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How does the media handle the age of FakeNews etc?

GlennGreenwald is a bit of a FreeSpeech absolutist. And the story of him leaving TheIntercept is informative. Here's one take of mine.

Quora Answer : What do you think of Glenn Greenwald's resignation from The Intercept?

Oct 31

I'm a big fan of Greenwald. I think he's done very good work and I continue to follow him avidly.

I support his principled stand on this. And wish him luck beyond The Intercept. I'll continue to read him.

Nevertheless, having read his article, I think he's somewhat wrong on this particular question.

I think it's obvious that we're in an age where disinformation and conspiracy theories are routinely deployed as political weapons. And it's very easy to spin up a very sophisticated fake news story with a lot of apparent corroboratory detail.

And given that situation, media channels do have to figure out how they are going to handle this world; how much they can and should act as a gatekeeper / editor / filter to try to sort the real news from the fake. Because if they just forward everything that comes up on their radar, they will be passing on a huge amount of junk, swamping the amount of factual news they report.

Media channels need to adapt to this new world and accept being even more selective, earlier in the process. This is inevitable in an age of InformationOverload. They have to ramp up the filtering.

Now, of course, this also makes their biases more evident. Their hunch as to what is "likely to be true" can't help but be influenced by their world-view.

I don't believe that Greenwald, for a moment, doesn't recognise that he, himself, is also a partisan actor, and doesn't think that he has biases. In fact, he'd be crazy if he didn't know that.

He's also someone on the further left who doesn't think that Biden is all that great. (I agree with him.) And he thinks he's doing the right thing by subjecting Biden to a bit of scrutiny. Calling attention to the rest of the media's pro-Biden biases undoubtedly looks to Greenwald as a noble attempt to stand back and be fair. But does also very much accord with his political biases.

So Greenwald thinks "Look, they should trust me to do all the filtering / editing. And it's my biases that should steer this. That's what my professionalism means."

And there's validity to that point of view.

But I think The Intercept might also have a valid intuition that, now, more than ever, they need to do a lot of extra work to slow down and double and triple and quadruple check exciting-sounding stories. Otherwise they can easily become conduits for propaganda that they don't want to be conduits for.

Now the counter to that is that The Intercept does seem to have swallowed uncritically and published many "RussiaGate" accusations, which Greenwald thinks are likely to be equally bogus. I agree with him. Much of "Russiagate" was undoubtedly pro-Democrat, anti-Trump media trying to find something, anything, to discredit Trump, and eagerly seizing on whatever a not very trustworthy US security establishment threw at them, when they really, really needed to be more sceptical. Russiagate is largely hot air and insinuation blown up to "paint a picture" rather than established concrete facts.

But two wrongs don't, in this case, make a right. Just because The Intercept are too credulous of anti-Trump Russiagate conspiracies, that doesn't mean they should start being more credulous of weakly sourced anti-Biden conspiracies to balance things out. We desperately need more and better fact-checking and rigorous filtering, as the river of "news" becomes an ever larger, faster torrent.

However good Greenwald is (and, like I say, I trust the guy. I think he has pretty good intuition) a one-man band is likely to find it harder not to be overwhelmed and end up disseminating made up stories.

Similarly this is a good interview. He makes his arguments well.

And what he says has plenty of validity. It is good for him to go on right-wing media and earn trust for important stories with that crowd. And he's right, with the mainstream liberal media reporting on Trump's failings, it's valid for him to focus on Biden's.

But again ... that presumes a world where people have infinite time and leisure and attention to hear all the news and evaluate it. But in a world of information overload and limited attention and evaluation what his argument misses is that his story about Biden's failings, inevitably is in a zero-sum competition AGAINST a story from CNN about Trump's failings. His criticism of Biden is taking attention away from Trump's failings.

Greenwald can't presume the civilized rational world of detached contemplation. As a player in a partisan news world he's inevitably "thrown" into a situation where he has to be making political calculations about who his work is ultimately supporting and who his work is ultimately undermining. He can't disingenuously pretend that he can take one side confident that his audience are getting and giving due consideration to the other side.

I'm not sure what follows from that. I'm certainly not arguing that Greenwald can't or shouldn't try to be fair and give multiple perspectives. Or that he must always be reporting with a political agenda that matches his own beliefs.

But I am sure that his argument fails to take on board these realities of the inevitable thrownness of a reporter and the zero-sum nature of "news" in an InformationOverload age.

See also :