Disinformation Busting Is Another Alternative Reality Game

Big news in public radio land!

The most beloved of all state-supported FM stations—most beloved behind your local broadcaster that plays the “Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka” every noonday, that is—will join the war for the truth. NPR has assembled a disinformation reporting team to, in the words of one recruit, “navigate who to trust in these strange times.”

Ah, yes, cui confido? Whom to trust in turbulent times. The age-old wonder.

Call me a raging right-wing fascist, but I’ll reserve my credence for a news purveyor with a less lie-blemished record. NPR has devolved from eye-crust growing mono-drone dictationer to the leftist equivalent of a second-rate Infowars. In recent years, the outlet misreported on multiple happenings: Andrew Cuomo’s paladinic leadership, the provenance of Hunter Biden’s laptop, the impossible-cum-probable COVID lab-leak theory, and the guilt of Rambo-medic Kyle Rittenhouse.

And who could forget Nina Totenbergate?

But the same bulletin broadcaster that fell for Jussie Smollett’s crocodile tears assures listeners it will winch the real story from a sea of bushwa, such as determining if inflation is really Putin’s fault or Donald Trump’s, and nobody else.

Yeah, hard pass—but I’d still like a free tote bag. (Hey, they have one with the dishy fabulist in a Warholistic portrait print. Perfect for toting around my copious copies of National Inquirer.)

NPR is actually a relatively late entrant in the disinformation market. Like a half-century late. Fact-checking became a popular commodity in the Trump years, with major print organs like the New York Times and Washington Post running up their subscription numbers based on debunking the showman-in-chief’s serial exaggerations. As if some Warby Parker-wearing wonk needed to inform the world that Donald Trump was not, in fact, “the greatest president who ever lived with the HUUUUGEST, most beautiful support of all time.” But even the very phrase “fake news” became a cliché after it was bandied back and forth repeatedly until it became a byword for “shut up.”

The word “disinformation” is coming precariously close to entering the same lexiconal ash heap. Like the identity pejoratives “racist” and “bigot” wielded effectively by the left, “disinformation” is becoming a stamp automatically impressed upon utterances that don’t comport with leftist ideology. Some of this fact-snapping is good and needed: the 45th President trying to decertify the election 45 months later based on a bitter hunch. Some is plainly partisan: running editorial cover for the current president’s plummeting approvals and hilariously disconcerting cognitive decline. Most is inane and mundane, such as correcting marginal capital tax rates mentioned by some county commissioner in Boise, Idaho, at a Lincoln-Reagan dinner. But it’s all warmed-over left appeasement meant to shore up progressive narration.

So why spread more liberal fan service over the Hertzian waves? Does the country need another additive to our already bulging “messaging culture”?

The American people enjoy an abundance of two things: processed calorie-rich food (at least for now) and newsinfotainment. The latter is a compound that can’t be untangled from its constituent parts, despite the virtue bluster of the self-worshiping journalist class. That’s because all “news,” if CNN listicles on Joe Biden’s favorite ice cream flavors count as news, is filtered through dug-in priors of the audience—your humble correspondent included. The bias is built-in, not because of some nefarious plot but because that’s what the customer wants. Myths travel farther than facts in politics, as Dan McLaughlin says, because cognitive comfort sells better than disturbance.

In a revelatory piece in The New Atlantis, Jon Askonas postulates that “reality is just a game now.” He’s not pushing some abstruse Heideggerian theory about subjectivist truth. (If Unisom isn’t working for you, you can always try the primary text on that.) Askonas is making a point about the combination of taste-based social media streams and the internet’s shot of dream adrenaline into the wackiest ideas. When checking the news—e.g. staring at your Facebook or Twitter conveyer—you’re really playing an “alternative reality game” where events only have the utility of bolstering your predisposition. It’s like a reverse Agatha Christie novel. The evil-doer is already known: the conservative bigot trying to re-raise the Confederacy; the saurian liberal trying to abduct cherubic children.

Once the perp is predetermined, it’s only a matter of sifting for guilt-pointing clues in the headlines that zip by during your thumb scroll. “Alternate reality games dictate what is and is not important in the unending deluge of information—what gets points and what doesn’t,” Askonas writes. Want to prove wokescolds of “the Squad” are great pretenders? Check out this five second Daily Wire clip of Jenny from the ‘Burbs pretending to be cuffed and collared outside the Supreme Court. Need evidence Donald Trump is a Putin sock puppet? Here’s a helpful graph featuring dozens of no-names and obscure entities that possibly, potentially, could perhaps maybe, prove Trump has been the Moscowian Candidate since the year the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon premiered.

The digital mediascape is like a Chinese buffet: there’s something to fill everyone’s ideological plate. The offerings are all surface-level satisfying, but lack real nutritional substance. And if you eat too much, you end up with IBS or find yourself outside the home of a SCOTUS justice, lemon squeezer in hand, ready to earn yourself a lifetime stay in the slammer.

NPR’s disinformation beat is not in service to the truth. Duh. It will be yet another leftie confirmation-bias hub, where listeners can tune in, overprice soy-milk cappuccino in hand, and learn why Republican pensioners of The Villages are a budding Hitleralten. Then the smug liberal, content in his own righteousness, can play Facebook freedom fighter, saving democracy from fascism, posting one HuffPos link at a time.

Talk about alternate reality being stranger, and more fun, than fiction.

Off-column: “What’s that? Hope? I have to offer hope? Bah! Very well. If that’s what it takes to get this rumination on-site.”

This is the point when our Pollyannaish editor informs me that a good injection of optimism is needed, so as to not leave the reader leaning out a four-story window in despair. Or, if happy thoughts aren’t available, at least a fix to the overwhelming woe and misery that infects our politics.

So what to do about the epistemological fantasizing caused by hyper-curated internet feeds? How about give the nationalist right and socialist left their druthers and nationalize Big Tech, turning Twitter into the Post Office so nobody trusts it? Or, what about arresting, charging, and jailing every blue-check by-liner that’s ever uttered anything less than objective fact online? That might not solve the cosplay-as-informed-citizenry dilemma, but it might coddle my own grievance, and that’s kind of a solution for something, right?

Maybe the scourge of fakery and exhibitionism can simply be solved with recalling Philip K. Dick’s dictum: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing it, doesn’t go away.” Delete the Facebook app. Quit checking Twitter. Talk to your neighbor in person. Grab a beer with an old friend. Hit up your local pool during this angrily hot summer.

Oh, and turn off the NPR. There are plenty of other places to find out which movies merit a $15 ticket without having to endure five minutes of chatter on whether it satisfies the NAACP’s inclusion rider.

See reality away from a screen. Leave the gotcha news games to suffering correspondents like yours truly.

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Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis writes from Virginia.

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