This is a description of how I try to sort out the highly politicised from the less politicised information. It cannot be definitive and other people may well do a lot better in smaller space.
Its important because almost all research into, or attempts to understand, contemporary social phenomena cannot avoid politicised information or the media – it is the sea we swim in, the air we breathe etc.
First off, never trust 5-10 second clips on youtube, or elsewhere, of someone saying something.
This technique of extraction is frequently a deception, or at best aims to give a false impression. Some tapes are edited so that the subject of the comment is provided by the narrator/presenter rather than the person speaking, which makes distortion even more likely. “Here is Bill Gates laughing at the State of world economy” Shift to Bill Gates saying “We are stuffed” nervous giggle. Everything is being framed, or given meaning, by the commentator providing context, not by the person being ‘quoted’ or their conversation.
Meaning does not inhere in words alone, but in words and context together. Giving words a completely different context can change the meaning of the words radically.
Consequently, you always need a considerable amount of the actual interview before and after the particular clip, to figure out what people are trying to say. Often people fail to say what the context makes clear they are trying to say – live language is messy and often badly formed. The short clip usually depends, for its political effect, on people not bothering to check up the actual context.
It is wise to be even more distrustful of clips which slow down a person’s facial expressions or freeze them.
If there is a facial close up, then we need to check whether that actually has anything to do with what is happening. For example, there was a video of Trump’s expressions when he was asked to condemn white supremacy in the last debate. His pain, reluctance and dilemma seemed obvious. However, the close up had no context that could not have been added by the editors. Did his expressions have anything to do with the questions he was being asked in the background? Were the shots from somewhere else in the interview? In other words the presentation could be perfectly real, but we were not given the evidence to make sure it was real. If we took it at ‘face value’ then we were trusting the video makers and allowing them to manipulate us, if that was what they wanted to do.
Likewise a couple of days ago I saw a video of people being beaten up at a Trump Rally and a cut back to Trump saying something like “We are having a really good time here. USA, USA, USA” – how do I know Trump’s comments had anything to do with the beating without more context? Before I would comment on his facial expressions, or the sayings, I would need to check other videos, full transcripts etc.
Videos are easily edited nowadays, and some people can construct fake videos of people saying things they did not, completely from scratch.
Believing with your own eyes, can need caution, but believing a short and obviously cut video is leaving yourself open to manipulation.
The research principle is simple. When you are using someone’s words against them then always start with the best and most complete source, and make the context visible. Be aware that some people will chop up and misquote sources, so you always need to check.
Go to the full source, if possible
Consequently, when someone shows me or tells me of something particularly stupid, ignorant, incoherent or vicious that Trump has said. I refuse the 5 second youtube clip and go to the whole transcripts (when possible – the WhiteHouse and Rev.com seem good sources) – or to his tweets (there is also a search engine for his tweets). If there is a real issue as to what he said, then transcripts with video are good, as its easier to get body language as a context as well as other words, situation and what he is responding too, if necessary.
Tweets are useful because they can show you how some Trump supporters are reading what he has written. This helps reveal ‘dog whistles’ and makes it easier take note of fake corrections (when he has officially doing as his advisors advise but which he does not believe). But even that does not necessarily tell us what Trump himself thinks. For that you need to look at the surrounding Trump tweets to get the context.
Repetition helps resolve meaning and intent
Repetition says a lot. Anyone can say things they would rather not have said in a moment of passion, but if they say it repeatedly then it is telling. For example, if we get repeated messages from Trump telling police to be violent towards protestors, or telling supporters to beat up protestors, or giving support for people who hurt protestors or offering to pay their legal fees, or supporting people who do armed protests and occupations, then we can more sure that this is substantial part of his politics. Whether you want to call this ‘fascist’ or not is up to you – that is an interpretation.
Likewise if a person repeatedly says they know more about ‘blah’ than people who work in ‘blah’ for lots of different ‘blahs’, then we can hypothesise that they really do think they know nearly everything, and are not smart enough to recognise their incompetence in fields they have no experience in. Thus we can be less inclined to take their pronouncements in those fields as being accurate or automatically trustworthy.
Again if a person repeatedly contradicts what they said less than five minutes ago, then that is also part of their modes of operation.
These are reasons why some of my blogs about Trump go on and on. I’m just trying to use lots of his words to show that what he is saying, or how he approaches a problem, is not a momentary aberration. I provide lots of context, so it is easier to conclude that he actually does seem to think in that way….
The same with anyone, I go to a decent whole source, not a hostile newspaper, TV channel or a person on Youtube, if at all possible.
Confirmation from the person
If I can’t find any official source for some widely alleged process, such as for Trump’s supposed war on child rapists, I check what is available and look at how plausible it is. Has Trump tweeted about this a lot (before recently, when he may have heard its popular with his voters)? Has he spoken about it a lot (before recently)? Are there any of the results being claimed, being reported or used by the Republican party officially in a tight election campaign when it would be useful? Given the lack of any supporting evidence of material which we would not expect to find under any President (checking what past presidents have done or said), this war does not seem remotely plausible.
Trump has not acknowledged it, until it became useful. The charges which are supposedly being made against major ‘enemies’ have not been laid. He has not confirmed them, or the evidence against his enemies. Just vague assertions.
What reasons do we have to think that ‘Q’ or their followers are not false flags? are not part of the ‘Re-elect Trump committee?’ are not lying or directing us to false sources, and so on?
Looking for overt bias
If a youtube or media, presentation continually and casually slams one side of politics and avoids important parts of the question which could throw a bad light on their side, then I assume they are probably so biased as to be ‘fake news’, and only to be taken seriously as ethnographic studies. Even so, one should never dismiss the possibility that they could be right on occasions. There is always the joke about the stopped clock.
I generally save myself time by assuming that the Murdoch Empire lies and abuses people for political reasons. They seem to attempt to generate anger and contempt in their audience against their enemies. This generally shuts down curiosity and investigation in that audience – these enemies are not worth checking up on. Everytime I’ve ever investigated something the Murdoch Empire have been plugging, which sounds off, it has turned out to be wrong. However, I still quote Murdoch stuff because sometimes it is a useful source for what people believe, or which creates what people believe. Again, they may sometimes be correct, just remember the hypothesis that their prime function is to please their owner and boost his power.
However, if someone in the Murdoch Empire reports something that happens to slam those that Murdoch normally supports, then that is probably worth investigating, as possibly accurate.
A frequently used argument takes the form of “you rely too much on mainstream media.” Or you don’t do research because you rely on mainstream media.
Let us be real, mainstream media is not always accurate. Some media is more biased than others. Often I find people who say this tend to trust highly biased mainstream media, that appears to condemn other media as part of its marketing campaigns – to manufacture trust for itself.
However, the bias of mainstream media does not mean that a person on youtube who reports the news you want to hear, is necessarily unbiased, nor attempting to manipulate you, or not financed by those attempting to manipulate you. Exactly the same tests should be applied to them as you might apply to mainstream media. To repeat: if they casually nearly always dismiss one side of politics, then the chances are high they are not doing their research.
However, you define mainstream media, (some people appear to say that Fox or Breitbart are not mainstream, which almost certainly shows they are likely to have been manipulated), it does not mean that everything which is reported as mainstream is necessarily untrue. I’ve said before that if the mainstream media tells me that it is likely that a 200m fall without some form of safety equipment will kill me, then I don’t have to disbelieve it on principle. Again the problem is that I am likely to accept what I, or my friends, assume is true without bothering to check. It is also not the case that because most of the mainstream media do not always flatter Trump, that I have to think he must be a good guy – the media might be correct about that. There might be some media owners who legitimately think Trump is a fraud, because they have business experience with him, or something.
Many people seem to think that research simply means trying to confirm or elaborate what you already think you know. Or they might think that by looking at ‘underground’ news or youtube videos, or self-proclaimed ‘alternative news’ they are getting the truth. This is not necessarily the case. It may even be that many of these sites are even less concerned with accuracy and responsibility than the ‘lamestream’ media.
It is also worth looking at the emotional context of the ‘news’. If the main context is the host’s anger, contempt, mockery or shouting, then you can probably assume the station is not unbiased, and may well be aiming at replacing accuracy with manipulation. The show may not want you to be curious and think, it may just want to get you stuck in a ‘frame’ in which you always see whoever they define as the ‘bad guys’ as bad, who are not worth checking up on, to see if the reports are coherent, consistent or correct. Again, this does not mean everything they report has to be wrong, but it does imply that it needs to be checked up. Was what they were saying or implying actually real, or confirmed by better sources?
If one is going to be skeptical about media sources, which is clearly a good thing, then don’t only be skeptical towards media that reports things you would prefer not to be true. This is directed skepticism, which often functions as a form of dogma, misdirection or manipulation.
Accounts of what evil people do
If a book or document is supposed to show how corrupt the writers are, I read the text, just as I would go to the original words of the a person who is supposedly saying something that admits they are corrupt. This is yet another instance of how research involves going to the best original source. It is way too common for political writers to distort the words of others, either deliberately or not – knowing that most people will never check, they will just assume the pre-defined ‘evil people’ are ‘evil’. One of the major aims of political parties is to stop people reading the other side – hence read the other side as a matter of principle, you may well be pleasantly surprised.
Same when a movement is being dismissed as white supremacist, socialist, or violent. Don’t assume it has to be true.
If something is not talked about in the media, that is significant. Thus I find the lack of discussion, during the previous election, about Trump being charged with child rape interesting. I wonder why Trump’s business crimes have such little media traction, or why there is so little interest in his promotion of pollution and wilderness destruction. I wonder why Trump’s military activities get such little reporting, that many consider him a peace president, I wonder why most people don’t seem to know about the Republican’s efforts to shovel taxpayers’ money at the corporate and billionaire sector, rather than the people, as part of their Covid response. I wonder why the media accepted Barr’s summary of the Mueller report, when any sensible person would have wondered about Barr’s accuracy. I wonder why the ecological crisis is so under reported by most news media, and the work of denialists and delayers is so widely reported.
I also find it interesting that despite what seemed to be massive amounts of twitter video showing what seems like unprovoked police violence at protestors, bystanders, or even against black people trying to drive away from the ‘riots,’ this seems to be ignored. Even though some of the people being harassed were journalists. When I also come across twitter reports of white guys looting and burning, with the police just standing by and watching, I wonder why this is not news? I also wonder why police where allowing armed white folks to wander around through a disturbance even when this was also obviously being filmed. I then wonder why Biden’s condemnation of the violence was so under reported, while him supposedly not condemning the violence was being widely reported.
This silence does seem pretty coherent.
What does it say about the media?
A sample argument
Recently there has been an argument about doctors receiving extra money for Covid treatments. I had always understood that hospitals received more money for serious diseases in the US. There was a lot of discussion about this payment in April or earlier, before it exploded again in November. This extra money is not surprising or unreasonable as some Covid cases are dangerous and require extended treatments, although I understood the payment was for Covid patients on respirators, not general Covid patients etc.
My understanding of the current (November 2020) scuffle is that Trump said
Our doctors get more money if someone dies from Covid. You know that, right? I mean our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say ‘I’m sorry but everybody dies of Covid’ .Donald Trump Rally Speech Transcript Waterford Township, Michigan October 30. Rev.com 30 October 2020
So Trump was accusing doctors inflating covid deaths to get more money for themselves personally.
Trump presents no evidence, which is not also simply evidence of how he thinks (“people claim false stuff for their own advantage all the time”). I don’t know if doctors also get money for individual cases they are treating, they may not. Without direct evidence to the contrary, I assume that most doctors have some professional integrity. They are not politicians trying to to keep the economic figures good by persuading people that a disease is less dangerous than it appears, not wanting to count cases, or pretending that people really died of other causes, or claiming to know the results of elections before the votes are counted.
I have not found any evidence in favour of that proposition about doctors inflating cases to get money. My understanding is that doctors and other people, were denying that doctors fixed results to get payment, not the assertion about payment itself, but I can’t read everything – it is possible that someone did argue that hospitals do not get paid – but that is not evidence of a general position.
It seems quite common for people to take an attack on a dubious statement, and turn the attack into an attack on something less dubious and triumphantly refute the made up allegations about the non-dubious part. In this case they might say that Doctors were denying there was extra payment for Covid cases, when the Doctors were denying this led them to rig Covid figures as a matter of course.
This commonness of this process implies that it is a good idea to actually read the attack and get the full message to see if they were attacking what they were said to be attacking.
As a matter of interest I note Forbes is claiming that “More than 20% of U.S. physicians have experienced a furlough or pay cut as financial hits from the coronavirus strain COVID-19 batter the healthcare industry, a new analysis shows.” Which I guess by the same kind of logic would imply that physicians and surgeons are more likely to dismiss the dangers of covid to restore their incomes. But that does not seem to be reported widely.
If I did want to find how the payment system works, there will be a government website somewhere that has hospital payment figures on it (unless Trump is having it suppressed, which seems unlikely) and I would use that to find out if individual doctors, as opposed to hospitals, get paid. A good news article will reference that source – if they are attacking doctors and they don’t, they are problematic.
Likewise if I want to find out how much the death rate seems to have increased through the disease I will look for figures on excess deaths. If those figures suggest there are less deaths than normal, then it may be the case that coronavirus helps people survive with other diseases. If the excess deaths is still excessive when Covid deaths are subtracted I will probably assume we are underestimating Covid deaths, or there is something else majorly wrong, such as another unknown pandemic. I would also like to know how many people are long term sufferers from the disease or who receive what looks like permanent damage from the disease, as that seems anecdotally commonplace, but so far no luck.
Earlier in this blog I investigated the common allegations that Trump told people to drink bleach to combat Covid-19. He didn’t. He responded to announcements that forms of light and disinfectant killed the virus quickly outside the body, by suggesting research should be done into the possibilities of killing covid inside the body with similar techniques.
This may not have been that sensible, but was understandable.
However, after the fuss developed, rather than saying these were suggestions for research and people should not do this at home, Trump appeared to claim he was being sarcastic, possibly to expose journalists. There is no evidence of sarcasm either. But it does seem evidence that taken with other evidence, suggests he does not generally respond well to criticism.
In the week before the election the Trumpsphere, was full of a video clip of Joe Biden which was used as ‘evidence’ that Biden was fixing the votes. It had Biden saying
We have put together I think the most extensive and inclusive voter fraud organization in the history of American politics.
Now this is suspicious, because:
- All the versions of the video I have seen provide no context, other than condemnation. They just give that statement, non of Biden’s surrounding words at all, or the questions he might have been responding to.
- They don’t report where the statement was made, so its difficult to check.
- They are implausible, as who is really going to say that they are going to defraud the electorate in public?
- Biden is known to mangle words on occasions – not whole paragraphs like Trump, but sentences, so maybe he meant something else?
- We have Police Vice squads, major crime squads etc. While we may be cynical about their effectiveness, we don’t expect them to officially promote vice and major crime. So, without the hostile framing, Biden used a normal linguistic construction meaning an ‘extensive organisation against voter fraud’.
These kinds of issues should have made people suspicious, especially given that it seemed to be used by, and possibly originate with, the Trump campaign. We should not expect the Trump campaign, or any other campaign, to be 100% honest. So we need to find the original. This is not that hard, if you were really doing research as opposed to looking for what you want to find. This is the context. I quote it at length simply to demonstrate the importance of context. I’ve italicised the excerpt to make it clear.
one of the things that I think is most important is those who haven’t voted yet. First of all, go to iwillvote.com to make a plan. Exactly how you’re going to vote, where you’re going to vote, when you’re going to vote. Because it can get complicated. Because the Republicans are doing everything they can to make it harder for people to vote. Particularly people of color to vote. So go to iwillvote.com. Secondly, we’re in a situation where we have put together, and you guys did it for President Obama’s administration before this, we have put together, I think, the most extensive and inclusive voter fraud organization in the history of American politics. What the president is trying to do is discourage people from voting by implying that their vote won’t be counted. It can’t be counted. We’re going to challenge it and all these things. If enough people vote, it’s going to overwhelm the system. You see what’s happening now. You guys know it as well as I do. You see the long, long lines in early voting. You see the millions of people have already cast a ballot. And so, don’t be intimidated…..
Thirdly, for those who’ve already voted, it’s not enough, God love ya, it’s not enough that you voted. You got to go out and get your friends. You’ve got to go out and get your family. You’ve got to go out and get people. There’s so many people like the old days when we used to be it used to be a lot easier. There’s so many people when you get over that, were you able to knock on doors and know Mrs. Smith didn’t have a vehicle that you drive her to the polls. You make sure that you get your friends, your family, because, look, you know, as John Lewis said before he passed away, you have a sacred right and it’s a sacred obligation to vote, particularly young people.“We got Joe!” Pod Save America, 24 October 2020.
So yes, it seems like Joe Biden was worried about Republicans trying to encourage people not to vote.
Use of Media
Let’s be clear, newspaper articles, news site articles ,youtube videos, etc are at best a starting point, or something that can be quickly used to point in a direction for research. Nowadays, articles or stories are written and produced quickly, with the best information the person can get at the time or, in the case of the Murdoch Empire, the best guess at what Rupert wants to said (This is massively documented by the way). There is lots of media analysis, which explains why time, advertising and financial pressures make media not as good as it was 20 to 30 years ago. Although its now old, Nick Davies Flat Earth News was a good starting book – and since then it has got worse.
I have found the Guardian to be generally, but not always, accurate. More importantly I have found them willing to correct articles when they have made a mistake, and to acknowledge the mistake. This is heartening, although clearly what is a mistake can be disputed. The only time the Murdoch empire seems to correct a mistake is if they are threatened with legal action and think it is libelous and they cannot get away by pretending it is opinion – and the correction is often not connected to the original article at all.
If a media source does not check out, then I don’t use it, or retract the use. I don’t just pass on to the next source.
There are always better sources.
Hopefully this at least gives the reader some idea of what is involved in trying to find truth in the world. It takes a bit of work.