‘Fake News’ isn’t new. It’s a Liberal excuse.
By dismissing information they don’t want to hear, the left has created a virtual reality that will make real progress more difficult.
When beseeched by his friend and scribe Reginald di Piperno to continue work on his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas delivered what I have long considered to be one of history’s finest excuses. Claiming to have received some revelation from the divine, he said: “The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”
I have, on occasion, used variations on this theme to explain away my own stalled projects. “You see, it’s just so good that it’d be a shame to write it down.”
It strikes me that the now-popular refrain, employed by the high-priests of the liberal media and their fellow-traveling pollsterati, regarding “fake news” and such like, is a form of this onanistic non-excuse. Its sister claim, that we have tumbled through the rabbit hole in the wardrobe and into a “post-truth” world, is likewise self-effacing guff of the highest order.
Pity these poor, fact-based martyrs, these bastions of truth and integrity, these writers for The Guardian and The Independent and Slate. How are they to make themselves known — how are they to spread The Word — in a world which, by disagreeing with their mantras, has sacrificed its relationship with the real? How is journalism to survive if “the people” are sick of experts? Can’t they see the folly in doubting the divine and irreproachable dogmas of the IMF, the CBI, the IFS, Gallop, FiveThirtyEight and other such pure and truthful spirits? How can they even consider becoming apostates from the Church of Celebrity? How can they disagree with Beyoncé?!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in’t!
This is piffle. The only thing post-truth about the post-truth defense is that it is untrue. But we already have a perfectly serviceable word for untruths; we call them lies. And the suggestion that the media was, before June 23 or Nov. 8, a universally respected and accepted purveyor of clean, objective truth is quite obviously a lie.
Evelyn Waugh recognized the media’s role in creating narratives; he wrote Scoop, which Guardian writers should at least try to read. George Orwell recognized the power of convenient misinformation and willful blindness; he wrote many essays on the subject, not least Politics and the English Language and The Freedom of the Press. W.H. Auden, unhappy with the counterfactual, sentimental praise with which certain members of the English literary élite — George Bernard Shaw and others — had lavished upon the Soviet Union, wrote August, 1968 to lampoon these tendentious offerings. Hell, wasn’t it the potency of emotion, marshalled by skilled demagogues and populists who sought only to mislead the masses, that formed the basis for Plato’s proposal to ban the poets from his ideal Republic? Quite an age, this post-truth era. Almost as old as civilization, in fact.
Except that it is only now that democratic elections are returning people the left does not like that we have officially entered the post-truth world. It is only now, when the most convincing narratives (I do not say accurate) are offered by the right and the alt-right, that “fake news” is considered a serious aberration.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is certainly fake and which would have been news to many who first read it in 1903, is still published and repeated as fact by Hamas, and many other noble supporters of the oppressed Palestinian people. It predates and is at least as anti-Semitic as anything published by, say, Breitbart, yet Breitbart is eviscerated for being “divisive” and propagating “fake news” whilst the pure and morally unassailable leader of the Labour Party (itself an embattled minority searching in vain for recognition) is happy to associate with those same militantly anti-Semitic Islamists, and call them his friends. And he is defended when he does so by real, not-at-all-reliant-on-clickbait outlets like Huffington Post and The Canary.
But theirs is truth, isn’t it? It comes from the left, after all. Opponents of it — of truth and the liberal left — live in the post-truth world; they cannot be understood for that very reason. They are innately unknowable, eo ipso they are unswayable, and no improvement on the part of the left can redress the growing chasm.
Except, of course, that if you admit the post-truth defense for yourselves then, ipso facto, you admit it for the rest, too. So is it not “post-truth” for denizens of the left to claim that current U.K. conservative government is an enemy of the demos, and against human and workers’ and trades unions’ rights, whilst the E.U. is the holy arc of progressive politics?
Of course it is, if we accept post-truth as a synonym of untruth. Guardian readers will, in one moment, lambast the party of austerity-junkies for their inhumane attitude toward the poor, and in the next breath advocate our remaining within the European Union. This despite the fact that the Fiscal Compact, the Euro Plus Pact and the European Semester Act enshrine austerity and anti-democratic tendencies as a constitutional mandate, the EEAS advocates bombing Libya (so helping to create the refugee crisis) and ECJ supremacy means that cases such as Viking and Laval undermine those same trades unions’ rights that the left is so keen on defending.
And of The Canary specifically: It pays its writers based on clicks, thus encouraging the sort of sensationalist headlines several steps removed from reality that its fans abhor when utilized by right-wing outlets. One of its more recent contributors, a Mr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, greeted the publication of the Casey Review’s report on social integration with the headline “The Tories have released a new report, and it reads like a far-right manifesto to divide the working class.”
Not particularly catchy, even by the standards of The Canary. But Mr. Ahmed would know all about sinister far-right conspiracies, and speaking truth to power, because the same gentleman — of the Institute for Policy Research & Development — spent much of the ’00s making sinister utterances about the complicity of the U.S. Military and Federal Aviation Administration in the Sept. 11 attacks. How’s that for post-truth politics?
No, I rather think that post-truth is a convenient non-excuse deployed by those who have spent their careers propagating fake news. These are the people who write for papers, like The Guardian, which will bang on about how “divided” the country is while publishing opinion polls — witchcraft, homeopathy and lazy journalism in one neat package — that operate on the premise that a sample of 2,000 self-selecting respondents will be representative of the same divided country. And then they are surprised when the polls are “defied.”
This is invidious nonsense. I claim — and can provide written evidence to any challenger — that I predicted a victory for Leave, and for Donald Trump, and for Theresa May, and the UKIP crack-up, and many other things supposedly produced by this post-truth era.
I was able to do so precisely because I operated on the assumption that the world turns now much as it has always done. I discounted opinion polls — and those who malign Breitbart might, had they seen its interview with the intellectual founder of modern polling Patrick Caddell, have been inclined to do the same. And I disregarded self-indulgent identitarian nonsense, nonsense of the sort which says the way to counter racism is to emphasize the differences within the Technicolor spectrum, for example.
I did it by indulging in the habits that have always distinguished good journalism from bad: by speaking to real people. (For example, when my Uber driver — who was taking me to an all-night referendum party at a London pub called The Lexington, which would eventually be flooded by the beautiful tears of its morally perfect, Remain-voting customers — who was himself a recent economic migrant from North Africa and who had become a citizen just in time to vote in the referendum, told me proudly that he had voted Leave, I took this as the culmination of a trend I had noticed some time before. The ‘Silent Majority’ are not silent if you bother to address them.)
So let’s park this concept, shall we? If leftist, progressive, internationally minded, egalitarian-inclined writers — and I still consider myself called in their direction — really wish to win the battle of ideas, they would better serve their interests by engaging in the battle, rather than by withdrawing from it with Thomistic declarations of their own lofty isolation.
Benjamin Mercer is managing editor of the Heythrop Lion, a graduate in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics from Heythrop College, UoL, and studying for an MA in Contemporary Ethics at the same.