Phil Torres

Sam Harris is a lot like Donald Trump

Sam Harris is a lot like Donald Trump. To many readers, this may sound either obviously false or trivially true — after all, everything is like everything else in at least some way. But what I mean is quite substantive: There are important ways in which the strategy that Harris uses to communicate with his audience is strikingly similar to Trump's. This should worry us, because both speak with unwarranted confidence about topics they don't understand and have sizable audiences that are generally inclined not to question the wisdom and omniscience of their chosen leaders.

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The problem with Steven Pinker, Sam Harris and the epidemic of annoying white male intellectuals

In a recent article for Current Affairs, Nathan Robinson describes Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker as “the most annoying man in the world” because Pinker is the type of person who constantly insists he’s “Just Being Reasonable” while he is actually “being extremely goddamn unreasonable.” Although Robinson’s article was a bit harsh in tone, it gestures at something very real: we’re in the midst of an epidemic of “intellectuals,” almost entirely white men, who claim to embody Reason and Rationality while flagrantly and habitually succumbing to the same tribalistic tendencies that they identify as the Ultimate Enemy.

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What Happens After the Next Big Terrorist Attack? Trump Is Paving the Way Toward a Terrifying Crackdown

Terrorism has never been so dangerous. Even a single terrorist attack against American troops abroad or — more worrisome — a “soft target” here in the United States could have potentially catastrophic consequences for the stability and future of Western civilization.

Perhaps you’re skeptical of this claim, and you should be. After all, the average American has a greater chance of dying from a meteorite strike than a terrorist attack. But there are other reasons for considering the threat of terrorism to be greater today than at any moment since, say, the 18th century, when the word “terrorism” emerged from the French Revolution.

Consider some remarks made by our former president, that tyrannical Muslim socialist who never should have been president because he was born in Kenya. During the 2010 State of the Union address, Barack Obama said the following:

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.

Many people, including conservatives, were outraged. A Republican from Utah called it “rude,” while even Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a Democrat, described these comments as “inappropriate.” As the Washington Post put it,“legal experts [have] never seen anything quite like it, a rare and unvarnished showdown between two political branches during what is usually the careful choreography of the State of the Union address.”

The reason for such outrage is that, as the political scientist Alastair Smith notes in an interview with Salon, an independent judiciary is an absolutely critical bulwark against dictatorship. In Smith’s words, “A dictator closes down courts and gets rid of the independent judiciary.” Indeed, this is what one must do to consolidate political power on the road to autocracy. Thus, any perceived challenge to the legitimacy of the courts from the executive branch is a potential threat to democracy itself.

But note how Obama couched his criticism: “With all due deference to separation of powers …” This is an explicit affirmation of the judiciary being, and remaining, an independent entity capable of “checking and balancing” the other two governmental branches.

In contrast to such careful language, though, our current authoritarian leader, Donald Trump, recently engaged in an attack on the courts that should utterly horrify every champion of democracy, whether on the left or right end of the political spectrum. First, Trump attacked the U.S. District judge, appointed by George W. Bush, who ordered a nationwide halt on Trump’s “Muslim ban,” saying, “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

Here Trump is attacking an individual rather than the judiciary in general. But it quickly gets worse. Several hours later, Trump decided that it was a good idea to tweet, “What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?”

Perhaps it’s worth mentioning here that zero — that’s zero — Syrian refugees allowed into the U.S. through our procrustean refugee program have been involved in a fatal terrorist attack. Virtually all of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. have involved American citizens, not refugees or immigrants. And some attacks, like the recent incident in Quebec that resulted in six deaths and 19 injuries, aren’t typically even characterized as terrorist attacks, since white males who commit atrocities are almost invariably described as “mentally ill” rather than inspired by some noxious or terrorist ideology.

The most bone-chilling tweet, though, came a day later, on Feb. 5: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

The key phrase here is “blame him and court system.” I don’t think Trump has the intellectual capacity to plot diabolical schemes — despite his claim to have one of the highest IQs in the world — but what’s taking shape here is a situation in which just one terrorist attack abroad or at home will enable Trump to point the finger of responsibility at the judiciary: “If only they’d listened to me,” he might declare, “then we’d be safe. Because our country is under attack. They want to kill us and chop off our heads! We need to shut down these bad, bad judges and their horrible courts before a mushroom cloud rises over New York City.”

A significant portion of the conservative right will eagerly believe Trump, because another of Trump’s alarming tactics has been to delegitimize the press, which he now routinely calls “the opposition party.” Using Twitter to gain direct access to his followers, Trump will try to mobilize a small army of angry, ignorant xenophobes to see the independent judiciary as an enemy against America — essentially, as traitorous elites who don’t have national security in their best interest. Consequently, this group of followers will welcome an erosion of the court’s power — again, in the name of domestic protection against “the Muslims.”

So the dominos are in place for a major, sudden constitutional crisis. What’s frightening about this unstable equilibrium is that another terrorist attack will almost certainly happen within the next four years, if not the next year or coming months. It’s not so much a matter of if but when this takes place, as terrorism scholars unanimously agree. And once this does happen, those who still believe in American democracy will need to be vigilant and proactive in defending the only branch of government that currently stands between democracy and autocracy.

But there is an additional layer of complexity to this situation. Not only is terrorism going to continue to threaten the West, but Trump’s rhetoric and travel ban themselves will exacerbate the threat. Indeed, Trump has already appeared in propaganda by al-Shabab, the al-Qaida affiliate in Somalia, and as Jeb Bush judiciously noted during the Republican primary, we need allies in the Middle East to help combat the problem of terrorism overseas. Implementing what appears to be a “Muslim ban” will only serve to alienate these groups.

Just recently, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, thanked Trump for showing “the true face” of the U.S., a claim that further reinforces the self-fulfilling prophecy of a “clash of civilizations.”

Another egregious consequence of this debacle is that it will fuel Islamophobia in the U.S. — that is, feed an irrational fear of Muslims, the overwhelming majority of whom are peaceful. There are multiple ingredients that contribute to radicalization, and identity crises are one. When someone feels isolated and ostracized from society, for example, because the president suggests that Muslim terrorist attacks occur so often that they don’t even get covered, that person is more likely to find extremist ideologies palatable. This is a fact of human psychology in general, not of Islam in particular.

Once adopted, such ideologies can lead otherwise moderate believers to pursue atrocities like the San Bernardino attack or the Bowling Green massacre — if, that is, the latter had actually happened. (It didn’t.)

As Steven Pinker states in an interview, Trump does indeed pose a threat to democracy. He adds:

I think that after 240 years, American democracy is too robust to be overturned by one man. To convert a democracy into an autocracy requires disabling an enormous, distributed infrastructure: legislators who have to respond to constituents and lobbyists, judges with reputations to uphold, bureaucrats who are responsible for the missions of their departments, and the tens of millions of people who have to carry out their jobs in order that the government and society function.

The point is that Americans must not let down our guard, not even for a moment. It will ultimately be up to us — the voters, our representatives and the judges who constrain Trump’s haphazard executive orders — to fight the inevitable backlash against democracy after the next terrorist attack occurs.

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Just How Close Is Donald Trump to Becoming a Full-Blown Dictator?

There is widespread agreement among political commentators that Donald Trump is a unique figure in the political history of the United States — and a uniquely dangerous one as well. David Frum recently published a chilling article in The Atlantic titled “How to Build an Autocracy,” and The Washington Post’s John McNeill suggested last year that Trump was a “semi-fascist,” according to a set of robust criteria assembled by “dozens of top historians and political scientists.”

As the comedian Jon Stewart recently said on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” “We have never faced this before: purposeful, vindictive chaos.”

There are many immediate reasons to be worried about a Trump presidency, from his “Muslim ban” that will almost certainly exacerbate terrorism to his normalization of bad epistemology, which has taken the form of fake news, “alternative facts” and conspiracy theories. But what about the long-term stability of American democracy? What might be the consequences of Trump’s policies for the younger generations among us? Could our democracy sink into autocracy, as some fear?

To answer these questions, I contacted Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, professors at New York University and the co-authors of “The Dictator’s Handbook.” Published in 2011 but more relevant than ever, this book offers a fascinating exploration of how people gain and sustain control over power structures like governments and corporations. For a marvelous overview of their ideas, I encourage readers to watch “The Rules for Rulers,” a video based on “The Dictator’s Handbook” that went viral last year.

I contacted Bueno de Mesquita and Smith over Skype for an engaging 38-minute chat. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity; hyperlinks have also been added.)

What are, in your opinions, the most important differences between democracy and dictatorship?

Alastair Smith: We like to think of them as not being distinct but existing on a continuum. They actually share many features. At the top of an organization there’s a person who wants to stay at the top of the organization, and so they generate policies that get people who enable them to stay there to support them. So the difference is a degree of magnitude as to how many people you need.

To win the presidency in the U.S., you’re looking at tens of millions of voters, although the number is much smaller than you might first expect because of the Electoral College. You only really need two and a half of the seats in the marginal districts of the marginal states. But it’s still a very large number. Whereas somewhere like North Korea, we’ve had experts arguing with us about whether it’s 11 people that are really important and whether the 12th guy is really that important or not.

So for us they’re not inherently different, merely different in scale. The fundamental dimensions of politics are the same: You want to keep power and you need supporters to keep you in power; the question is how many supporters you need to do this.

What are the hallmarks of a society shifting from one to the other — let’s say, of a democracy sliding into dictatorship, which many people are concerned about today?

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita: The key issue is how many people the leader needs to depend on and keep happy so as not to lose power. For an autocracy becoming a democracy, it’s a question of expanding the number of people to which you’re accountable. For a democracy to become more autocratic, it’s an issue of depending on fewer people. But this is not a linear process.

If I may be a little technical: When you depend on very few people, they’re getting a lot of private benefits. As you start to expand the number of people you depend on, they’re getting fewer and fewer private benefits while society is getting more and more public benefits. Eventually the public benefits come to exceed the private benefits and even the supporters are better off than under autocracy. Once this happens, there’s no incentive to move backwards because people will be made worse off rather than better. So mature democracies don’t become authoritarian. They can oscillate a bit and become more or less democratic, but they don’t become dictatorships. Indeed, if we’re talking about a mature democracy, one where the institutions are in place, it has never happened before. This offers a little hope.

Having said that, it’s not a super-rare thing for presidents to get elected without a majority vote. In fact, it’s very common. And there are multiple instances of presidents losing the popular vote: For example, George W. Bush and Rutherford B. Hayes. But in Trump’s case, the number of critical, pivotal voters whose support made the difference between winning and losing is only about 70,000 people. If Trump can keep those 70,000 people really happy, and keep the looser part of his coalition adequately happy, then he can do a lot of what he wants.

How did you come up with the number 70,000?

Bueno de Mesquita: It’s the number of votes — specific votes — that would have to be moved for the Electoral College to have gone for Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump. Trump positioned his votes, in that sense, really efficiently. Abraham Lincoln, by the way, moved something like 7,000 votes. If he had not done so, Stephen Douglas would have been president! Lincoln was incredibly efficient in converting votes into victory.

In your view, how worrisome is Donald Trump’s apparent delegitimizing of the press? For example, Trump called CNN “fake news,” Steve Bannon told the media to “keep its mouth shut.” And both have repeatedly described the media as the “opposition party.” Is this a dangerous push towards a less democratic form of governance?

Smith: People tend to think of democracy as just being about free and fair elections. But democracy is about a lot more than that, at least in the way we view things. For example, Iran actually has very free and fair elections, but there are real restrictions on who can run. And there are real media restrictions as well.

What’s very important is that people have the rights of free speech and an independent media. I don’t see Trump being particularly successful at making the media be quiet. It’s worrying that he gets away with some of it. But he’s now being called out for basically living in a post-factual world where these things don’t matter. So, I’m less concerned in the long run. If Trump were to start banning newspapers and prosecuting them, that’s very much how dictators like to do things: Bankrupt newspaper owners if they print stories that they don’t like and lock up journalists. I don’t think that anybody perceives that Trump is going to do this in the near future. The press will continue to talk about Trump; indeed, you’re writing and you’re not feeling the risk of being censored.

[This is correct: My greatest fear right now is being trolled.]

Bueno de Mesquita: I think there are three pillars to an accountable government. Many of the things that people think of as being pillars, like the rule of law, follow from these three pillars. You need freedom of assembly, free speech and free press.

That is, people have to be in a position to exchange information and find out that they’re not alone in disliking what the government is doing — and to organize and coordinate to oppose the government. The two threats to the free press are a) fake news, although “noisy news” has always been prevalent, like if you were to go back to colonial times, you’d find that this was true, and b) self-censorship: When Bannon says the press should shut up, he means censor yourselves. That’s a real danger because, to put it harshly, the press is not in the business of telling the truth. The press is in the business of selling advertising space to make money. So if telling the truth turns out to be a liability, then they might begin to self-censor. That is certainly what happened in Hong Kong after the return to China.

There was a little bit of a negative sign [this week] that made me concerned: President Trump made the selection of the Supreme Court justice into a game show by bringing in candidates rather than the one person he’s going to designate and then designating one — essentially humiliating the other. In my view, if I controlled a network or newspaper, my coverage would have been “President Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.” I would not have given live television coverage of the farce as all the networks did because they were simply feeding Trump publicity that was not news. So I found that a little worrisome.

But the bigger threat is if there’s a loss of freedom of assembly. So far this freedom is working well — enough people have been actively protesting. For example, earlier this week Trump was essentially compelled to stay in the White House rather than go to Milwaukee and face opposition. That’s what has to happen: People have to be active in making known that they are concerned.

To paraphrase Barry Goldwater from a very long time ago, vigilance is the price of freedom. If people just sit back and say, “Well, democracies don’t become autocracies, so I don’t really have to bother.” People have to be using the freedom of assembly, using the free press and free speech to make it costly for members of Congress to go along with what the president wants when they believe it’s a mistake. Members of Congress have to believe that it threatens their re-election not to be a constraint on Trump.

So what worries you most about the Trump administration?

Smith: I’m more worried about the policies that he could implement, rather than deep-seated, long-term institutional changes. The courts are independent and already we’ve seen them rule that some of Trump’s policies are illegal. In the long run, of course, Trump can close down courts. A dictator closes down courts and gets rid of the independent judiciary. But that process takes a while. For a very long time in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe was actually held in check precisely because the courts were independent. It took him a very long time to erode that power. So Trump is not in a position to completely erode the courts. He’s going to shift the policy focus of the Supreme Court, which worries a lot of people: It’s going to have a much more conservative outlook. But he’s not fundamentally going to take away courts where people can get reasonably independent rulings. 

In terms of changing electoral law, again that’s going to be difficult. The Republicans like to do this. They love to gerrymander, and so do the Democrats, although [Republicans] seem to have the upper hand right now. They also like to restrict voter access, for example, to reduce the number of people who are going to vote against them. But at the end of the day, are the Republicans in Congress going to go along with Trump undermining the democratic system? That seems unlikely to be in their interest. Let’s have “King Trump.” This is not in the interest, I think, of the Republicans in Congress.

Bueno de Mesquita: If I can go back to Alastair’s first answer [above]. We prefer to think of governance forms as a continuum, not a dichotomy. We argue forcefully in “The Dictator’s Handbook” that all political leaders, if unconstrained, would rather be dictators — all, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln. So the constraints are exactly as Alastair has pointed out: these deep institutions that are very hard and slow to erode.

Speaking of the courts, how plausible is it that the federal government could simply ignore the courts — a situation that apparently happened following a federal court order on Trump’s travel and immigration ban?

Bueno de Mesquita: Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in order to pursue his policies at the beginning of his term. He met the chief justice of the Supreme Court on the street at the time, and the chief justice told Lincoln that he was acting unconstitutionally. And Lincoln said, “Well, that may be so, but you don’t have a session for another however many months. And in those months I’m going to save the Union.” So presidents can thwart the courts for a while but not indefinitely. But it’s worth noting that thwarting the courts is the fast track to impeachment.

This segues to my next question: How likely is impeachment in the next four years? My understanding is that an emoluments clause violation is sufficient for impeaching Trump. The means are there. What’s needed is the politicalmotivation.

Smith: I’m not going to weigh in on the legal issues because I’m not a lawyer. This is not where our expertise lies. But impeachment has always been very much a “political will” issue. It’s costly for Congress to impeach a president, so they don’t want to do it all the time. But the president is constrained: He can only push Congress so far before it will remove him from office.

Bueno de Mesquita: I would add that as a matter of historical record the only times that a president has faced a serious threat of impeachment — or serious talk of impeachment — is when he had a divided government — that is, when the Congress was of a different party from the president. Trump is an interesting case because it’s not obvious that he’s a Republican. He’s certainly not a Democrat. Rather, he’s something else. So the divided government may or may not be in place.

My own personal opinion — again, not being a lawyer — is that Trump is much more likely in the next four years to be removed from office under the 25th Amendment, whereby the president is deemed to be incapacitated. I think if he persists in using, as they have called it, “alternative facts,” when the evidence does not support what he is saying, and he nevertheless tries to shape policy on that basis, there’s going to be a point at which there will be a judgment that he is not mentally stable.

Any final thoughts about the current trajectory of human civilization?

Bueno de Mesquita: The implication of our theorizing is that, loosely speaking, democratic government is the more dominant long-term form, but it’s not the unique form. It is not in equilibrium to have no dictatorships. Part of the reason is that while democratic leaders say they want to promote democracy around the world, in fact they don’t. What they want instead is foreign governments that, at the margin, will be compliant with policies that the democratic leaders’ constituents want back home. It’s very hard for a democratic leader in another country to comply with what you want if their voters don’t agree with you. But it’s very easy for autocrats to comply because all you have do is to give them what they need to stay in power, which is money to bribe their small group of cronies. And for you to stay in power, you need, at the margin, policy compliance. So there’s always a place for dictatorship.

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How 'Fake News' Exploded - and How to Tell When the Label Is Misused

“Fake news” has become a ubiquitous buzzword among pundits, politicians, news media and bloggers. A Google Trends search finds that the term was virtually unknown until late October, just before the presidential election, at which point it underwent a sudden and significant spike. Stories like those about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring from a Washington pizzeria, or about Democrats wanting to impose Sharia law in Florida were widely shared among conservatives. Reports also continued to suggest that Russia ran a disinformation campaign to get Donald Trump elected, a claim that Trump stubbornly rejected until his first press conference.

Now, in Orwellian fashion, the term “fake news” itself is being stretched and deformed into its semantic opposite. Consider that on Jan. 11, Fox News ran the front-page headline: “Fake News? Trump blasts Russia dossier report …” after a press conference in which Trump explicitly dismissed a CNN reporter by saying “You are fake news!” A day earlier, Breitbart posted an article titled “Fake News: Gizmodo Falsely Claims Trump Sacked Heads of Agency That Maintains Nuclear Weapons,” and the New York Post published a piece the same day called “Buzzfeed’s Trump report takes ‘fake news’ to a new level.”

For the sake of intellectual clarity — that is, to disentangle this knot of obfuscation — let’s take a moment to consider what fake news really is.

Take the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory. This started when 4Chan users noticed that John Podesta had exchanged emails with the owner of Comet Ping Pong, a Washington pizzeria, and concluded that they were using the word “pizza” as a cryptic code word for pedophile sexual activities.” (Seriously.) A white supremacist then tweeted the following: “Rumors stirring in the NYPD that Huma’s emails point to a pedophila [sic] ring and @HillaryClinton is at the center. #GoHillary #PodestaEmails23.” From there, numerous right-wing websites picked up the story and presented it as reliable information. One man from North Carolina became so convinced that the story was true that he drove to the pizza shop with an AR-15-style gun to “self-investigate” the story.

Or take the assertion that Florida Democrats voted to impose Sharia law on women. This false headline originated on “a blogging platform for conservative, libertarian, free market and pro-family writers” called Western Journalism. As the post’s author put it, “Anyone who isn’t certain that Democrats are devoted to destroying America need only take a look at their despicable conduct in the Florida Senate. In a vote that never should have had to be taken, every single Democrat voted to force Sharia law on the people of Florida. By doing so, they placed women and children in very real danger. The vote was 24 votes for America and 14 votes for al-Qaida and the Taliban cast by loathsome Democrats.” Once again, this turned out to be demonstrably false: it confuses, and then exaggerates, a law that enables judges “to apply foreign law as long as it doesn’t contradict public policy in the U.S.”

These are unambiguous instances of dishonesty and foolishness, not unlike some of the central claims made by Trump and his supporters, including that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, that the 2016 presidential election was going to be “rigged,” that millions of “illegals” voted for Clinton, that U.S. intelligence agencies are wrong about Russian hacking and that Obama is “literally” the founder of ISIS — to cite only a few egregious mendacities.

But what about Gizmodo and BuzzFeed? Do charges that they propagated “fake news” hold any weight? Taking these in turn: Gizmodo recently published an article that reported,

According to an official within the Department of Energy, this past Friday, the President-elect’s team instructed the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration and his deputy to clean out their desks when Trump takes office on January 20th.

This report even made it onto “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert“ as a source of anxious laughter.

Later, Gizmodo added a correction:

Another NNSA official, speaking on background to Gizmodo and Defense News, has disputed this report as “inaccurate” while confirming that “there have been no discussions between the president-elect’s transition team and any of NNSA’s political appointees on extending their public service past Jan. 20.”

Gizmodo further clarified: “In other words, the Trump transition team has not asked the top two NNSA officials to stay on until they can be replaced.”

Does this constitute fake news, as Breitbart asserts? I would strongly urge an answer in the negative. Here’s why: It constitutes bad journalism, and bad journalism should be called out as always unacceptable. But the folks at Gizmodo also displayed a degree of intellectual honesty: They made a mistake and then posted a correction.

Compare this to the debacle surrounding a recent Breitbart article: “Global Temperatures Plunge. Icy Silence from Climate Alarmists.” The author, James Delingpole, wrote:

Global land temperatures have plummeted by one degree Celsius since the middle of this year — the biggest and steepest fall on record. … But the news has been greeted with an eerie silence by the world’s alarmist community. You’d almost imagine that when temperatures shoot up it’s catastrophic climate change which requires dramatic headlines across the mainstream media and demands for urgent action.

This is a wildly inaccurate account of what’s really going on — so inaccurate, in fact, that the Weather Channel published a frustrated response titled “Note to Breitbart: Earth Is Not Cooling, Climate Change Is Real and Please Stop Using Our Video to Mislead Americans.” According to this article, which cites actual experts who understand actual science, Delingpole’s argument is “a prime example of cherry picking, or pulling a single item out of context to build a misleading case.” So how did Breitbart react to this opprobrium? Did its editors add a correction to the article like Gizmodo? Did they apologize for reinforcing false beliefs widely held by their largely uneducated audience? No. As of this writing, the article remains undisturbed in its original form.

As for BuzzFeed, a now famous post from Jan. 10 went viral because it links to a dossier claiming that Russia has “compromising information” about Trump. There are two reasons such information could be important: First, it would further confirm that the Kremlin wanted Trump in the Oval Office, and second, it suggests that Russia could manipulate Trump through the mechanism of blackmail.

Why did BuzzFeed release this dossier? In short, because John McCain — who Trump once said isn’t a war hero — gave this information to the FBI. This led to a report by CNN that both Obama and Trump had received the information, some of which had been “circulating as far back as last summer.” Once the CNN report went live, the door was opened for other media to take the extra step and make the entire dossier so readers could, in BuzzFeed’s words, “make up their own minds.”

Once again we can ask: Is this an instance of fake news, as the New York Post claims? And again the answer is a resounding “No!” Consider the subtitle of BuzzFeed’s article, which explicitly states that “The allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.” The article itself states that the dossier “includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians,” and that it “was prepared for political opponents of Trump.”

Such caveats — made multiple times throughout the article — are symptoms of intellectual honesty, not fake news trickery. BuzzFeed is clear that the information in the dossier is unproven, and may not be true. The point of the article was to make known that such material is circulating at the very highest levels of government (which CNN did as well), and then to provide the dossier for readers to see for themselves.

People are free to make their own judgments about the ethics of BuzzFeed’s decision. (Salon, for instance, chose not to publish the contents of the dossier or to recycle its allegations except as they affected the political news cycle.) This dissemination of potentially explosive information into the public sphere is not even close to Breitbart reporting that climate change isn’t real, that Clinton was running a child sex ring, or that Democrats in Florida attempted to implement Sharia law. Lumping all of these under the category of “fake news” is completely disingenuous.

I strongly recommend that people think hard about the epistemological underpinnings of the term “fake news.” Fake news is not merely reporting a falsehood. Even the most honest and highly skilled journalists are susceptible to mistakes, because all humans are fallible. Rather, fake news is reporting a distortion of the truth either for ideological or commercial reasons, accompanied by total carelessness and/or a dogmatic refusal to acknowledge one’s mistakes once revealed as such. The fact that Gizmodo failed to double-check its reporting makes me trust the site a bit less, but the fact that it published a correction makes me trust the site a bit more. The fact that BreitbartFox News and other right-wing media outlets consistently refuse to admit when they distort the evidence, fudge the facts and disregard expertise gives me almost no confidence in anything they publish. And the same should apply to you.

How do we fix this multilayered mess of fake news and Orwellian doublespeak? The answer is that those of us who value truth must heed Glenn Greenwald’s exhortation to be extra-careful when it comes to our beliefs, the articles we share with others and the memes that we spread around social media. To date, seven academic studies have shown that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed audience in America. It is progressives rather than conservatives who have the intellectual and moral high ground. Moving forward, we need to ensure that intellectual integrity continues to be a value of paramount importance. If we do this, we might just be able to counteract the Zeitgeist of radical anti-intellectualism that has seemingly swept across the nation’s media landscape.

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We’re Speeding Toward a Climate Change Catastrophe...and That Makes 2016 the Most Important Election Year in a Generation

Before dropping out of the presidential race last month, Marco Rubio repeatedly declared that the 2016 presidential election is “the most important in a generation.” Such language is, of course, not uncommon to hear during election seasons. Politicians have been assuring the public for decades that the “next election” will be more significant than ever before, and that if the opposition party wins, the consequences will be catastrophic. As Rubio once stated in overtly apocalyptic language, “if we don’t get this election right, there may be no turning back for America.”

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Too Loony for Fox News: Fox Created the Fact-Free GOP, Then Trump Stole It Away

On a recent “Face the Nation” appearance, Marco Rubio blamed Donald Trump’s extraordinary success as a presidential candidate on — you guessed it — “the media.” In his words, “the media coverage for Donald Trump has almost been cheerleading over the last couple weeks and I’m convinced [it’s] because many in the press want him to be nominee.” Why? Because it would provide Hillary Clinton “a clear shot to the Oval Office.” Rubio then added, “So I think there’s a kind of weird bias here in the media rooting for Donald Trump because they know he’s the easiest Republican to beat.”

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Donald Trump Talks at a 4th-Grade Level. Maybe That’s Why the Fox News Audience Loves Him

It’s a cliché to say that democratic states can’t function properly without an informed electorate. But it’s absolutely true. And this is why, heading into the 2016 election year, I’m nervous about the future. With Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential contenders, even many Republican die-hards are shaking in their boots.

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