Across the pond President Trump has, in the last few days, been essentially vindicated over his claims that mainstream broadcasters spread fake news.
Undercover reporting by James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, of the sort journalists used to aspire to but now seem horrified by, has revealed that CNN has no proof that Russia and Trump colluded to fix the presidential election in his favour, but are pushing the story because it’s good business.
Footage of CNN Supervising Producer James Bonifield showed him admitting “we don’t have any big giant proof”, adding of the ongoing investigation into the claims: “If [they] were finding something, we would know about it.” Separate footage showed liberal pundit Van Jones saying (with an American’s flair for language): “The Russia thing is just a big nothingburger.”
As O’Keefe commented in his report: “Bonifield says CNN loves the Russia story not because it’s true, but because people want it to be true. They’re feeding their audience a false narrative in order to get ratings”.
Following the release of the report, President Trump upped the ante, tweeting: “So they caught Fake News CNN cold, but what about NBC, CBS & ABC? What about the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost? They are all Fake News!”
Much has been made of ‘fake news’, and its mother narrative ‘post-truth’, following the twin shocks of the Brexit vote and Trump’s victory in 2016. Facebook deleted thousands of accounts it deemed to be spreading fake news earlier this year, downgraded advertising from sites it considered to be spreading fake news, and released a check list advising the platform’s users on how to spot fake news.
According to the Telegraph, that decision too was taken for business reasons rather than in response to factual evidence – widely accused of allowing fake news to propagate on its site and influence those elections, Facebook’s management was concerned that advertisers’ confidence in them may be undermined. Political pressure also played a part: Germany has threatened to fine social media sites as much as £50m for spreading fake news, while back in the UK the department of culture, media and sport has launched an inquiry into the phenomenon.
Yet what is striking, in that it is rarely if ever commented upon, is that allegations of fake news and their role in creating a post-truth world only ever run in one direction.
Take Matthew D’Ancona’s recent book, Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back. D’Ancona’s premise is that a new world has emerged in which the art of the political lie has been elevated to a level that destroys completely the concept of definitive truth. In a post-truth world there is no right or wrong, simply your opinion and my opinion, both equally valid.
He has a point; the examples he uses are all indeed definitive case studies in use of fake news to create a post-truth paradigm. Yet on each of them he has the facts exactly 180 degrees reversed.
Brexit is dismissed as a nativist reaction, following a crafty re-alignment of the debate to revolve around identity. Economic experts rightfully warning of catastrophe were wantonly ignored, D’Ancona says, because facts don’t matter in a post truth world. Yet it is demonstrably true that the dire forecasts of recession peddled by experts, including the Bank of England and the Chancellor, have not come to pass. Britain has not been abandoned by industry, and house prices have not crashed by 18%, or, indeed, at all.
Climate change and immigration too, are said by D’Ancona to be policy areas mired in populist opposition against the good advice of – again – ‘experts’, leading to the rejection of climate change science and the vilification of immigrants.
But as pointed out by James Delingpole in his excellent book Watermelons, and more recently Douglas Murray in his equally gripping but largely depressing book The Strange Death of Europe, the public have it right on both of these positions. The evidence that environmentalism is essentially a massive tax racket and that mass immigration has not worked in Europe’s favour is there for all who would look to see. Only the willfully self-deluded think otherwise.
Considering the events of the last few day it is perhaps a trifle ironic that D’Ancona chose for his fourth example the allegations that Trump had colluded with Russia to fix the presidential election. Astonishingly, the eminent conservative philosopher Roger Scruton took to the pages of the Spectator to agree with D’Ancona on this position, writing:
This extraordinary person [Trump], whose thoughts seem shaped by their very nature to the 140 characters of a tweet, makes no distinction between the true and the false and assumes that no one else makes such a distinction either. Should the FBI show that Trump colluded with the Russians in manipulating the presidential election, that would not be a fact but simply ‘fake news’, of no greater authority than his own homegrown alternative, which will have the added advantage of being contained in 140 characters, so that we can read it quickly and move on.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for Scruton, but his comments reveal something of a bias against the President on his part, and confusion among the wider conservative movement over how to navigate through the post-truth landscape. A pity, as it is to Trump that conservatives must turn for a lead on this issue.
Trump’s approval ratings are resolutely heading in one direction – up – as the public cotton on to the fact that, for all his bluster, the President speaks the truth.
And not the truth as he sees it, but the truth as it is. The footage by Project Veritas has shown up his detractors at CNN over Russia. Media bosses may console themselves with the idea – which they may even believe – that they are peddling ‘alternate facts’, but the American public sees them for what they are: lies.
In doing so, Trump reveals not only the fake news items to be just that – fake, but blows apart the whole notion of a post-truth world. Like the fake news it rests on, it too is a construct, a fantasy spun to confuse and disarm. But conservatives don’t have to go along with it, and, in the internet age, they don’t have to deal with those, primarily the media, who peddle it.
The British public also are not fools. They recognise the truth when they hear it. It is up to conservatives to be brave in the face of attacks both verbal and sometimes physical and speak the truth. That is how we navigate, and eventually collapse, the post-truth narrative.