The term “fake news” has gained a certain currency in recent months, perhaps reaching its apogee with the Washington Post’s notorious list of alleged fake news sites.
Although some of the sites listed had only a slim association with fact based reporting and analysis, the inclusion of many respected sites created a furore that led to the Washington Post rapidly backtracking.
Lost in all the uproar were more serious points: what was the motive for publishing this list; and to what extent does the mainstream media (msm), with its self-determined role as the arbiter of serious news and analysis itself actually a conveyor of fake news?
Fake news takes two major forms: the wilful dissemination of news or comment that is patently false; and the withholding of news that is accurate but cannot or will not be published.
The first of these are well known to anyone with knowledge of history. Stories of atrocities allegedly perpetrated by German troops in World War 1 were propaganda, designed to bolster public support. If the truth about the origins of the war were known it would have created public revulsion, quite apart from the suppressed details of the appalling and pointless carnage.
More recently the msm have supported manifestly false stories that have led to major wars to which Australia has been a willing party. The Gulf of Tonkin incident, for example, was used by President Johnson to obtain carte blanche from Congress to wage a war of aggression on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The war against the two latter countries is referred to as the ‘secret war’. It certainly was no secret to their populations who had inflicted upon them greater bombing than the combined efforts of the allies in World War 2.
Even more recently, the msm were the principal purveyors of the myth of Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and the ongoing lie of ‘Iran’s nuclear weapons program’.
A sub-category of this first grouping is where there is a significant geo-political event for which there is rapidly an “official” view, often supported by a fake investigation. The msm will go on reporting that official view, long after overwhelming evidence is produced that the official view cannot be true.
The assassinations of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Martin Luther King in 1968, Robert F. Kennedy in the same year, and the events of 11 September 2001 are but four of the better-known examples.
The truth about these events has to be suppressed because of what they reveal about the workings of the State, and the ruthlessness with which individuals or groups and eliminated for some larger geopolitical purpose.
Operation Gladio, under which large scale terrorist attacks were carried out in Europe in the post war decades, and blamed on left wing groups, were in fact false flag attacks whose main purpose was to prevent the coming to power of left wing governments in the countries that were the victims of these attacks.
A more modern version, known by some as Gladio 2, uses terrorist attacks attributed to Islamic extremists in a range of countries, particularly in the Middle East and Caucasus regions of the Russian Federation.
In the modern case of Ukraine, an American financed and organized coup in February 2014 displaced the legitimate government. It is now a failed state, run by neo-Nazi militants who wage war on its eastern Russian speaking regions in violation of the Minsk accords.
The western media treatment of this, and the related secession of Crimea to return to Russia is one of the worst examples of msm bias and misrepresentation of the facts. The motive is clearly the continued demonization of Russia in general and Mr Putin in particular.
Similar bias and misrepresentation can be seen in the treatment of issues in the South and East China Sea. Again, the motives are clear as readers of this site know.
The second element of the fake news phenomena is the minimal or non-existent coverage given to certain events. A long time program run out of Sonoma University in California called ‘Project Censored’ publishes a list of the 25 most suppressed stories each year.
Many of the stories deal with specifically American topics and are therefore of only marginal interest to Australians. But some of the suppressed stories have direct relevance to Australia. There is a similar lack of mainstream media coverage in this country.
From the 2013-14 list for example, number 10 on that list is the suppression of a WHO report on the effects of depleted uranium as a causative factor in the incidence of birth defects and cancers in Iraq.
From the 2014-15 report, number 3 on the list is the fact tat 89% of Pakistani victims of US drone attacks are not militants, but innocent women, children and men.
From the 2015-16 list, number 8 is evidence that Syria’s war was spurred by the contest over the delivery of gas to Europe, not Muslim sectarianism. Robert F. Kennedy Junior’s article in February 2016, Syria, Another Pipeline War is compelling reading in this context.
The number 1 suppressed story in 2015-16 was the fact that US military Special Forces are active in 70% of the world’s nations. Apart from some cases where they are helping to train local forces, the majority of actions include assassinations, sabotage, drone operations and kidnappings. (Nick Turse, TomDispatch, 2016)
In a democracy, an informed citizenry is a minimal requirement if the term is to have any real meaning. Effective policy formation and the citizen’s judgment of that require no less than accurate news and informed opinion.
The examples cited above are all relevant to Australia. We joined the war in Vietnam at the request of the Americans when that war was not only based on a lie, its whole ‘national security’ rationale was untenable.
We invaded Afghanistan on similar false pretenses and for a variety of hidden motives that even after 15+ fruitless years cannot be discussed honestly in the Australian msm.
Similarly the illegal wars in Iraq and Syria are replete with false narratives and major suppression of significant news. It is through our complicity in these wars that we are at least partially responsible for the carnage being wrought on Yemen.
The Internet has given rise to a wholly different means of accessing information. Of course there is a lunatic fringe that peddle claptrap to the gullible.
But there is also a growing body of well-informed sources, both as to facts and opinion that poses a serious threat to the viability of the msm. It is recognition of this threat that is at the root of the mock outrage about ‘fake news.’
These are the first shots being fired in a battle over control of the dissemination of information. It is not a coincidence that a corollary to the upsurge in alleged concern about ‘fake news’ is a demand by those same msm outlets that controls should be introduced over what we are able to read, see and hear.
It seems that there is fake news and there is fake news. The traditional purveyors want to maintain their earlier monopoly. They should be strongly resisted.
James O’Neill, Barrister at Law. He may be contacted at email@example.com