So the end of 2016 is upon us and like all other previous years around this time, every newspaper, media outlet, etc. is generating their respective lists on 2016. From best to worst to everything in between. We all know the drill. And I can assure you that fake news will be atop many of these lists. Yes fake news. Fake news is public enemy #1 and has been billed as such a threat to our society that now the titans of silicon valley have vowed to crack down on fake news. How exactly? The crack down involves essentially flagging news posts as either “disputed” or “unreliable” and making sure that such stories are buried a bit, requiring people to scroll down to even read them. As to who makes up the gatekeepers that determine which news is fake, etc., well that’s where I am sure it will get interesting.
As a result of the drama surrounding our recent presidential election and Russian hacking/interference the fake news threat level has moved multiple defcons- a true threat to western civilization and our way of life. Fake news has reemerged, and I say reemerged because fake news has been around since, well, forever. At least modern U.S. history- certainly since William Randolph Hearst and the turn of the last century when yellow journalism helped bring about the Spanish-American War.
I am not one to take the Russian interference in our election lightly, it is something that needs very much to be dealt with in a discreet but forceful way. That being said I don’t totally buy fake news as a leading threat to our democracy. As someone that is not on Facebook or Twitter, I don’t understand people that get their news from their friends and social circles on Facebook and Twitter. Status updates on vacations, on graduations, on being out at the bar with friends, on the new Thai restaurant (foodie updates are really annoying) I get and are one thing, yet such avenues are notorious echo chambers when it comes to political views. The fact is these social platforms have done a remarkable job at bringing the world closer to together but have also allowed people to become a bit lazy in trying to discern the truth on news items. Or at least possess a healthy dose of skepticism when reading news stories. Discerning the truth is always challenging and technology is a double-edged sword in this endeavor. It can be used to debunk stories on the one hand, but then also spread lies, exaggerations and distortions like wild fire on the other.
For myself I try and read the headlines and a sampling of stories from at least nine or ten news sources every day- from CNN, to Politico, to Fox News, to The Guardian, to the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, Washington Post, Yahoo news, the AP and the BBC. Does this mean I know the truth always- of course not, but I am reasonably confident that the general tenets and principles of journalism/reporting are being followed and upheld with all of these sources. And by fake news I am not talking about bias either. Although bias can be deeply frustrating it is at the heart of the first amendment and the freedom of the press. I therefore expect it accept it and deal with it.
The real threat to our democracy is scorched earth politics. It is politics at its worst. It makes the political arena a zero sum game of where elected officials and public servants are constantly being judged as winners and losers. And furthermore, like its description this brand of politics is designed, implemented and executed by politicians and political organizations that are in retreat. Take for example what has unfolding in North Carolina.
Roy Cooper a Democrat won the race for governor by the slimmest of margins over Republican incumbent Pat McCrory. It was a very competitive and ugly race. The results were called into question with strong accusations of voter fraud to boot. What has ensued since Cooper being named winner has been a real travesty. The Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature called a special emergency legislative session to attempt to strip the power of the governorship and even the state courts (voters on election day not only voted for Roy Cooper but ousted a conservative Supreme Court justice in favor of a more progressive one).
This session called for a complete overhaul of election boards where each party rotates as head depending on the year. Republicans of course would be controlling these boards in even number of years which just so happens to be when most elections are held. They also are attempting to make it very hard to bring case before the state Supreme Court which is now controlled by Democrats. Finally, the incoming governor will be restricted in his political appointees. The number if the Republicans get there way will be reduced from 1,500 to 300. We are witnessing in complete legal fashion mind you (one other reason why scorched earth politics is dangerous- it is usually legal) one branch of government completely interfering in other constitutional offices. A major power grab. The legislature has usurped the election results. Roy Cooper’s governorship when he takes office will be severely weakened, not to mention the people of North Carolina. Just because you can do something does not mean you always should.
What is ridiculous about all of this is that if nothing else it is an absolutely awful political strategy. It implies in this case that the Republicans will never get the governorship back. The next Republican governor will have to deal with this power limitation like Roy Cooper. It is a strategy that is very short-sighted and flat out mean-spirited. In many ways it is similar to Harry Reid’s regret in changing and decreasing the 60 vote filibuster limitation to a simple majority in the U.S. Senate. Although this simple majority has not been applied to Supreme Court appointments that does not mean it will remain so moving forward. The Democrats now have to sleep in the bed they made with Donald Trump becoming president.
What is taking place in North Carolina is dangerous, a bit unprecedented and could unfortunately be a model for other state legislatures. There is nothing fake about it all.