The Washington Post Denounces “Fringe News”

In the Washington Post, Paul Farhi writes: “Thanks to Trump, fringe news enters the mainstream.” Farhi begins by describing Donald Trump’s interview with Alex Jones of InfoWars. I agree that Jones is a fringe character. But it turns out that in Farhi’s mind, “fringe” includes pretty much anyone he disagrees with.

Many of Trump’s more controversial assertions since he declared for president have come from the murky swamp of right-wing, libertarian and flat-out paranoid sources that have proliferated and thrived as the Internet and social media have grown.

No mention of the swamp of left-wing sources that have proliferated on the internet. Democratic Underground, for example, or the Daily Kos.

Once a small fringe, this “alternative” information ecosystem now includes websites, talk-radio programs, newsletters, conferences and “citizen journalists”…

Note with what a broad and ambiguous brush Farhi paints. Web sites? Which ones? Talk radio? What programs? Does he mean Rush Limbaugh? Hugh Hewitt? Laura Ingraham? And who are the “citizen journalists”? Is he talking about us? Who knows?

Note, next, how he intertwines the mainstream with the fringe:

…who promote, debate and inflate such questionable causes as vaccine denial, climate-change skepticism , and the supposedly imminent imposition of sharia law in America.

These three things are utterly unlike one another. The anti-vaccers are indeed fringe, but are found mainly on the left. Climate change skepticism, on the other hand, is anything but fringe. It is a mainstream scientific perspective that is rapidly winning the argument against government-funded climate hysterics. And the web site that Farhi links to is Watts Up With That, the world’s leading climate site. As for the “imminent imposition of sharia law in America,” I am not aware of anyone who claims such imposition is imminent. Which does not mean that creeping submission to sharia isn’t something we should be concerned about. The site that Farhi links to here is operated by the Center for Security Policy, anything but a fringe organization.

At the same time, Trump has been the most aggressive in the Republican field in denouncing the mainstream media, the erstwhile arbiter of fact.

Yes, and we all know why the liberal media lost that role.

Trump, in turn, cites his Twitter followers as the source for some of his own non-facts, such as his recent claim that ­African Americans killed 81 percent of white homicide victims (the actual number is closer to 15 percent, according to

Trump, who is often careless with facts, was wrong about that one.

He defended his position of not allowing Muslims to enter the United States by citing a poll conducted by the Center for Security Policy, a think tank known for a variety of conspiracy theories, such as that members of the Muslim Brotherhood have infiltrated the Obama administration.

So Farhi classes the Center for Security Policy with the anonymous creator of a Twitter graphic. This is ridiculous. The extent of Brotherhood influence on the Obama administration is debatable, but it is no conspiracy theory. The poll that Trump cited was commissioned by the Center for Security Policy and executed by The Polling Company, Inc., a reputable firm headed by Kellyanne Conway. You can read about the poll here. It was an internet poll, but it conformed to the standards that apply to such surveys. Whether journalists like the findings of that poll or not, there is nothing “fringe” about CSP, The Polling Company, or the survey in question.

Trump’s most famously false contention, of course, was his long, pre-campaign embrace of “birtherism,” the notion that Obama wasn’t born on American soil and is therefore ineligible to be president.

You don’t have to be born “on American soil” to be president, you have to be a natural born citizen. The original birther was Barack Obama, whose literary biography falsely claimed, for something like 19 years, that he was born in Kenya.

Accurate or not, the constant sowing of doubt has had a cumulative effect: Some 20 percent of people in a recent CNN/ORC poll said they believe Obama was born outside the country….

He was born in Honolulu. But Farhi suggests that misinformation is confined to the right. How about the fact that around half of all Democrats think the Bush administration likely was behind the September 11 attacks? That is completely bonkers, far worse than falling for Obama’s own fable about being born in Africa. But the same kinds of fringe sources that Farhi denounces in order to smear Trump continue to promote such lies.

Trump isn’t the first politician with a tenuous grasp of the facts, of course.

That’s for sure. Barack Obama has been a myth-peddler throughout his career. One of my favorites is his oft-repeated claim that the United States has only 4% of the world’s oil reserves but uses 25% of the world’s energy. He quietly abandoned that theme when it became generally known that the U.S. has more fossil fuel resources than any other country.

[Jeffrey] Hemsley, the co-author of “Going Viral,” about the rapid spread of information, said the days when the nation had “a somewhat unifying story” from newspapers and the leading TV news networks are gone.

And it’s a good thing, too. Liberals yearn for the days of the “somewhat unifying story” because the story was consistently liberal. Unfortunately, it was also frequently false.

“Facts may be undervalued or losing their value in today’s world,” said Robert Mason, a University of Washington professor who has researched the spread of false information. “If you say it loud enough or long enough, people will believe it. That’s okay in theory, but when people act on it, that’s a problem.”

I often feel that way, too. To take just one example, the amount of misinformation about firearms that is spread on the internet, through social media, and in speeches given by Democratic politicians like Barack Obama is staggering. But somehow, I don’t think Mr. Farhi and his ilk mind misinformation if it comes from their side of the aisle.