Alternate “news” sources give us alternate realities

The sustained popularity of Donald Trump has been making me very sad lately. His twitter feed is just one horrible statement after another. He’s said that he would consider shutting down mosques, that he wants surveillance of mosques, and, perhaps the worst of it all, he has walked the line of advocating for, or at least not refuting the idea that we have an identification system for Muslims. That last one is a bit complicated, and there might be room to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, but that’s a bit of a tangent for this post. What this post is about is how different views of the world can be, depending on where we get our “news,” and how that difference can actually make me feel much better about my fellow Americans.

For weeks now, I’ve been feeling very saddened by the news. The GOP field seems to be in the competition for the most offensive candidate, and many of them seem to be trying hard to keep up with the most offensive front-runner, Donald Trump. Trump’s bigotry bothers me on its own, but not nearly as much as the fact that his awful, hateful, bigoted comments don’t seem to have the least bit of an impact on his numbers. My moment of somewhat renewed faith in the American public (well, at least the moment I realized that there is an explanation other than too many Americans are bigoted asshoes) came after an important point was shown to me: that the Americans who continue to support Trump after he says awful things might not even know the truth about his statements.

This particular glimpse of reality came after a couple of happenings. First, I was in a relatively long FaceBook discussion with a family member about the Syrian refugee crisis. I had posted a piece by the conservative Cato Institute that explained why Syrian refugees don’t present a risk. This family member, M.M., wasn’t necessarily saying that he disagreed with the Cato Institute, but was very critical of the Obama administration. His main gripe seemed to be that my facebook posts should not be how he learns about this stuff, and he was outraged that the administration hadn’t made these points to the American people.

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So I posted a link to the White House’s web site, showing the official statement about the refugees, how well-screened they are, and how it is critical that we show the world, especially potential ISIL recruits, that we are not hostile to Syrians or Muslims in general. His response? “That’s NOT what I asked for…it’s a freaking web page.”

I pointed out that this was the official voice of the White House, and I pointed him to a speech that Obama gave at a summit that week, but that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to know why the administration wasn’t coming out and saying things, directly to the public, about the issue.

That’s when it started to hit me: his view of what the administration says is completely a function of what his news outlets show him. The administration can say all they want, until they’re blue in the face, but if outlets like FoxNews don’t show it, those who get their news from FoxNews will conclude that it wasn’t said. This is not to say that it’s exclusively a FoxNews issue, the same goes for what any news outlet decides to cover, but in this specific instance, it seemed clear that wherever M.M. was getting his news from, was painting a picture that the administration had nothing to say about it at all.

This idea hit me again over a tweet by Donald Trump. On November 22, @realDonaldTrump, the official twitter account for Trump, posted this infographic:

Many news outlets covered it, and most made it clear to their readers/viewers that it was all wrong. First, the numbers are simply not true. FBI statistics are not available for 2015, but for the past several years, 82% of white homicide victims were killed by other white people, and only 15%, not the 81% the graphic claims, were killed by black people. Second, there is no such thing as the Crime Statistics Bureau in San Francisco that the post claims is the source. Third, the post appears to have originated from a neo-Nazi account that claims, “we should have listened to the Austrian chap with the little moustache.”

Although it was pretty clear to people reading most news sources that Trump had messed up here. Putting aside whether he knew it was wrong, or knew where it came from, Trump was spreading clear misinformation that was intended to paint a very bad picture of blacks and how dangerous they are to white people, feeding the flames of racism. But what if you got most of your news from FoxNews’s website? FoxNews.com didn’t completely ignore the tweet, but it might have been better if they had. Instead, they ran a story with the headline “Trump tweet on black crime sets of firestorm.” Not a bad start, and an accurate headline, but the article only pointed out that the tweet existed, and that people were upset about it.

Donald Trump’s notorious Twitter presence landed him in a little hot water Sunday with a tweet about black-on-black crime.

Trump appears to have been arguing that the new national focus on criminal justice reform is perhaps misguided, as most slain African-Americans are killed by other African-Americans, not police officers.

Trump’s argument and the graphic he shared immediately drew the ire of some.

That’s it. That’s the whole text of the article. Nothing else, other than a link to an equally non-informative Washington Examiner piece, that was the only text in the article. No indication that the tweet was inaccurate. No indication that the graphic was suspected to have come from a neo-Nazi group. No indication that anybody reasonable was upset about it, just that it “drew the ire of some.” If this is your source of news, it’s easy to conclude that the statistics are accurate, and, more important, that Trump isn’t a racist, he just tells it like it is.

The fact that we have these vastly different views of the world troubles me, but in some ways I find it comforting. Which is better, blatant support for horrible racist views, or support for a candidate without realizing that he has racist views? The latter isn’t good, by any stretch of the imagination, but the former tells me that people are awful, not just mistaken. I’ll take mistaken over mean any day.

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One thought on “Alternate “news” sources give us alternate realities

  1. Pingback: It’s the economy, stupid! – Hitting Bregma

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