Why fooling journalists has always been child’s play

The Hijab hoax is yet another black eye for journalists.

CNN reported the story as fact.

So did the BBC.

And the Guardian.

Newsweek did.

The New York Times did.

The Toronto Star did.

The Globe and Mail did.

BuzzFeed did before their cleansing.

The CBC did, linking it to other hate crimes.

Oh dear, and a 11-year-old can fool the international press with ease.

No wonder people no longer believe the press.

How can such a hoax be believed by “seasoned” reporters?

In this case, the “hate crime” was part of a convenient narrative for the press in their never-ending feud with the American president.

It is the reason #MeToo took off so rapidly. It was part of connecting the dots.

Or removing liberties in a game of Go.

Except there were way too many red flags to ignore.

There are real cases of things happening, except the crimes are not palatable for the press. Here is a cute little kid who is eloquent, and the crime was PG-13 friendly.

Real-life attacks are not so clean and sanitary.

So the press rolled with it with a roar, without asking hard questions.

You ask about the surveillance footage. You walk the same path with a stopwatch, and take notes of possible witnesses and possible inconsistencies.

That was the problem from the get-go. The media didn’t look at all for corroborating evidence. You talk to neighbours and teachers. You talk to the local gossips. You talk to the crossing guards and schoolmates.

You find out who is the victim. You work toward finding the culprit. Even as a journalist, you have to do the legwork. Why would this girl be a target, rather than another girl. Was it convenience, for instance, or something else?

This was a classic case of journalism by stenography. Grab a press release and roll with it.

And then other media crib the notes, amplifying the story that was never, even if it were true, been overplayed as it did, considering the number of real hate crimes that never make it into the news that were far more violent, severe, and persistent. It did not warrant that kind of coverage it got. I can see the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun making a mention of it without naming the victim to protect her identity…and ensure what was reported was, you know, true, and a couple of local stations, but that’s it.

Hate crime hoaxes are a murky area: people feel uncomfortable with them, and they are on the outskirts of being a more hardcore version of a hoax: it is a form, inventional or otherwise, of propaganda, and even war propaganda.

Because it incites and takes advantage of the already established line in the sand.

This will set back a lot of real hate crimes. It will play into the hands of those who think these are not real cases. The press had the duty to pull back. They could have said there was a report of an attack, but instead of giving the girl’s identity and then speculate whether it was a hate crime or not, they should have given the details of what they had — and didn’t have. Was there surveillance? Witnesses? Evidence?

That’s what good journalism needed to be — but as usual, we didn’t get that at all.

And that is the reason a world of grown-ups got fooled by a child.

 

Memo to the New York Times: Social media liberated readers. It did not make them dumber — or smarter. It just emboldened them.

The New York Times is stuck in the past.

And they certainly do not live in the real world. Not now.

But not ever.

Social media broke down the power of traditional media, but people have always misused facts to suit their own narratives.

But so did journalists. They misrepresent information all the time.

How many articles let readers know the PR firms that worked over the facts and angle of a story?

So a group of ignorant people took a snippet of a speech and twisted it to proof something nonexistent.

People have done it for years.

We have even had academics doctor pictures and results to make a nonexistent case.

Cyril Burt doctored his studies using fake twins to “prove” that intelligence was hereditary. He did it before social media and people believed him.

Social media didn’t make people dumber. People have always been players those games.

When we will face human nature?

There were always underground movements that spread misinformation just as there always were media outlets that did the same. When we want to force people to think like we do, there have always been intellectual tools to do it.

It is nothing new; so let’s not blame the machines for human nature.

Why the New York Times is not the Paper of Record

Daphne Merkin’s exercise in sophistry is instructive to why the Times never quite understood reality, meaning it was never the Paper of Record.

The passage that show a clear case of blindness is this one in particular:

In private it’s a different story. “Grow up, this is real life,” I hear these same feminist friends say. “What ever happened to flirting?” and “What about the women who are the predators?” Some women, including random people I talk to in supermarket lines, have gone so far as to call it an outright witch hunt.

What happened to flirting?

Nothing happened to flirting. Flirting was never the problem. Harvey Weinstein wasn’t flirting. Matt Lauer wasn’t flirting. Al Franken wasn’t flirting. Roy Moore wasn’t flirting. Roger Ailes wasn’t flirting.

These were men in power who intimidated underlings with strategic workplace abuse.

The fact that that Ms. Merkin cannot distinguish the difference between sexual chemistry and abuse is truly baffling.

A power structure is in place. That’s the bottom line. You are on the job to work and being productive. Your supervisor terrorizes you to the point that you retreat as he climbs, removing the competition.

The article is the epitome of ignorant garbage. Many people find their future spouses at their place of work because that’s where you spend most of your day. Flirting with a colleague who flirts back…it can still be a recipe for disaster, but it is not the same as the one in power pressing a button on his desk to lock you in his office.

How stupid can one author be?

Had this been a well-thought out piece, there would be more than mere, “Well, I talked to my faux-feminist fake friends and they confused flirting with sexual harassment or are worried the public figures they support might turn out to be trash and now they’ll lose face in front of the little people…”

And as the vast majority of the men on the #MeToo Hitlist come from journalism and acting, there isn’t exactly some witch hunt. This is putting a spotlight on very specific industries. Some vain rich white men in media got exposed. Some women were resigned to it.

And some said enough and spoke out.

Those egomaniacs got the shaft…and their places of work survived without them.

Let’s not forget that far from being a witch hunt, many of those accusers confirmed their behaviour. They didn’t deny or claim innocence in many cases, which makes me wonder what is defined as witch hunt to Ms. Merkin.

Do you mean going after people who admit to abusing underlings? That is a bad thing to do? Should we leave those predators to feasting on prey because calling them out is a mean thing to do?

Is the article some sort of manipulative and covert justification of why the Times kept Glenn Thrush?

It doesn’t matter. What matters is we have people at this newspaper who still don’t understand what sexual harassment actually means.

And you can’t write about it unless you define your terms, and contrary to her assertions, the terms here are clear and unequivocal.

I did work in one newsroom where a senior writer started to target me with unwanted advances within moments of my arrival. His boss shut him down in two seconds, shouting at him in no uncertain terms to “stay away from her” in a tone of voice that made Darth Vader sound meek.

I never had trouble during my time there, or felt worried or scared. The person in charge knew what sexual harassment was — and made certain it didn’t happen on his watch, no matter who was on what spot on the pecking order.

But not every workplace has that kind of civility.

That’s the problem, and was at heart of #MeToo.

How have these places of work changed since those who harassed underlings were fired?

Have these places changed the way they hire and operate? New training? New policies?

Or merely new crisis management teams to continue to cover up the rot?

We don’t know because this author would rather declare a social movement passé.

With no proof, of course.

Just the way the Times rolls.

Why are you certain of the information you read?

When I worked as a journalist, I always was verifying information. I didn’t just run with whatever someone told me, because, too many times, it wasn’t true.

It was a fact of life that I had to question everything and everybody. No, it wasn’t paranoia, but the amount of misinformation littering the planet makes that a bigger problem than most people realize.

I was told of studies that did not exist, for instance. People lied about their backgrounds and credentials. People lied about illnesses. People lied about their business acumen.

Yet, every second, people quote other people’s assertions without verifying it.

It’s what makes much of the Internet useless.

But confidence doesn’t make information any more accurate, even if it tells you precisely what you want to hear.

There is no information skepticism in 2018. None.

And there must be.

But social media is just a sloppier version of traditional media, and traditional media has had a very shameful record of credulity.

Let’s take one case from the New York Times that did not make it into my previous book because it hit the fan after publication.

JT LeRoy was a white hot author in the early 2000s, and Hollywood hip kids loved, loved, loved JT. People read JT’s books and raved about him.

The New York Times reviewed one of those books in 2004.

Because JT, as the title announced dramatically, had “a literary life born of brutality.”

It was as hard up as a personal history can be.

JT even got to write for the Times in 2005 in their travel magazine, as well as other publications.

Except that JT’s backstory was a hoax.

And JT was two people masquerading as JT: both women related by marriage: one was the author, and the other the disguised persona.

I won’t go into the details of the case, but here is the New York Times, writing about JT LeRoy, and then allowing JT LeRoy to write for them…but it was all a sham.

How did it get that far?

The same reason you have probably posted fraudulent and misleading things on your own social media feed: no one is bothering to verify what they broadcast.

The Times perpetrated a hoax.

One day, it’s a fake author. The next, it’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.

And yet people, knowing my area of research, still come to me saying, “Did you read the Times’ article about…”

To which I reply, “How did you verify that information? Did you call Judith Miller, Jayson Blair, or JT LeRoy?”

Don’t mess with a media skeptic. We won’t put up with it any longer.

We will not be putting up with your unverified assertions.

We assume actors are writing their own tweets, for instance, and it’s not usually the case.

Western society has forgotten that fact-finding is a slow struggle and fight. For instance, sometimes I had to sit for hours and watch to see if someone who claimed to have an illness was really sick, or was putting on a show for my benefit.

Long interviews are far more revealing than short ones. Sometimes a source was sick, and other times, the answer was disturbing, but it would determine what story I would pursue, and which one I would nix.

Other times, I would come in a couple of hours early to an interview and walk around the company’s premises, just so I could do a head count and see if people were certain of their jobs, or was it likely jobs cuts were coming, meaning whatever an executive told me would have to square with the subtle signs around me.

It’s called Manwatching. (Or people-watching, it’s not important).

I did other kinds of research, but it always involved making sure that I didn’t get caught up in someone’s narrative, especially if I found myself agreeing with a point of view.

People used to make fun of me because I would notice whether light was peeking out from under a locked door or not, or looked to see if soles of someone’s shoes had marks indicating they smashed their cigarette with it.

Those details weren’t about adding “colour” to my story. They never did. What they did was give me clues and hints.

For example, a couple of years ago, I once tagged along to one newspaper building as a guest because the paper was interviewing people I knew for a story and I was there for support.

As the reporter interviewed the others, I was free to have a look around.

The newsroom was empty. The carpeting was old. There were papers and folders with dust of them, and the dates were from years ago, and were not newsworthy.

But there was a black and white photograph of a notorious killer pinned on a bulletin board — no longer newsworthy as it happened in the mid-1990s, but it was a staff photographer who took that now-notorious picture, and it was that paper’s glory days.

Once upon a time, they were up close to a story that gripped an entire country.

And now, nothing.

There is no resurrecting or reviving that outlet.

Social media is beginning to show the same symptoms as traditional media had: a tendency to exaggerate and sensationalize misinformation that later turns out to be false, or at the very least, seriously misleading.

When an uninformed opinion has more hits than a highly-researched and well-conducted study, you know trouble is simmering.

Facebook and Twitter are completely ill-equipped to handle the storm brewing.

Because neither was ever created with the idea of information verification in mind.

You cannot keep tacking it on after the fact, adding a fix as if it were a patch. It only makes the troubles worse.

For a fifth medium to thrive, at its core must be a dedication to truth and reality. There must be standards — tested, of course — built in its system.

And we are nowhere near that point yet.

Memo to the New York Times: Vice media was always worthless trash. It was never cutting edge. When will you yokels ever learn to deal with reality? Yeah, some exposé on Vice.

The New York Times is an oblivious entity, even when it tries to do an exposé.

It was publications such as the Times that drooled over garbage-bin worthy dreck like Vice media.

It was founded by white men. Ergo, they must be Great Men. Visionaries.

So Vice got a free ride with its sexist sophistry since the mid 1990s.

Vice is not journalism. It is propagandistic misogyny disguised as cutting edge journalism. If it were science, it would be junk science.

But the mainstream media loved its trash because it oozed of slimy attitude and had a swagger.

And swagger is just a sleight of hand trick of deflection so you do not look at the actual product.

So, now there is a “big revelation” that a sexist media empire treated its female employees like garbage and toilets for the boys to make various attempts to relieve their urges.

Anyone who uses Vice (like, big spoilers in the title, kids!) to be informed is uninformed and supporting misogyny.

Vice was just attitude, the way Fox News is just attitude. No substance, just arrogance masked as something that is not repulsive.

And even now, the Times is still going on how Vice was all these forward-thinking things in terms of product.

No, it wasn’t. It was a sham.

And you yokels, as usual, fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Any media outlet that does not respect women is a propaganda mill. The end.

I didn’t think I would keep writing on this site, as I have other things to attend to at the moment, but I wasn’t going to let this go — Vice is trash with no journalistic value whatsoever, and the New York Times is just silly.

Why is the Times surprised that sexual terrorism went on in that workplace? Do you not know how to read? Every article reeked of gynophobic babble. Their testosterone is too scared of estrogen and it shows.

What took you this long to see the obvious? What cave do you live in? That is Vice’s filter and lens — and it is not an “empire” worth standing. Period.

Journalism’s 36 Stratagems of War, or How the New York Times plays dirty with its own readers.

Journalism these days reminds me of The Walking Dead: you have a bunch of walkers going around, trying to infect a populace, making them as dead — and brain dead — as they are.

We don’t really look at the motives of zombies in stories, and why they need to feast on the living (especially their brains, as opposed to a heart or liver), when they are actually dead.

It’s a good question for a storyteller, but also for those who are media skeptics.

Why do those who refuse to think think to ensure no one else thinks either?

Journalism is a dead profession. It has been for a good long while.

But it could hide its inert state for a while, until Donald Trump won the presidency when he bypassed them.

This was unprecedented: no contender could ignore the press, let alone insult them, and then go on Twitter like an everyman and get the votes to win.

Oddly enough, this was a liberating turn of events since journalism used to hold the monopoly on information dissemination. They were the gate-keepers who told the dutiful, naive, and insecure Middle Class what was acceptable to think, do, dress, wear, and live.

Trump trumped them, and did his own thing.

And he knew who they were because once upon a time, he courted them and got lots of free advertising — not just in soft news sections, but hard news sections.

It was the New York Times that gave him his legitimacy in 1976 in a lovey-dovey kissy-faced profile.

So if he calls the press “fake news”, he ought to know who they really are.

And, as someone who has studied the media for over twenty years, I can say that, yes, journalism is a real form of fake news.

It is shoddy and unscientific. It is biased, manipulative, and rarely relies on facts, but sophistry, narrative and colour, the same tools in a propagandist’s arsenal.

So when the New York Times’ Steven Erlanger whines that now any tyrant can claim “Fake News!”, Mr. Erlanger can blame his own profession for that problem.

He can blame former colleagues Jayson Blair and Judith Miller for antics in fake news, but it goes deeper than that.

Because journalism did not want to bother with the facts, but perks of power, they slowly began using their own version of the 36 Stratagems of War to maintain as much control of the power to influence as they could.

It is a conniving way of conducting your daily affairs, and it should come as no surprise that so many journalists and editors have been fired for terrorizing female employees.

It is a feint to seem more powerful than you actually are.

With that article, the Times is practicing another stratagem: offence is the best defence. Accuse everyone who sees your deceptions as an villain bad guy who is out to take over the world.

It could not possibly be people who have seen them up close as they used press releases as fodder for their news stories, and then pretended they dodged bullets to get the truth.

It is all about optics. Trump called them out, and dumped them the first chance he could.

Because he saw the writing on the wall and realized they were just a bunch of zombies bumbling around, and cut them.

And that made the zombies angry.

So, they declared war on those who are still among the living, trying to get them to stop doing their own thinking.

The New York Times has had too many screw ups over the years to be trusted. The news media needs an intervention that brings discipline to it, but as those who were already corrupted by once having power will not have any of that, they need real competition.

As in, an alternative form of news gathering and dissemination.

One based in science, not stratagems.

And one that reveres critical and free thinking over the mindless games of zombies.

We’re slashing newsrooms and even shutting them down…but the demand for journalism has never been greater! Why media outlets lie to you through their teeth.

The New York Times has reduced the number of free articles they are doling out by half.

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So now you can read half as many fuzzy bunny profiles on Neo-Nazis for free before you are expected to pony up for your monthly hit of propaganda.

Some people think this is a positive development for the press. As the Bloomberg article gushed:

With demand for journalism “at an all-time high,” the Times decided this was the right moment to experiment with giving away less online content for free, said Meredith Kopit Levien, New York Times Co.’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. 

“It’s a very hot news cycle,” Levien said. “We think it’s as good conditions as any to demonstrate to people that high-quality journalism is something to be paid for.”

It is an interesting theory, but I know something about the shell games and smoke and mirrors game of paid circulation as I used to write about it when I was a journalist covering the newspaper industry.

The dodgy ways newspapers used to count paid circulation was extraordinary.

Paid circulation numbers were always inflated. For example, newspapers the “sold” for as little as a penny were counted as part of paid circulation.

It was those “free” newspapers that used to litter colleges, apartment buildings, and restaurants about fifteen years ago. The racks of unread newspapers were counted as being paid for and read.

It is also the same with online articles: I can click on a story and even keep it on my browser, I didn’t necessarily read it or even meant to click there.

When I do my requisite media reading for my web site, for example, I go through a lot of articles before deciding which ones I will link to here, but you can’t exactly count my hits as hits.

I pull up a bunch of articles, and then do other things, such as write or tend to other things. I skim to see whether the article is in-house or a wire story, and whether there is anything new.

Then I post the link and/or quote an excerpt.

Advertisers get nothing out of me as I never click on their products. Never. I usually get ads for products I no longer need because I already bought it through Amazon.

News outlets get even less from me because I am not buying what they are selling.

They may get hits from me, and frequently, but not usable ones.

I am not a news consumer. I am a quality control critic.

But the biggest problem for journalists right now if the sole reason they still believe they exist: Donald J. Trump.

Everything is pinned on him, and a few quickly ousted celebrities caught sexually harassing underlings.

The sex harassers will not sustain the news cycle much longer past the New Year, and as they are villains who have been vanquished, they are not enough to sustain interest. You can look on Twitter, and Rose McGowan will tweet about it, and that’s all you need to know.

Those are nothing more than headline scans, not actual stories.

But Donald Trump is the only long-arc going in a world of 7.4 billion people, but the problem is the people who have come to watch the sucker circus and media freak show are not going to stay for long. No Donald, no audience. Even terrorists do not get people worked up anymore. Apathy for current events runs deep.

The Toronto Star had punching bag Rob Ford, but once he left the mayor’s office after being diagnosed with a terminal cancer, the circulation numbers dropped, and the launch of the app Star Touch, was a failure, and people in the newsrooms still lost their jobs.

Hanging the freak has always been a short-term fixed, and once the freak is gone, audiences leave because those who come to a flogging are just looking for a cheap thrill. They are not news consumers. They want to see someone who seems to have it better than they are get it worse than they do.

But the gambit seemed to work in the 1990s when “super-stories”: OJ Simpson, Bill Clinton’s Impeachment, and Princess Diana’s private life — had soap opera qualities that involved shenanigans from those in power, or at least glamour.

Those stories were used to boost flagging audiences, but with each hit, the decline would worsen after every story. Aiming at Trump will be worse for two reasons: one, there is no heir apparent who can gain the same public interest, as even the #MeToo arc has denigrated to a mere Hall of Shame. You need dozens of semi-celebrities to maintain the interest. Once upon a time, only a single player would generate far more interest. With stories such as that, people want it resolved to Solved and Filed Under Happily Ever After. It will not become a follow-up to Trump.

Second, the fragmentation of audiences has denigrated the concept of icon and celebrity. Trump’s heyday was in the 1980s, and he is just about the only person left who was willing to take a risk and had name recognition. Fame means nothing anymore — and with reporters looking for easy hits with built-in name recognition, that avenue is about to close.

There is no follow-up, and the circulation and ratings continue to drop. If any outlets have a short-term Trump boost, it’s national outlets, and local ones are being shuttered. What that means is the roots of the media tree are dying — and hence, no one will learn the craft from the ground up.

And that will hasten the demise of the profession. There is no follow-up act. The next person running for president will have an army of PR people to ensure everything looks bland and acceptable.

With no local outlets, the big ones will suffer until they can no longer reach anyone post-Trump. With too much hype, there is too little return — worse, the people looking for a freak hanging will not stick around.

This is the state of North American journalism. It has been decimated, and the expectations are so pathetic, that anyone looking at them for any reason is cause for celebration.

And when Trump either leaves, or figures out the painfully simple way to thwart the press and yet again beat them at their own game, there will be no one else to latch on to because the Internet turned the precious commodity of public attention and made it mundane. People still prefer looking at their own selfies than know about their town’s finances.

It is tough times ahead for a profession that has already seen its demise, but hasn’t come to grips with it just yet.