Say, what’s in the real news?

Lara Trump explains that a kid who works in the lodge could never ski faster than Eric.

Remember when we coined the phrase “fake news” to describe the proliferation of hoax stories on social media? That genie got out of the bottle fast. The term meant “made-up reports” for about two weeks before Trumpsters coopted it entirely. Now “fake news” is their term for any item critical of the president, including factual reporting of events by legacy news organizations. They prefer “real news,” i.e. statements from people who are not journalists, disseminated by flacks who hold the very idea of objectivity in contempt. It took about six months to get from “watch out for hoaxes” to the assertion that only propaganda is real. Step one was to classify actual events that reflect poorly on the president as “fake news.” Step two is this:

Let’s talk about the things that make this news real:

  1. It is devoted to reporting good things about one subject.
  2. The reporter is the subject’s daughter-in-law.
  3. It contains no interviews with or quotes from anyone else.
  4. It is not broadcast on a news network.

Compare this shot of reality to last week’s reports that multiple people got fired from the White House staff, Obamacare repeal died in the senate, and the president has been asking people if he can legally pardon himself. All that stuff is fake. This video does not mention it explicitly, but we know it’s fake because it distracts us from appreciating the president. Lara Trump implies it with her very first sentence, “I bet you haven’t heard about all the accomplishments the president had this week, because there’s so much fake news out there.”

This statement sets up a weird dichotomy. It’s not as though knowing the Mooch got fired prevents you from knowing that the Dow has reached an all-time high, but Reporter Trump implies that you either know President Trump is doing a great job or you’ve fallen victim to fake news. That news is fake not because investigation shows it didn’t really happen, but merely because Trump fans refuse to listen to it. This is an extremely bracing way to think about the distinction between “real” and “fake.”

Another difference between fake news and the real news, though, is that the real news is not new. This video reports that President Trump continues to donate his salary, unemployment continues to be low, and the Dow continues to be high. One problem with the plan to replace the fake news of sourced reporting and reputable outlets with real news from the wife of the president’s kid is that it doesn’t really satisfy people’s appetite for fresh information about what just happened, i.e. the “news” of the world. It’s weird that Trump & Trump’s Real News would not try to replicate the reporting that most people agree is the lifeblood of what they call fake news.

But maybe they don’t think of it that way. Maybe Trumpworld looks at the Washington Post and the New York Times and determines that their signature feature is not comprehensive reporting on breaking events, but rather stuff that makes Trump look bad. Compare this to their own product, stuff that makes Trump look good. It seems fatuous, but maybe once you commit to approaching all knowledge as instrumental—not as a way to understand the world but as a way to wield power—you kind of forget how truth smells. If you only care about the score, the ref seems like another player. Why not compete with him?

Lara Trump’s real news is a dispatch from a world where the Washington Post is propaganda, too. The more one tries to parse the logic of Trumpworld, the more one suspects that it is not about lying so much as denying the distinction between truth and lies. The question of whether a statistic is accurate or a story really happened is orthogonal to the terms “real” and “fake” as Trumpworld uses them. Pointing out that what they call “fake news” actually happened is like saying the symphony is oblong. That President Trump is making America great again is their only claim of fact, and they take it as an article of faith. All other realness flows from there.

Friday links! Near-total information awareness edition

The prospect of a corporate-state apparatus that knows exactly what you’re doing at every moment is the stuff of science fiction. Books like 1984 and We imagine a surveillance that has successfully penetrated every aspect of our lives. But what about the surveillance that has unsuccessfully penetrated our lives? We imagine the dangers of everyone else knowing what we’re doing, but we should probably be worried about the scenarios where total information awareness is mistaken. What happens when the security state confuses you with the previous tenant of your apartment? In our culture of surveillance, whither the Charles Monsons and Khalid Steve Mohammeds? Today is Friday, and the danger is not so much that the government will know everything about you as that it will think it does. Won’t you overlap with me?

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It’s been a tough week for free speech in Europe

A cover from the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo

A cover from the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo

This morning, masked gunmen attacked the Paris headquarters of French humor publication Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people, including the editor and four cartoonists who had depicted the prophet Muhammed. Although no one has yet claimed responsibility, the Times reports that “extremist groups applauded the violence, calling it revenge for the newspaper’s satirical treatment of Islam and its prophet.” At the risk of profiling, I’m going to say this was a radical Islam thing, because who else violently attacks funny newspapers? Western traditions have more respect for free speech. In unrelated news, the UK has arrested a series of people for praising jihad on Twitter and Facebook.

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Friday links! New Year’s retribution edition

The first A. Ron Galbraith of 2015

The first A. Ron Galbraith of 2015

It’s not easy to make out, but the Post-It on the wall in that picture says “reserved for future parties.” That should be the official slogan of New Year’s Eve, assuming “it’s not easy to make out” has already been taken. I’m just joshing; the real theme is hope. Hope, of course, is the belief that the future will be good by virtue of not including everything that has already happened. Could we repudiate human experience any more cheerfully? Probably, if we had some goddamn Gatorade, but I will content myself with assuming I’ll have some later. Today is Friday, and I am a husk of my future self. Won’t you blow away into the weekend with me?

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Facebook News Feed shows you 29% of friends’ posts

Facebook's sorting algorithm

Facebook’s sorting algorithm

Before you freak out, that 29% figure is not scientific. It’s from research conducted by the Washington Post’s Tom Herrera, who last summer counted all the posts his Facebook friends produced in a 24-hour period and cross-referenced them with what appeared in his News Feed. No one outside Facebook knows how the News Feed algorithm actually works, since gaming it is a multimillion-dollar industry. But the old Facebook, where you friended people and then saw everything they shared on a homepage, has been defunct since 2008. The new Facebook tracks your behavior on the site and customizes your News Feed to show you only what you really care about—in my case, baby pictures and articles about catcalling.

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