Trump Spakovsky 1500

rumor and speculation can look like alternative facts

EVERY TROLL IS RIGHTWINGED, or least seems to be. Every fake news site and every blog passing on al­ter­na­tive facts also seems to be far right of center. Of course, this is based on my ex­pe­ri­ence on the free­wheeling world­wide web of fact and fic­tion, opinion and as­sess­ment, rumor and spec­u­la­tion, and every­thing else a human can do with words, im­ages, and sym­bols.

The freedom of the In­ternet has given us mil­lions of blogs for blog­gers to ex­press opinion or re­search facts. It has also given us web­sites with “re­porters” who have never taken a single class in Jour­nalism, and with no ed­i­tors at all.

 

Salon pub­lished a rumor that can be seen as an ‘al­ter­na­tive fact’ and used as ev­i­dence that lefty sites lie as often as rightwingnut sites.

 

The lack of a strong ed­i­to­rial hand on per­sonal blogs is un­der­stand­able, but the same lack on well-established, “name” web­sites is in­ex­cus­able!

As an example—and to show that I do see these things when they happen on sites that are not rightwinged—I offer “Be­hind Trump’s bogus in­ves­ti­ga­tion of voter fraud lies the GOP’s long cru­sade to keep people of color from voting” by Heather Digby Parton for Salon (Jan­uary 27, 2017). Here are the opening two para­graphs:

“Rumor has it that even though he seemed to be re­acting in re­sponse to ques­tions from the press this week, Donald Trump has wanted to launch his ‘voter fraud’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion ever since he re­al­ized he lost the pop­ular vote by a huge margin—and people in­side the ad­min­is­tra­tion were des­per­ately trying to talk him out of it. I have no way of knowing whether this is true, but Trump has made it clear since the elec­tion that he be­lieves there was mas­sive fraud in No­vember.

For the record, there’s no ev­i­dence that sys­tem­atic voter fraud ex­ists. None. Nonethe­less, Trump re­peat­edly made the claim the elec­tion was ‘rigged’ during the cam­paign, even­tu­ally saying that he would ac­cept the elec­tion results—if he won. He even lied about that. He won, but he still won’t ac­cept the re­sults.”

Forget most of the words in those two sen­tences. All that mat­ters is this phrase: “I have no way of knowing whether this is true.” Why in­clude this at all if you don’t know it’s so?

 That said, rumor and spec­u­la­tion are not the same as al­ter­na­tive facts but should nonethe­less be avoided by all but a blogger with no sense of shame.

 

Rumor and Speculation: photo of Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer made sev­eral com­ments during the tele­vised in­au­gu­ra­tion that were ob­vi­ously in­cor­rect. He could have simply apol­o­gized for his er­rors, and per­haps blamed them on ex­ces­sive en­thu­siasm. This would have im­me­di­ately ended the en­tire af­fair. In­stead, he de­fended them and opened up what could be an end­less public re­la­tions night­mare for him­self.

Rumor and speculation

Rumor and spec­u­la­tion, gossip and in­nu­endo, and mis­in­for­ma­tion and dis­in­for­ma­tion are the raison d’etre of the rightwingnut bl­o­gos­phere, not of the lib­eral bl­o­gos­phere. And I am not re­fer­ring to Par­ton’s en­tire ar­ticle, just that opening state­ment. The rest of her piece is fact-based with ample links to cred­ible sources. 1

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Salon does, in fact, have an ed­i­to­rial staff or, at the very least, a fact-checking staff. As­suming that, then there has to be someone at Salon who could have or should have looked at those two para­graphs and thought, “Uh-oh.” A few deft changes could have given Ms Par­ton’s ar­ticle a stronger be­gin­ning.

 

Why begin a fact-based ar­ticle with a rumor? It casts doubt on the cred­i­bility of every­thing that fol­lows!

 

Here are those two opening para­graphs rewritten by my ed­itor here at Neal Umphred Dot Com; the same mes­sage comes through, but without any he-said/she-said am­bi­guity or ref­er­ence to un­ver­i­fi­able ru­mors: 2

“Donald Trump has made it clear since the elec­tion that he be­lieves there was mas­sive fraud in No­vember. For the record, there’s no ev­i­dence that sys­tem­atic voter fraud ex­ists. None. Nonethe­less, Trump re­peat­edly made the claim the elec­tion was ‘rigged’ during the cam­paign, even­tu­ally saying that he would ac­cept the elec­tion results—if he won. He even lied about that. He won, but he still won’t ac­cept the re­sults.”

See how easy that was? Drop a few words and sub­sti­tute “he” for “Donald Trump” and there is no need to use the word “rumor” and un­der­mine an oth­er­wise ac­cu­rate, fact-filled ar­ticle. There is no need to use an ad­verb like “des­per­ately” that ap­pears to shade the ar­ticle.

And there is no need for the re­porter to con­fess ignorance—and ap­parent bias.

 

Rumor and Speculation: photo of Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President.

Coun­selor to the Pres­i­dent Kellyanne Conway com­pounded Spicer’s dilemma by re­fer­ring to his er­rors as ‘al­ter­na­tive facts,’ a term that al­most everyone out­side the rightwinged world sees and hears as syn­ony­mous with ‘lies.’ In the days since en­tering the Idiom Hall of Fame for her coinage, she has blamed the media for her and Spicer’s (and, of course, Trump’s) on­going cred­i­bility prob­lems.

Uttering a provable falsehood

The term al­ter­na­tive fact has been all over the media since it was first coined by Trump’s coun­selor Kellyanne Conway—as it should be. Here is a rea­son­ably fair and bal­anced ac­count of its origin and first use:

Al­ter­na­tive facts is a phrase used by Coun­selor to the Pres­i­dent Kellyanne Conway during a Meet The Press in­ter­view [on Jan­uary 22, 2017], in which she de­fended White House Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer’s false state­ments about the at­ten­dance at Donald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion as Pres­i­dent of the United States.

When pressed during the in­ter­view with Chuck Todd to ex­plain why Spicer [would] ‘utter a prov­able false­hood,’ Conway said, ‘Don’t be so overly dra­matic about it, Chuck. You’re saying it’s a false­hood, and Sean Spicer gave al­ter­na­tive facts to that.’ Todd re­sponded by saying, ‘Al­ter­na­tive facts are not facts. They are false­hoods.’ ” (Wikipedia) 3

Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer could have simply apol­o­gized for his er­rors, and per­haps blamed them on ex­ces­sive en­thu­siasm or zeal. This would have im­me­di­ately ended the en­tire af­fair. In­stead, he de­fended them with sev­eral sta­tis­tics that were them­selves mis­in­ter­preted or mis­used. Spicer opened him­self up what could be an end­less public re­la­tions night­mare for him­self.

 

Rumor and Speculation: cover of the fake book THE LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK OF ALTERNATE FACTS.

It didn’t take long for artist Tim O’Brien to make this satire of Kellyanne Con­way’s re­mark that “Sean Spicer gave al­ter­na­tive facts.” He made this mock-up of The Little Golden Book Of Al­ter­nate Facts, based on the bargain-priced chil­dren’s books of yore. Note that the artist sub­sti­tuted “al­ter­nate” (which means “every other”) for “al­ter­na­tive” (which means “of one or more things avail­able as an­other pos­si­bility”).

The political chasm is sooo wide

While printing a rumor is not the same as printing an “al­ter­na­tive fact” (or, as we used to call them, lies), it’s easy to see rightwingnut blog­gers and pun­dits con­flating the two and ac­cusing this one ar­ticle in par­tic­ular and the en­tire (all but non-existent) “lib­eral media” of doing the same thing that rightwingnuts do every day.

So, to be very clear: I am not saying that Salon posted an al­ter­na­tive fact. I am saying that Salon pub­lished a rumor that others can ei­ther mis­con­strue as an al­ter­na­tive fact, or can falsely use as ev­i­dence that “li­brulls” lie as often as rightwingnuts.

The fun­niest part is that anyone who calls Conway or Spicer on their use of the term al­ter­na­tive facts will be con­sid­ered to be making a po­lit­ical state­ment with a lib­eral bias, when in fact what they are doing is more akin to calling for a cor­rec­tion of grammar, or crit­i­cizing the cor­rup­tion of so­cial and per­sonal dis­course with an am­biguous new idiom. (Or Or­wellianly, some new Newspeak.)

What is de­plorable is that the chasm has grown sooo wide that those on the right side can or will no longer crit­i­cize such outlandish—and, in the long run, self-defeating if not self-destructive—behavior by their own spokesper­sons.

 

Trump Spakovsky 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was lifted from the Salon ar­ticle “Be­hind Trump’s bogus in­ves­ti­ga­tion of voter fraud.” The man on the left is Hans von Spakovsky; on the right is Pres­i­dent Trump. The image was dark­ened to make the white print of the title more read­able. (Photo credit: Her­itage Foundation/Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Getty/hermosawave.) 4

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   Is there a “lib­eral or left­wing bl­o­gos­phere”? The word bl­o­gos­phere means blogs that “exist to­gether as a con­nected com­mu­nity or as a col­lec­tion of con­nected com­mu­ni­ties or as a so­cial net­working ser­vice” (Wikipedia). If the im­por­tant words are “to­gether” and “con­nected” (as so many of the rightwinged sites are), then the an­swer may be “No.”

2   Said ed­itor works the same hours for the same com­pen­sa­tion as this site’s sole author/reporter.

3   The phrase al­ter­na­tive facts has been de­scribed as Or­wellian by many ob­servers in the media and on the In­ternet, causing sales of the book Nine­teen Eighty-Four to sky­rocket by an amazing 9,500% and be­come the #1 best seller on Amazon.com.

4   Hans von Spakovsky spent time in the Bush administration’s De­part­ment of Jus­tice’s voting sec­tion, “where he worked to un­der­mine the Voting Rights Act and played fast and loose with eth­ical rules, as amply doc­u­mented in a piece by Dahlia Lith­wick.” (Be­hind Trump’s Bogus In­ves­ti­ga­tion)

 

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Neal,

I read the fol­lowing letter in the comments/opinion sec­tion of our local news­paper sev­eral days ago. At the time, I thought that it was well written and well reasoned—not al­ways the case when our local ‘public’ sub­mits an opinion to be read by the rest of the masses. Imagine my sur­prise when I dis­cov­ered the sig­na­ture:

“A re­cent letter in The Ore­gonian com­pares a politician’s claim to tell ‘al­ter­na­tive facts’ to the in­ven­tions of sci­ence fic­tion. The com­par­ison won’t work. We fic­tion writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly im­pos­sible, some of it re­al­istic, but none of it real—all in­vented, imagined—and we call it fic­tion be­cause it isn’t fact. We may call some of it ‘al­ter­na­tive his­tory’ or ‘an al­ter­nate uni­verse,’ but make ab­solutely no pre­tense that our fic­tions are al­ter­na­tive facts.

Facts aren’t all that easy to come by. Honest sci­en­tists and jour­nal­ists, among others, spend a lot of time trying to make sure of them. The test of a fact is that it simply is so—it has no ‘al­ter­na­tive.’ The sun rises in the east. To pre­tend the sun can rise in the west is a fic­tion, to claim that it does so as fact (or al­ter­na­tive fact) is a lie.

A lie is a non-fact de­lib­er­ately told as fact. Lies are told in order to re­as­sure one­self, or to fool, or scare, or ma­nip­u­late others. Santa Claus is a fic­tion. He’s harm­less. Lies are seldom com­pletely harm­less, and often very dan­gerous. In most times, most places, by most people, liars are con­sid­ered con­temptible.”

Ur­sula K. Le Guin, North­west Port­land