Fake News is Yellow Journalism 2.0
and just as dangerous
Print shows a bespectacled man wearing a top hat and over coat, holding a book titled "Old Sleuth the Detective", standing on the street where young children are reading the newspapers labeled "Daily Scandal Monger", "Morning Cyclone of Crime", "Daily Rot, Daily Scooper, [and] Morning Scavenger", and newsstands are labeled "All the Sensation Papers" and "Don't Fail to Buy the Sunday Slop Bucket", with headlines such as "How to Poison a Whole City", "Murder", and "Crime".
Today’s article is about “fake news” or what our nation experienced at the end of the 19th century, then called, “yellow journalism.” More explicitly, today I want to talk about why our current epidemic of “fake news,” the modern version of yellow journalism, is the single most pressing national security threat. The bottom line is that we can’t succeed against any threat so long as we are under assault by miss and disinformation and worse… conspiracy theories. This is compounded by the extreme divisions between Americans.
Fake news publishers, no different from yellow journalism publishers use their dishonest sensationalism to manipulate the public, for their own interests, not ours. Our foreign adversaries do the same. When they work together, as with Russia and the current dominant force of the Republican party, the threat is exasperatingly worse.
Our National Security Strategy outlines our most pressing threats to be addressed. Not one of them has a simple solution and require, serious analytics and critical thinking. Like the old computer adage, “garbage in, garbage out.” Solving problems can’t be done with made up data and facts.
We can’t simply make up a bigger number in our checking accounts any more than, a doctor can diagnose and treat your ailments from the information in a Superman comic book. Doctors, engineers, farmers, mechanics, bankers and any other profession require training, knowledge and the experience of other professionals to solve their problems. In my years as a custom builder before returning to the army, I couldn’t just tell clients that their house was soundly designed, I had to prove it via engineering.
Somehow though, during the Trump years, one of America’s two major political parties have lived on fantasy, believing anything spun by the former president and his minions, who include Russian influencers. Whole industries, whose sole purpose was to convince voters that up was down, green was yellow, and the Russia was our friend, robbed America of millions of voters who should have been doing their own due diligence, but didn’t. They had been manipulated by professional influencers into, putting their political tribalism ahead of their traditional American values.
Instead of fighting over who followed these conspiracy theories, how about we all take a deep breath and start over, examining reality, truth and knowledge? If we do, the three objectives below and from our NSSIG National Security Strategy, Interim Guidance, will not seem so hard to reach. If we don’t do our part, we lose from the perspective of national security. If we lose that, we lose our nation.
The following are the three “must dos,” listed in our NSS, National Security Strategy:
At its root, ensuring our national security requires us to:
· Defend and nurture the underlying sources of American strength, including our people, our economy, our national defense, and our democracy at home;
· Promote a favorable distribution of power to deter and prevent adversaries from directly threatening the United States and our allies, inhibiting access to the global commons, or dominating key regions; and
· Lead and sustain a stable and open international system, underwritten by strong democratic alliances, partnerships, multilateral institutions, and rules.
National Security Strategy, Interim Guidance, pg. 9
NSC/ National Security Council
So please, allow me just a minute to establish some facts about why I say what I do about influence. Of a variety of focuses, in support of our national security community, influence is my core specialty. It is literally my profession to understand what other nations and both foreign and domestic extremist groups are doing to our nation and how to protect ourselves from it. I still, in a semi-retired mode, do research, mentor, teach, consult and write on this topic. I analyze threats and develop strategy to protect against them. I have no political, “dog in the fight.”
This last paragraph is to provide context into my credentials to professionally analyze what has occurred since 2015’s beginning of our “fake news” epidemic. I and others provided written reports during 2015 regarding what Russia was doing to assault our election process. This report was passed to my local congressman at the time, Representative Will Hurd, a former CIA officer. Tragically, his staff, repeatedly failed to share the reporting with Rep. Hurd. Newsweek magazine did a story on our group regarding our grassroots efforts to fight back against Russian influence, when the US government wouldn’t even acknowledge that it was ongoing. Some of our team in Europe, were actually engaged personally by Russian intelligence as a warning to stop our activities. All of us were in fact, “warned” in a variety of other ways.
All the while this was occurring, the 2016 election cycle was in its final phase and the right, led by a candidate with a staggering number of contacts with Russian intelligence, gained the presidency and labeled what Russia had done, as “fake news.” Intelligence reporting said otherwise. Russian fake news and other propaganda, including hackers, pitted Americans against each other on social issues. They also used massive amounts of American voters’ ‘personal data, acquired via Facebook, to reduce voter turnout in key states while amplifying propaganda favorable to the Trump campaign and his agenda. This continued unabated, once he was in the White House.
With all of this background, let’s get back to the fake news/ yellow journalism discussion and why it matters. Yellow Journalism, towards the end of the 19th century more or less began as a way for powerful publishers like Pulitzer and Hearst to increase their newspaper circulation. Over the course of the next few years and, with their own publishing empires leading the charge, converted most American news into what today, we’d call, “National Enquirer” type content or what today, we’d see from the “Q-Anon” folks and websites like Townhall, Gateway Pundit, Breitbart and so on.
Most right-wing media picked up on both Russian and right-wing extremist content and pretty soon, it looked like yellow journalism 2.0 across the US political spectrum. Some digital sites from the left, took up similar publishing to fight back against the craziness, therefore polluting the information environment with even more sewage, albeit on a smaller scale. After all, the left didn’t have Putin’s help. Russia stayed engaged while China and Iran joined in and pretty soon, all we had was a swampy news environment for US voters to wade through, to get to actual facts. Then, like now, it wasn’t impossible to gain accurate information but, it will take courage for folks on all sides of the aisle to have the courage to divorce themselves from their political identity and slowly learn how to find the right information.
Yellow journalism, at the end of the century is often blamed for starting the Spanish American War. That may be a bridge too far, but it certainly ginned up public support for it, and rarely honestly. Both Hearst and Pulitzer manipulated media to advance the profitability of their publishing empires but failed to acknowledge that real people, often innocent, were being hurt or destroyed unfairly. Journalists and regular citizens grew weary of the nonsense because they needed real information and reporting to run their businesses, lives, farms, etc. News from both publishers was always distorted, blatantly false or misleading. Sound familiar? If you have noticed that even on the right side of the aisle, folks are weary of Trump and his dishonest theatrics, it’s because it’s true and we as a nation have been there before.
Putin has used “fake news,” and hacking regularly to misinform the world about his war against Ukraine. His media, stemming mostly from something called the IRA, Information Research Agency and other elements of Russian intelligence, are ever present in American, and global media. Most Americans don’t realize that Putin still is assaulting US and allied media, much of which is picked up and amplified by right-wing, extremist media in the US and Europe. The information about this and China, Iran and extremists is publicly available, by way of, The Hamilton 2.0 dashboard, a project of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Okay my friends, let’s try and wrap up this, already too long article with an overwhelming number of embedded links.
The bottom line to this, part history lesson, part PSA, public service announcement, is that we as a nation, are still under attack. The adversaries are those who would mislead Americans, not because they are Republicans or Democrats, but because it suits their agenda, at the expense of our nation. If you’re a true conservative, the Trump crowd is the exact opposite of your political beliefs, based on real American values. Condemning the right, by the left and vice versa suits Putin’s and his oligarchs, US and Russian, at the expense of the American people. Election denial is a centuries old tactic seen in a variety of forms. Repeating it is to put another nail in the coffin of our republic. Paying to keep this lie relevant, is doing Putin’s work for him. It must stop now.
Some of the US’s biggest and most influential corporations are still funding the election denial conspiracy theory. Corporations like Valero, Koch Industries, UPS and Lockheed Martin are perpetuating the fantasy for their own bottom line, at your expense. What Republicans and Democrats should do, is unite against those corporations and demand that they support the lofty values that they advertise on their fancy websites. We are simply not Americans if we allow, like during the “Trust-busting “era, for the richest to manipulate us for their benefit, not the nation’s. Bankrolling politicians who deny the very foundation of American democracy is as anti-American as it gets.
The operative word in the title of our nation is, “united.” We must get by this horrific period of US history, just like the end of the Civil War in 1865, if we are to survive in a nation that still honors our American values. We cannot keep redefining them so that Patriotism means one thing for the right and something different for the left. That would be partisanship, not patriotism. This has long been Russia’s goal, dating back to the beginning of the Soviet Union. Like the common thread throughout the NSS, the principles of democracy are our core defense. Unity to protect our republic is literally, who we are as Americans. Those principles unify us, not divide us. Sure, Republicans and Democrats may still see things differently, but we cannot oppose each other the way we do today, with hate. We will not survive the partisan rift on this level.
To wrap this up fully, I’ll be blunt. The right must see that they have been manipulated by Russia and the powerbrokers of the US right, via tactics used by militaries around the world. They have falsely attached the term, “conservative” to the Trumpists. They are not conservatives, but extremists. America does far better when we are unified and engage in debate between principled conservatives and principled liberals. Those debates may be passionate, but we are not enemies. The whole point of democracy is to give citizens a say when they have fact-based, legitimate points of view. There is no such thing as arguing for conspiracy theories and calling it patriotism. We are all part of the whole and its damn sure time, that we acted like it.
National Security Council, The White House U.S. Department of State Office of the Secretary of Defense Office of the Director of National Intelligence U.S. Department of Homeland Security Homeland Security Today Magazine United States Department of Defense Asia-Pacific Security Innovation Forum and COE NATO NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) UK Ministry of Defence The Associated Press Reuters BBC News The New York Times The Wall Street Journal The Washington Post San Antonio Express-News Houston Chronicle The Dallas Morning News Austin American-Statesman El Paso Times Columbus Dispatch The Kansas City Star Chicago Tribune Media Group The Denver Post
The Seattle Times Los Angeles Times
The San Diego Union-Tribune Narrative Strategies
Information Professionals Association
Doowan Lee USSOCOM Joint Special Operations University Alan Malcher MA The Texas Tribune the Lincoln Project