The Disinformation Industry

A couple of days ago, the Washington Post published a review of “Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos” by Peter Bergen.The review was very positive; while the reviewer acknowledged that Bergen hadn’t told us anything that hadn’t previously been reported, he was impressed with the book’s readability and clarity.

From the moment Trump strutted into the Oval Office, we have been buried by an avalanche of jaw-dropping revelations about what happens when an unhinged, cynical and impulsive commander in chief bumps up against professionalism, decency and the rule of law. So when opening a new book promising still more inside stories of Trump’s foreign policy, it is hard to expect an author to say anything new — especially when the book was written before the impeachment drama started. Perhaps the best one can hope for is something that helps put this craziness in perspective and lays out the stakes for the future.

The book is another addition to the reams of credible reporting and a veritable avalanche of previous books of widely varying quality, accuracy and readability. It’s hard to conceive how even the most politically disinterested American could fail to hear about the frenzied, ungrammatical tweets, the cozying up to autocrats, the insults to our allies, the threats to the environment…

Sane citizens are left to wonder why his supporters don’t seem to care. The answer is evidently that they don’t believe any of it. It’s all “fake news,” fostered by a cottage industry of disinformation and propaganda.

As the House Judiciary Committee convened Friday to approve articles of impeachment against President Trump, a watch party got underway in a private Facebook group that rallies its more than 75,000 members around the banner, “THE TRUMP DEPLORABLES.”

The comments that streamed forth in the group illustrate how Trump’s most ardent supporters have fashioned alternative realities for themselves — as well as for Republican lawmakers aiming to turn the charge of corruption back on those investigating the president.

The feed — from Fox News, a major source of news for the president’s supporters — showed the same scene available to viewers tuning in on various networks all over the country. But in the online enclave where the self-described “deplorables” had gathered to watch the committee vote, Democrats are the lawbreakers who “should be impeached,” as one viewer wrote. Trump’s word is truth. And the federal employees who question his version of events are not just mistaken, they are “scum,” as Trump labeled members of the intelligence community at a rally this week in Hershey, Pa.

The antics of the Republicans during the committee deliberations were off-putting and clownish to reasonable viewers, but they made perfect sense to Trumpers following live on social media,” in groups sealed off from general scrutiny, where facts are established by volume, and confirmation comes from likes.”

The effect of social media is to jack up the tenor of everything,” said Carl Cameron, who spent more than two decades as a reporter for Fox News before leaving in 2017. This year, he helped found Front Page Live, a liberal news aggregation site. “There’s a statement made by a witness, or an interaction with a lawmaker, and users are able to put together a counternarrative in real time.”

Cameron described the live comment streams as laboratories of right-wing talking points, most likely to attract viewers who already share a certain bias. These viewers are unlikely to change their minds, and thus shift opinion polling on impeachment, which has remained relatively stable.

But the talking points are then exported through other channels, he added, and eventually reach persuadable voters. Social media, he said, does not just echo but serves as an “amplifier, with powerful cross-pollination on the different platforms, until the talk eventually reaches the office water cooler or coffee machine, or the Thanksgiving table.”

I keep coming back to the incredible danger posed by a media environment that no longer produces a shared reality–a fragmented environment enabled by the Internet where partisans and lunatics alike can live in bubbles of their own creation, detached from those pesky things we used to call “facts.”

I lay awake worrying about the size of the alternate reality population, because when reality bites, it will bite us all.


  1. “when reality bites, it will bite all of us.” Who survives the “bite” then depends on who’s world view is true, thus enabling them to face and conquer the new obstacles of life.

  2. If they truly believe that “Trump’s word is truth”, they ignore his own words. There are plenty of examples of his lies, admissions of his actions in his own words as he declares that he did nothing wrong, presented and unedited in his rants from the WH rose garden press events.

    To deny the truth of his words, they are denying the reality of his incompetence and corruption. They see themselves in him. How very sad and dangerous for everyone else. But most of all, when the impacts come home to them personally, they will also know that many more have suffered from their complicity.

  3. Books, books everywhere; too many to read them all. What is sorely needed are a few books with compilations of Trump effects on various groups of income levels of the American public who are the ones suffering through being “buried by an avalanche of jaw-dropping revelations about what happens when an unhinged, cynical and impulsive commander in chief bumps up against professionalism, decency and the rule of law.”

    For one thing; the majority cannot afford to buy any of the countless, unending publication of books about Trump, pro and/or con.

    Happy Holidays to one and all!

  4. I hope that at some point, the business community will look at itself and STOP funding the right wing media machine. As long as the money is rolling in, this is not going to stop.
    THAT is a move that The Billionaire wanna-be politicians might work on. Please get on this Tom & Mike.

  5. Social media certainly amplify disinformation, but there always was a base ready and waiting for it. I recall hearing my parents and their siblings make comments about Franklin Roosevelt conspiring to get us into WWII. Transmission of those kinds of ideas was not as efficient as before, but the ideas always existed in groups. Identity politics is not new.

  6. Don’t blame social media for Trumpians. These closed-minded folks have been around for generations upon generations. Most of their social media pages have eliminated liberal-minded folks who challenge them and their friends with facts.

    Now they’ve even joined closed groups so they can share with others of the same ilk. Nobody challenges them with facts or corrects their point of view with the truth.

    Sadly, this is the REAL United States of America and it always has been.

    However, now they have their own news network and political party. They have a billionaire POTUS who doesn’t have to play political games. He is the truth – the politicians and fake news are the liars!

    They no longer have to keep their opinions to themselves either, or confine their hate to secretive meetings in barns or even cover their faces with white sheets. It’s all out in the open for the whole world to see. It’s ugly and embarrassing.

  7. Jill Lepore wrote an article in The New Yorker on September 24,2012 called The Lie Factory. I recommend it.

  8. Disinformation is nothing new; pamphleteering was an alternative means of communication in the days of Marx and Lincoln and as late as Lenin but as Sheila points out, with our new technology any knucklehead can spew out his or her view of matters on which they are unqualified to speak. When I use the term unqualified I am inviting catcalls of elitism, but I am going to use it anyway.

    There are millions of good people in our country who are good at their jobs and are taxpaying and community minded citizens who, perhaps through no fault of their own, were never
    exposed to Locke’s social contract, the rationale for the New Deal etc. That these earnest but unknowing citizens are on the net telling us that Don is right and liberals are wrong is a problem, but one we must live with in view of their First Amendment rights, whatever technological advances in communication are available to them.

    So what to do? I think we are back to Sheila’s favorite bugaboo – civic education – a solution that will, unfortunately, take time, and we may not have enough time to prevent another Trump from assuming power after this one who will end our noble Athenian experiment in democracy and such silly things as the rule of law, constitutions etc., all unnecessary in an era of Big Brother. Our salvation may come down to not what is happening as partisans trade insults rather than policy proposals but rather in a race for understanding in the quiet of the classroom, and if my fellow contributors have better and quicker solutions to this problem than I have here opined, I’m open to suggestion. Whatever works.

  9. No one will convince a die-hard follower of President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence to change teams. The loaded words of witch-hunt, persecution and a coup by the deep state resonates with the Reactionary-Right Wing-Evangelical base. The 1% could not be happier, big corporations that pay no federal income taxes must be over joyed, along with the polluters.

    Just to make sure the Jesus aspect was well covered:
    The Georgia congressman Barry Loudermilk told the House: “When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this president in this process.”

    >> Actually, President Agent Orange, Pastor Pence, Bolton, Pompeo or Rudy could have volunteered to testify under oath in front of the House. They did not volunteer of course.

    Clay Higgins of Texas, “They fear the true will of we the people,” he barked angrily. “They are deep established DC. They fear, they call this Republican map flyover country. They call us deplorables.”

    “They fear our faith, they fear our strength, they fear our unity, they fear our vote and they fear our president. We will never surrender our nation to career establishment DC politicians and bureaucrats. Our republic shall survive this threat from within. American patriots shall prevail.”

    The Senate will not convict President Orange. He will proclaim his innocence. How this process of Impeachment will effect the political outcome of 2020, remains to be seen.

  10. Though you imply some of what I feel, I still feel that the “true” message is not being clearly stated. Quite a few years ago I remember hearing (the great) Noam Chomsky speak at the Berkeley Community Theater. I listened with rapt attention, believing his words. Chomsky spoke of how the Iraqi army would resist the impending invasion by the U.S. The war would last for quite a few weeks and there would be significant casualties on both sides. Chomsky, both fortunately and unfortunately was totally wrong. Iraqi resistance was minimal and the war was more like a skirmish. Chomsky wasn’t often so wrong in his words! I, however, was emotionally and intellectually tied to his words and believing that anything substantial he said would be the truth. Those who believe Trump, are emotionally tied to his words. They are NOT interpreting what he said, listening to “the evidence” as we seemingly do. Until and unless – key people – are reached emotionally (not intellectually), it is certainly possible that not only will the removal of Trump fail, but we will be devastated with the results in November, 2020. It is no accident that current polling shows Trump leading in Wisconsin! Trump and his Republican supporters are clever in appealing to the emotions of those who support him/them. It is possible, that things will turn out all right continuing the current path. It is much more likely that the outcome will be positive, when Democratic politicians and commentators recognize the issue of our emotions and begin dealing with the fears and emotions of key parts of the electorate. In 2016 – key voters were drawn emotionally to Trump and away from Clinton. It could happen again! It is starting to happen already!

  11. George Marx, Chomsky may have been wrong about the Iraqi Army being able to resist the US invasion. The Iraqi military was totally out classed. As a Vietnam Combat War Veteran (Draftee Type) I had no doubt the US Military would destroy the Iraqi Military. It was what came after that concerned me. What happens after we defeat Saddam?? Iraq was plunged into anarchy. The common thread was resistance to the US Occupation.

    Chomsky was wrong in seeing Bush the Younger’s War as a battle between each country’s military. Chomsky in sense was right about Iraqi resistance to the USA, which began shortly after our invasion.

  12. I would respectfully implore most of the folks on this blog to forget the Trump followers and quit wasting words, time and energy on them. They are, at best, about 25-30% of voters. Write them off.

    Tres simple as the French would say. Get more of the 70% to vote! Get off the policy bandwagon and use gut messaging around “your children’s future”, “our country’s values”, decency, civility. Climate change is key as “they” are total deniers.

  13. Marketing gurus knew that in order to create über loyal audiences for entertainment and social media they had to first train the would be consumers of it by teaching that all other journalism is “fake”, only only their product was real. For people skilled in advertising/fake news/propaganda/brainwashing, that was easy.

  14. JoAnn,

    I wrote a book that might satisfy your requirements: “Why Angels Weep: America and Donald Trump” It’s available on

  15. Deepfakes!
    Oh yeah it’s out there now. When we talk about the conservative groups putting out deepfakes, thet boomerang at back around to, liberals are deep faking Donald Trump. The things that we all witnessed he admitted to, are deep fakes, LOL. So that’s their way to remain willfully ignorant!

    My cousins on my father’s side who love Trump, do those watch parties all the time. They also copy and paste a lot. And they are forwarding stuff which is obviously untrue. They’re forwarding stuff from 4 years ago as if this was something brand new. It’s the bizarro world echo chamber. Every so often I engage them on the stupidity of them being in League with Russian bots, but it goes in one ear and out the other. I will even do the research on particular comments that they have regurgitated, and they still don’t believe. And these folks ARE well educated and making very good money in their positions in the corporate world. So, one has to ask, are they really that stupid?

    Some are like the lady who at John McCain’s rally when he was running for president, made the statement that Barack Obama was a Muslim and not American. And John McCain rebuked her for that. That was one of the classiest moments I can recall in politics. But, getting back to the original point, it’s hard to believe that these educated people are like that lady at John McCain’s rally.

    If a person is so willfully ignorant, that they desire and alternate reality, a reality that they’ve made up and want it to be that way so bad, that it becomes reality even if it’s fiction, then they can be called nothing else but stupid.

    I used to really enjoy talking with my cousins before Trump. Actually their stupidity started with the election of Barack Obama.

    I haven’t blocked any of them because I like to see what they have coming from their feeds on their Facebook posts.

    It’s disturbing to say the least, and they invoke religion constantly in their thought processes, which definitely is disturbing to me. most of you probably don’t agree with a lot of my comments especially when it pertains to scripture, but they absolutely hate any rebukes from me concerning their religious leanings and political conduct. They just don’t jibe together very well.

    Sadly, they really want Donald Trump to be their Messiah! They really and truly believe he is a holy person! Not unlike what happened in Germany before the second world war.

    The insane, the willfully ignorant, and the petty payback artists, don’t need to be reasonable, because they have no associative reasoning abilities. And, that tells me, that something else is afoot. And it really is beyond most people’s pay grade.

  16. disturbed?,, my week in taxas,,(hexass) has been true to todays subject.. my chats with datrumpers,rang true as said above..they dont care,,,they want to be able to say we changed it, we dont trust the goverment etc..i see the future too, when they want a defense to their needs,rights,freedom, it will be met with a board room meeting(aka old south law) and be kicked to the curb.. when they find they are making a paycheck that keeps them next to,poverty,and cant buy anymore guns and ammo they will ask why?and their second ammedment is only worth the words knitted on some throw pillow in their mobil home….and while the rich mass their needs into slavery,, then they can enjoy the rewards of their efforts… blind SOBs

  17. To say that the media “no longer” produces a shared reality implies that it once did. Well, maybe, when info was broadcast with drums and smoke.

    Keep in mind that “media” not only refers to print media, publishing, and the news media; media also refers to photography, cinema, broadcasting (radio and television), music CDs, and advertising. All of the last five have a long, long history of producing primarily a shared LIBERAL, often extremely liberal ,”reality”.

    Think back a few generations.

    Think Robert Mapplethorpe (photography).

    Think China Syndrome, To Kill a Mockingbird (and a thousand other cinemas).

    Think “Only a Pawn in Their Game” by Bob Dylan (and a thousand other music recordings of the 1960s).

    And think of the hundreds of ads from the 1920s to the 1960s marketing cigarettes to women.

    We liberals should be willing to admit to the historical advantage more than half of the media has given to liberal ideas, keeping in mind that we expect white men to admit to the existence of and their advantages from historical white privilege.

    We also should understand that much of what we are complaining about today is conservative reaction to historical liberal preference. That conservatives have chosen news media is understandable, too; it is the only media left to them that is not dominated by us liberals.

    Either we liberals have to do a better job with the media we already “own” or we have to invest in buying the media that conservatives “own”. Listen up Bill Gates; Robert Ziff; Mark Dayton; George Soros; Warren Buffett; I’d really like to see some of you buy FOX corporation. It’s only valued at $19 billion, and that may be high.

  18. Jack, LOL…

    They definitely have some sort of affective disorder towards truth and decency, always the victim, always the target of conspiracies. The reason I bring up scripture so much, is, I like to punch holes in their arguments. And also I am a person of faith, faith that the sun will rise in the east and set in the West, faith that I love my wife, faith that my wife loves me, Faith that the check will be deposited in my account twice a month, and of course faith in Scripture.. if you read my comments yesterday, I’m sure you would agree with them. At least you would agree with most of them. If you haven’t read them, I would suggest you take a look, it alludes to some of the things you have brought out.

    I agree with your outlook Jack and your interpretation of the situation. It definitely has a ring of Truth!

    And one last thing, in Hebrews 11:1, it reads; “faith is the assured expectation of what is hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities that are not seen.”

    And also, Hebrews 11: 1 reads; ” in faith all of these died, although they did not receive the fulfillment of the promises; but they saw them from a distance and welcomed them and publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land. ” Also, read John 8: 42 through 59.

  19. Todd Smekens, now social media gives these bigots and idiots and out sized voice, with self reinforcing echo chambers. That poison leaks to the office water cooler, and can infect everyone that chooses not to make the effort to know better.

  20. Even when he is long gone, they will still be out there, spreading their fear and hate to the next generation just as they have done for centuries.

  21. One of the most dangerous bits of advertising/fake news/propaganda/brainwashing out there is that authoritarians are a majority despite not being able to beat HRC in the 2016 popular vote given Putin’s substantial help and three decades of lies about the Clintons.

    Trump certainly isn’t making them more popular.

    What we need to save the Republic is what we always have needed, honest elections.

  22. Greg Jackson in this month’s Harper Magazine:

    The news isn’t about news events; it’s about events staged for the news: Trump rallies and tweets, Democratic debates, speeches, pronouncements and so forth. You tune in to reaffirm “your worldview is substantially right, and here are the arguments to insulate and justify it”

    To which I would add, they contextualize it with journalists interviewing like minded journalists, or paid “analyst” and “contributors” with the same ideology, or with politicians they are parroting, or politicians who are parroting them.

    It’s not about what’s important but rather what will draw in and soothe or entertain their targeted audience. A bucket of warm spit comes to mind.

  23. When I watch the evening news (CBS, NBC and ABC), I don’t see the things being ripped on here. Perhaps, some need to start watching “the news” instead of watching entertainment calling itself news. Watching CNBC and CNN and calling it news, even if just to criticize, is little different than deplorables watching FOX NEWS.

    I propose that, if democrats win control of the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, they write and pass a bill forbidding entertainment news from calling itself news, or using phrases like BREAKING NEWS, or its employees calling themselves journalists. Then I hope they follow with a bill that strengthens the slander and libel laws, followed by a bill holding institutions as responsible for being truthful as are individuals, hopefully enabling viewers and readers of news to file class action suits against news organizations that pass counterfeit news.

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