Trump's "fake news" complaint has stirred the sardonic humor of comedians and the righteous indignation of the mainstream media. But, as with his idea that rapprochement with Russia makes sense, or his position that NATO members pay their fair share, Trump's criticism has legitimacy.
Last week (03/09), for instance, NPR's nationally syndicated ,On Point moderated by Jane Clayson (standing in for Tom Ashbrook) orchestrated a fake news classic on Wiki leak's exposure of the CIA's vast hacking operation aka Vault 7.
Characteristic of fake news, the program lacked either substantive fact or illuminating coherence. Therefore, I researched the topic to give readers a backdrop against which to view NPR's production: Assange released 8761 documents showing that the CIA employs some 5000 operatives, including many private contractors, to develop hacking tools such as Weeping Angel capable of converting your smart TV into a microphone ,and malware that can invade your phones, or automobile electronic systems, etc. Operatives also search out "zero points", spots in software easy to breach.
Rather than reveal these vulnerabilities for tech companies to fix, the CIA secrets its weapon arsenal making all of us prey both to its invasions and to attack, according to an ACLU's legal counsel, "from any malicious actor-whether that's a hacker, foreign state or criminal enterprise."
But omitting such alternative perspectives is a hallmark of fake news. No ACLU spokesperson or view critical of the CIA and / or worried about privacy had a place on the authoritative panel. Certainly not former progressive Congressperson Dennis Kucinich who on Fox News decried a "slippery slope towards totalitarianism," and bluntly charged, "It is bad enough that the government spies on its own people. It is equally bad that the CIA, through its incompetence, has opened the cyber door to anyone with the technological skills and connections to spy on anyone else."
"Anyone" else includes all our institutions and government itself, suggesting that the CIA is dangerously compromising both national security and individuals' constitutional right to privacy. Assange claims that for these reasons, he is meeting with tech companies, here and worldwide, to convene an international Geneva Rights Convention on cyber warfare and its escalating threats to individuals and to nations.
NPR's audience could not have gleaned these salient details, or heard these critical voices. Instead, NPR selected a panel featuring mainstream press's Devon Barrett (The Washington Post), and Robert Baer, a career CIA man and "expert" on intelligence. These two dominated the discourse, collaborating in presenting disconnected details which they wove into a narrative on the "extremely damaging" threat to national security. In this story, Assange, Snowden and Manning have made us unsafe and undermined US credibility and the trust important to maintaining international cooperative relationships.
After all, Snowden unveiled NSA spying on world leaders such as Merkel, and Manning disclosed US war atrocities, and Vault 7 reveals that the CIA clandestinely uses US diplomatic offices such as Frankfurt, Germany's to conduct its hacking. The panelists drumming on national security and damaged trust, however, indicted the whistleblowers, not the crimes, nor the CIA's illicit operations. Accordingly, the CIA's mole hunt and Spicer's promise of severe punishment struck sharp notes, muting the agency's culpabilities.
Misleading information enhanced the scare tactics and demonization of Assange as in Baer/Barrett's grossly misleading metaphor for Vault 7 as "a recipe book for hacking." Actually, Assange redacted any actual code as well as the names of any CIA operatives.
The 3rd panelist, Chair of Electronic Privacy Information Center, provided signature fake news "illusion of inclusion." His few expressions of concern for privacy were quantitatively and qualitatively muted as whispers drowned out by the loud symphony of Clayson and the two apologists.
Interestingly, it was a brash who expressed critical views. Three of the five callers voiced serious concerns about privacy along with distrust of the CIA. The first caller charged that the CIA's history of coups and assassinations did more to harm our security than does Vault 7; a second caller said the CIA weren't "honest brokers" and alluded to its well documented history of spying on political dissidents. An angry caller demanded, "I want to know how we got to this place when my government is spying against us..." Jane shut him off. Cut off or left to die from neglect, the public's fears were "answered" with authoritative assurances from Baer. He claimed emphatically that illegal intrusion was "impossible"! Jane Clayson provided a final touch, reading an email from a listener sick and tired of whistleblowers.
I have reserved the program's 'piece de resistance' for last. Clayson set the stage with the disingenuous question: With the upcoming Congressional investigation into Russia's interference in the election (stated as a fact), isn't the timing of Vault 7 suspicious? Baer jumped on this opening to anoint Assange, a "Russian proxy," insinuating that Russia leaked Vault 7. He then proceeded to ridicule the implications of Vault 7's stunning revelation of the CIA's capacity to plant "false flags,"-that is, to place evidentiary fingerprints into a hacking operation. Thus, if any hard evidence of Russian interference finally emerges, false flag could be its undetectable source. Baer preempted any such logical thought by pronouncing it "absurd" in the same ridiculing, dismissive vein with which he decreed privacy invasion, "impossible."
Thus, NPR's models the insidious, sophisticated species of fake news, not as crude as Trump's "there was no rain on my inauguration," but nonetheless a snow job. And NPR reaches millions who don't have the time to research and who trust the "public" in NPR, an anachronism because business and corporations are its major funders.
Of course, that Trump scores a point doesn't exonerate his fake news; it simply underscores the depth and scope of the mainstream media 's substantial contribution to the intellectual and moral fog enveloping this country wherein Fox hosts progressives, public media privileges shills for the status quo, and public awareness withers in the dark confusion.