A few days ago I had the opportunity to address a group of researchers on the subject of vetting sources; it’s a challenging subject but one that has become familiar to me. After all, I research and write not only on national security subjects such as deniable operations and failures of national command authority (which very well placed people go to great lengths to obfuscate and cover up) but also on even darker subjects such as conspiracy and assassination. Working that territory for a couple of decades either fine tunes your sense of skepticism or drops you off the edge of reality. Hopefully I’m still this side of that particular chasm.
Unfortunately, as I’ve been trying to highlight in my last few posts, we have entered into a sea change in which many of the vetting skills I was speaking to are going to be needed in something as routine as dealing with the news. Certainly there are dangers of various entities gaming news outlets – especially internet channels and social media – with well-crafted stories, posts and even “leaks” designed for political influence. So called “false news” stories have even become a significant item of main stream media coverage over the last few weeks.
And as if that was not bad enough, matters are becoming even more complex, with certain media specialists seizing the opportunity not just for influence but literally to create a state of chaos which keeps everyone (but primarily the targets of their political agendas) literally confused to the point where those on the receiving end begin to literally lose track of reality.
Unfortunately one of the techniques in that craft is to consistently insert not just marginally true (or literally false) news items but conspiracy theories and speculation. Of course that is particularly galling for those of us who actually true to isolate real world conspiracies from the standard operating practices of deep politics and even deeper business arrangements. As I pointed out earlier, under Putin Russian Television (RT) has become particularly adept at such things – a former RT correspondent, Sara Firth, resigned from RT in 2014, appalled by the fact that as she put it – “Every single day we’re lying and finding sexier ways to do it.”
Such practices are certainly not uniquely Russian nor limited to RT, they have become part of a new wave of media where stagecraft replaces reality. Somewhat amazingly those who practice it have no qualms about acknowledging what they are doing or the matter in which the do it. It’s not that such practices are unknown, craft has always been king in the media business – what is amazing is that it is now being done so openly and with no embarrassment at all. If you think this is an exaggeration, I would refer you to the following analysis which is far better than anything I could offer myself.
Given that the practices are so blatant, it would be unforgivable for us to ignore that such things are happening. The author of the referenced study posits that we are now dealing with a “post truth world” and as far as I know there is only one way to deal with such an environment. We need to dump our personal desires to accept news we like and reject the rest. We need to return to a very old time American standard – healthy skepticism, not denial but simply skepticism. Perhaps you have heard an old saying, one that goes “I’m from Missouri – Show Me”. Indeed Missouri’s unofficial nickname is the Show Me state, derived from its citizen’s reputed attitude towards any and all claims. I’d say it was about time we need to ratchet that attitude up a bit, we need to move towards being a Show Me nation. Normally I don’t like “attitude”, but in particular usage, I think it is desperately needed.