Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Gathered together in one place, for easy access, an agglomeration of writings and images relevant to the Rapeutation phenomenon.

Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Sat Sep 08, 2018 2:58 am

Did NATO Promise Not to Enlarge? Gorbachev Says “No”
by Steven Pifer
Brookings
Thursday, November 6, 2014

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The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991, that discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.

-- NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard, Briefing Book #613, by Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton


It is abundantly evident that Russian President Vladimir Putin is no fan of NATO. Indeed, he displays a pronounced—almost obsessive—antipathy toward the Alliance. He claims that NATO took advantage of Russian weakness after the collapse of the Soviet Union to enlarge to its east, in violation of promises allegedly made to Moscow by Western leaders. But no such promises were made—a point now confirmed by someone who was definitely in a position to know: Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union.

“The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991,” George Washington University National Security Archives researchers Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton wrote. “That discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.”

Indeed, Russian Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin have complained bitterly about the expansion of NATO towards their borders despite what they had believed were assurances to the contrary. “What happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today?” Putin said at the Munich Conference on Security Policy in 2007.“No one even remembers them. But I will allow myself to remind this audience what was said. I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.’ Where are these guarantees?”

As the newly declassified documents show, the Russians might have had a point. While it was previously understood that Secretary of State James Baker’s assurance to Gorbachev that NATO would not expand “not one inch eastward” during a February 9, 1990, meeting was only in the context of German reunification....

Baker: And the last point. NATO is the mechanism for securing the U.S. presence in Europe. If NATO is liquidated, there will be no such mechanism in Europe. We understand that not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO's present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.

We believe that consultations and discussions within the framework of the "two + four" mechanism should guarantee that Germany's unification will not lead to NATO's military organization spreading to the east.

***

Baker: I want to ask you a question, and you need not answer it right now. Supposing unification takes place, what would you prefer: a united Germany outside of NATO, absolutely independent and without American troops; or a united Germany keeping its connections with NATO, but with the guarantee that NATO's jurisprudence or troops will not spread east of the present boundary?

Gorbachev: We will think everything over. We intend to discuss all these questions in depth at the leadership level. It goes without saying that a broadening of the NATO zone is not acceptable.

Baker: We agree with that.

-- Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker, The National Security Archive, Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Fond 1, Opis 1. Translated by Anna Melyakova, February 9, 1990


the new documents show that this was not the case.

Gorbachev only accepted German reunification—over which the Soviet Union had a legal right to veto under treaty—because he received assurances that NATO would not expand after he withdrew his forces from Eastern Europe from James Baker, President George H.W. Bush, West German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the CIA Director Robert Gates, French President Francois Mitterrand, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, British foreign minister Douglas Hurd, British Prime Minister John Major, and NATO secretary-general Manfred Woerner.

Indeed, as late as March 1991, the British were reassuring Gorbachev that they could not foresee circumstances under which NATO might expand into Eastern and Central Europe. As former British Ambassador to the Soviet Union recounted in March 5, 1991, Rodric Braithwaite, both British foreign minister Douglas Hurd and British Prime Minister John Major told the Soviet that NATO would not expand eastwards.

“I believe that your thoughts about the role of NATO in the current situation are the result of misunderstanding,” Major had told Gorbachev. We are not talking about strengthening of NATO. We are talking about the coordination of efforts that is already happening in Europe between NATO and the West European Union, which, as it is envisioned, would allow all members of the European Community to contribute to enhance [our] security.”


Of course, later, in 1994, Bill Clinton decided to expand NATO eastward despite the various assurances that the previous administration had offered Gorbachev—and despite legendary diplomat George F. Kennan’s repeated warnings.

-- Newly Declassified Documents: Gorbachev Told NATO Wouldn't Move Past East German Border. So what happened?, by Dave Majumdar


PRESIDENT PUTIN’S NATO NARRATIVE

The West’s supposed violation of a pledge not to enlarge NATO has long figured as a key element in Putin’s narrative about (and against) the Alliance. In his bombastic February 2007 speech to the Munich Security Conference, he said:

And we have the right to ask: against whom is this [NATO] expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? … I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.” Where are these guarantees?


The Russian president returned to the subject in his March 18, 2014, Kremlin speech justifying Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea: “… they [Western leaders] have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed before us an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the east, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders.” Although it has been clear for several years that the Alliance has no appetite for putting Ukraine on a membership track, Putin went on to express horror at the prospect of NATO forces in Crimea: Russian inaction “would have meant that NATO’s navy would be right there in this city of Russia’s military glory [Sevastopol], and this would create not an illusory but a perfectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia.”

Western leaders never pledged not to enlarge NATO, a point that several analysts have demonstrated. Mark Kramer explored the question in detail in a 2009 article in The Washington Quarterly. He drew on declassified American, German and Soviet records to make his case and noted that, in discussions on German reunification in the two-plus-four format (the two Germanys plus the United States, Soviet Union, Britain and France), the Soviets never raised the question of NATO enlargement other than how it might apply in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).

THE WEST’S NATO COMMITMENT

What the Germans, Americans, British and French did agree to in 1990 was that there would be no deployment of non-German NATO forces on the territory of the former GDR. I was a deputy director on the State Department’s Soviet desk at the time, and that was certainly the point of Secretary James Baker’s discussions with Gorbachev and his foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze. In 1990, few gave the possibility of a broader NATO enlargement to the east any serious thought.

The agreement on not deploying foreign troops on the territory of the former GDR was incorporated in Article 5 of the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, which was signed on September 12, 1990 by the foreign ministers of the two Germanys, the United States, Soviet Union, Britain and France. Article 5 had three provisions:

1. Until Soviet forces had completed their withdrawal from the former GDR, only German territorial defense units not integrated into NATO would be deployed in that territory.

2. There would be no increase in the numbers of troops or equipment of U.S., British and French forces stationed in Berlin.

3. Once Soviet forces had withdrawn, German forces assigned to NATO could be deployed in the former GDR, but foreign forces and nuclear weapons systems would not be deployed there.

When one reads the full text of the Woerner speech cited by Putin, it is clear that the secretary general’s comments referred to NATO forces in eastern Germany, not a broader commitment not to enlarge the Alliance.

FORMER SOVIET PRESIDENT GORBACHEV’S VIEW

We now have a very authoritative voice from Moscow confirming this understanding. Russia behind the Headlines has published an interview with Gorbachev, who was Soviet president during the discussions and treaty negotiations concerning German reunification. The interviewer asked why Gorbachev did not “insist that the promises made to you [Gorbachev]—particularly U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s promise that NATO would not expand into the East—be legally encoded?” Gorbachev replied: “The topic of ‘NATO expansion’ was not discussed at all, and it wasn’t brought up in those years. … Another issue we brought up was discussed: making sure that NATO’s military structures would not advance and that additional armed forces would not be deployed on the territory of the then-GDR after German reunification. Baker’s statement was made in that context… Everything that could have been and needed to be done to solidify that political obligation was done. And fulfilled.”

Gorbachev continued that “The agreement on a final settlement with Germany said that no new military structures would be created in the eastern part of the country; no additional troops would be deployed; no weapons of mass destruction would be placed there. It has been obeyed all these years.” To be sure, the former Soviet president criticized NATO enlargement and called it a violation of the spirit of the assurances given Moscow in 1990, but he made clear there was no promise regarding broader enlargement.

Several years after German reunification, in 1997, NATO said that in the “current and foreseeable security environment” there would be no permanent stationing of substantial combat forces on the territory of new NATO members. Up until the Russian military occupation of Crimea in March, there was virtually no stationing of any NATO combat forces on the territory of new members. Since March, NATO has increased the presence of its military forces in the Baltic region and Central Europe.

Putin is not stupid, and his aides surely have access to the former Soviet records from the time and understand the history of the commitments made by Western leaders and NATO. But the West’s alleged promise not to enlarge the Alliance will undoubtedly remain a standard element of his anti-NATO spin. That is because it fits so well with the picture that the Russian leader seeks to paint of an aggrieved Russia, taken advantage of by others and increasingly isolated—not due to its own actions, but because of the machinations of a deceitful West.

Gates said he would like to pursue that issue further, but knew that Kryuchkov was busy, and would like to move on to two other subjects. First, the German question. Events are moving faster than anticipated. We might see some GDR initiative after the 18 March elections. Under these circumstances, we support the Kohl-Genscher idea of a united Germany belonging to NATO but with no expansion of military presence to the GDR. This would be in the context of continuing force reductions in Europe. What did Kryuchkov think of the Kohl/Genscher proposal under which a united Germany would be associated with NATO, but in which NATO troops would move no further east than they now were? It seems to us to be a sound proposal. There are in any case only three options for a unified Germany: either it would be a member of NATO, neutral, or a member of the Warsaw Pact.

Gates said that alignment with the Warsaw Pact clearly was not possible in terms of present realities. A neutral Germany would suffer from the same insecurities and uncertainties regarding its security that Germany had experienced before World War I. In an effort to assure its security it would be tempted to develop nuclear weapons and turn in different directions, seeking reassurance. A large, economically powerful Germany just could not be neutral. The third option, membership in NATO, would provide for a secure Germany integrated in Western Europe which the Soviet Union would have no reason to fear. It would anchor Germany in a way that would leave it secure, able to exercise a positive economic influence (including in the East), and without being a security problem for the USSR.

Kryuchkov replied that as Gates should know, the events in the GDR concern the Soviet people. The other countries are different. But the USSR had paid a terrible price in World War II - 20 million killed. "We can't exclude that a reborn, united Germany might become a threat to Europe. We would hate to see the US and USSR have to become allies again against a resurgent Germany."

"Germany's technical possibilities and intellectual potential are well known. It is difficult to predict what directions its military and technology might take." That is no idle question, for "influential forces in the FRG do not wish to recognize the results of the War or to accept the post-World War II borders." The Poles are also concerned. We never said that Germany could never reunite -- but the basis on which reunification took place was always important to us. Trust between the US and USSR is growing, true, but that trust still had to be "materialized." The Soviet Union, under present circumstances, could have "no enthusiasm" about a united Germany in NATO. We should look for other options. You, Great Britain, and France would develop a common view, and we in the Warsaw Pact would do so, and we would discuss them. We need not hurry so much. Kohl and Genscher had interesting ideas -- but even those points in their proposals with which we agree would have to have guarantees. We learned from the Americans in arms control negotiations the importance of verification, and we would have to be sure.

The U.S. had to participate in World War II even though it had been protected by oceans. Now the oceans were meaningless. An interdependent world would not allow any great power to escape involvement in a new war. "People here say that we have had peace for forty-five years because Germany is divided." And of course Japan did not become a military superpower. But the question of German unity is a very serious one, and requires far-reaching, frank exchanges of opinions between the US and USSR.

-- Memorandum of conversation between Robert Gates and Vladimir Kryuchkov in Moscow.


Steven Pifer: Nonresident Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Center on the United States and Europe, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Thu Nov 29, 2018 3:04 am

Facebook Censorship and the Atlantic Council
by Jonathan Sigrist
Global Research
October 14, 2018

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

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Yesterday we witnessed one of the greatest Facebook account and page purges since its formation over a decade ago. In total, 559 pages and 251 personal accounts were instantly removed from the platform, for having “consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior” according to Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity and former White House National Security Council Director of Cybersecurity Policy under Obama. This is but one of similar yet smaller purges that have been unfolding in front of our eyes over the last year, all in the name of fighting “fake news” and so called “Russian propaganda”.

What very few people know though, is that about 5 months ago, Facebook announced that is was officially partnering with the Atlantic Council in the form of an “election partnership […] to prevent [their] service from being abused during elections.” Indeed, the US midterm elections are only a couple of weeks away, so the Atlantic Council and its Digital Forensic Research Lab are now going at it with full force, closing facebook accounts left and right that they personally deem could be fake accounts, or accounts spreading misinformation, based on very shady criterias.

In February 2009, James L. Jones, then-chairman of the Atlantic Council, stepped down in order to serve as President Obama's new National Security Advisor and was succeeded by Senator Chuck Hagel.[3] In addition, other Council members also left to serve the administration: Susan Rice as ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke as the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, General Eric K. Shinseki as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Anne-Marie Slaughter as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. Four years later, Hagel stepped down to serve as US Secretary of Defense. Gen. Brent Scowcroft served as interim chairman of the organization's Board of Directors until January 2014, when former ambassador to China and governor of Utah Jon Huntsman, Jr.[4] was appointed.

-- Atlantic Council, by Wikipedia


One doesn’t need to look far to understand who the Atlantic Council are and what they stand for : it is a think tank essentially funded by NATO, weapons manufacturers, Middle-Eastern oil-state monarchies, billionaires and different branches of the US military. In short, it has been described as being nothing less than NATO’s unofficial propaganda wing. The Atlantic Council doesn’t shy away from its political intents across the world, which can be seen solely by looking at who sits on its directors board -– the crème de la crème when it comes to US neocons & war criminals: Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice, Frank Carlucci, James A. Baker, R. George P. Shultz, James Woolsey, Leon Panetta, Colin Powell, Robert Gates, and many more.

Needless to say, the Atlantic Council has been on the same side as every single war and conflict engendered by US and NATO imperialism over the last 50 years, and has itself played a role in abusing democratic elections around the world as well as spreading propaganda and misinformation both in home countries and abroad to achieve its political means.


A snippet of who funds the Atlantic Council, its organisation of Bellingcat and therefore Eliot Higgins and Ben Nimmo.

American Israel Public Affairs Committee
Bank of America Corporation
Bank of New York Mellon, Inc.
BASF Corporation (created Zyklon-B for Nazis)
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NATO
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Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc.
Ukrainian World Congress
United States Air Force
United States Army
United States Chamber of Commerce
United States Department of State
United States Marine Corps
United States Navy


Full list here:Honor Roll of Contributors

The Atlantic Council is grateful for the generous support it receives from private foundations; US and foreign government agencies, companies, and individuals. These supporters enable the Council to continue its quality programming and timely analysis, thereby allowing it to pursue its mission of renewing the Atlantic community for global challenges. Supporters engage with the Council through partnerships, sponsorships, and/or membership. The Council acknowledges the following contributors who supported the Council's work in the 2017 fiscal year.

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Hence, it should come as no surprise that when the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab gets down to work weeks before the upcoming midterms, it has little intention of putting a stop to actual disinformation groups and rather silences those that speak a message opposing their own. Many of the pages and accounts taken down have been political (often leftist), anti-war, independent journalists and media outlets that are known to go against the grain of mainstream media outlets. Anti-Media (antimedia.com), a reputable source of independent journalism, saw its page with over 2 million followers taken down overnight with no concrete explanation as to why. Shortly after, Twitter decided to take them down as well, as well as Carey Wedler‘s (editor at Anti-Media) own personal account for literally no reason:

Hello Carey,
Your account, CareyWedler has been suspended for violating the Twitter Rules.
Specifically, for:
Note that if you attempt to evade a permanent suspension by creating new accounts, we will suspend your new accounts. If you wish to appeal this suspension, please contact our support team.


Many of the pages taken down had already been targeted back in 2016 by the McCarthyist webpage PropOrNot.not, endorsed by the Washington Post, in an effort to arbitrarily mark pages that they believe somehow are connected to Russian propaganda efforts. Already back then it was clear that many of the pages targeted by PropOrNot were leftist, anti-war pages, and almost none of them had anything to do with Russia whatsoever. The Washington Post finally later on retracted their article endorsing PropOrNot, but this didn’t help the fact that these websites had now already been flagged as propaganda by many.

Other pages taken down are The Free Thought Project, also an anti-war critic of establishment politics with around 3.1 million followers on Facebook. RT Reporter Rachel Blevins with 70,000 followers on facebook and investigative journalist Dan Dicks with 350,000 followers also both saw their accounts taken down overnight -– both were very critical of mainstream journalism. These are but some of the many accounts affected, with certain accounts on the fringe far right also targeted. Facebook has suffered great pressure lately from Congress for its apparent role in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, being blamed for not having taken on enough active measures to fight the spread of fake news. Under such pressure it is not surprising that Facebook chooes to cooperate with a congress-approved think tank –- the Atlantic Council --, and basically give them a free hand to censor as much as they want, in order for themselves to avoid any future heat from the US government. This can be argued as to seriously stain the name of Facebook as an independent social media platform, if it is going to bend down to any unreasonable demands coming from the US government.

In the name of fighting fake news and targeting “inauthentic behavior” and “misleading users”, Facebook has essentially indulged in what was in 1934 Germany called the “Gleichschaltung” of the media -– a synchronized outphasing of dissident voices in the media and a consolidation of political opinions.
The internet has traditionally always been a bastion of free speech, and it is hence not surprising that those in power seek to undermine its ability to openly criticize the powerful. The truth does not do them favor, hence they would rather not have it expressed too far and wide –- something that the internet has otherwise made possible. Given that censorship is still extremely frowned upon by the general public, doing so (just like when seeking to sell a war) requires the majority of people to approve of it. The fight against fake news and foreign propaganda efforts has done just that: it has given those in power a pretext to openly censor dissident voices all while being praised in the making for so-called “safeguarding western democracies”. More of the same behaviour can be expected from both Facebook and Twitter in the future, and we cannot expect major media outlets like The New York Times,The Washington Post, CNN or MSNBC to stand up against it. After all, many of these censored independent medias are the only actors left who dare hold the mainstream media into account for their role as mere propaganda outlets of the establishment.

Note to readers: please click the share buttons above. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.

Jonathan Sigrist is a student at the University of Tromsø in Northern Norway, currently studying the geopolitical, environmental, cultural and economic relations between the Arctic nations (The US, Canada, Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark/Greenland and Iceland), as well as the future of the Arctic’s role in global politics. He has lived in Denmark, Sweden, Finland and France, and is a fervent observer and critic of US foreign policy.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Thu Nov 29, 2018 3:54 am

Removing Additional Inauthentic Activity from Facebook
by Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy and Oscar Rodriguez, Product Manager
Facebook Newsroom
October 11, 2018

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People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook. It’s why we have a policy banning coordinated inauthentic behavior — networks of accounts or Pages working to mislead others about who they are, and what they are doing. This year, we’ve enforced this policy against many Pages, Groups and accounts created to stir up political debate, including in the US, the Middle East, Russia and the UK. But the bulk of the inauthentic activity we see on Facebook is spam that’s typically motivated by money, not politics. And the people behind it are adapting their behavior as our enforcement improves.

One common type of spam has been posts that hawk fraudulent products like fake sunglasses or weight loss “remedies.” But a lot of the spam we see today is different. The people behind it create networks of Pages using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names. They post clickbait posts on these Pages to drive people to websites that are entirely separate from Facebook and seem legitimate, but are actually ad farms. The people behind the activity also post the same clickbait posts in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites. And they often use their fake accounts to generate fake likes and shares. This artificially inflates engagement for their inauthentic Pages and the posts they share, misleading people about their popularity and improving their ranking in News Feed. This activity goes against what people expect on Facebook, and it violates our policies against spam.

Topics like natural disasters or celebrity gossip have been popular ways to generate clickbait. But today, these networks increasingly use sensational political content – regardless of its political slant-– to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site. And like the politically motivated activity we’ve seen, the “news” stories or opinions these accounts and Pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate. This is why it’s so important we look at these actors’ behavior -– such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam -– rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages or Groups to remove.

Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the US midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action. Many were using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names and posted massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages to drive traffic to their websites. Many used the same techniques to make their content appear more popular on Facebook than it really was. Others were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons that accounts and Pages coordinate with each other — it’s the bedrock of fundraising campaigns and grassroots organizations. But the difference is that these groups are upfront about who they are, and what they’re up to. As we get better at uncovering this kind of abuse, the people behind it — whether economically or politically motivated — will change their tactics to evade detection. It’s why we continue to invest heavily, including in better technology, to prevent this kind of misuse. Because people will only share on Facebook if they feel safe and trust the connections they make here.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Thu Nov 29, 2018 4:37 am

Trust Is Collapsing in America: When truth itself feels uncertain, how can a democracy be sustained?
by Uri Friedman
The Atlantic
January 21, 2018

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“In God We Trust,” goes the motto of the United States. In God, and apparently little else.

Only a third of Americans now trust their government “to do what is right”—a decline of 14 percentage points from last year, according to a new report by the communications marketing firm Edelman. Forty-two percent trust the media, relative to 47 percent a year ago. Trust in business and non-governmental organizations, while somewhat higher than trust in government and the media, decreased by 10 and nine percentage points, respectively. Edelman, which for 18 years has been asking people around the world about their level of trust in various institutions, has never before recorded such steep drops in trust in the United States.

“This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like [Japan’s 2011] Fukushima nuclear disaster,” Richard Edelman, the head of the firm, noted in announcing the findings. “In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happening at a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs.”

“The root cause of this fall,” he added—just days after polling revealed that Americans’ definition of “fake news” depends as much on their politics as the accuracy of the news, and a Republican senator condemned the American president’s Stalinesque attacks on the press and “evidence-based truth,” and a leading think tank warned that America was suffering from “truth decay” as a result of political polarization and social media—is a “lack of objective facts and rational discourse.”

It used to be that what Edelman labels the “informed public”—those aged 25 to 64 who have a college degree, regularly consume news, and are in the top 25 percent of household income for their age group—placed far greater trust in institutions than the U.S. public as a whole. This year, however, the gap all but vanished, with trust in government in particular plummeting 30 percentage points among the informed public. America is now home to the least-trusting informed public of the 28 countries that the firm surveyed, right below South Africa. Distrust is growing most among younger, high-income Americans.

But whereas trust is falling in the United States and a number of other countries with tumultuous politics at the moment, including South Africa, Italy, and Brazil, it’s actually increasing elsewhere, most prominently in China. Eighty-four percent of Chinese respondents said they trusted government—levels the United States hasn’t seen since the early Johnson administration—and 71 percent said they trusted the media. The world’s two most powerful countries, one democratic and the other authoritarian, are moving in opposite directions. In each case, the trajectory is largely being determined by people’s views of government.

Chinese respondents are probably reflecting on the upward mobility and improving quality of life that their political leaders have helped deliver, David Bersoff, the lead researcher for the Edelman report, told me: “I’m looking at my life now and it looks a lot better than it did before, and I can look forward and still see things that would get even better.” When I asked Richard Edelman why survey participants tended to trust technology companies much more than government, he reasoned that it was because those companies “have products that perform for you every day—whether it’s your cell phone or your airline.” Chinese respondents might have been making a similar statement about the government’s performance.

“There’s a lot of chaos and uncertainty in the world, and when there is chaos and uncertainty in the world centralized, authoritative power tends to do better,” Bersoff added. (It’s worth noting that other countries with high trust levels in the report range politically from democratic India to more-or-less democratic Indonesia and Singapore to the undemocratic United Arab Emirates.)

[x]
Percent Change in Trust in Government, Media, Business, and NGOs, 2017 — 2018
2018 EDELMAN TRUST BAROMETER


Why, though, is trust eroding in the United States in the absence of an economic crisis or other kind of catastrophe? What’s changed, according to the Edelman report, is that it’s gotten much harder to discern what is and isn’t true—where the boundaries are between fact, opinion, and misinformation.

“The lifeblood of democracy is a common understanding of the facts and information that we can then use as a basis for negotiation and for compromise,” said Bersoff. “When that goes away, the whole foundation of democracy gets shaken.”

“This is a global, not an American issue,” Edelman told me. “And it’s undermining confidence in all the other institutions because if you don’t have an agreed set of facts, then it’s really hard to judge whether the prime minister is good or bad, or a company is good or bad.” A recent Pew Research Center poll, in fact, found across dozens of countries that satisfaction with the news media was typically highest in countries where trust in government and positive views of the economy were highest, though it didn’t investigate how these factors were related to one another.

America actually falls in the middle of surveyed countries in terms of trust in the media, which emerges from the Edelman poll as the least-trusted institution globally of the four under consideration. (In the United States, the firm finds, Donald Trump voters are over two times more likely than Hillary Clinton voters to distrust the media.) Nearly 70 percent of respondents globally were concerned about “fake news” being used as a weapon and 63 percent said they weren’t sure how to tell good journalism from rumor or falsehoods. Most respondents agreed that the media was too focused on attracting large audiences, breaking news, and supporting a particular political ideology rather than informing the public with accurate reporting. While trust in journalism actually increased a bit in Edelman’s survey this year, trust in search and social-media platforms dipped.

[x]
Percent Trust in Media and Change From 2017 to 2018
2018 EDELMAN TRUST BAROMETER


In last year’s survey, the perspective that many respondents expressed was “‘I’m not sure about the future of my job because of robots or globalization. I’m not sure about my community anymore because there are a lot of new people coming in. I’m not sure about my economic future; in fact, it looks fairly dim because I’m downwardly mobile,’” Edelman said. These sentiments found expression in the success of populist politicians in the United States and Europe, who promised a return to past certainties. Now, this year, truth itself seems more uncertain.

“We’re desperately looking for land,” Edelman observed. “We’re flailing, and people can’t quite get a sense of reality.” It’s no way to live, let alone sustain a democracy.
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