Fake News and The Republic

by Daniel Mallock (August 2018)

Untitled, Robert Rauschenberg, 1972





The disturbing results of a Pew Research Center survey released on June 18th, results that were widely ignored in the press and across the internet, provide crucial hints as to what is happening in the United States and why. This important survey that examined whether or not respondents could discern factual statements from opinion in news reports validates fears of systemic failures, most particularly in education that, consequentially and altogether, put the republic itself at risk.


It is incontrovertible that the media of the country is drowning in bias, both of the left and of the right (though certainly skewed left). That news outlets that purport to be honest, accurate, and objective are none of those things—yet sustain the pretense that they are—is sure evidence that the profession of journalism is in collapse.


Thomas Jefferson had a similar contentious relationship with the media much in the same way as the current president does now. President Trump has said on numerous occasions that he only wants to be covered fairly in the press and that criticism, if substantive and legitimate (that is, evidence-based), is certainly acceptable and even welcome. This is, after all, one of the essential roles of the press—to act as watch dogs of the government and of officials. Every chief executive knows that they will be scrutinized by members of the fourth estate, all of them want it done fairly.


the trial of a Federalist editor on charges of libeling the president.


Jefferson considered the matter so important that he discussed it at length in his second inaugural address (March 4, 1805).




Jefferson was clear about the dangers that a false and biased, activist, politically-motivated press presented to the republic. He believed that, though the press had been libeling him and destroying its own credibility (in his view), the electorate had rejected the heavily biased, negative messages of the press—his reelection serving as solid proof of the assertion.



Building a healthy skepticism, the ability to reason and discern, and excellence in critical thinking in students is the job of educators. If the American public cannot tell the difference between opinion and factual statements then their critical thinking skills and healthy skepticism are insufficient for the challenges of modern life. This signals a fundamental and extraordinary failure in American education.



But with the vast majority of Americans getting at least some news online, gaps across population groups in the ability to sort news correctly raise caution. Amid the massive array of content that flows through the digital space hourly, the brief dips into and out of news and the country’s heightened political divisiveness, the ability and motivation to quickly sort news correctly is all the more critical.

. . .

When Americans see a news statement as factual, they overwhelmingly also believe it to be accurate. This is true for both statements they correctly and incorrectly identified as factual, though small portions of the public did call statements both factual and inaccurate.


When Americans incorrectly classified factual statements as opinions, they most often disagreed with the statement. When correctly classifying opinions as such, however, Americans expressed more of a mix of agreeing and disagreeing with the statement. (Pew Research Center)


There is cause for hope, however. Foremost is that this issue of credulity and poor analytical skills in the news consumer population, long suspected, is now validated by the Pew study. Knowledge is power, after all.


Since much of American news is now disseminated and consumed via internet channels the dramas around mass manipulation of people by fake news is often played out in social media and other online outlets. Facebook chat rooms, blogs, vlogs, articles, YouTube videos, comments sections on articles in mainstream and alternative sources all display similar arguments between believers and skeptics, left and right, etc. The dichotomies of the present hour are all played out online for all who are interested to see and, if so inclined, to participate in.


deep chill on academic and intellectual exploration and freedoms in many American universities and colleges. But this disturbing aspect of today’s culture wars in which those of the bitter left stand in judgment of those on the right and those not-quite-left-enough is being challenged.


A recent article in the online journal Quillette sets the stage for a reversal of the SJW nightmare and a reexamination of leftist tactics and ideology. Nominally a testimonial of shock, regret, self-examination and reassessment by a former SJW this fascinating autobiographical snapshot of the pits of American political conflict is in fact an indictment of the false moral superiority of the modern left itself. Once an active online soldier of the left, shaming and browbeating those with differing viewpoints and those not sufficiently “woke,” the author describes how he himself became a target and his life and profession ruined.


I drive food delivery for an online app to make rent and support myself and my young family. This is my new life. I once had a well paid job in what might be described as the social justice industry. Then I upset the wrong person, and within a short window of time, I was considered too toxic for my employer’s taste. I was publicly shamed, mobbed, and reduced to a symbol of male privilege. I was cast out of my career and my professional community.

. . .

In my previous life, I was a self-righteous social justice crusader. I would use my mid-sized Twitter and Facebook platforms to signal my wokeness on topics such as LGBT rights, rape culture, and racial injustice. Many of the opinions I held then are still opinions that I hold today. But I now realize that my social-media hyperactivity was, in reality, doing more harm than good.

. . .

I mobbed and shamed people for incidents that became front page news. But when they were vindicated or exonerated by some real-world investigation, it was treated as a footnote by my online community. If someone survives a social justice callout, it simply means that the mob has moved on to someone new. No one ever apologizes for a false accusation, and everyone has a selective memory regarding what they’ve done.


This extraordinary confessional, impossible even months ago, is a signal of a changing political culture. Additionally, the power of journalistic and political manipulation is also being directly challenged. There appears a great internal war and crisis on the American left as both leaders and followers continue to refuse to accept the results of the 2016 presidential election and double-down on leftist concepts like identity politics, globalism, and utopianism that are inherently contrary to what the country is about and how our government is supposed to function. The unfortunate and newly enlightened former SJW is a modern-day Camille Desmoulins.


Desmoulins at the Palais Royale, Paris, July 12, 1789.



The conversion of some elements of the left into “the mob” akin to the Jacobin revolutionaries of France, stoked by outrageous and violent rhetoric from politicians and public people (e.g., Democrat Congresswoman Maxine Waters) is a disturbing and dangerous development. The article in Quillette is important, enlightening, and revelatory and appears to validate the old clichéd adage about “history repeating itself.”


Not only are the group think and mob mentality aspects of the current crisis of the left being challenged, the manipulation of the masses by leftist politicians and journalists is also being noted—and, in this case, creating a reaction that is a potential direct threat to the left itself.


Thousands of people are now involved in a growing movement called “#Walkaway” which is based on Facebook and was started by a young (openly gay) man in New York City. Disillusioned by extreme rhetoric, intolerance to opposing views, and what they perceive as “party line” manipulation by Democrat political leaders, leftist entertainers, and fellow traveler “journalists,” thousands of Democrats around the country are publicly “walking away” from the party and even from liberalism itself.



The rise of the American liberal revolutionary ideology is at least 50 years in the making—the election of Trump marks the greatest challenge to both the ideology and the party that promotes it, thus this hysterical over-reaction from the left and anger, bitterness, frustration, and intolerance that now characterizes liberals. That the country is in revolutionary times is not worth contention because our American revolution itself never really ended. Only those without a complete grasp of the world and of politics cannot see that the American republic is an experimental marvel. This current phase is the latest culmination of many revolutionary moments and periods. This however does not diminish the dangers that it presents. A slow, sometimes imperceptible, leftist revolution has been happening in the country for decades—now we are in the counter-revolution period.


The cycles of history meander and twist and can be difficult to track. One of the repeated accusations from today’s modern leftists is that the election of Trump was somehow unfair, that the election was somehow stolen from the leftist candidate (foreign “meddlers” anybody?), and that therefore President Trump is “not their president.” This, in a sense, is a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the political system in the United States—when election results are unfavorable simply reject the results and the winner. There is a past presidential election that is worthy of review: the election of 1824.


William H. Crawford, Secretary of the Treasury, appeared to be the leading candidate in the election until he suddenly became gravely ill. Clearly no longer physically capable of serving, the question of who Crawford’s supporters would shift to became paramount. The two leading candidates for the presidency were John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts and Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, both of the same party (Democratic-Republican). Henry Clay was third. The outcome of the election produced no outright winner (electoral majority not being gained by any candidate) forcing the election into the House of Representatives. The mood of the country was clearly in favor of Jackson, rather than Adams. Most (including the candidates) expected, based on this mood, that the election would go to Jackson.


Henry Clay of Kentucky, then Speaker of the House and losing presidential candidate, was insightful and ambitious enough to realize that his position as the lessor of three candidates polled placed him in the powerful position of deal maker. If Clay (knowing that the Crawford people supported him) ordered his supporters in the House to back either Adams or Jackson, Clay could leverage such a deal into a new position for himself, say, Secretary of State. The situation became one of backroom meetings and political strong-arming to sway support among members of the House toward a specific candidate of Clay’s choosing. The supporters of Crawford would follow suit.


Jackson was approached by James Buchanan, representing Clay, with the message that if Jackson were to promise to make Clay the Secretary of State, then Clay would steer his own people and Crawford’s toward Jackson and make Jackson the president. Jackson’s response was unhesitating and unconditional refusal. Representatives of Clay approached Adams and made the same offer which Adams, to his swift regret, accepted. John Quincy Adams was elected president in the House vote, Jackson resigned his Senate seat and returned to Nashville.


vandalized in April, 2018. This had never happened in the history of the tomb.)


Jackson knew that the election had been stolen by Adams and Clay, everyone in the country knew it. This became the great shadow upon John Quincy Adams’s otherwise positive reputation and a lifetime of impressive and valuable public service.


There is a portrait now of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office of the White House. President Trump laid a wreath on Jackson’s tomb at the Hermitage shortly after the election of 2016.

The crisis within the American left which fuels all the controversies and ills of American political life today involves the rejection of the presidential result of 2016, declarations of “he’s not my president,” and bizarre and dangerous deconstructions of the political system itself and of the unity that is its foundation. Identity politics, rejectionism, and relentless agitation and deconstruction are meant to do one thing: destabilize the society.


We need a swift reappreciation of and reconnection with the value of our history and the imperative of supporting a strong and stable American government and unified nation. This is such an important matter that I surrender the podium to General Jackson for the last word.



From that moment I withdrew all intercourse with him, not however to oppose his administration when I think it useful to the Country . . . Mr. Adams is the Constitutional President and as such I would be the last man . . . to oppose him on any other ground than principal.[1]





Daniel Mallock is a historian of the Founding generation and of the Civil War and is the author of The New York Times Bestseller, Agony and Eloquence: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and a World of Revolution. He is a Contributing Editor at New English Review.

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