How Fake News Works

Here’s how fake news — the real fake news, right wing fake news — disseminates itself, and it depends on the fact that six in ten Americans only read headlines according to a recent study.

I receive daily news alerts from a number of sources from the far right to the far left. This morning, a far right outlet, Godfather Politics (just the latest iteration of a continually renamed site) sent out an email with a list of headlines, almost all of them alarmist in different ways. One of them included a disturbing headline: almost 8 million illegal immigrants tried to buy guns recently according to FBI stats.

Just on the face of it, I thought — ah no, I don’t think so, so I followed up. Here’s how it went.

Godfather Politics posted the following headline yesterday, December 28th: almost 8 million illegal immigrants tried to buy guns:

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You can read it yourself

They got their information on December 27th from the Washington Examiner‘s Twitter feed, @dcexaminer

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Which you should be able to see for yourself here:…r/status/1078397615350390785

That tweet of course links to an article on the Washington Examiner‘s website, which has a somewhat different headline now. Instead of claiming that 8 million illegal immigrants “tried to buy guns this year,” the headline now says that a “record number of illegal immigrants are barred from buying guns this year.” See the difference? Here’s the new headline:

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Which you can read for yourself here:…/fbi-record-number-of-illegal-immigrants-tried-to-buy-guns

Ah, but there’s more: the Washington Examiner did in fact erroneously report that a record number of illegal immigrants tried to buy guns and were prevented from doing so. But, that did not in fact happen. What has happened is that the FBI released lists of names of people barred from purchasing guns. Nearly 8 million of those names are illegal immigrants. So the real story is that the FBI list is bigger than before, and that it has 8 million names, but it was never the case that 8 million illegal immigrants actually tried to buy guns. That’s fake news.

Now the Washington Examiner did post a correction on the news article:

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You’ll notice that the venue incorrectly named itself Washington Secrets in the retraction, which was no doubt an earlier iteration of the Washington Examiner, but they’re so sloppy they didn’t even catch that.

What is the real number? The Washington Examiner did in fact report the real number. Of the 8 million illegal immigrants barred from buying guns, 3,300 attempted to buy guns in 2017 and were denied:

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So what has happened?

  1. The Washington Examiner, formerly Washington Secrets, falsely claims on December 27th, 2018 that 8 million illegal immigrants tried to buy guns in 2017.
  2. Godfather Politics picks up that headline on December 28th, 2018 and emails it out in a digest by December 29th.
  3. Some time before December 29th, 2018 the Washington Examiner changes the headline and posts a small correction on the bottom of the page.
  4. They have not removed the misleading tweet as of December 29th, 2018.

I know my right wing friends. They’re going to say “everyone makes mistakes. Mainstream media does the same thing.” No, this is the deliberate spread of misinformation that leverages the fact that most readers don’t read more than headlines. I know that because they didn’t remove the tweet. I also know it because every time I follow up on right wing media headlines I get the same results. I don’t get these kinds of results from my follow-ups on the Washington Post or the New York Times, however.

What do we really learn from this fiasco?

First, that consumers of right wing media are regularly being fed massive lies and they believe them. My right wing friends won’t bother reading this, and if they do, they might believe it in this one instance but never learn to distrust their sources.

Next, that right wing media is complicit with the Trump administration in manufacturing an immigration crisis that doesn’t exist. The Trump administration, with the help and support of right wing news outlets, is lying about the nature and extent of our immigration problem. The fact is, most illegal immigrants are here to work and to support their families, so they are overwhelmingly law abiding once they get here. And, for the record, they keep coming because American employers keep hiring them — but the Trump administration is not targeting American employers even though they are just as guilty of breaking the law as the illegal immigrants that they hire.

Finally, we learn that the immigration crisis is in fact a manufactured, fictional crisis. The numbers prove it. 3,300 illegal immigrants out of about 8,000,000 on the list is .04% — only .04% of illegal immigrants who enter the country attempt to purchase guns. That’s in contrast with 30-40% of American households with guns as of 2017. In contrast, as of 2011, “data collected by the FBI show that firearms were used in 68 percent of murders, 41 percent of robbery offenses and 21 percent of aggravated assaults nationwide.” So the overwhelming majority of gun offenses are committed by Americans who own guns, not illegal immigrants. If we want to curb gun violence here in the US, we need to do it with extensive, national revision of our gun control laws. No wall is going to change that, and we need to quit blaming illegal immigrants for our own problems.

And yes, in case you weren’t sure before, this all adds up to the fact that the Trump administration forced a government shutdown for no good reason at all, and he did it while his own party controlled both houses of Congress.

An Open Letter to President Trump

Dear President Trump:

In this letter, I’m going to presume to give you advice about how to make the adjustment to being President. It’s important to me because, like it or not, your decisions affect the world, including the world immediately around me. I was at first hesitant to write this letter because I don’t know anything about being President, but then I realized. . . neither do you. On that equal footing, then, here goes.

I understand that you’re used to running businesses. You’re used to being either the owner or an owner of some business or another. As such, you’re probably used to seeing your employees as generally dispensable entities whose primary existence is to benefit you. (It’s not that I think all business owners think that way. I just think you’re one of those that do.) Because everyone’s pay is dependent upon your profit, you’re used to seeing your own personal wealth as equivalent to everyone else’s sustenance, and you expect everyone else to see it that way too. And since you’re the owner, you think that your mistakes are yours to make, not anyone else’s to correct, because you stand the most to lose from them, and as the owner you assume that you know your business best of all anyhow. And either way, if you don’t like someone, or if they’re not working out, you can fire them. After all, it is you that they are working for.

I would like to suggest that none of that experience really applies to your current position as President. As President, you’re not the owner or the boss of anything, and in fact you’re not supposed to be that — with the exception of personal effects and private property. See, the nation, the government, the economy, and everything that you use related to that — everything that you’re surrounded with on a daily basis — none of it belongs to you. At most it belongs to the Office of the President and, by extension, to the American people, but the really big things actually belong to everyone and no one. We all own this system to the extent that we’re engaged in it, but none of us owns it to any significant degree.

In fact, the truth is exactly the opposite: it doesn’t belong to you. You belong to it. You belong to the government now. You belong to the people around you. You belong to everyone who works for you, to everyone who voted for you, and most importantly, even to everyone who voted against you. They are your boss. You are not theirs. You cannot fire the American people, but we can fire you. The point here is that you’re no longer the boss. You’re an employee. And a very special kind of employee: a servant. In your position, that is the highest kind of employee. No one is required to cater to you. In fact, what you’re going to be faced with is a seemingly incorrigible mass of people who seem to work hard against their own interests, often refuse to act as they should, and quite often act instead in self-defeating ways. And all the while, they still expect you to work for them and be happy about it.

Yes, it’s a horrible job, but you wanted it,  you accepted it, and now you’re in it, so you need to understand it. Your job as President is bigger than you, more important than you, and — we all know it, even if you won’t admit it — far beyond you.

So what I suggest you do now is this:

  1. Quit lying so much.
  2. Quit expecting validation. Related to this, tell your surrogates to show some respect.
  3. Accept responsibility for the hostility you’ve created and the divisions you’ve caused.
  4. Apologize for the horrible things you’ve said and done.
  5. Shut up.
  6. Listen.

This is just my advice. Of course, I don’t know anything. But I know that one thing: that I don’t know anything. That’s traditionally a very good place to start.

Trump vs. Hillary, State by State

As of 11:00 p.m. ET, of the fourteen states that have completed both GOP and Democratic Party primaries…

Hillary Clinton has won the following states:


Donald Trump has won the following states:


Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have won ten out of fourteen states in common, all of them southern states.

The states voting for Trump are also voting for Clinton. What does that mean?

These are the states that are probably going to vote GOP in the next presidential election. What does that mean for the electability of Clinton in November?

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