lead to political violence, injury and death, someone’s got to call foul.

Kelly took the opportunity to call foul on Jones. I applaud that she did. If the main stream media, including her employer, NBC, would take the hint and back off from their one-sided attacks on Trump, conservatives, and Republicans, maybe her message would begin to spread.

If the media itself doesn’t take the high road in combatting fake news, not leaping to conclusions, burying stories that offend their own world view, and projecting pure opinion as objective fact, then how can we expect anyone to believe them?

Steve Berman

Editor

Editor of The New Americana. God, family, and country, in that order. With the exception of God, the other two cannot prosper without a firm belief in all three.

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