6 Questions for Detecting Propaganda Disguised as News

From ‘Bombshell’ to Anonymous Sources and More

It may be Lester Holt’s middle name – Bombshell! During the Trump Administration the opening of a supposed news broadcast routinely sounded an alarm that the republic was in imminent danger from some new discovery related to our commander-in-chief.

Frequently, these bombshells were ignited by information supplied through the foremost darling of fake news: “anonymous sources.” Almost as frequently, any objective exploration resulted in a bombshell fizzle without much noticeable retraction.

The utterance of the B word – bombshell – has no place in any report pretending it’s news, unless describing artillery fire.

Sharyl Attkisson has catalogued the definitive list of Media Mistakes in the Trump Era. The former CBS reporter has also written two definitive books describing the downfall of American journalism which you should read immediately (see links at left). The progression of Attkisson’s titles demonstrate how the situation is worsening quickly: from Slanted to The Smear.

There is a law of attribution in journalism that is now violated regularly. Anchors and reporters express their opinions, essentially making judgment calls’

Kurt Schlichter chronicles major lies perpetrated about Trump in The 21 Biggest Lies about Donald Trump (and you!).” A very interesting New York Post article recounted just eight of those lies.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that any aspirational statement Trump makes is catalogued as a “lie” if it doesn’t materialize. When he said COVID would be gone by spring 2020, for instance, he was roundly hailed as a liar. If you claim your favorite team is going to win the Super Bowl and Tom Brady doesn’t let that happen, did you lie or just have your hopes dashed?

But let’s zero in on the media. 

Consumer Protection

The mainstream media is unavoidable. We need the information they provide apart from the business of government and politics. They way to live with them since we can’t live without them is to develop some filters.

Put each report through a fine mesh sieve strainer composed of the following questions:

1. Is this story under the influence of adjectives?

Call this the bombshell amendment.

There are eight parts of speech in the English language and a news report should – except in rare instances – use only seven of them. Adjectives don’t belong. It’s not a bombshell report; it’s just a report and each of us can decide its level of impact upon us.

One caveat: there are certain descriptions appropriate for stories about which 99.99 percent of reasonable people can agree. A school shooting is a horrific crime, a plane crash a horrible tragedy, a natural disaster a devastating event. The local team may suffer a heartbreaking defeat.

Subjects for which there are passionate and pronounced disagreement, however, should be served free of the bias adjectives supply, and you should question the intent for any that are used.

2. What value is served by reporting this (whether true or not)?

The poster child for this criterion was the incessant reporting of the trial and conviction of Paul Manafort in August 2018. The crimes of which he was convicted occurred 10 years prior to what generated a grossly over-abundance of news coverage – that he spent all of two months as Trump’s campaign manager in the summer of 2016.

Linking Trump to a white-collar criminal motivated coverage the crimes clearly did not warrant. That Manafort’s earlier life was investigated by the Mueller Russia Colusion cabal is also very dubious.

3. Fact or opinion?

“Biden did nothing wrong.” That was a direct statement from news anchors when they could no longer hide Hunter Biden’s dealings with a Ukraine oil and gas company a couple of years ago. Many of these same supposed journalists have also informed us that the 2020 presidential election wasn’t stolen and any view to the contrary is a lie.

There is a law of attribution in journalism that is now violated regularly. Anchors and reporters express their opinions, essentially making a judgment call.

“Biden did nothing wrong, according to his wife” could be a legitimate news report. Or “President Trump contends the election was stolen” is suitable. But presenting your personal opinion as factual information screams propaganda!

On a local newscast this morning it was reported that a judge has allowed an audit of absentee ballots in Georgia. The news show co-anchor concluded the report with: “The results of the election will not change.”

According to whom will the results not change? Must be according to Lori Wilson of WSB-TV because she did not attribute that remark to the judge, the Georgia governor, President Biden, nor anyone.

4. How does this compare to the reports from other outlets?

Numerous times on social media I’ve been accosted for – well– what I guess is trespassing. That’s because I typically comment on what’s reported in local newspapers, particularly the one in Atlanta as well as that of my hometown, The Cincinnati Enquirer. Can’t begin to count the times I’ve been told, in essence, I have no business commenting in those threads since my views don’t align.

I tell them that firemen go to fires.

The point is to expose yourself to organizations reputed for a bias in the opposite of your beliefs. You know who they are. Grit your teeth and compare and contrast.

5. Is it accurate?

Just because they report it, doesn’t make it true. Here’s an example.

A judge recently (May 2021) ordered that absentee ballots in Fulton County, Georgia, be made available for audit. The local ABC affiliate, WSB-TV, reported that the county was to undergo “another audit.”

That information is inaccurate and probably intentionally deceptive. What should have been reported:

The 2020 election results in Fulton County will now undergo an audit of absentee ballots. There have been recounts of the entire vote, but an audit attempts to ascertain if each ballot was cast by a legitimate voter.”

Notice the sleight of tongue. It’s easy for viewers to confuse an audit with a recount and thus conclude it’s an exercise in nonsense, which I presume is what the news organization wanted.

6. What stories are they not reporting?

The final question to ask yourself is one applied to the overall product and not just one story.

Amy Coney-Barrett’s swearing in on the Supreme Court received little or no coverage from the mainstream media. Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive with incriminating evidence allegedly would surprise those who absorb only the MSM.

Social media censors, black lists, and fact checks individual who express views with which they disagree.

Getting information that’s newsworthy is again reason for checking multiple sources.

This Phenomenon Predates Trump

Certainly to those of opposing political views, there’s a lot in here that comes across as whining about the 2020 election. But next time you have two hours, here’s a documentary that indicates the deep roots of media malpractice:

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