Russian Disinformation Bots, Fake News, Fox News
Courtesy AP, article courtesy Reader Supported News
By William Boardman, Reader Supported News
No one has to lie to avoid telling the truth
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s February 16 indictment of people and organizations associated with Russia offers a loose definition of Russian disinformation bots that seems equally accurate as a description of what Fox News has been doing since 1996:
… defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the US political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.
Russian bots and Fox News both have foreign roots. When Rupert Murdoch, an Australian, set about to buy American television stations in 1985, that was against the law. The Reagan-era FCC turned a blind eye to the law-breaking, and the Clinton-era FCC weaseled a way to affirm the broken law as legitimate by finding that Murdoch’s illegal holding was “in the public interest.” A year ago, for the first time ever, the Obama-era FCC approved 100% foreign ownership of American media to the outcry of almost no one. This is the world that Congress and the executive branch deliberately created over decades, a world where the unending stream of Fox lies and distortion is not only “in the public interest,” but protected by the First Amendment’s rights to free speech and a free press.This would be an example of the Constitution turning into a suicide pact, albeit a very slow and tortured suicide.
But here we are, all in a twit about Russian bots that are given this imaginary power to affect elections when all they do is re-package the fever dreams already haunting radio, television, and the internet. Russian bots don’t even own anything. What they do more than anything is show us our real selves. So some of us embrace them for their content, others attack the reflection as an “act of war” or some other hyperbole of denial. Few say what is so far obvious: the Russian bots merely stir a pot already boiling over with fantasy and fear fed by homegrown sources for decades.
It’s not that Fox News is all-powerful and unique, but it is the whale of deception that gives some protection to the smaller sharks of deceit like Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, and the rest of the right-wing piranha. There is no such large, effective equivalent on the left, even when the left is considered broadly. (Wikipedia’s list of alternative media on the left included CNN and The New York Times, which illustrates the effectiveness of Fox News spin.) Air America couldn’t survive, in part because it never fully abandoned intellectual integrity. The real left hardly exists in the media of today.
Response to the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, illustrates the irrelevance of Russian bots to essential American issues. The serious carrier of infectious deceit on gun issues is the NRA, the National Rifle Association. Pitching fear and paranoia with one hand and dishonest Constitutional history with the other, the NRA has frozen gun issues in unyielding irrationality for decades.
President Trump gets attention if not credit for endorsing two gun measures, reported in mainstream media as if he’s made some kind of movement in the direction of reason to address the very real, all-American issue of mass killings. Insofar as Trump is seen as showing any kind of leadership, that’s fake news. His gestures are well within what the NRA deems permissible. When Trump calls for regulations on bump stocks that turn weapons into automatics, that’s exactly what the NRA has endorsed, out of fear of legislation banning bump stocks. The NRA knows a law is much harder to repeal than a regulation (as Trump’s treatment of Obama regulations illustrates). And when Trump indicates some willingness to support modest changes to improve the national gun background check system, he’s not even going as far as the NRA, which supports some changes.
Trump himself is an endlessly reliable spouter of fake news, either in person or on his Twitter account. Russian bots must envy the coverage and respect his lies achieve, but Russian bots must be secretly pleased that Trump works many of the same corrosive divisions they work. Like a team, they help create the environment in which Donald Trump Jr. feels comfortable clicking “Like” on a pair of tweets passing on the story that the Parkland shooting was a false flag operation aimed at eliminating gun protections in the Second Amendment. The story also has it that the articulate student survivors, like David Hogg, are actually “crisis actors” in the employ of the deep state. YouTube took down a similar story after 200,000 hits, but now mainstream media are all spreading the story by reporting on how it was taken down for being false. Rush Limbaugh is just passing it on as true, saying that everything the student protestors are doing “is right out of the Democrat Party’s various playbooks.”
The accused killer at Parkland was a member of the US Army’s JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps), as were two of his 14-year-old victims. The Parkland shooter was trained by the US Army. Let that sink in. No wonder the Army quickly gave out three medals to its members who were killed. That’s a form of fake news. That distracts from the serious questions: what is the Army doing in schools in the first place? Why should the Pentagon have anything to say about ninth grade curricula? Why are tax dollars spent training 14-year-old girls to shoot? And why is the US Army allowed into schools to teach that the Tonkin Gulf incident in Viet Nam was unprovoked by the US? Does it really make sense to let the military teach false history to high school students, or is that just another way to condition them to following orders unquestioningly and to believing Fox News and Trump tweets?
Russian bots didn’t create this media environment, American bots did (some of them even human, technically). Russian bots can’t match reality, and they mostly don’t try. Russian bots just exploit the media reality we’ve created for ourselves. And that media reality in turn creates people who say, with zero supporting data:
Yeah, well, obviously there’s a lot of politics in it, and it’s interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats. But the media doesn’t talk about that.
The person who said that, Claudia Tenney, looks like a poster person for our dominant media bubble. Tenney is a Republican. She is a publisher. She is an attorney. She is 67. She is an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment in its fundamentalist form. She is in Congress. She represents southwestern New York State, including Binghamton. She was on WGDJ radio when she said that. Other media outlets covering the story include The New York Times, the Associated Press, The Washington Post, Syracuse.com, Politico, and the one you’re reading right now. When CNN followed up on the story, she issued a statement saying in part:
I am fed up with the media and liberals attempting to politicize tragedies and demonize law-abiding gun owners and conservative Americans every time there is a horrible tragedy. While we know the perpetrators of these atrocities have a wide variety of political views, my comments are in response to a question about the failure to prosecute illegal gun crime. I will continue to stand up for law-abiding citizens who are smeared by anti-gun liberal elitists.
Could any Russian bot do better than this?
Well, yes, and NRA head Wayne LaPierre did just that on February 22 at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he red-baited Democrats, calling them socialists and adding, without apparent irony, “Socialism is a movement that loves a smear.” In a speech with the apparent primary intent of placing armed guards at every American school and a universal database, he framed his argument with an eerie paraphrase of Claudia Tenney’s version of the party line:
They hate the NRA, they hate the Second Amendment, they hate individual freedom. They care more about control and more of it. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms, so they can eradicate all individual freedoms…. Their solution is to make you, all of you, less free…. We must immediately harden our schools…. Schools must be the most hardened targets in this country…. To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.
When it comes to dishonesty and disruption, these people are not outliers, they are exemplars of how to be mainstream conservative zombies in the politics of the living dead. What they actually try to say doesn’t really matter so long as it gets in the way of any rational discussion of guns. In that sense, these FoxWorld clones are, in the words of the Mueller indictment of the Russian bots, “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit.”
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.