It’s Worth Remembering That It’s Always Been This Way

Fake news has been around longer than the real stuff

Believe it as a primary source or don’t, but The Bible is pretty clear and specific about the details of Jesus’ death: Arrested, tried, convicted and crucified by the Roman Empire. But ask Americans who killed Christ and a not insignificant share would point their finger directly at another group: The Jews.

Was it the forerunner of Facebook — FaciemLiber? — that spread the word of the “real” story in groups named “JudasWasFramed” or “Not Saying Just Saying It Was The Jews”? No. Did the Jerusalem Tribune run an expose showing that, in fact, Pontius Pilate neither gave the order nor washed his hands? No. Did those shitposters from DeadSeaSliver start a narrative that caught fire online? Again, no. 

So why are we so damn sure that if we just bottled up social media and chastised the media and fixed up the Internet a little bit, we’d have a better informed society? 

History is often taught in narrative beats, A leads to B, to C, and so on. It makes sense as a teaching method for kids — you truly can’t spend the time required to unpack every historical event from every angle — but it leads to narrative frameworks that don’t always hold up, and a false sense of certainty over how things happened.

It has never been easier to ennumerate a major historical event. I just Googled the Civil War: It started with the secession of South Carolina, lasted for four years, and the North won in 1865. Easy peasy! But that gives you absolutely no sense of what it would have been like in 1863 when nobody had any idea who was going to win the war.

I admit that sounds like such a dumb, obvious statement. And yet, over and over again, every generation believes it’s the first to stare into the void wondering what the future holds because history has been laid out to them as an orderly narrative.

In 2004, noted asshole Karl Rove schemed to get anti-gay marriage statutes on the ballot in several states as a way to juice turnout for the GOP. At the time, I remember being so discouraged that even the relatively small fig leaf of marriage equality seemed a million miles away.

And yet, by 2016, even a vile charlatan with white dog shit for a soul — obviously I mean Mango Unchained here — was pimping his LGBTQ bonafides Just 12 years later, I was rolling my eyes at Trump trying to sound moderate and holding a position popular with moderates … and yet in less than a decade and a half after being considered electoral poison — it was a position popular with moderates. Gay marriage today polls considerably better than Trump ever did! 

Now of course his administration was a disaster for LGBTQ rights, but he also named an openly gay man as director of national intelligence. That was lost under the crushing wave of criticism that Richard Grenell was yet another loyalist hack (correct) with no business being in the post (also true). Still, the history there is fascinating: Most people know about the Red Scare of the ’50s. Less known is the so-called “lavender scare” after President Eisenhower signed an executive order in 1953 barring anyone suspected of “sexual perversion” from holding federal jobs or getting security clearance. Some historians say more than 5,000 federal workers were affected — which is actually more than were impacted by the red scare. Seventy years later, a Republican nominated a gay man to run the CIA, and there were no riots or editorials going after his orientation … just his lack of qualifications (complete) and his horrifying anti-democratic loyalty to President Shitbag McGoo (enormous).

This is not to whitewash the hatred that plenty of right-wingers feel for anyone who’s not straight and cisgender. It’s real, it’s deep and it’s dangerous. But again, in less than two decades, that position has become so wildly unpopular that they’ve had to invent the very idea of “cancel culture” as an explanation for what happened!

(And to interrupt myself with a quick note to that transphobic piece of shit Dave Chappelle: You say you can’t say things about trans people and yet you made “I’m Team TERF” a laugh line. Pretty sure Netflix would take issue with Hannah Gadsby saying “I’m Team KKK!” in her next special. Dave, go see a therapist, girl.)

This is also another problem with the steady drumbeat of history model: Lots of people simply don’t accept the reality of what’s happening around them! This is currently blamed on social media — and it does allow like-minded individuals to flock together in their own shared unreality — but it still doesn’t explain why lots of people think the Jews killed Jesus. Or back to another example: It doesn’t explain why lots of people simply disagree with my earlier statement that the North won the Civil War and have for about 150 years now.

While I’ve mostly stuck to right-wing lunacy thus far, I must say here that not accepting reality is not a partisan issue. Millions of seemingly right-thinking liberals believe that Big Pharma has a cancer cure just collecting dust in a storage room somewhere. A cure that would boost their stock price to a trillion dollars but they don’t use for … uh … reasons or whatever. Though it’s been co-opted now by the right for Covid-related idiocy, the far left was the hotbed of the anti-vax movement first. And let us not get started on the perils of centrist brain, in which “let’s kill all the minorities” and “let’s have health care for all” are considered equally dangerous ideas. 

No, the reality is everyone has things they believe for reasons they can’t entirely explain that probably don’t hold up to even the slightest scrutiny. I worked in newsrooms for many years, and over that time I got many, many, MANY calls about my newspaper being biased about x, y and z. Most of them were that we were insufficiently right-wing (I worked in a reddish county) but we also got called out for being too right-wing at times. Every now and again, we’d get both complaints about the same fact in the same story, which some people in the newsroom saw as a point of pride that we were neither.

But one call that I never received in all my years in local newsrooms was one in which a reader called to say: “You know what? You’re right and I’M biased.”

Not to go full Yeats — “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity” — but when the time comes to look reasonably at a belief in the face of mounting evidence against it, most people will close their eyes and hold fast to their own biases. Yes, I grant that there’s more misinformation now than ever before; but by the same token, there’s far more good information than ever before, too. At some point, a person chooses which path they want to take, and then it becomes increasingly difficult to nudge them in another direction (and nearly impossible unless you have a real, deep connection with them.)

And it’s always been that way. Henry Ford didn’t invent anti-Semitism; he just modernized the Protocols and Passion Plays the same way he did for vehicle production. QAnon didn’t invent paranoid right-wing thinking; it just brought the John Birch Society into the Internet era. Hell, Orange Wannabe Julius is just a Reagan impersonator who swapped out a genial fake smile for crude schtick. It’s all been done before, and the people who want to believe in it always have and likely always will.

That doesn’t mean to accept this as a sunk cost and, like, give Facebook a pass on its utterly cynical bullshit. No, fuck Facebook. But it is worth remembering that every generation goes through this and that blaming the tools of the time has thus far never cured the problem. I wish I had a simple answer on what that cure might be, but a good place to start is to stop pretending it hasn’t always been this way.

About Clever Name Here dba "Black Rod" 88 Articles
Vell, Clever Name Here just zis guy, you know? Sometimes funny. Often annoyed. Once I saw a blimp.


  1. No, the reality is everyone has things they believe for reasons they can’t entirely explain that probably don’t hold up to even the slightest scrutiny.

    Oh, yeah?  Well, when the Lizard People take off their masks and announce to the world that they’re taking over, you’re going to look pretty silly, pal.

  2. This is only very tangentially related to this topic, but there is a pretty good novel about the Lavendar Scare in Washington called Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon. Just FYI. It is not a “feel good romp.”

  3. I think three of the critical things to look at when evaluating informtion tools are reach, concentration and speed.

    It’s totally reasonable to wonder, for example, how the genocide in Rwanda occurred before the internet.

    First, much of the organizing was done from radio broadcasting. The reach was extensive — a very high percentage of the Hutus were radio listeners. The concentration was there too — there were a ton of anti-Tutsi broadcasts, and not a lot of content to dilute it. And the speed was there too —  but it was launched by radio and telephone instead of internet.

    It’s valid to be concerned about tendencies to believe in misinformation all over the political spectrum. But I think it is critical to be concerned about where we are now, and also not conflate the left and the right, any more than some post-genocide apologists have tried to conflate the actions of Tutsis and Hutus (gods keep up from that fate).

    The reach of Facebook is enormous, as is the right wing TV and radio outlets, and the concentration of well coordinated message is scary. The exclusivity of their messaging leaves other points of views and counterbalancing messages largely absent. And to be clear, there is simply no way to compare the totality of GOP messaging to what the Democrats do.

    The speed of messaging is there — Facebook’s internal controls that might force virulent messaging to be vetted are terrible — as the Facebook whistleblower pointed out, Zuckerberg gutted them after the election and allowed the 1/6 organizing to proceed with few checks.

    We are not necessarily worse off than other dangerous situations, but we are un a bad place. And I think rather than simply saying “who knows” it is worth focusing on ways to limit things like reach, concentration and speed of evil messaging — think about the ways roadblocks can be put up, the costs that can be assessed that make the complicit think twice.

    It’s helpful to break the problem into smaller pieces too — it’s a way to push back against the self-absorbed nihilists, edgelords and concern trolls who are out to sap the energy of the left from the inside.

    • If I were a bigger shitlord trying to make a point about bias, I might point out that I used 10 examples of right-wing nuttery compared to one about the left and the first thing you said was “Don’t equate them!” That the right is *WAY* better at marketing itself than the left doesn’t sound like a Facebook problem; that sounds like a left problem, and one that nobody seems to mind all that much, since it never gets fixed.

      Anyway, yes, Rwanda did some efficient genocide with last generation’s tools, but how then to explain the Jews? They’ve been taking shit for ~3,500 years and have been nearly genocide-d a few times over that spac … which is to say, it’s not Facebook-specific or TV news, or the radio, or the press, or movable type, or paintings, or plays, or music or even cave art. Sure, the reach is unlimited and instantaneous, but even if you break up Facebook and reverse the First Amendment and install [fill in your favorite lefty] as Presidente for Life … people will still be texting each other racist boomer memes, y’know?

      • That the right is *WAY* better at marketing itself than the left doesn’t sound like a Facebook problem; that sounds like a left problem, and one that nobody seems to mind all that much, since it never gets fixed.

        …could be I’m wrong…because this part surely is “a left problem”…but I’m not sure about the bit where “nobody seems to mind”…I’d almost be tempted to say the problem is all the way in the other direction…in that I’ve forgotten when I first heard someone suggest that “the left will eat itself” but it’s often seemed like an apt description for the way the right seems to be at an advantage when it comes to messaging?

        …at some level it seems to be the nature of the beast…those who tend to find they learn leftward are often less inclined to take the oversimplified answer & more inclined to want to hear competing arguments…so in terms of audience it’s much harder to preach to the choir since they don’t always agree on which church they belong to…to really torture that analogy…which I guess is a different thing from those boomer memes

        …I’d have to look it up but there’s a passage in marcus aurelius’ meditations that starts (approximately) “today I shall encounter…” before rattling off a seemingly timeless description of traits people who make your day worse exhibit…which I think suggests that second part has held true very possibly since there have been people…& seems altogether likely to continue

        • Anything even quasi-left has a massive disadvantage in this country because billionaires won’t parachute in to help them get their projects off the ground. So sure, I am being a little harsh. But we also are in year ~50 of watching the right-wing swallow, digest and excrete one of the two major parties in this country, and we’re still stuck on “Should we work with the Democrats or not?” and at some point it’s like we need to organize or die pure, and generally speaking, the left will choose purity over compromise and hard work for a better long-term outcome.

          Except, as to the point of this piece, it’s rarely purity! It’s far more likely that for all their supposed open-mindedness and desire for facts, they’ll glom onto propaganda that flatters them just as easily as the right. In general, lefties ARE less fear-driven and less authoritarian, so yes, a left Limbaugh is difficult to imagine … but Glenn Greenwald’s success shows that Team Left is not necessarily better at sniffing out a grifter in their midst if he’s against what they’re against. (It’s pretty amazing to me that these people, who are BIG MAD at Democrats for taking corporate $$$ during campaigns are curiously unmoved by Glem getting paid by literal human vampire Peter Thiel.)

          • …I’d agree with all of that…with the possible addition that as far as the first bit is concerned I don’t think it’s isolated to the US…”the money” seems to be more comfortable with the way things look over to the right just about everywhere?

    • Ah yes, Jay Jacobs. The less said the better.

      He endorsed Kathy Hochul, “speaking in a personal capacity,” and of course he did, because he offers no insights or strategy, he is a sucker fish who attaches himself to whichever Democratic whale washes up in Albany.

      Hochul received another “key endorsement” today. Hazel Dukes, the head of the New York State NAACP. This will theoretically shore up Hochul’s support among “minorities” and hopefully dent support for Tish James and Jumaane Williams, who will almost certainly primary Hochul and who are, in fact, Black. Maybe Dukes’s operation should change its name to the National Association for the Advancement of Incumbents, or the NAAI. After all, when I read that she had provided this key endorsement, the news item slyly mentioned that she was long-term “key ally” of, you guessed it, Andrew M. Cuomo.

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