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Posts Tagged ‘fake news

“But I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.”*…

 

A French print, published in the New York Sun newspaper, in 1835, purported to show all manner of plants and life on the moon’s surface.

… Most subsequent accounts of the Moon hoax fail to mention the Vale dwellers, that superior, lighter race—perhaps because those beings make clear that race and racialism have plenty to do with the hoax and its success. Whether [New York Sun editor Richard Adams] Locke meant to have these creatures taken as symbolic whites, or just as remarkable discoveries—or as things barely to be believed at all—the Moon Hoax’s popularity certainly owed much to its re-creating on the moon what many white readers believed could be found at home: there, on the other end of a telescope, wasn’t just life but order, not just extinct craters but vibrant temples, not just sustenance but subordination, not just humanoids but hierarchies.

Even many white abolitionists didn’t seek to eliminate racial hierarchy altogether, just slavery. In the Moon Hoax, Locke had married the fanciful travelogue to the outright travel lie, but also to the issues of the day. Not bound by facts, the hoax is free to fabricate feelings, and it is this artfulness and ambiguity that help explain the Moon Hoax’s popularity.

That popularity cannot be overstated. The Sun’s circulation soared to almost twenty thousand—a remarkable leap for the young paper, and for the new penny-press model it exemplified. Before the eighteen-thirties, newspapers cost six cents and were chiefly sponsored by political parties. By relying on advertising and circulation, the Sun and other penny papers helped invent a new reading public.

Within months, Locke’s Moon Hoax not only created the most popular newspaper in the world, and practically the very industry of the modern press itself, it also helped galvanize a new, national popular culture. “Moonshine,” a play inspired by the hoax, was performed mere weeks after the articles appeared, at the renowned, newly rebuilt Bowery Theatre, a venue known for doing topical plays and satires. Elsewhere, a life-size cyclorama of the moonscape drew many New Yorkers, including Locke himself.

The Moon Hoax also provided an outlet for the era’s shifting sense of truth. As Ormond Seavey puts it, in an introduction to the hoax’s nineteen-seventies reprint, with the Moon Hoax the Sun “had stumbled across an unexpected fact about American society. The New Yorkers of Andrew Jackson’s second term did not especially care to read the news. Political life bubbled and fizzed around them constantly anyhow; they had no need of being further informed.” And when they did read the paper, Seavey writes, “people did not expect to believe everything they read.” He goes on: “It is impossible to say how widely or how much they did believe the supposed Supplement. When one examines the contemporary newspaper reaction, one can never separate clearly the believers in the hoax from those who knowingly joined in the deception. . . . Both the deadpan teller of the tale and his impassive listeners were conspirators against reality.” Readers and newspapermen found in even the Moon Hoax’s falseness a metaphor for the times—one that echoes our own…

* Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

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As we affirm that there is no alternative (to) fact, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that CBS first broadcast CBS Reports.

CBS Reports was a documentary program series inaugurated on October 27, 1959, in the aftermath of the quiz show scandals. Executive producer Fred Friendly (Edward R. Murrow’s colleague on the ‘See It Now’ series) once suggested that the program was an attempt by CBS to undo the damage caused by the quiz show scandals and the resulting investigations. Friendly, who was executive producer for the new program later became the president of CBS News.

“’CBS Reports’ continued as a regular series for seven years, producing 146 hour-long investigative documentaries….Some shows caused controversy; many achieved critical acclaim.”

– “Encyclopedia of Television News

While many of the series’ entries were impactful, probably none were more so than “Harvest of Shame,” a 1960 entry in which Edward R. Murrow exposed the plight of America’s farm workers.

 

Written by LW

October 27, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The truth is far more frightening – nobody is in control”*…

 

It’s the conspiracy theory to dwarf all conspiracy theories. A smorgasbord of every other intrigue under the sun, the Illuminati are the supposed overlords controlling the world’s affairs, operating secretly as they seek to establish a New World Order.

But this far-fetched paranoia all started with a playful work of fiction in the 1960s. What does this tell us about our readiness to believe what we read and hear – and what can the Illuminati myth reveal about the fake news and stories we continue to be influenced by today?…

What the myth reveals about how fake stories spread today and about the psychology of their fiercest proponents: get illuminated at “The accidental invention of the Illuminati conspiracy.”

* Alan Moore

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As we believe that the truth is out there, we might send sultry birthday greetings to Mary Jane “Mae” West; the actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, and sex symbol was born on this date in 1893. Known over her seven-decade career for her lighthearted double entendre and breezy sexual independence, she has been named 15th among the greatest female stars of classic American cinema by the American Film Institute.

Among her memorable mots:

Too much of a good thing is wonderful.

When choosing between two evils I always like to take the one I’ve never tried before.

To err is human, but it feels divine.

Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.

I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.

 source

 

Written by LW

August 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers”*…

 

On October 20, 1880, just a couple weeks before the U.S. presidential election of that year, the New York newspaper Truth published a letter made up of two short paragraphs signed by James A. Garfield, the Republican candidate for president. Those two paragraphs could have been, as the paper wrote a few days later, Garfield’s “political death warrant.”

Addressed to one H.L. Morey, the letter concerned the immigration of Chinese laborers to America. “Individuals or companies have the right to buy labor when they can get it cheapest,” the letter read. “We have a treaty with the Chinese Government… I am not prepared to say that it should be abrogated until our great manufacturing and corporate interests are conserved in the matter of labor.”

More than 135 years later, that might sound reasonable enough. But in the 1880s, America was caught up in a cascade of nativism and anti-Chinese sentiment. To parts of the American populace—in particular, voters in California and other western states, where Chinese labor was seen as a threat to white workers—this was an outrage…

The 1880 election was going to be very close. It was the first election after the end of Reconstruction, and while the Republicans were still the party of Lincoln, they were divided among themselves. Garfield had been nominated at the longest Republican National Convention ever, after 36 rounds of balloting in which neither of the two leading candidates, Ulysses S. Grant and Senator James Blaine, was able to command a majority. Democrats controlled the South and much of the West. To win, Garfield would have to sweep the North and the West Coast…

The “Morey letter,” as it quickly came to be known, was a classic October surprise, an attack in the waning days of a campaign meant to land a death blow. But the letter also raised some pressing questions…

An all-too-true (and all too resonant) story of 19th Century fake news: “The Enduring Mystery of James A. Garfield’s Immigration Scandal.”

* Richard Brinsley Sheridan

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As we double-check our sources, we might send eloquent birthday greetings to William Jennings Bryan; he was born on his date in 1860.  An orator and politician from Nebraska, he was a dominant force in the populist wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as the Party’s nominee for President (1896, 1900, and 1908). He served two terms as a member of the House of Representatives and was Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson (1913–1915, a position he resigned because of his pacifist position on World War I).

He was perhaps the best-known orator and lecturer of the era.  A devout Christian, he attacked Darwinism and evolution, most famously at the Scopes (“Monkey”) Trial in 1925 in Tennessee; an ardent populist, he was an enemy of the banks and the gold standard (c.f., his famous “Cross of Gold” speech).

 source

 

Written by LW

March 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“What’s old is new again”*…

 

Toward the end of the 1800s, an insane asylum physician in Zurich discovered a surprising tendency among his patients. One, an Austrian maid, had spent years wandering the countryside, claiming to be royalty. A second, an hysterical epileptic, habitually convinced strangers that she was their distant relative. A third, a chronic masturbator, posed as Catholic (he was in fact Protestant), and compulsively pilfered items which he then discarded unused. In 1891, Anton Delbrück summarized his discovery in Die pathologische Lüge, christening the condition pseudologia phantastica, or, as we now say in English, pathological lying. And with that came the emergence of a public health issue requiring large-scale study, and somewhat improbably, widespread concern about an epidemic of dishonesty and even fake news…

As Mark Twain said, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”– the tale of the late 19th century “pathological” lying and fake news that plagued the nation: “Shameless Liars.”

See also: “The Great ‘Fake News’ Scare of 1530.”

* proverbial gloss on Ecclesiastes 1:9

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As we deliberate with Diogenes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1764 that English radical, journalist, and politician John Wilkes was declared an outlaw and expelled from the British House of Lords.  Wilkes and Thomas Potter had written a pornographic poem dedicated to the courtesan Fanny Murray entitled “An Essay on Woman,” a parody of Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man.”  Wilkes’s political enemies– foremost among them our old friend John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich—  obtained the parody. Sandwich had a personal vendetta against Wilkes that stemmed in large part from embarrassment caused by a prank of Wilkes involving the Earl at one of the Hellfire Club‘s meetings; he was delighted at the chance for revenge. Sandwich read the poem to the House of Lords, which declared the poem obscene and blasphemous. The Lords moved to expel Wilkes.  He fled to Paris to avoid a hearing, but was tried and found guilty, in absentia, of obscene and seditious libel.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

January 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

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