The other day, some rabbit hole I was venturing down online delivered me to Snopes.com, which I’d not visited in a while. In my memory, Snopes was called upon to settle, if such was possible, the occasional political debate; but more often it declaimed on questions of the “is the moon really made of green cheese?” variety.
What I saw staggered me—and somehow made it starkly plain to me how close to the precipice we are as a nation.
As I toggled over the home page, I was flabbergasted by what a high percentage of Snopes articles now are devoted to debunking fake news. And I don’t mean CNN. I mean, if I may use the phrase, real fake news. Garbage. And more specifically, right-wing garbage. Some stuff that’s in the actual news, though completely distorted, and other stuff that’s just totally made up, that who-knows-how-many thousands, or millions, of people are out there believing.
We begin, of course, with Hillary. “Hillary Clinton Gave 20 Percent of United States’ Uranium to Russia in Exchange for Clinton Foundation Donations?” was the most-searched story on the site Thursday. All week. Probably all month. You know, I trust, the basic allegation, so I won’t repeat it.
Snopes rates this, of course, as “False.” Because it is false. In fact, it’s insane. She had no known role in the decision, and there is no American uranium in Putin’s power-hungry hands. But at least this one is in some sense tethered to planet Earth.
Now let’s move to Thursday’s most shared story. “Starbucks Refused Free Product to Marines Serving in Iraq?” This one dates back to a viral email from 2004 (?!) claiming that “Starbucks had not only refused a request for free product from some U.S. Marines serving in Iraq, but had retorted that ‘they don’t support the war [in Iraq] and anyone in it.’” It’s great and so entirely believable, you see, because Starbucks comes from dark-blue, surrender-monkey Seattle and is run by a guy named Howard Schultz, who is Jewish, and is trying to turn us into a nation of epicene latte-sippers. It is, naturally, “False.”
Let’s see. Here’s a good one. “Was Barack Obama President During Hurricane Katrina?” Stop for a minute and think about what a drooling simian you have to be to believe this. Find out when Obama was president. Find out when Katrina happened. Even for not-very-bright people that can’t possibly be more than 40 seconds’ work. But they can’t even do that! These people may be against evolution, but from the evidence I’d say they’re proof of it.
The hits keep coming. “Was the Texas Church Shooter an Antifa Member Who Vowed to Start a Civil War?” Well, alas, no, he was not. The inchoate lefty antifascist group apparently drives great traffic in these quarters, because there’s another one: “Antifa Member Photographed Beating Police Officer?” Oh, darn it all. Just a digitally manipulated photograph.
Over in the Snopes sports section, we find of course that the NFL is hardly immune to scrutiny. “Did an NFL Player Burn an American Flag in a Locker Room?” I mean, please click on this one and go look at the photo. Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett is doing a dance in the middle of the locker room, holding a burning American flag, as his teammates cheer him. Most of the players are black, including that obvious America-hater Richard Sherman. But even Bennett’s coach, Pete Carroll, is cheering. What is going on in that Satanic city? Nothing nefarious, it turns out, although somewhere, someone is doctoring photographs, because Snopes shows the real photo, in which Bennett is holding… nothing.
Finally we have possibly my favorite. “Were Baseball Players Photographed Kneeling to Protest Lynchings in the 1950s?” Because if they were, this would prove… well, I’m not sure exactly what. That some of these pampered athletes were communists even back then, I guess. But what makes this my favorite is that the photo is obviously just a team photo of a baseball team, in which half the guys are kneeling, as half the guys have done in every baseball team photo in the history of baseball. Oh, and it’s from 1936, not the 1950s. This one was posted on a prank-news web site that, as Snopes puts it, “allows anyone to create a headline and story that looks (at least at first glance) like an actual news article.”
Ridiculous, yes. Funny, yes. But it’s also something worse. Who knows how many of these things are out there, and who knows how many people are believing them and posting them on Facebook and talking about them at church and the workplace? And then, when someone tells them politely, “Well, you know, that probably isn’t true,” dismissing them as having sold their souls to the liberal media?
Another five or 10 years of this, and we’ll have a class of millions of citizens who get “news” only from fake sources. Some of those fake sources are and will be ideologically committed actors who’ll believe that any tactic is defensible as long as it destroys the secular establishment, and other sources will be pranksters playing these idiots for rubes and making money off of it.
In other words, to think of it more systemically, it’s a perfect marriage of corrupt capitalism (make-a-buck pranksters) and corrupt constitutionalism (people who lie under protection of the First Amendment). Both systems were supposed to self-regulate. So Adam Smith told us about capitalism, and James Madison told us about constitutionalism. But Smith and Madison couldn’t foresee this. The institutions and customs that were supposed to sustain us forever are in danger of sending us down the tubes.