Fake news: did it help Trump get to Washington, and The Oz bash the ABC?

Did fake news help the deplorable Mr Trump get to Washington?

[First published on Independent Australia 17 November]

Much has been made of the argument that fake pro-Donald news sourced from Ukraine overwhelmed American voters leading them to put a billionaire reality TV ‘star’ in the White House.

But is it actually true? And what is ‘fake news’ anyhow?

There are two, maybe even three, main types of so-called ‘fake news’.

The first, but not necessarily the easiest to spot, is the sort of fake news supplied by The Onion, or The Chaser. This is spoof news and it is usually only the really dumb and gullible who get taken in by it.

The second is the ‘fake news’ produced during the 2016 US presidential race, allegedly on Ukranian websites and allegedly to help Donald Trump. This is a hard story to crack, but the gist of it is that Ukraine and Russia are at loggerheads and there is an undeclared shooting war going on between Kiev (the capital of Ukraine) and Moscow. The US election has been collateral damage in the media war between these Ukraine and Russia.

Trump is seen to be pro-Russian and has praised Vladimir Putin several times for his strong nationalist rhetoric. It seems that pro-Russian websites hosted in the eastern (Russian-dominated) part of Ukraine have been helping the Trump campaign. But just how successful they have been is hard to gauge.

Zuckerberg: Flat on his Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued a strong denial that the republishing of this ‘fake news’ on Facebook helped Trump. He has said that only ‘one per cent’ of posts on Facebook carry ‘fake’ news; but according to news this week, Zuckerberg is facing a ‘backlash’ from unhappy Facebook staff.

According to a report on Buzzfeed, a number of Facebook staff are in open revolt over the fake news issue.

“It’s not a crazy idea. What’s crazy is for him to come out and dismiss it like that, when he knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season,” said one Facebook employee, who works in the social network’s engineering division.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea if people stopped sharing fake news on Facebook, but how that might happen is beyond the algorithms at the moment.

Back in the (former) USSR

The problem of false news coming out of pro-Moscow sources is so bad in Ukraine that a pro-Kiev group, based at a Ukrainian journalism school, has established a website of its own to fact-check Russian stories. The director of the Mohyla journalism program, Yevhen Fedchenko has described as ‘propaganda’ the allegedly fake stories coming from the state-approved Russian media.


The StopFake website has also written about Russian ‘disinformation’ in the US election campaign, describing coverage in Russian media as ‘skewed toward the positive portrayal of Trump and the negative portrayal of Clinton’.

Russian state media managers have engaged in three types of propagandistic distortions: skewed selection and translation of US media; biased Russian investigation of US news stories; and outright fabrication of stories, sometimes loosely based on real US news stories.

Before we get too carried away, and to show just how difficult it is to separate ‘real’ from ‘fake’ news, consider this website, Russia Insider, which runs the taglines ‘Crowd-funded media criticism’ and ‘Taming the corporate media beast’ on its pages. It’s easy to see from this list of promoted stories that Russia Insider is pro-Trump.


Russia Insider also claims that the real problem with Ukraine is fake stories from a pro-Kiev perspective. Take this story for example, in which UK-based journalist Graham Phillips accuses the Ukrainian media of faking anti-Russian stories on a regular basis:

When Ukrainian media fakes about myself hit the hundreds, I stopped keeping track. To come in future instalments, but they did everything, from faking civilian cemeteries for cemeteries of the ‘Russian soldiers’, to seeing Russian soldiers in every single fighter in Donbass (incidentally all Donbass citizens are ‘Russian actors’, in Ukrainian media).

And, yes, you saw this coming didn’t you…StopFake has also denounced Graham Phillips as a dupe of the Russian security agency, the FSB.

Infamous British blogger Graham Phillips, who has concocted numerous pro-Kremlin reports for Russian propaganda media outlets — particularly for RT and Russia’s military outlet Zvezda — in eastern Ukraine, has been awarded a medal in the city of Chekhov near Moscow by Russia’s Border Guard, a branch of the FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, main successor to the KGB)

As I said, it’s not easy sorting out the mess in Ukraine, but it is much easier to spot fake news when it appears closer to home. In The Australian it can be identified quite simply be examining the political spin it provides and who’s ultimate interests are served.

The usual formula is to invent a problem in need of a solution then source a number of quotes that support the solution and to ignore anyone or any opinion that doesn’t support the favoured solution.

This is the third type of fake news – the ‘EXCUSIVE.

Today at The Australian the EXCLUSIVE has become devalued to the point of worthlessness and over-used to the point of terminal boredom and cynicism on the part of the reader. More disturbingly it has morphed into what I am calling the EXCUSIVE, a story planted in the paper to support a particular editorial line.

If you’ve been following my critical coverage of the 18C campaign by The Australian, you will know what I mean. It works like this, find a sympathetic person willing to be used to further the campaign and write a story around them; even if you have to really squeeze to make the quotes you’ve got fit the angle and the line. This is fake news to rival any propaganda masquerading as news coming out of either the Kremlin or Kiev today.

Faking it – a way of life at The Australian

It’s always hard to take stories about the ABC seriously when they are published in The Australian. You know they’re going to be just another opportunity to bash poor old Aunty. This week proves the rule with two anti-ABC stories on the same page of Monday’s Business Review liftout.

One is just yet another example of The Australian’s penchant for ‘fake news’ – that is stories for which there is no other point than to make a point. There is no news, but gathering two or four of the faithful to pour a bucket of ‘bias’ on the ABC is reason enough to take up half-a-page in an otherwise dreary Media section.

In this case, the Oz has called on the usual suspects to ‘slam ABC US election bias’. And in this case the usual suspects are just that, very suspect and not unusual: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz and alleged Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield.

It’s not unusual because this trio of deplorables have form in ABC-bashing. And for some reason they get regular space in the Liberal Party Paper to bang on about Rupert’s favourite subjects. Abbott is infamous for his hatred of the ABC and Uncle Otto’s boy can be relied upon to say whatever Tony’s just said.

And what did Tony just say?

Well, in case you (probably deliberately) missed it, here’s a good juicy quote. You’ll have to do the funny voice yourself – just add “ahh”, or “erhm”, or “urrhg”, or “gnugh” between every third word:

The only diversity the ABC lacks is intellectual diversity…No conservative listing to ‘our’ ABC’s current affairs programs could think that his or her views were getting a fair go.

Unable to add to that succinct and witty riposte, Tasmanian SenatorEric Abetz confined himself to reading out a section of the ABC Charter and, for good measure added the following timely observation:

Sadly, too many of the people in the ABC see themselves as being in organisation where they can do what they want, how they want, without any concern about the charter under which they operate…One of the outlined standards in [the ABC’s editorial] policy is ‘Do not favour one perspective over another.

And what was the heinous ‘bias’ displayed by ‘at least a dozen of the ABC’s high profile radio and television presenters’.

You won’t believe it (unless you read it in The Australian), but these Lefty perverts actually had the audacity to tweet out of turn about the United States’ election, in particular, they made unkind comments about Mr Donald J. Trump (President-elect) while he was a candidate.

If I was Barry Cassidy I’d be more embarrassed about getting the result so horribly wrong and less worried about calling the Trump presidency a ‘nightmare’. After all, tens of millions of Americans are now realising, perhaps for the first time that they are living in that very nightmare and they’re fully awake.

I also think it was quite reasonable for Annabel Crabb to ask in mid-October is there was an ‘off-switch’ for the campaign. I was looking for a hot poker at that time to dash my eyes to smithereens, rather than watch another minute of coverage.

Yes, that’s it. No evidence that any of the actual coverage was biased, just a piss-poor assertion based on weeks-old tweets. Not that a lack of factual evidence is able to prevent Rupert’s tame curmudgeon, former ABC chair Maurice Newman from demanding Michelle Guthrie apologise (to whom is not clear in the article) for her staff’s poor taste in tweets.

And of course, poor old Maurice, someone should explain to him the difference between journalism and fake news in comedy programs. In this quote he seems to have the two terribly confused:

If you look at the current affairs and comedy programs, they have a lot of left-wing bias – it’s not just anecdotal, its demonstrable.’

Actually, Maurice, it is ‘anecdotal’; you haven’t proven a thing, but it’s easy to explain; left-wing people are smarter and funnier than you, FULL STOP.

I’m not sure Minister Fifield was really in the mood to play The Australian’s blame game; all he was able to muster in the way of a ‘slam’ of the ABC’s ‘bias’ was this rather lame excuse for a slamming:

It’s really a judgment call for individual journalists to think about what they say…That goes for journalists in all media organisations.

Yes, Minister. It’s just too bad that you don’t ever offer that sage advice to journalists working in the News Corp stable.


In another example of the creation of almost nothing out of absolutely nothing, The Australian also managed to interview ambush Michelle Guthrie in Melbourne yesterday and of course, added her fairly anodyne comments to their beat up about ‘bias’. Guthrie didn’t have much to say, but The Oz couldn’t resist throwing something into the mix.


A lot of political commentators on ABC, and frankly News Corp and others, express their views on social media,” she said. “I’m very confident our journalists know what our social media policies are and know they have to adhere to that.”


The Oz also managed to squeeze a few words out of Guthrie on the paper’s favourite bugbear — 18C — and once again, the headline ABC’s Guthrie weighs in on Leak cartoon, section 18C and the spin don’t really match the words that came out of her mouth. Guthrie hardly “weighs in”.


Ms Guthrie, speaking to The Australian’s media editor Darren Davidson at the Screen Forever conference in Melbourne, outlined grave concerns about press freedom during a discussion on 18C.


“I think it is a big deal to reduce any sense of press freedom or freedom of speech, you take that very seriously,” Ms Guthrie said on stage at the annual gathering for trade group Screen Producers Australia.


Hardly “grave concerns” and no direct reference to Leak or 18C. But, hey Darren, you have to do as you re told and try really hard to make every word a winner, don’t you?

Is the Sky talent cupboard bare?

The second ABC-bashing yarn from Monday’s Australian is another in-house, fake news EXCUSIVE, and it concerns alleged attempts by the ABC to poach from the Sky News’ ‘talent cupboard’.

And wouldn’t you know it (only if you read it in The Australian), one of the ABC’s poaching targets is the obviously left-wing and loved-up fan of ‘Crooked Hilary’, David Speers.

Given David’s lust for Hilary, it’s surprising that Rupert hasn’t given him the ‘hurry up’ and shoved him into Aunty’s diminishing bosom already.

The ABC has issued a firm denial of the story, saying it has no intention of recruiting either David Speers or Kieran Gilbert. However, that didn’t stop The Australian from having a great time beating up the story to frame the non-actions of the ABC as ‘particularly inappropriate’ according to ‘some critics’ who are not named. These same ‘critics’, according to the Australian ‘will also seize on the external recruitment drive as evidence that the ABC is unhappy with its current line-up’.

The fact that Sky News boss Angelos Frangopoulos sensibly declined to comment’ on this rubbish’ should have meant that this rubbish was spiked, but the point is not to get at the truth, it is simply to engage in another pointless piece of ABC-bashing.

However, it is a reminder that we need to keep an eye on the former Murdoch and Google executive, Michelle Guthrie and her agenda for the national broadcaster.

3 Responses to Fake news: did it help Trump get to Washington, and The Oz bash the ABC?

  1. Mark Hayes says:

    This is a major triumph for the post-modernist media studies boosters, with their ‘long march’ through media and journalism studies since the late 1980s. Given their weak, almost nonexistent teleology – all ‘facts’ are socially created and mediated – of course they’d endorse and embrace ‘fact free’ or ‘truth free’ ‘journalism’, not realizing that by doing so they created a teleological void into which neo-liberalism oozed. If the election of Trump, the Brexit vote, and the so-called rise of ‘populism’, often with a racist face, could be argued to be the denouement of neo-liberalism, the ‘revolt’ of some of those left behind in the US and UK rust belts (as, among others Monbiot has argued in The Guardian), then ‘truth free’ or ‘fact free’ ‘journalism’ is a major feature of Liquid Modernity. Be very, very assured that those with interests in perpetuating their gains from neo-liberalism will not relinquish them. They’ve long since parked their serious money away safely. Media studies proponents rejoice! You’ve had a major win with your ‘fact free’ ‘truth free’ ‘arguments’. Now revel and enjoy the ‘fact free’ ‘truth free’ world you helped create.

  2. Spot on Dr Hayes, as usual you provide a useful insight and sheet home some well-deserved blame. The cultural studies crowd have long been the useful idiots of academia, providing the neo-cons with left cover.

  3. Mark Hayes says:

    Here’s Monbiot’s argument, from The Guardian ~ http://www.monbiot.com/2016/11/15/the-deep-history-behind-trumps-rise/ ~ I don’t entirely endorse all his points and I most certainly don’t expect neo-liberals to quietly scuttle off in their yachts and private jets to count their money in disgruntled silence. There’ll be push-back if Trump doesn’t provide their tax cuts and other benefits they expect. But the push-back could be very ugly as the men who run the USA mobalise their foot soldiers in the remains of the Tea Party and those who know Trump gave them license to promote their ideologies, such as the Al-right. If you have a spare few millions, my advice would be to buy shares in security companies, private prisons – their share price is doing well – surveillance companies, and weapons makers, and sit on them for a while while watching Trump’s administration do its worst, or unravel. The response to the North Dakota pipeline opposition is just another rehearsal for what’s coming once Trump deals with that pesky EPA and opposition to his climate change ‘policies’ ~ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/27/north-dakota-access-pipeline-protest-arrests-pepper-spray

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