Monday, November 07, 2016

CONSPIRACY THEORIES: IGNORE THEM OR EXPOSE THEM?

Jim Rutenberg, the media columnist for The New York Times, is concerned about the fact jobs are being cut in newsrooms while fake news is thriving. He notes some of the misinformation that's been out there recently:
In the last couple of weeks, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets have exposed millions of Americans to false stories asserting that: the Clinton campaign’s pollster, Joel Benenson, wrote a secret memo detailing plans to “salvage” Hillary Clinton’s candidacy by launching a radiological attack to halt voting (merrily shared on Twitter by Roger Stone, an informal adviser to the Trump campaign); the Clinton campaign senior strategist John Podesta practiced an occult ritual involving various bodily fluids; Mrs. Clinton is paying public pollsters to skew results (shared on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr.); there is a trail of supposedly suspicious deaths of myriad Clinton foes (which The Times’s Frank Bruni heard repeated in a hotel lobby in Ohio).
And speaking of the "Clinton body count" and merry sharing by Roger Stone, this just popped up on my Twitter feed:



Rutenberg says, "The cure for fake journalism is an overwhelming dose of good journalism." His argument is that "ambitious, well-reported" journalism about other subjects will crowd out fake news about fake subjects.

That would help -- but I've always believed that conspiracies thrive in part because they're not confronted head-on. Yes, conspiracy stories are debunked at Snopes, and the mainstream media takes them on occasionally -- but the MSM debunking isn't consistent, and, of course, the conspiracy-mongers have a big head start: Many Clinton-era conspiracies, including the "body count," are decades old; others are continually recycled, like a rumor cited by a West Virginia interviewee in a Boston Globe story over the weekend:
[Dean] Pack passed on another rumor, considered shocking if false: that the government has ordered 30,000 guillotines that Clinton, if elected, plans to use “to kill us -- Christians and people who believe in the Second Amendment.”

“All you got to do is pull it up on the Internet,” Pack said.
This is probably part of the "FEMA railcars with shackles and guillotines" story, which worried Obama-haters throughout the Obama years and some Bush-haters in the Bush years.

The mainstream press should address these crazy stories as an extension of the fact-checking that's become a big part of reporting in recent years. Go to town on this stuff -- disprove it, name and shame the people who spread it, make it seem fun and cool to recognize that it's ridiculous. What's happened in recent years is that conspiracy believers have persuaded a lot of people that they're the ones in the know -- they're the sophisticates, and people who don't think 9/11 was a series of controlled demolitions, or that an Alaska government research facility controls the weather, are the real rubes. More effort needs to be made to undermine these notions.

Obviously, there's only so much that can be done about all this. Many people will still believe. But while sunlight may not be the best disinfectant, this stuff obviously thrives in the shadows. Exposing it can help.

10 comments:

BottyGuy said...

I certainly agree that conspiracy theories should be debunked and ridiculed in the press. But I suspect it will end up like my crazy winger relative email chains. I started debunking all the crazy stuff that my relatives sent me immediately on receipt. Look it up in snopes, find the primary sources, create a email debunking it point by point, reply to all so that is stops there.

As far as I can tell all it did was get me taken of the distribution list. The same people are sending the same crap out. Sure a few sane folks replied back with thanks, but they have mostly been removed from the TO: list as well.

The bunker dwellers will dig deeper into their bunkers and get their media from the like minded and complain the MSM isn't telling the truth. It the meantime the bunkerland media will cash in.

Mr. Driscoll said...

I think debunking by the MSM only gives the stories more legitimacy. The best way to treat them is to let the Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Bill Maher types dissect them in the digital/cable media where they all started anyway. The press could do in-depth magazine articles and even books ala Hunter Thompson to really get at them.

Victor said...

Hopefully, sooner than later, Roger Stone - the GREATEST RATFUCKER OF 'EM ALL!!! - will be dead, and the Republicans will miss him, and the Nixon tattoo on his back!

It will die, won't it?
It CAN die, can't it?

Feud Turgidson said...

Often these days I'm mindful of what my Uncle Buck said:

"Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines."

Feud Turgidson said...

There could also be a US law requiring every kid to submit [SUBB MITT REE ZIST ANTS ARE VIEW TILED SUBB MITT SUBB MITT]
to a regimen of courses on critical thinking.

Since I'm not entirely convinced that'll happen anytime soon, I endorse Steve "Fearless Leader" M's idea of youngsters & oldsters uniting under the Finger of Bernie by all making extra googledough & solid gold youtube ka-ching by making amateur home basement produced shorts based on the production values & cinema vary teh style of the late Frank Zappa's 200 Motels.

Being increasingly macular, deaf on one ear, with the artistic sensibilities of wounded bison, I nominate Victor to head up the new Project Thirdy Thousand Guillotines.

We're gonna need it (tho, I remain a bit unclear on which we need more: the killer facts & logic video that takes on the Myth of the 30,000 Public Safety Fun Machines, or, in the spirit of leaving the really starkly savage & macabre manifestations of human interaction to to left so often to be spoken out loud by an authority - such as in the case of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, the Judge - a video launching a national movement extolling the virtues of an AMERICAN RE-INVENTED variation on the guillotine, and urging tax exempt status at the minimum but optimally a couple of billion or so in government cheese to promote local programs clubs, & fairs in the training, use (with safety tips, of course), maintenance & storage of what I'll call for now The All-American Gibbet.

In keeping with its first popular use and the debt we owe France for pitching in on our Revolution and that cool statue off NYC, I'm thinking we need some suitably Franco-American name for the thing. How about The donald? or The cheney?

Buford said...

I don't know if it is a conspiracy or not, but the Russians are good at misinformation, just like we have been hearing and seeing from the Trump campaign...It would be wise to look into this, even as trump goes to court for his other criminal activities...

Mustang Bobby said...

When I get the conspiracy theory posts on Facebook or e-mail, I tell them that if Bill and Hillary Clinton were truly the evil geniuses that they say they are, then we would never have heard about the private server and the e-mails, she would not be only 4 points ahead, and what is left of Donald Trump would be that strange smell in the elevator shaft.

Or I agree with them and tell them that she was also on the grassy knoll in Dallas, she shot J.R., and also faked the moon landing.

Yeah, I know; it doesn't stop them, but at least they leave me alone.

The New York Crank said...

Back in the 1950s, there used to be a crazy lady antique dealer on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Her name was Sylvia Kraus. She ran something called The Carriage Antique Shop, on Lexington and, I think it was 70th Street. She "knew" for a fact that Russian agents, disguised as waiters, had infiltrated every restaurant in America.

"They wait until somebody on their hit list comes in, and then they poison their food," Sylvia explained to me. (I was a reporter then for a New York newspaper that I will not name here. I interviewed her "on initiative" as it was called back then. My hope was that it would be an amusing feature story. My city editor read the first two paragraphs and slammed the copy down on his spike. "This lady is just a nut job," he said."

I asked Sylvia what proof she had that the Russians were doing this. "They did it to me," she said. I then asked, if the Russians had poisoned her, how come she was still alive? "Because I realized what was happening, and right there, in the restaurant, I stuck my finger down my throat and threw up."

The restaurant scene was sometimes a bit more colorful than they are today.

Like Republican propagandists today, Sylvia had a list of all the people Russian agents had successfully poisoned. It included just about every well-known human being who had died in the previous few years. I don't remember them all, but among them were John F. Kennedy (and you thought a bullet did it?) and Marilyn Monroe.

Sylvia eventually lost her shop, lost her home, and the last time I saw her was homeless and begging for coins with a filthy paper coffee cup in Penn Station. I assume that by now she's long gone. But today, nut jobs and nut stories get taken seriously.

Which is evidence to me that half the country is now nuts.

Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank

homelessonthehighdesert said...

Mock them. Redicule them. It's what you do.

The truth is out there
Ten Bears

Monte Davis said...

Dear Roger Stone: I would forego voting for HRC in exchange for an early opportunity (like this week) to piss on your grave. Do we have a deal?