While the term "fake news" may have been coined by Donald Trump, the practice of disseminating misinformation to sway public opinion manifests throughout history. As Sun Tzu noted in The Art of War in the Sixth century BC: "All warfare is based on deception."
President McKinley told the American people that the USS Maine had been sunk in Havana Harbor by a Spanish mine. The American people, outraged by this apparently unprovoked attack, supported the Spanish-American War. The Captain of the USS Maine had insisted the ship was sunk by a coal bin explosion; investigations after the war proved that such had indeed been the case. There had been no mine.
The American public was led to believe that the Lusitania was solely a passenger liner, but the speed with which she sank supported claims that her hold was filled with heavy armaments. However, the sinking was used to fan the flames of war and prepare the US public to support entry into WWI.
The Reichstag fire in 1933 is another case in point. By claiming—falsely—that the arsonists were part of a Communist conspiracy Hitler marshalled public support, suspended civil liberties and extended his power.
In 1947, Dean Acheson opined that it was sometimes necessary when dealing with the US Congress, to make arguments "clearer than the truth." "Fake news" by any name?
In 1964 only two senators saw that the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was predicated on spurious information - the so-called Tonkin Gulf Incident - and voted against it: Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon and Sen. Earnest Gruening of Alaska. By the time others joined them, most notably Sens. William Fulbright, Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, the US was deeply mired in Southeast Asia. The Resolution had given President Johnson the legal cover to pour men and matériel into that beleaguered little country, popular opinion at home notwithstanding. As young draftees were forced to fight a war to which they objected and anti-war sentiments surged, one remembered Tennyson's take on the Crimean war: "theirs not to reason why theirs but to do or die and into the Valley of Death rode the 600" - this time, more like the 600,000.
And what did we learn from the Vietnam debacle? Little, it would seem, given what followed.
Throughout late 2001, 2002, and early 2003, the Bush Administration worked to build a case for invading Iraq, citing, among other dubious claims that the Iraqis were attempting to buy "yellow cake"(uranium) in Niger-subsequently disputed by Ambassador Joe Wilson, who paid dearly for his honesty. Shortly after the invasion, the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence agencies largely discredited evidence related to Iraqi weapons as well as links to Al-Qaeda. Opinion polls showed that people of many countries opposed a war without UN mandate and the view of the United States as a danger to world peace significantly increased. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the war as illegal, saying in a September 2004 interview that it was "not in conformity with the Security Council".
Accusations of faulty evidence and shifting rationales became the focal point for critics of the war, who charged that the Bush Administration purposely fabricated evidence to justify an invasion that it had long planned.
False rumors led to lynching-the Ox-Bow Incident became the basis for the Henry Fonda film of the same name-and current-day India is undergoing a tidal wave based on unproven allegations of child abduction.
So it would seem, sadly: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
The Inner Circle is the NYC political writers’ group that annually presents a lampoon show to which the mayor offers a rebuttal (the NYC version of Washington’s Gridiron dinner). This year’s event, titled Curb Your Narcissism, took place April 21 at the New York Hilton Midtown. Arguably the hottest ticket in town despite its $1,000 per plate price tag; inarguably it’s even hotter for the pols being roasted.
The reporters write and perform portraying various public figures. Inner Circle membership is by invitation only.
The most effective offerings tend to use Broadway show music. An especially successful duet was Kirsten Gillibrand, played by lovely and always dependable Mary Alice Williams, and Hillary Clinton, whose anger, resentment and sense of entitlement were perfectly captured by Samantha Elbaum. The music was “Rose’s Turn,” from Gypsy and the new lyrics were remarkably faithful to the original as was the emotional thrust.
A male duet with Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden nicely played by Bob Liff and Mark Lieberman, didn’t sizzle because the writers chose to focus on their comparable age rather than their disparate political stances. The music was no driving force either.
The opening of the second act featured a rousing chorus of “Convictions,” think “Traditions” from Fiddler on the Roof. Here “convictions” didn’t refer to deeply held beliefs, but rather to the wages of criminal activity.
“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea” (“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria”) was sung by Trump, Kim and “Von Trapp Family Singers” most effectively. Donald Trump was played by Alice Stockton-Rossini; Kim Jong-un by Carole Zimmer.
How the Inner Circle has changed: From women being denied membership and female guests, no matter their status, consigned to the balcony (When New York Post reporter Ed Katcher was president of the Inner Circle, his publisher, Dolly Schiff, was not permitted to sit with the other publishers. She had to sit in the balcony with the women. Men couldn’t even visit. Rumor had it that an editor of the Journal American, drunk, went to the balcony to visit a wife not his own and a ruckus ensued. So guards were assigned to the balcony in subsequent years.) to women playing male characters and the four top Inner Circle officers being women.
Rich Lamb was an elegant Mayor de Blasio, despite there being little physical resemblance. Larry Seary ran the gamut playing Rex Tillerson, a boat captain, and Melania Trump’s father.
Melissa Russo was enchanting playing Alicia Glen and, referring to city council members, singing “Not That Smart” (“Too Darn Hot” from Kiss Me Kate). Savatore Arena was a hoot as Columbus, singing his lament, to the tune of “That’s Amore.”
The Cynthia Nixon segment was particularly fun with the Sex and the City girls: Magee Hickey as Cynthia playing Miranda; Kirstin Cole as Samantha; Jennifer McLogan as Charlotte and Kathleen Horan as Carrie.
Kathy Beaver was the splendid musical director, and Shelley Strickler did her directorial magic, turning eager amateurs into close to seasoned pros.
Bill de Blasio’s rebuttal could be seen as validating a certain thrust in Curb Your Narcissism which suggested that the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray had political ambitions: She sang a straight version of “What the World Needs Now” is love, sweet love… and sang it very well.
The mayor seems to have a little stock company that does his Inner Circle stint each year including Julie Halston and Anthony Antonucci, this time with the addition of several cast members ofCome From Away. The Upper East Side doyenne made her annual appearance hilariously. The exchange between Bill de Blasio and “Donald Trump” was spot on thanks in large part to the splendid writing and “Trump’s” unerring ear, mimicking the cadences of The Donald’s speech. Bill de Blasio’s self-deprecating humor was disarming, comme toujours.
This year’s Inner Circle show was dedicated to three Inner Circle stalwarts, who went to that big newsroom in the sky: Gabe Pressman; Larry Sutton and Mickey Carroll. They will be sorely missed.
Never in human history have the means of communication been so numerous and easily accessible. But has this resulted in more enlightened discourse? Or have the means become the end?
One sees couples in restaurants, each with eyes focused on his/her smart phone, no conversation taking place. (To be fair, many restaurants are so noisy being heard across the table is difficult, if not impossible.)
Chatting with neighbors while waiting for or being in the elevator is less usual as people are either involved with an i-Pad or encased in head phones. We pay our bills by phone and shop on the Internet lessening interpersonal exchanges.
Given the proliferation of 90-minute plays, exchanging opinions with fellow theater-goers during intermissions is hardly possible because there are no intermissions.
Furthermore, as free-lancing increases and the work-week is ever more flexible, family meals together and the ensuing conversation become infrequent. In addition, workplace bonding is hardly possible as people move from one work site to another.
An unmarried friend asked about "streaming," wanting to know why I don't indulge. To be kind I told a half-truth, that the image was just too small. True enough, but the underlying reason is that it's a solitary activity; I watch TV with my husband.
Decades ago it was predicted that TV would ruin communication within the home. However, while watching "the vast wasteland" with one's spouse, one comments about what's on the screen, holds hands (impossible for those whose hands are holding the ubiquitous smart phone) and discusses viewing choices and news stories.
Is it possible to analyze complex situations in 140 characters? Can a tweet ever be more than an alert?
In order to assess anything, one must have the facts. However, as the communications media consolidate, social media spawns and the information world is ever more fragmented.
More choice? Definitely. But the downside is that people can find the site that reflects their opinions and remain in this comfort zone without ever being challenged. How then can consensus be achieved?
Exacerbating non-communication matters is the loose use of language. We need to define our terms. "Liberal"? What does it connote? "Socialist" is used as an accusation, an assault, by those who would be hard-pressed to explain its meaning.
The idea that people can be prisoners of their toys has been addressed before, comically in Gian Carlo Menotti's short opera, The Telephone, in which a man is trying to propose and the woman is so focused on her new toy that he can't get her attention—until he reaches her via her plaything. He leaves, then he calls on the telephone.
The concept of a lonely crowd has also been explored before, but never has the phenomenon be so widespread or with such potentially dire consequences. In Erich Fromm's Escape From Freedom heposits that when disconnected people can no longer cope with their solitary state and subsequent responsibility—sole responsibility--for making choices among myriad possibilities, they may opt for totalitarianism to provide simple answers and structure.