CNN: It’s Not News, But What is It?

Chris Cillizza’s political “analysis” is a prime example of CNN’s fall from grace.

What is a news organization? Is it a public service designed to inform the public about significant events? Or is it just a business making money off sensationalism? I’m not sure what CNN considers itself, but in the Trump Era, its become a sad shadow of its former self; a parody of Fox News at its worst in the Obama years.

CNN has become nothing more than an outlet for clickbait, with Chris Cillizza offering probing analysis of “The 65 most outrageous lines from Donald Trump’s longest campaign speech ever”. What’s so outrageous, you wonder? Apparently Trump saying things like: “Remember when I first started this beautiful trip, this beautiful journey, I just said to the first lady, ‘You’re so lucky I took you on this fantastic journey.'”

“I wonder if Melania Trump would describe herself as ‘so lucky,'” Chris speculates. Well, she went from being born in Yugoslavia under communism, to Paris fashion model, to first lady of the United States of America, so yeah, she probably would. The list is literally just Chris Cillizza pulling random quotes from Trump’s rally and making sarcastic comments about them. Such probing journalism! Does he get paid per click, I wonder?

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Top Fake News Stories of 2019

The national news media loves to tout itself as an arbiter of truth, even teaming up with social media giants like Facebook to fact check viral articles and memes. But journalists aren’t immune to publishing and promoting fake news of their own, and boy, have we seen some whoppers this year. The following is a short list of some of the most egregious examples. Is there anything I missed?

Regretful Trump voter turns out not to have voted at all

In October, New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel wrote a story about Democrats who voted for Trump in 2016, only to regret their decision. Enter Mark Graham, a real estate appraiser in Erie, Pennsylvania. “He had voted for Barack Obama, but in 2016 he took a gamble on Donald Trump,” the article claimed. Now, Graham said, reelecting Trump would be like “throwing gasoline on a fire.” Except Graham never voted in 2016. A local news station looked into his voting record after a Democratic political action committee called American Bridge put him in their ad campaign. The New York Times later verified his voting record and added a correction.

Boys in MAGA hats harass Native American elder

In January, news outlets leaped on a viral video purporting to show a young man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and a crowd of white kids confronting a Native American man beating a drum. “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March,” The New York Times headline proclaimed. As more facts emerged however, it turned out the situation wasn’t so black and white. The Native American man, Nathan Phillips, was neither a Vietnam veteran nor a tribal elder as originally reported. The crowd of students from Covington Catholic High School did not confront Phillips, rather, he approached them. In October, a federal judge allowed part of Nick Sandmann’s libel lawsuit against the Washington Post to go forward, after the Post claimed Sandmann, one of the students in question, had “blocked” Phillips and ‘would not allow him to retreat.’

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Trump Fact-Checkers Don't Get the Joke

Journalists fact-checking Donald Trump’s rallies and Twitter feed often end up looking silly, and they don’t understand why.

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Nelson, the bully, tells Bart his “epidermis is showing”, causing him to get confused, lose his balance, and fall. Nelson turns to his friend and says, “You see, ‘epidermis’ means your hair. So technically it’s true; that’s what makes it so funny.” There’s another joke hidden here–epidermis really means ‘skin’. Nelson is trying to sound smart, but failing.

The people who fact check President Trump’s speeches are like the guy who, thinking himself more clever than the show’s writers, watches that scene and announces, “Actually, epidermis means skin,” oblivious to the underlying joke.

Last week at a speech at the Turning Point USA student action summit in West Palm Beach, Florida, President Donald Trump made a joke about bald eagles flying into wind turbines. The line was meant to get a rise from his audience, made up of young conservatives skeptical of renewable energy.

Trump said: “A windmill will kill many bald eagles… After a certain number, they make you turn the windmill off, that is true. By the way, they make you turn it off. And yet, if you killed one, they put you in jail. That is OK. But why is it OK for these windmills to destroy the bird population?”

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When Politics and Fact-Checking Collide

Self-appointed fact-checkers engage in dishonesty when they treat matters of opinion or debate as black-and-white issues to be judged as true or false.

Hysteria over “fake news” on social media has led to a bevy of fact-checking by news outlets and other websites. CNN, for example, loves to catalog every exaggeration, misstatement, or falsehood President Trump says. Though claiming otherwise, these self-appointed fact-checkers are not immune to bias, and they often treat matters of opinion or debate like math problems that have a definitive right or wrong answer.

Case in point, a website called TruthorFiction.com recently rated Professor Noah Feldman’s argument that President Trump hasn’t been formally impeached until the House delivers their charges to the Senate as “not true“, despite Feldman supporting his argument with legal precedent and history.

Feldman, who testified before the House in favor of impeaching Trump, is a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. The House chose him to testify because of his strong academic credentials. Truth or Fiction cited dissenting opinions from Twitter to come to their conclusion (later adding an opinion piece by Alan Dershowitz).

One dissenting opinion they didn’t cite was that of Robert G. Natelson, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence at the Independence Institute. Writing on TheHill.com, Natelson cites two unrelated cases to argue that the President is impeached simply on the majority vote of the House of Representatives. One case pertained to ratification of state constitutional amendments and the other to presidential appointments. I fail to see how these examples specifically relate to the act of impeachment or rebut Feldman’s argument.

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GOP Only Has Itself to Blame for Electoral Defeats

The Republican Party squandered its 2016 majority and failed to make a compelling case to voters.

Results are in for local elections in Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi, and the trend is not looking good for Republicans. Democrats continue to make gains after the “blue wave” last year, and took control of the Virginia Senate and House for the first time in more than two decades. In one northern Virginia race, a candidate openly calling himself a Democratic Socialist won a seat in the Virginia Assembly.

Back in 2016 and 2017, Democrats were dismayed as it looked like they couldn’t win any important races. Republicans and conservatives controlled every branch of the Federal Government, but failed to accomplish even their most basic campaign promise of repealing Obamacare. We got one tax cut, which while nice, hardly makes up for squandering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, who blames everyone and everything but herself for losing to Donald Trump in 2016, Republicans should look inward and re-evaluate their messaging and electoral strategy. Politics is a game of addition, not subtraction. Republicans and conservatives are constantly harping on how radical and out of touch Democrats are–but then why are the Democrats winning?

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Sturges Park: A Lesson in Legend Formation

Pinpointing the exact origin of a legend is rare, so this example from Minnesota is invaluable to folklorists.

I once listed Sturges Park in Buffalo, Minnesota as the fifth most haunted park in the Midwest in a Top 10 list on my old website Mysterious Heartland (to be fair, there aren’t many haunted parks). In response, Mac Loomis of Hoofprint.net published an article revealing the true story behind the park’s legend.

Historically, Alfred E. Sturges and his wife Adelaide opened this five-acre plot of land to the public in 1903. The City of Buffalo purchased the park in 1958. According to legend, Mr. Sturgis’ ghost reportedly haunts the park, and visitors have also seen orbs of light dancing through the trees. It is also rumored that names written in blood appear on the bathroom mirrors.

According to Mac Loomis and Ryan McCallum, an English teacher at Buffalo High School, the source of this legend is none other than Ryan McCallum himself. He says:

“It was 1987, I was a bored and lonely kid because I had just moved here from Arizona. My class took a field trip and I didn’t have anyone to go with, so I went down to the lake and found a huge dead carp. I had an idea. I started cutting it open with a stick. I brought [the fish parts] to the girls’ bathroom and started smearing it all over. I wrote ‘help me’ and ‘you’re next’ and put the eyeballs on either side of the sink handles. When my classmates asked why I didn’t do anything I told them that I was going to the bathroom but I saw horrifying things, and I saw a ghost. I saw Old Man Sturges.”

The legend spread from there. You can read the rest of the article at this link.

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Pros and Cons of Paranormal Tourism

Despite positive news about allegedly haunted locations opening their doors for paranormal tours and events, the value of such tourism is still a hotly debated topic.

Over the years, there have been many stories of so-called “ghost hunters” trespassing and committing a variety of other crimes including vandalism, theft, arson, underage drinking, and even grave robbery. Because of the sensational nature of these incidents, local media loves to hype them up. It is undeniable that certain individuals have gone to allegedly haunted locations to commit mischief, and others use this fact to paint everyone interested in legend tripping with a wide brush. They argue the simple act of writing about an allegedly haunted location invites harm to it.

I believe that legends and lore can be a great way to create interest in Local history. Critics assume stories on the Internet draw negative attention to these places, when in fact, they are already well known in the local community. Many have already suffered vandalism long before the internet or personal computers became widely available. Many of these stories developed during the 1960s and ’70s when these locations were used as party spots for teenagers who went there to drink, take drugs, or hook up.

None of that, however, has anything to do with people who are interested in folklore and ghost stories. The individuals involved in these crimes use ghost stories as an excuse for delinquent behavior. Many allegedly haunted locations are remote and unsupervised, perfect locations for mischief, but they do not have to have anything to do with ghost stories to attract petty crime.

In 2009, three teenagers were arrested in South Side Cemetery in Pontiac, Illinois as they were seen trying to tip over a headstone. Days earlier, as many as 60 headstones had been damaged at the same location. This cemetery was not associated with any legends or ghost stories.

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