Debunking the patently bunk

A few months ago the Associated Press changed their website. You, my dear readers, probably wouldn’t notice since the AP site is what they call “business facing,” as in, it’s only seen by other journalists, editors, and people such as myself.

The new site works (mostly) well … and the AP added a new section that has quickly become my favorite mid-day break reading material.

The section is called AP Fact Check, and oh how it delivers.

Anybody else remember how, for the last six months to a year, it’s been harder and harder to tell the difference between fact, spin, fiction, outright fiction, and “you’ve got be kidding me” insanity that some people believe is the actual news?

Yeah, so did the AP. They launched Fact Check as a way of debunking stories that spread across social media, inevitably befouling your ironically named “newsfeed” with 4,000+ comments that all feature a variation of the argument “no, YOU’RE stupid!”

As of late, the idea of fact checking has fallen from it’s origins as a way of proving something right or wrong, and has unfortunately been co-opted by people that phrase their argument in the form of “education” for the poor, deluded soul that believes something different than they.

These people are not to be taken seriously. They are easy to spot since they often will start a counterpoint by stretching the word “really” into unnatural proportions.

Anytime someone starts a sentence with “you know what REEAALLLLY happened?” just go ahead and tune them out.

The stories the AP is debunking hardly seem worth the time to an outsider.

But these stories aren’t for you, they’re written for someone, or rather a small group of people to con, a “mark,” who sees the false stories as “proof” of some preexisting notions they hold but do not share publicly due to a deserved fear of being openly mocked. The mark reads the false story, assumes it is true, and perpetuates the story online, thereby netting more and more advertising cash for the original falsifier. Case in point:

CDC backs breast-feeding, despite false story

There was a story circulating on social media claiming that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention had announced they recommend a delay in mothers breastfeeding their children to improve the effectiveness of vaccines.

So the AP called Dr. Joan Younger Meek in Florida, who happens to chair a breast-feeding panel for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

What did Dr. Meek have to say? Exactly what you think! There is no recommendation from the CDC or the AAP about delaying breast-feeding.

The false story cited a small study from 2010 that said a vaccine for the rotavirus (which kills half a million children worldwide every year) was less effective for women in developing nations as it was for women in industrialized nations.

The study said the test results from subjects in India and other countries suggested it was possible that breast milk could make the vaccine less effective.

This is where the false story stops reporting. If they had continued to research they would have discovered that the 2010 study wasn’t definitive, numerous other studies have followed, and that even the World Health Organization has found no reason to restrict breast-feeding before or after receiving the rotavirus vaccination.

… but that wasn’t the point of the story, was it?

The story wasn’t examining the result of a scientific study. The story was designed to get its readers to feel fear and shame at the idea of “that horrible government” telling young mothers to forgo one of mankind’s most sacred acts to make sure those terrible, autism-inducing vaccines have enough time to ruin your precious (grand)child’s life.

False news stories like these are, at best, a cynical attempt to skewer the view of reality for readers who have earnest fears about the future with a lethal mixture of propaganda and drivel, then getting them to come back to their propaganda site repeatedly, so as to extract more advertising revenue out of their clicks.

It’s always about the money.

Hey, do you not like the current president? Think he’s a windbag with too much money who doesn’t care about the American people and is without a doubt the worst thing that has ever happened in a country that once had legal slavery? Well, the fake news people saw you coming a mile away!

Trump didn’t get a luxury-model Air Force One

Of course he didn’t! For starters, since when is Air Force One not a luxury aircraft?

But Trump is the worst, right? That’s why this false story started flying around social media, complete with pictures of Trump Force One, which has golden walls and red velour upholstery … yeah, they were just pictures of the inside of Trump’s apartment in Trump Towers, and maybe one or two from one of his former casinos.

There was a real news story recently about Trump wanting to negotiate with Boeing over the costs of a new Air Force One; a plane that, since it’s a bit more complex to put together than an IKEA coffee table, wouldn’t be ready until 2023 at the earliest.

And that’s all the false-story people needed to cause a murmur of memory, a simple “I remember hearing something about that!” from their intended audience, enough to push the reader past the “this is just a lie, right?” notion they had when first reading the headline.

This story may well have been the brainchild of a hidden marketing genius at Greenpoint Technologies, a company that makes luxury modifications to aircraft.

They had drafted “conceptual renderings” of a possible luxury 747 that looked like something Trump might buy … or any rich person might buy. Those pictures, along with the falsely attributed pictures of Trump Towers, were widely circulated alongside the Trump Force One story, leading Greenpoint to publicly announce they were just hypothetical modifications for a 747.

Had you ever heard of Greenpoint Technologies before this story? Neither had I.

Maybe they’re just covering up for Trump, right? Let me ask you this: Regardless of what you think of him as a president, does Trump seem like the kind of guy that wouldn’t loudly acknowledge a new luxury item, made specifically for him? Here’s a hint: His home has his name on the side of it.

And that’s just two stories from the 21 AP Fact Check stories filed since March! I didn’t even get to “Trump no factor in Social Security increase” and, my favorite, “Gorsuch, SCOTUS didn’t ban teaching of Islam,” because, of course the Supreme Court has that power.

Whatever happened to Civics class? Maybe people should know what the government actually is and is not capable of doing.

Curious? Well, you could go to a library and research what happened to Civics classes as a standard subject in public education … or you could get online and look up what REEAALLLLY happened.

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Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or wburns@timesrepublican.com.