Alternative Facts
The Etiology of Faked News

How technology supercharged the spread of disinformation, and what we can do about it.

Published on: January 25, 2018
Aviezer Tucker is the author of The Legacies of Totalitarianism: A Theoretical Framework (Cambridge University Press 2015). He is writing now a book about neo-illiberal democracy. Adam Garfinkle is editor of The American Interest.
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  • AbleArcher

    Why do you show a picture of Trump? He did not invent fake news, and he was not the first to use the term last election. The term was first used in the election to try and steer people away from DNC and Clinton dirty laundry being aired. Obviously that backfired because it turned out to be true.

    • AnonymoussSoldier

      Yeah, emails have been a bane of Hillary’s for a long time. Remember the 2013 cables released and then some more emails in 2015 about libya? Nasty stuff. It was clear that Qaddafi’s son and others were in contact with the JCS and in fact generals were calling HRC about the peace deals and Qaddafi affiliates approaching them even in late March. She said Niet.

      Turns out her meetings in Paris with the Muslim brotherhood and other terrorists a few weeks earlier had already decided to back them.

    • D4x

      Garfinkle is addicted to using photos of the POTUS that use un-flattering expressions, in addition to using photos to add to his subliminal text messaging. ithout reading the text, this photo more than implies that President Trump invented ‘faked news’, and that he did so because he is a joking fool who is unworthy of existence let alone the Presidency.

      Garfinkle’s last post on Jerusalem had dark gray massive clouds, storm approaching, sky. It was so depressing I posted same view with the sunshine and blue skies that are more normal.

      Authors and editors rely on photographs to fake news or point, as much as they use words. There was a post on Christians in Iraq that used a photo of a desolate, damaged church interior. That specific church was not mentioned in the actual subject text. They do not think readers will bother to check the photo source. Sorry to go on, but this photo made me NOT want to bother reading the text, because this photo signals repeat/rehash same old sputtering spleen. yawn.

      • Curious Mayhem

        It’s probably the editors of the site, not Garfinkle, doing this. That’s the way it works at news sites and newspapers.

    • Curious Mayhem

      More true than anybody knew at the time.

  • Dale Fayda

    Yet another bitter lament from the member of the punditocracy, who still refuses to come to grips with the results of the 2016 election. Same stock phrases, arranged in a different order, over and over and over.

    News for Mr. Tucker – no one believes you any more, not even most of your fellow travelers in the media. I suspect not even you fully believe the pap you put out, but you have a deadline and it’s much easier to “mail it in” than to come up with some original insight.

    Oh, well…

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  • Gary Hemminger

    Unfortunately the two writers here are simply not believed anymore. And the politicians, entertainers, civic leaders, and all the other elites are not believed either. If everyone is sprinkling lies in with the truth, then no one can be believed. What I believe is that our current leaders (both democrats and republicans) are liars and hypocrites. These people will say that government shut downs will kill us all and then moments later vote for a government shutdown. How do the authors expect anyone to believe anything under these circumstances? I used to say that I believe people about 49% of the time. Now I believe people about 9% of the time.

    And let me say one other thing: what is real news? Real news is when a Republican says that he agrees with something a democrat says and vica-versa. Real news is when a hardcore republican says they are concerned about the president making factually incorrect statements. Real news is when a hardcore democrat says that they are concerned that immigration needs to be controlled and that perhaps there was some bad things happening in the FBI.

    When Democrats say negative things about Republicans this is usually fake news. When Republicans say negative things about democrats this is usually fake news. When everyone is called a racist and a liar, why then are people shocked when they lie? I just don’t get it.

  • Gary Hemminger

    I can smell a lie a mile away. Just watch a hardcore dem or republican move their lips and out comes a lie. Do they actually believe themselves? When Feinstein says that a govt. shutdown will kill people, then she essentially votes for one, does she remember what she said before? The answer is either yes and she is a liar and a hypocrite or no, and she is an idiot. Since Republicans and Democrats will change their tune the minute it suits them, then what does Garfinkle & Tucker expect of their followers? If the electorate is just a hypocritical as their leaders, then don’t expect leadership to change.

    Expect this to continue until it stops. No amount of lecturing from the elite is going to change things because the elite telling us what is wrong and how to change it are simply not believed. How can people who clearly are not believed think they can help save the world? I just don’t get it.

  • Gary Hemminger

    I can smell a lie a mile away. Just watch a hardcore dem or republican move their lips and out comes a lie. Do they actually believe themselves? When Feinstein says that a govt. shutdown will kill people, then she essentially votes for one, does she remember what she said before? The answer is either yes and she is a liar and a hypocrite or no, and she is an idiot. Since Republicans and Democrats will change their tune the minute it suits them, then what does Garfinkle & Tucker expect of their followers? If the electorate is just ashypocritical as their leaders, then don’t expect leadership to change.

    Expect this to continue until it stops. No amount of lecturing from the elite is going to change things because the elite telling us what is wrong and how to change it are simply not believed. How can people who clearly are not believed think they can help save the world? I just don’t get it.

  • FriendlyGoat

    No one can do anything about fake news or misleadingly-spun news. This was proven decades ago by tabloids at supermarket check-outs. We should have been able to object to marching all children past such low-brow headlines for oh—50-60 years that I can recall. We should have been able to talk our stores out of making society stupid, with arguments appealing to the stores’ own retail reputations. But we couldn’t and didn’t. It was all still there for me to see merely four hours ago.

  • QET

    In all this spleen, you’d think they could have given their analysis of some concrete examples of Trump’s alleged disdain for facts. The piece seems to assume the self-evidentness of that. And while they mention Ben Rhodes in passing in a nod to the “ecumenical” nature of the “ain’t beanbag” aspect of politics, I am nonplussed that there is no mention of the notorious “Dossier” that is front and center in the news these days, nor a nod to the fact, which I as a casual observer certainly take to be a fact, that there is no serious evidence–yet (conveniently for haters of Trump, the hypothesis is not falsifiable)–of Russian collusion with Trump or other serious evidence that Russia actually accomplished any measurable effects with its meddling other than upon the nerves of people like Garfinkle. Speaking of whom, it is unnerving to see him losing his composure over Trump in these pages. How long until he joins with Twitter and media celebrities in calling for the military to remove Trump forcibly? Sheesh.

    • D4x

      There are Twitter-ers who actually report real news. France24 and AFP still are real news. AFP’s Dave Clark is the best reporter in DC, at State Dep’t. Press Briefings:
      Follow Turkey’s medieval assault on Afrin, Syria since Jan. 20, 2018 here: VOA reporter Mutlu Civiroglu is covering all news best analyses, and the bombings = new refugees.

      • QET

        Didn’t mean to tar all Tweeters with the same brush. Although one wonders whether (when) Twitter will block such reports as “not reflecting our values” or whatever excuse they allege in such cases.

    • Everett Brunson

      I couldn’t agree more. When one constructs a “truth” based with evidence established by the attack of only one side (despite the red herring of the Rhodes’ quote), then truth becomes nothing more than an abstract construction. Tucker’s defense of the truth undermines the value of truth.

      Sheesh indeed.

      • D4x

        Best read /analysis: links to full text: Every point is real.
        Spengler on Afrin is a real disappointment. Which is why I am just posting tweets like this.
        Funny – usually it is Altalena posting simultaneously.

        • Everett Brunson

          I found it both funny and ironic that Germany is insisting on the return of its tanks–especially in light of 5 of them being destroyed by the YPG forces. And yes, I have long believed OOB was nothing more than a prelude to a new genocidal attack by the Turks. They do like rubbing out non-ethnic peoples root and branch.

        • Everett Brunson

          Also in Defense Post–Qatar intends to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia at the same time they defend Turkey’s attack on Afrin. Some dots are easier to connect than others.

          • D4x

            Yes, Turkey has Qatar, and probably Sudan. Russia just delivered S-400 to Syria. NATSecCouncil meet in Moscow this morning – this would be a good time to prove the S-400 works, and start a no-fly zone over Afrin. Also reported at syrialiveuamap was the Russian troops moved out of Afrin are creating ‘refugee corridors’ east to to Azaz That is a sign Russia does not want to get another hit from the UNSC as the evidence of new refugees piles up. Mostly the 200,000 out of Idlib, which is what Russia/Assad got in exchange for letting Turkey go medieval in Afrin they moved their al-Qaeda-linked FSA out. It is winter there, freezing rain, and nowhere to sleep. Russia & Syria using barrel bombs in Idlib.

            The refugees in Afrin Canton are mostly heading to Afrin City, an actual medieval fortress city. Apparently, so are a LOT of SDF fighters from OIR area in the east. Am still reading liveuamap first, but Mutlu’s Twitter will now save lots of time reading idiots. I was heartened to read real, ‘realpolitic’ analysis at Defense Post. ToDo reality-time…

      • D4x

        CNN-Turkey might have launched biggest fake news of 2018: “According to Turkey “journalists” Bradley Cooper aka American Sniper who was fighting against Turkey was killed by Turkish air strikes in #Afrin. #YPG”

        Reuters confirms Turkey bombed the Iron Age site of Ain Dara.
        January 28, 2018 / 4:22 AM / Syrian government says Turkish shelling damaged ancient temple

        TAI could try rename “The PostPostModern Voice of America’s Interests” motto: “History Stopped in 2016 until further notice”

        • Everett Brunson

          In response to the Reuters article I was particularly taken with the statement: “The Turkish military was not immediately available for comment.”

        • Everett Brunson

          After looking at both of the links you just provided I went on a scavenger hunt from the link’s URLs. At the risk of you saying you’ve already read them, here are two articles that helped me understand more of the background and interplay of the various Kurdish political groups and further perfidy of the Turks.

          (from the Dec/Jan 2018 issue of TAI no less)

          • D4x

            TY! Do not know how I missed Barkey on 09 18 2017 at TAI, except I was deliberately avoiding many topics at that time. Reading it four months later? Barkey is so prescient, but, as a Wilsonian, and other clues, no sign he is writing a follow-up .
            FatMan comment was also terrific. That would be a fine place to continue our discussion of Operation Olive Branch, which most likely awaits several moments Jan. 28- Feb. 4: a) What will NATO, and UNSC, do? They can change Turkey’s storyline, b) What happens in Sochi with Russia’s ‘Syria congress’, c) Will POTUS mention the T word in SOTU?, we know he will state something strong and evocative about defeating ISIS.

            As for opendemocracy on 01 26 2018? Also a disqus thread, THAT was like learning ‘inside baseball’ of Kurdish politics in ten minutes 🙂
            The ‘socialist’ angle is why Senate is still trying to undermine TeamTrump in Syria. American public opinion does not care.

            Moran posted at AmThinker today. Same old limited pov, because… ‘NATO ally’. Bet he recycles that for pjm on Monday.

            Thank you again – I was ignoring so much in 2017 to reduce cognitive dissonance over fake American punditry – only noticed Afrin late October when I was following KRG at liveuamap. Had solely been looking at SW Syria since last May.

          • Everett Brunson

            Funny, I read the Open Democracy piece first and like you felt I was finally getting a glimpse behind the curtain too. So many factions, so many players but only a few underlying reasons. I am now forced to learn even more acronyms. Did you also read the curricula vitae on Ercan Ayboga? It was at the top right of the article. It noted he is also the co-author of Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in the Syrian Kurdistan –sounds like the man knows of which he speaks.

            As to the TAI article, I was surprised at both its even tone and nature. BUT, though it appeared in the Dec/Jan 2018 issue, it was written back in October, around the time of the change.

          • D4x

            Everyone waiting on Sochi Jan 29-30, especially UN. McMaster stall not helpful, unless it triggers more Turkish hypocrisy.

            Bombing getting close to ancient Cyrrhus. Makes sense, it was a Greek; Armenian; Roman; Sassanid Persian; Byzantine; Crusader fortress.
            Map of the Armenian Empire of Tigranes. Light brown: vassal Kurds, including Kommagene, which overlaps today’s Afrin. There were no Turks in 95 BCE. Erbil as old as Jerusalem.
   The original source of the Map is Robert H. Hewsen Armenia A Historical Atlas.

   Weekend summary

   Michael Jansen: Erdogan’s Kurdish obsession January 29, 2018

   ANALYSIS: “US-Turkey ties on a knife-edge amid Afrin offensive #Diplomacy Turkey-US relations are at their lowest point since 1975, when the US placed Turkey under an arms embargo for invading Cyprus” Suraj Sharma
            Sunday 28 January 2018 10:52 UTC Last update: Sunday
            28 January 2018 12:46 UTC

            YPG: YPJ’s Avesta Khabur blew herself & Turkey’s militia & tank. She was wounded, & YPJ know what happens to women captured.

          • Everett Brunson

            I know you’ve called it a night so don’t worry about any response for the moment. Sad news for a brave woman–Ms. Khabur–but she took an honor guard with her. As to the rest of the tweets on the page 1) I am amazed at the resilience of the Kurdish allied fighters 2) Erdogan is going to get embarrassed quickly if OOB ends with ignominy.
            3) Will be interested to see if Pres. Trump makes any reference on Tuesday night.

            Love the map! I knew little of the Armenians other than knowing the name and knowing about the genocide by the Turks–what I didn’t know was the extent of their one-time influence.

          • D4x

            Everyone still stalling, Americans, UNSC, and NATO, to see
            what happens at Russia’ Sochi conference Jan 29-30. Looks like nothing happened in Vienna, with UN ‘Geneva Process’ meet. UN reported Jan 27: “Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to Sochi next week to attend the Russia-sponsored Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue, talks reportedly on a political solution”

            Except the Kurds are not attending, and unsure if real Syrian rebels will be there.

            SOTU? POTUS has to note fight against ISIS, but Sochi will be in process, so, hard to predict if he will say too much about SDF/YPG, or Turkey. Most of my commentary has been at al-monitor this weekend.

            I also love that map – an empire never mentioned. Yet, have never figured out how ‘Albanians’ got from the western Caspian to eastern Adriatic 🙂 At one point, Iberians lived where Georgia is now: eastern Black Sea.

          • Everett Brunson

            Okay–Altalena moment again! But I found the first paragraph in the Gulf Today article disturbing As Turkish troops and militia allies advanced on the city of Afrin in northwest Syria, Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told Ankara the US would no longer supply weapons to Syrian Kurdish forces in a bid to halt the Turkish offensive.
            Why does the US persist in abandoning the Kurds every stinking time? I know the Kurds pragmatically expected it but I had higher hopes from the Trump Administration.

          • D4x

            Hope that is another stall. There were huge arms supply convoys into eastern Rojava, from Iraq, after that Trump-Erdogan call last year that Turkey misquoted. Assad was allowing SDF movement from Hasakah/Manbij into Afrin until maybe 01 19 2018, so they probably have ammo & anti-tank missiles for awhile.

            It is so complicated – start with Iran condemning Turkey, loudly…and McCain/Graham worried about ‘socialists’. imo, shame on UNSC for stalling, and putting focus on Russia. Everyone waiting for Sochi.

            650 SDF died in the Syria ISIS fight, not one American.
            Mattis will challenge McMaster to a duel in the Rose Garden before we abandon SDF/YPG 🙂

          • D4x

            Neither the Kurds, nor the real opposition FSA are attending Sochi, but the permanent members of the UNSC will be there (!). Stratfor gets it: “The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that Turkey is fighting are central to the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State, and Russia had invited Kurdish groups to Syrian peace talks in the pragmatic hope of stabilizing the country enough so it could withdraw from the conflict. With its incursion into Syria, Turkey has thrown a wrench into both of those strategies.” ( Great photo album, no added insight.)

            Excellent short summary: “The Kurds under attack” By NEVILLE TELLER 01/27/2018 21:24

            Unfortunately, now that more ‘news’ sources are ‘reporting’, it looks like Turkey’s propaganda is winning. ‘Reporters’ are so lazy. Even the NYT. Nordland got so many details correct, but, distorted with the headline. If a soldier destroyed an enemy tank by throwing a grenade down the turret, and died in the explosion, that soldier would get a Bronze Star, not be labeled ‘suicide bomber’

            Should have signed off three days ago 🙂

          • Everett Brunson

            I have bookmarked the Barkey article (as well as the Ayboga piece) so if you want to return to it as a forum I am certainly open. Also, it seems we had an Altalena moment–I was adding an edit while you were typing a response (since disappeared). Did you see the blurb from the Ayboga book that was in the edit?

          • D4x

            Yes. Safer to post that map here 🙂 I need a break – see you Monday.

  • WigWag

    Tens of millions of Americans decided the news media was full of it long before Donald Trump decided to run for President. Trump didn’t invent fake news, he merely labeled it.

    The mainstream media (or as Sarah Palin calls it in a particularly apt aphorism, the “lamesteam” media) is little more than a appendage of the ruling class. Journalists, especially celebrity journalists which is where most Americans get their news, are mere courtesans of the uniparty. One day they’re partying with the Democrats and vexing the Republicans and the next day they’re partying with the Republicans and vexing the Democrats.

    There is nothing admirable about the contemporary media. They are as complicit in ruining the prospects for millions of Americans as the politicians, the professoriat, the think-tank crowd and the rest of our dissembling and corrupt elite.

    • Everett Brunson

      I just real all of Taleb’s article. Thanks for the link. A very, very good read.

      • WigWag

        Everett, if you liked Taleb’s article, I recommend his book to you entitled “Antifragile: Things That Benefit from Disorder”

        Taleb is an iconoclast and a bit of an eccentric, but he has some very interesting ideas as counterintuitive as they may be.

        • Everett Brunson

          Thanks WW. Actually, after reading the article I decided to purchase all 4 books. I was going to purchase The Black Swan first but now, on your recommendation, will get both it and Antifragile.

          • Curious Mayhem

            At times, Taleb is a little weird and gets off on to his own tangents. But he and his books are great.

          • Tom Scharf

            Black Swan is very interesting, it’s much more mathematical than political. The failure of statistics when outliers can rule meaningful outcomes.

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  • Dan shaw

    Adam, this is a disappointing piece typical of the post Professor Mead American Interest. I see this piece as partisan political commentary with an intellectual veneer.

  • Curious Mayhem

    People talk about the media being engaged in fake news, and it’s true, if you widen your scope beyond simple, deliberate falsehoods — that’s rare. Simple factual errors are usually caught and, if caught, almost always corrected.

    The real problem is what doesn’t get reported, what gets misreported or half-reported, and the way dubious interpretations are mixed up a few facts sprinkled here and there. That is a large and growing problem. It started becoming noticeable about 20 years ago, during Clinton’s second term. The media fully moved to the mode of treating Clinton as a “rock star,” not a politician, and pretty much anything around started to get more and more of the celebrity and “reality show” treatment. (Jim Carrey’s The Truman Show came out around that time, perceptively and poignantly capturing the innocence of those early “fake reality” years.)

    But there’s another aspect to this, and that’s the explosion of fakery promoted by the political class, then assiduously repeated by the media as if it’s fact, without bothering to check. Obamacare was an earlier case, the notorious lying of Rhodes and Kerry in the matter of Iran a later one. (The latter included Kerry lying under oath. I’m sure he was as shocked as anyone by how he got away with essentially criminal behavior.) The long string of mistaken, but fervently held, ideas still clings to discussions about Syria, ISIS, Iraq, and Iran. Contrary to almost every politician’s apparent belief, ISIS didn’t start in Iraq; it started in Syria, as a result of the civil war there. Russia was not in Syria to fight IS (an idea carefully planted by the Russians and mindlessly repeated by the Western media); it was there to save the Assad regime.

  • Tom Scharf


    The demise of trust in the media started way before Trump took his escalator ride. I don’t trust the Washington Post anymore for very good reasons, what a mess it has become. Has anyone noticed that the media has more high profile embarrassing retractions in Trump’s first year than Obama’s entire 8 years? All the “honest mistakes” go in one direction, anti-Trump. The NYT wrote a front page editorial stating that it was a moral imperative for journalists to oppose Trump for God’s sake. And Russia. It’s not even worth diving into this hysterical shrieking coverage that has yet to produce anything 1 year later.

    The media has earned every bit of distrust they have, and government isn’t the answer to fix it. It is absolutely hilarious that people call for government to crack down on “fake news” while simultaneously calling the same government incompetent beyond repair. Who’s fake news do you think the Trump administration would crack down on? Yes, that’s the answer.

    The very last thing the people who distrust the media want is the fair minded (and I use that term extremely loosely) people from academia anywhere near this problem. I trust these insulated partisans even less than the media. People don’t believe what this author views as the truth so obviously they must be forced to do so through authoritative interference. Here’s some homework for academia, reread 1984 and pay closer attention to the thought police sections this time.

    If you want more trust, be more representative of America’s views.

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