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March 05, 2018

Media Weekend Freakout: Trump Just Announced His Plans to Become a Dictator

Years ago, the media lost readership to clickbait factories. At first, they said they'd beat back the challenge by providing that which the clickbait factories could not: Serious, well-researched journalism.

But the media is lazy and incompetent and cannot produce serious, well-researched journalism. The best the media can do is simply play stenographer/publicist to an ax-grinding leaker who wants his unverified claims in print.

So, to beat the clickbait factories, the supposed Priesthood of All Truth instead just became clickbait factories themselves, albeit with laughable pretensions.

For some reason Trump went to the Gridiron Dinner. In his usual jokey-joke style, he mentioned China's president doing away with term limits and joked that maybe we'll try that here in the US.

The media's Situational Autism Simulation Syndrome -- SASS -- of course went into overdrive, as they once again decided this was the moment to pretend that they don't understand the concepts of irony or joking, and that every statement, no matter how clearly marked by context clues, is a serious and indeed gravely seriously statement, so long as pretending it to be such hurts Trump.

I woke up and turned on CNN only to hear one of their commentators saying, "We now have a sitting president openly musing about becoming a dictator." And there wasn't a hint of irony in her voice. The Washington Monthly led off with, "When someone tells you who they are, believe them." Mediaite phrased it as the President having, "seemingly voiced interest in making the commander-in-chief role a lifetime position." Even James Joyner, a writer who I have respected greatly since I first began blogging, was moved to say, "He didn't seem to be joking."

Have you people lost your collective minds?

Only audio of the statement exists (embedded at the link), but Jazz Shaw comments:

The crowd is laughing. Trump is laughing. We don't have the video, but just from the tone, you can see in your mind the image of the President with that smirk on his face which shows up when he's baiting the media and his opponents.

By the way, there is a genuine story here, just not a clickbait-factory one: Trump calls Xi "the most powerful president in a hundred years," approvingly, and does not express any kind of alarm at China giving up on any pretense of democratization. We've heard Trump similarly praise Putin's power without so much as a tut-tut about how Putin keeps that power: by murdering anyone who would undermine it with reporting about him or running against him in an election that's fixed anyway.

I know Trump doesn't really care about stuff like that, but I do actually want my president to at least pretend to care about human rights and democracy overseas. It'll never be a focus of his, but I'd like it to at least be a mention of his.

But you can't get Mad Clickz talking about that. You get Mad Clickz from claiming the president just announced his bid to become Caesar. So you lie, you pretend to be autistic in your inability to deduce meanings in spoken language except the most literal surface-level one, and you collect your bonus for having gotten linked by Buzzfeed.

Actually, even Buzzfeed is throwing warning flags on this constant hair-on-fire schtick. A recent article talks to the guy who made up the alleged Russian-bot-detecting-algorithm, and even that guy says that maybe we can stop freaking out and blaming everything on supposed Russian bots.

Stop Blaming Russian Bots For Everything

"I'm not convinced on this bot thing," said one of the men behind the Russian bot thing.

Posted on February 28, 2018,

By now you know the drill: massive news event happens, journalists scramble to figure out what’s going on, and within a couple hours the culprit is found -- Russian bots.

Russian bots were blamed for driving attention to the Nunes memo, a Republican-authored document on the Trump-Russia probe. They were blamed for pushing for Roy Moore to win in Alabama's special election. And here they are wading into the gun debate following the Parkland shooting. "[T]he messages from these automated accounts, or bots, were designed to widen the divide and make compromise even more difficult," wrote the New York Times in a story following the shooting, citing little more than "Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia."

This is, not to mince words, total bullshit.

The thing is, nearly every time you see a story blaming Russian bots for something, you can be pretty sure that the story can be traced back to a single source: the Hamilton 68 dashboard, founded by a group of respected researchers, including Clint Watts and JM Berger, and currently run under the auspices of the German Marshall Fund.

But even some of the people who popularized that metric now acknowledge it's become totally overblown.

"I'm not convinced on this bot thing," said Watts, the cofounder of a project that is widely cited as the main, if not only, source of information on Russian bots. He also called the narrative "overdone."

The dashboard monitors 600 Twitter accounts "linked to Russian influence efforts online," according to its own description, which means the accounts are not all directly traced back to Kremlin efforts, or even necessarily to Russia. "They are not all in Russia," Watts said during a phone interview last week. "We don't even think they're all commanded in Russia -- at all. We think some of them are legitimately passionate people that are just really into promoting Russia." So, not bots.


So that's strike one: In what other world would we rely on a single source tool of anonymous provenance?

And then there’s strike two. Let's say, despite that, you still really want to put your faith in those conclusions about Russian influence. Why would you do that? Twitter is actually clogged with bots -- and has been for years -- so taking a major vulnerability of the platform and using it to tidily explain something murky and complicated is appealing. Add to that the fact that Russia really did run an operation to meddle in the US election, hacking the DNC, running real propaganda campaigns, and deploying trolls to mess with the discourse. The discourse at times seems like an attempt to keep the attention on Russia, more than anything else. Everyone seems to want to believe that Russian trolls are ruling the internet.

It's gotten so bad that even Bill Maher is castigating the press for its nonstop production of #FakeNews:

Here's the thing, though: Clickbait factory tactics make money, and the media is going out of business. They talk about how they're having the highest traffic in years, but that's almost entirely due to clickbait factory tactics and feeding people who've gone hysterical and neurotic from the election their daily dosage of Crazy Pills.

The media's just going to get worse and worse as far as clickbait, #FakeNews, and deranged conspiracy theories -- their cushy, fakey-fake jobs are on the line, and they have to give the rubes (the leftwing rubes that make up 99% of their audience today) what they want.

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posted by Ace at 03:15 PM

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