The two big stories this week: "fake news" and Russia's alleged manipulation of our election. Actually, in my opinion, they’re non-stories.
In regard to fake news, I have a confession to make. First, some preface.
To put my podcasts together I trawl through news websites on the internet for stories of interest.
The big American broadsheet newspaper websites have mostly disappeared behind paywalls. I can't afford more than one of those, so I subscribe to the New York Times online version—not because I like the damn thing, but because of its influence, which I need to track.
The tabloids are still free to access online; and I get the print edition of one of them, the New York Post, delivered daily because my wife likes it. Foreign tabloids are still mostly free, too: I read the London Daily Express and Daily Mail online every day.
There's nothing wrong with tabloids. If you skip over the Elvis sightings and celebrity gossip and don't mind bad grammar, they tell you as much about what's going on as most of us need to know. And the opinion pieces are less rigidly CultMarx party line that those in the broadsheets.
After that I rely on secondary sites and aggregators: Breitbart, RealClearPolitics, the Daily Caller, Drudge, and some specialized sites like Asia Times for Far Eastern stuff, Discover magazine for science, and so on.
And then there are links and clips that listeners send me, some from bloggers or local newspapers. And yes, I read blogs myself. There are 26 in my Feedly.com feed, and they of course often link to news stories.
OK, now my confession.
A couple of podcasts ago I read a story that caught my fancy. There was a link to it in one of the blogs, and a listener—not the blogger—also sent me the same link. I did a segment on it for Radio Derb.
Fortunately, this podcast, before it goes on the air, gets scrutinized by VDARE.com's James Fulford. Nothing gets past James. He spotted the source—it was a website called The Boston Tribune—as a fake news site. He cross-checked with the fact-checker site Snopes.com, and sure enough the story was bogus. I had to do some fast editing on the Radio Derb sound file before James would let me on the air.
That, by the way, is more journalistic due diligence from VDARE.com than you get at some major news outlets—a thing to bear in mind when deciding whether to (a) sign up for a subscription to one of the broadsheet newspaper web sites, or (b) donate to VDARE.com.
There is actually a commercial rationale for the existence of these fake news websites. If, like the Boston Tribune, you can work up a good newspaperish-looking website, a lot of underpaid ink-stained wretches like me, zipping around the internet looking for stories, will be taken in during a moment of haste, distraction, or intoxication. They'll link to your fake story, pass it on to others, and you'll get enough clicks to make you worth the attention of advertisers, who will pay you good dollars to place their ads. [Ker-ching!] Hey, it's a living.
But I can't get worked up about this, or about the current "fake news" fake hysteria, because I have never held journalists in the high regard in which they hold themselves.
My general approach was expressed in a column I wrote thirteen years ago for National Review: "Journalists are Scum." In that column, I summoned up the traditional British view of the journalistic profession as the haunt of drunks, vagabonds, perverts, con artists, and scoundrels.
The canonical expression of that viewpoint was Evelyn Waugh's 1933 novel Scoop, whose lead character, William Boot, was based on my old editor at the London Daily Telegraph, Bill Deedes. Bill was actually an honest hard-working journalist with a good nose for a story, but some of the other characters in Waugh's novel were less scrupulous. The American reporter Wenlock Jakes, for example. Quote from Scoop:
Why, once Jakes went out to cover a revolution in one of the Balkan capitals. He overslept in his carriage, woke up at the wrong station, didn't know any different, got out, went straight to an hotel, and cabled off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine-guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a broken doll, spreadeagled in the deserted roadway below his window—you know.So yes, fake news has been around for ever. It's probably as old as real news … maybe older. I bet someone back in Mycenae was fake-newsing the Trojan War.
That Democrats are raising the specter of fake news as something peculiar to late 2016 and the Trump campaign bespeaks a complete lack of historical and literary awareness.
Not to mention desperation.
I am likewise unmoved by the fuss about the Russians influencing our elections via leaked emails.
My reaction to this was: Duh. Of course the Russians would like to influence our elections. We'd influence theirs, if they had any that were half-way genuine. We actually did spend tens of millions of dollars trying to influence the Ukrainian elections two years ago. [Ukraine crisis: Putin adviser accuses US of meddling, BBC, February 6, 2014]
And what did the Russians actually accomplish in the way of influencing our elections? Answer: We don't know, since the evidence that they did anything is entirely circumstantial.
On the very worst interpretation, all the Russians did was expose the cynicism and dishonesty of Mrs. Clinton and her operatives by releasing their emails—what Judge Andrew Napolitano has referred to as "the truthful revelation of private facts." [Did the Russians Hack Hillary?, Unz.com, December 15, 2016]If you want to know how politicians and their staffers talk to each other in private, you generally have to wait a decade or two until the memoirs are published. Wikileaks—possibly with Russian help—gave us the same information without the time lag, that's all.
I can't see anything here to get agitated about. The main thought I come away with is: Why don't we have hackers as good as theirs, to access Vladimir Putin's emails, and Xi Jinping's, and Kim Jong Un's, and broadcast them to their people?
That would at least be playing the game in a spirited fashion, instead of hunkering curled up in a corner and whining.
What's really going on here with the fusses about fake news and Russian interference is what I'm going to christen the Roger Lyons Strategy.
Readers of my monthly diaries here at VDARE.com will recall my reminiscing, in last month's diary, about some very obscure events of fifty-three years ago, events that brought me my first real political insight.
In very brief: I was a freshman undergraduate at University College, London. The college's student union held an election for union president. There was a Leftist candidate named Roger Lyons and a conservative candidate whose name I've forgotten. A ballot was held, and the conservative won.
The Leftists wouldn't accept that result. They called endless meetings, raised endless tiny points of order. At last the mass of students got bored with it all and let them have their way. The election was re-held. Roger Lyons was elected. (He later rose to glory as a senior official in Britain's labor movement, not without some patches of controversy.).
That's what the Left is like, always and everywhere. They are relentless in the pursuit of power. Byron said that
Love is of man's life a thing apart,Something similar applies to political passion. For a conservative, politics is one feature of a many-faceted life. To a leftist, it's his whole existence.
'Tis woman's whole existence."
And the Left is anti-realist. They don't like reality. They are in fact prisoners of the Moralistic Fallacy: the belief that anything that offends my personal sensibilities cannot be the case.
Hence all the huffing about "no such thing as race." If there were innate race differences in personality and behavior, that would be emotionally offensive to CultMarx sensibilities. Ergo there can't be.
Last month's election result was a real thing, a fact in the world. So far as I can determine, there was nothing false or illusory about it. From the point of view of the Left, though, it was the wrong result. It cannot be a fact in the world because it's wrong: that is, it has caused Cultural Marxists to experience negative emotions.
Hence all the hysteria: demands for recounts, "fake news," Russian hacking, intimidation of Electors.
I doubt it'll stop there. Like Roger Lyons and his supporters all those years ago, the Left won't quit. The Trump administration, both pre- and post-Inauguration, will be pestered with allegations, inquiries, lawsuits, protests … This show will run and run.
When events hurt your feelings, they can't possibly be real events. There was a plot, a conspiracy, covert action. Someone, somewhere, was pulling a hidden lever.
We have to find that person and punish him!
What about the larger question of whether Russia is a natural enemy of the U.S.A.? Is it?
My answer would be no, with qualifications.
Russia belongs to Western Civilization, to which they've made great contributions. In music and the arts, in literature, in science and math, Russia has been a major player since at least the 18th century. The MacTutor biographical dictionary of important mathematicians lists 130 born in Russia. I covered some of them in my own books about the history of mathematics.
Culturally, civilizationally, Russians are our brothers and sisters. Without their contributions, Western Civ. would be the poorer.
That said, you then have to say this: That of all the great European nations, Russia alone has never really struggled up out of medieval despotism into full civic nationhood. Politically, Russia is the problem child of the modern West.
Is there anything we can do about this? I doubt it. Nations—especially old nations with ingrained political habits—are not malleable things.
Not that we haven't tried. Here's Colonel Ralph Peters, in a New York Post column published December 11th. [Vladimir Putin will always be America’s enemy]
Before I get to the pertinent quote, let me just note that Peters [Email him] is a neocon, with a line in militaristic bluster that would have had the last Kaiser nodding along enthusiastically. Sample quote:
To align ourselves with Putin in 2017 would be the equivalent of allying with Hitler in 1937.Hoo-kay, Colonel; time for a refill on the meds, perhaps.
But in among all the neocon bombast and sleight of hand, Peters writes:
I served in Washington (traveling often to Moscow) as the Soviet Union died of organ failure. Far from attempting to punish the "new" Russia, we and our European allies fell all over ourselves to indulge Moscow's whims and encourage investment. Our State Department's infatuation with the "new" Russia was embarrassingly extreme.Yes, it was. We believe, in our blithe American optimism, that once a nation is shown the benefits of constitutional democracy it will leap to embrace that form of government.
If there's nothing positive we can do, though, there are follies we can avoid. If we can't actually do anything to improve Russia, we should at least not do things that stimulate their worst national characteristics.
Like, for example, moving NATO up to their borders. Colonel Peters tells us that the desire of East Europeans to join NATO is understandable, as of course it is. He cites the horrors of Soviet imperialism, quote (with links added) :
The slaughter of workers in Berlin in 1953 … The bloodbath in Hungary in '56 … Soviet tanks rolling into Prague in '68 …But Peters forgets to mention that Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson did nothing about those atrocities—and that nothing was what the American public wanted them to do.
If Russia does something similar today—to Latvia, say—we are obliged by treaty to go to war against Russia.
Plainly that's what Ralph Peters wants. But is it what Americans want?
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He's had two books published by VDARE.com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and From the Dissident Right II: Essays 2013. His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.