I worked in the business of discovering, writing up, and so distributing news to the population for the 27 years from 1945 to 1971, working for eight different newspapers or periodicals in five different countries, and I never once heard the expression “fake news” until it was used by Donald Trump.
In fact, I have never taken it seriously until recently, when I have begun to realize that “fake news” is an entity that has taken on meaning even for people who should know better than to accept his language, for whom his repetition of it endlessly has begun to have its effect, making it the sort of thing on which he is building a really poisonous run for re-election.
Along with things like his hatred of the idea of “invading” Moslems; his disgust at the “hordes” arriving from Central America; his embrace of the worst instincts in human feeling and thought --- his xenophobia, his narcissism, his recklessness with the truth. All of these are being skilfully woven into a package designed to appeal to the many electors who feel they have been left behind, and for whom the American dream has become a nightmare, but who, yet, seem to be so easily persuaded to believe in American exceptionalism, which was an idea so warmly embraced by Barack Obama, that in the hands of Trump has been developed into a naked belief that America can do anything it wants to do, anywhere in the world.
It isn’t that I have an excessive regard for news as it is presented by the mainstream media in which I spent so many years. In fact I often thought the version of events we were pushing out each day had little to do with what was actually happening in society. The reason for that was that newspapers were always owned by people who were among the wealthiest in whatever country I worked in, and whether these proprietors originated among the working class or not, they pretty quickly, as soon as they became wealthy, adopted the outlook of the well-to-do. Perhaps my experience was unusual, but it was borne in on me when I was in my mid-teens and still going to high school that in the whole country of two million people, in which every small town had either one or often two daily newspapers that I used to read in the local library reading room, I had never read a single word of praise for the Labour government under which I grew up. Of course, that government was a rough-as-a-diamond outfit: many, I would almost say most, of its ministers were working class guys with fairly minimal educations. Neither of the first two Labour Prime Ministers went to high school, and their finance minister had had to forego a scholarship to grammar school in England because of poverty, and the minister of public works actually began work at the age of nine in an Australian mine. Yet they ran a government that introduced the first universal health scheme in the English-speaking world, and they retained power as a popular government from 1935 to 1949, a good long run.
I guess it was at this time that I developed a liking for hands-on working men in government, something that has ever since tended me towards denigrating the university-educated socialists who nowadays make up the roll call in any “socialist” government you like to name.
But back to “fake news.” In my humble opinion, it has become difficult in these days to know what to believe about many major issues. The situation in Venezuela is a classic example. For some reason, the mainstream media of the western world has adopted a posture based on support for the the naked opportunism of the United States in its attempt to overthrow the elected government, for only one reason, because that government is socialist. But any careful reading of opinion on both sides of this issue --- and there is quite a lot of stuff favourable to the Maduro government published in left-wing online sites --- leaves one wondering what actually is going on. My inclination is to dismiss the prevailing accepted Establishment story, for the very good reason that so far Maduro’s defiance of the American demarche has been unshakeable: one left-wing report I ran across the other day outlined how Hugo Chavez, the so-called dictator who was repeatedly re-elected until he died, had created among the hitherto neglected and in fact grievously repressed and exploited workers, farm labourers and so on, a system of communes which continues, and, in the opinion of this writer, will continue whatever the fate of the Maduro government. Not only is Maduro still in power, but there have been at least as many people demonstrating on behalf of the government as for the opposition with its phony-seeming leader Juan Guaido, chosen by the United States to be the next president, never mind an election.
I read the following tweet by a researcher called Ben Norton, who is familiar with the situation in Venezuela: “Isn't it interesting how the US and European corporate media keep conveniently forgetting to show these absolutely GIGANTIC pro-government Chavista marches in Venezuela? I'm sure it's only a coincidence. Just ignore the long, long pattern of dishonesty.”
Similarly with Syria: this is one of the most puzzling disputes going on at the moment. The customary story is that when in 2011 the populace, tired of the repression by the Assad government, demonstrated and demanded changes, the government immediately responded with a brutal crackdown, which brought on the armed rebellion that later developed into this civil war, slowly modulating into as proxy war involving almost every country in the Middle East with its brutal results. But I read the other day a piece which said that before this happened, the government actually responded with a broad series of suggested changes, which the protesters rejected immediately and instead took to arms.
When I was looking for a copy of that piece I came across a long, long account, published by Truthout, from the revelations made in one of the Wikileaks posts in which they were able to develop a coherent account of the extraordinary machinations of the U.S. government as it plotted for years to undertake regime change in Syria.
I never did find the exact information I was hoping to find, namely the list of changes proposed by the government in 2011, but the many hitherto secret US cables the piece was able to quote directly, certainly gave the game away:
of what had been going on in the years leading up to that moment.
“What emerges from these cables is that, while there was undoubtedly a shift between the policy of the Bush administration after 2005 and the policy of the Obama administration in 2009–10 with respect to the question of regime change versus engagement, the shift was substantially less than publicly advertised. The US continued to fund opposition activities that it believed would, if known to the Syrian government, cause it to believe that the US was not serious about shifting to an engagement policy; the US continued to fund these activities as it came increasingly to believe that the Syrian government was becoming more aware of them. When they became public, the US denied that they amounted to a regime-change policy but we now know from the US government’s internal communication that the US did not think that the Syrian government would give credence to such a denial.”
Verily, there is a huge amount of information available that challenges the establishment version of events taking place around the world. There can be no doubt that part of the United States soft power lies in its control over establishment media and the agencies from which they buy their news and features.
But there also certainly is enough information available offering an alternative view of events, that one feels almost obliged to keep plugging away in an effort to find an alternate view, in pursuit of the sacred objective of knowing all sides of an argument.
In the introduction to my book Memoirs of a Media Maverick, published in 2003, I quoted the following comment on facts and news, by the late great Irish wit, former Communist, and persistent shit-disturber, Claud Cockburn (who, incidentally, gave birth to three leading journalists of our time, the late, great Alexander, Patrick and Andrew):
“To hear people talking about the facts you would think that they lay about like pieces of gold ore in the Yukon days, waiting to be picked up by strenuous prospectors whose subsequent problem was only to get them to market.
“Such a view is evidently and dangerously naïve. There are no such facts. Or if there are, they are meaningless and entirely ineffective; they might, in fact, just as well not be lying about at all, until the prospector ---the journalist --- puts them into relation with other facts: presents them, in other words. Then they become as much a part of a pattern created by him as if he were writing a novel.”
I think that is excellent advice that everyone should bear in mind before slavishly accepting what someone has written about almost anything, but especially an event, like those in Venezuela or Syria, on which the basic facts are scarce, in dispute, or relatively unknown.