The comment page of The Guardian is a useful place to watch the latest alarum and mass delusion to which we humans are distressingly subject take form. The one so taking form at present being the outcries over the false news which so obviously won the election for Trump (or Brexit, The Italian referendum, Beppe to be, Le Pen and, well, select from whatever will annoy those who write the Guardian's comment pages).
The truly astonishing thing about it all being the alarming lack of self knowledge on display. Because of course fake news is nothing new at all, indeed it's been a standard tactic of various on the left for some time now.
Take, for example, something from climate change - no, not the subject itself, but a particular detail. James Hansen has been widely quoted as stating that a carbon tax should be up at the $1,000 a tonne level. This is not so - Hansen showed that using certain assumptions then a carbon tax should perhaps be as high as that level. The truth is might, to say should is an untruth.
We might think that is minor but here's how today's page is panning out:
We’ve been calling this “post-truth politics” but I now worry that the phrase is far too gentle, suggesting society has simply reached some new phase in its development. It lets off the guilty too lightly. What Trump is doing is not “engaging in post-truth politics”. He’s lying.
Worse still, Trump and those like him not only lie: they imply that the truth doesn’t matter, showing a blithe indifference to whether what they say is grounded in reality or evidence.
We could replace "Trump" there in Jonathan Friedland's piece with "climate change" again and note that what The G continually tells us, that this is an imminent catastrophe and we must change our very civilisation immediately to deal with it is an untruth. The actual science, the IPCC and so on, says that future actions might indeed lead to a serious problem but a modest continuation of what we're already doing, that work on solar power and so on, is likely to leave us with a modest remaining problem, if that.
On those same pages Matt Laszlo tells us that:
That doesn’t start with stoking more distrust in the nation’s media. It starts with praising the enduring glory of the nation’s First Amendment and reinstalling trust in the nation’s press corps, many of whom did a fantastic job of covering the election.
That's the American media that was so far in the tank for Hillary that there were open calls to simply shout that Trump's a liar and be done with it?
What about publishers? Well, we’re not perfect either. Professional news organisations like the New York Times, where I’m the president and chief executive officer, screw up from time to time and we have to learn from our mistakes.
That's the New York Times which has been repeatedly asserting that higher minimum wages do not affect employment? It is indeed possible to have the most lovely arguments about how much a higher minimum affects whom but the assertion that there is no unemployment effect is simply an untruth.
And closer to home here think of the UK Uncut saga. The story about Vodafone and the £6 billion tax bill. There never was such a bill, there was no deal to cut it and yet that isn't what our media has been telling us, is it? Richard Brooks, the originator of the story in Private Eye, has actually explained to us how the figure was reached. If tax law was different then more money would have been owed. We're sure that's true but there's a certain promulgation of not quite an entire and whole truth to move from that to an insistence that £6 billion was owed, no? Or the campaign about Boot's tax avoidance, something they achieved while obeying every jot and tittle of the law about what people should not do to avoid tax.
At least one of the perpetrators of that little, umm, piece of truthiness, has openly agreed that it was all about creating the narrative, exact details were not the point.
Or even the continued wails that inequality is rising to unprecedented levels. Global inequality is falling and within country inequality is nothing at all like the levels of the historical past - we've welfare systems explicitly designed to make sure that it isn't. The spread of food banks - is this evidence, as claimed, of massive need? Or evidence of an always extant need now finally being met?
We're going on a length here because this is an important issue. Yes, indeed, there is fake news out there. But what is going to be uncomfortable for a lot of those complaining about it is that a close examination of "truth" is going to leave an awful lot of supposedly established facts about our modern world looking terribly exposed.
We believe in free speech, free speech unalloyed by any restrictions other than the libel laws and incitements to violence. However, we would have a great deal of fun if some system of determining fake from true news were indeed brought in at a statutory or other level. For we'd have a system to force corrections upon just about every economic suggestion emanating from anywhere to the left of us.