You may have read that Neil Gorsuch did not actually found a ‘Fascism Forever’ club at his high school. But that story was not “fake news.” (More)

“They were all inside jokes on their senior pages”

Yesterday The Daily Mail made a big splash by reporting that Gorsuch, now the God-King’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, was the founder and president of a ‘Fascism Forever’ club at his high school. And it’s true that Gorsuch’s senior yearbook picture included a mention of his founding and leading that club. So of course that became A Big Story …

… except it wasn’t true:

Mr. Gorsuch, who was nominated on Jan. 31 to the Supreme Court by President Donald J. Trump, participated in the informal debates, where he was routinely teased, accused of being “a conservative fascist.” No shrinking violet, he would shoot back, taking on the liberal ethos of the school and even arguing with religion teachers about the liberal theological trends in vogue at the time.

Political differences aside, Mr. Gorsuch was popular and respected, excelling at debate and being elected student body president.

When it came time to write his senior biography for the yearbook, he would make light of the divide between his conservative political beliefs and those of the more liberal faculty and students.
It was “a total joke,” said Steve Ochs, a history teacher at Georgetown Prep who was the student government advisor during Mr. Gorsuch’s junior and senior years at the Bethesda, Md., school.

“There was no club at a Jesuit school about young fascists,” he told America. “The students would create fictitious clubs; they would have fictitious activities. They were all inside jokes on their senior pages.”

It’s a classic case of misinformation – “false or incorrect information, that is spread intentionally or unintentionally (without realizing it is untrue).”

“The supposed evidence”

So of course the National Review’s Ed Whelan headlined the mistake with the hashtag #FakeNews:

The Daily Mail and the New York Post (parroting the Daily Mail) are trumpeting a ridiculous claim that Neil Gorsuch, while he was a high-school student, founded a student club named “Fascism Forever.” The supposed evidence for their claim is the blurb on him in his high-school yearbook. Earth to newspaper reporters: High-school yearbook editors sometimes have a sophomoric sense of humor.

Actually, that’s only “supposed evidence” if a reporter knows that some high schools let seniors and/or yearbook editors write joke biographies. If a reporter’s own high school didn’t allow seniors or yearbook editors to indulge “a sophomoric sense of humor” in students’ biographies – and if the reporter was unaware of any high school that did – then Gorsuch’s yearbook blurb is not “supposed evidence.” It’s direct evidence.

The lie was Gorsuch’s and/or the yearbook editors’ … not the reporters who mistook the biographies as factual.

“Made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports”

In a discussion of “fake news,” that distinction matters. Yes, almost every poll and poll aggregator showed Hillary Clinton with a slight but significant lead on November 7th. As it happens, in a handful of states, the polls were off by enough to tip the Electoral College balance. But the final polls tracked with the national popular vote, and the state-by-state differences were within the polls’ margins of error. Stories based on those polls were misinformation, honest mistakes.

Yet ForbesRalph Benko claims that accurately reporting those polls was “the real fake news” of 2016:

The left has been hysterically pushing a new meme, “fake news.” While ostensibly neutral in practice it is subliminally weaponized as another lame vector – along with attacks on the Electoral College and so forth – to undermine the legitimacy of the election of Donald Trump. Love Trump or hate him, he won.

The real “fake news” scandal, of course, lies in the mass hallucination by the mainstream media that Hillary Clinton had a near lock on the general election. The overconfident reports of this reportedly led the Clinton campaign to make some unforced errors which just might (or might not) have cost her the election.

And of course conservatives are climbing all over that bandwagon to distract from the flood tide of disinformation that plagued the 2016 campaign:

Ignoring the facts has long been a staple of political speech. Every day, politicians overstate some statistic, distort their opponents’ positions, or simply tell out-and-out whoppers. Surrogates and pundits spread the spin.

Then there’s fake news, the phenomenon that is now sweeping, well, the news. Fake news is made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports that are easily spread online to large audiences willing to believe the fictions and spread the word.

In 2016, the prevalence of political fact abuse – promulgated by the words of two polarizing presidential candidates and their passionate supporters – gave rise to a spreading of fake news with unprecedented impunity.
Each year, PolitiFact awards a “Lie of the Year” to take stock of a misrepresentation that arguably beats all others in its impact or ridiculousness. In 2016: where to start? With such a deep backlash against being truthful in political speech, no one person (though there are world-class frontrunners) and no one political claim perfectly stands out as the dust settles from an extraordinary campaign.

Because of its powerful symbolism in an election year filled with rampant and outrageous lying – PolitiFact is naming Fake News the 2016 “winner.”

Accurate reports on 2016 election polls were not a “mass hallucination by the mainstream media.” The polls were off just enough and in enough states – but again, within the polls’ margins of error – that the Electoral College results did not match the aggregators’ projections.

But to call that “fake news” is like saying your local meteorologist gave a “fake weather report” … because the forecast models predicted rain on a day when it didn’t rain. That’s not a “fake weather report.” It’s an inaccurate forecast. A “fake weather report” might look like this:

But a “fake weather report” – in the sense of “fake news” – would not be so obvious. “Fake news” is carefully crafted to be mistaken for real, factual reporting.

“Calculated … to deceive target audiences”

“Fake news” is not misinformation, but disinformation, “intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences.”

For example, when FBI Director James Comey informed Congress that “new evidence” required the FBI to “reopen” their investigation of Hillary Clinton, that was not misinformation. He had already gone out of his way to smear Clinton with innuendo, despite having no evidence that she committed a crime. And given his refusal to discuss the FBI’s months-long investigation of the God-King’s ties to Russia – which Comey refuses to discuss even now – his carefully-cryptic letter was a clear example of: “intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences.”

It was disinformation – “fake news,” and from a government official, no less – and there is solid evidence that it tipped the balance in the election.

Yes, Democratic leaders and activists have cited that “fake news” as a rational to resist the God-King’s agenda. That is not the same as declaring that ACORN stole the 2008 election – as a majority of Republicans believed in early 2009 – or that President Obama should never have been on the ballot because his birth certificate doesn’t match some conspiracy-monger’s standard. Oh, and guess who helped spread that “fake news?”

And there’s the key. Conservatives are eager to lump every mistaken story, misinformation, in the same basket with their carefully-crafted and -disseminated lies, disinformation, under the heading of #FakeNews.

It’s not that right-wing pundits see no difference between: (1) accurately reporting marginally inaccurate polls; and, (2) the complete fiction of Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a D.C. pizzeria. They know the difference. But they want both stories in the “fake news” basket so they can cite legitimate, quickly-corrected misinformation to justify their intentional, keep-repeating-it-even-after-it-has-been-debunked disinformation.

The burden falls on the media – and the rest of us – to insist on that distinction.


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Research


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