The headline was alarming: “Trump to Mexico: Take Care of ‘Bad Hombres,’ or US Might.” The Associated Press story went on to report:
“President Donald Trump warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop "bad hombres down there" unless the Mexican military does more to control them, according to an excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press….’You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,’ Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to AP. ‘You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.’
“A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided only that portion of the conversation to The Associated Press. The person gave it on condition of anonymity because the administration did not make the details of the call public.
“The Mexican website Aristegui Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontational conversation….
“Americans may recognize Trump’s signature bombast in the comments, but the remarks may carry more weight in Mexico.”
While the denials of the Mexican government were interspersed throughout the text, the context clearly framed their statements as self-serving: after all, who wants to admit to being humiliated? Certainly not Nieto, whose approval ratings are in the mid-teens.
So, is Trump getting ready to invade Mexico?
“According to an excerpt of the transcript of the call with Peña Nieto provided to CNN, Trump said, ‘You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with. We are willing to help with that big-league, but they have be knocked out and you have not done a good job knocking them out.’
“Trump made an offer to help Peña Nieto with the drug cartels. The excerpt of the transcript obtained by CNN differs with an official internal readout of the call that wrongly suggested Trump was contemplating sending troops to the border in a hostile way.
“The Associated Press report said Trump threatened to send US troops to stop criminals in Mexico unless the government did more to control them, but both the US and Mexican governments denied details from the story. Sources described the AP’s reporting as being based upon a readout – written by aides – not a transcript.”
Quite a difference between the AP story and the reality. One wonders how many people still believe the AP version. My guess: quite a few. Once fake news gets out there, it’s hard to reel it back in. After all, there are still people who believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Which goes to show that fake news isn’t new, and yet one could make a good case that, ever since Trump won the White House, it’s turned into a pandemic. Just off the top of my head, here’s five recent examples:
The “news” that Trump had moved the bust of Martin Luther King out of the Oval Office – fake!
The much retweeted tweet that had Trump blowing a kiss to FBI director James Comey at a White House reception (the implication being that Trump was thanking him for releasing information on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails) – untrue!
I could go on, but you get the idea. A veritable tsunami of unverified (and unverifiable)”news” about Trump and his administration has spewed forth from the open spigot of the “mainstream” media on a daily basis, only to be disproved shortly afterwards. The corrections, when they are printed, often come too late to undo the damage – and that’s the whole point. The effect is to create a penumbra of disaster and dark menace around the Trump White House, and one can’t help but think that this is what is intended.
And then there’s a more sinister development, exemplified by the latest news about the Special Forces raid carried out against an alleged al-Qaeda target in Yemen, in which a large number of civilians were killed in addition to one US soldier (four others were injured). What we are hearing now is that al-Qaeda had foreknowledge of the raid, either because drones were flying much lower prior to the raid or for other reasons: in any case, their redoubt was fortified, and the terrorists were ready and waiting. On the way to their target, the Special Forces team realized all this, but decided to go ahead anyway. The result was a slaughter: an entire village was wiped out, we sustained losses (including a crashed helicopter) and the mission, in retrospect, seems like it was a disaster. We are also hearing that the mission was disapproved at least twice by the Obama administration, and that Trump approved it when it was brought up again. Which raises the question: why was the military reiterating this proposal when it had already been rejected at least twice? Presidents don’t make these decisions in a vacuum. One has to assume that the military said they had intelligence that augured success rather than what actually occurred.
And intelligence is the key word here. Who is responsible for supplying the President with intelligence in situations like this? Why, it’s the same “intelligence community” that has been conducting a rather open war on Donald J. Trump.
Which brings to mind Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s ominous warning to Trump: “You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday to get back at you.”
In short, this whole incident screams “set up”: do the Never Trumpers in the CIA have blood on their hands?
From fake news to fake intelligence – this is the world we find ourselves in. And the problem is compounded by a systematic campaign against alleged fake news by those who are doing the most to generate it – the “mainstream” media.
We here at Antiwar.com have been among the targets of this campaign: the professional witch-hunters at “PropOrNot” (in tandem with the Washington Post) putting us on their list of “Russian propaganda” sites, and the much-touted “fake news” list put out by Melissa Zimdars, a media professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, which labels us as “biased” and “unreliable.” Marcy Wheeler does a good job of debunking Zimdars’ methodology, but one has to wonder how one of the only news outlets to accurately predict that the Iraq war was based on a lie, and warn that it would turn into an utter disaster could be dubbed “unreliable.”
This collapse of the journalistic profession couldn’t have come at a worse moment. We are heading into uncharted waters with the Trump administration, and the media’s constant barrage aimed at him actually undermines any real scrutiny: they’ve cried “Wolf!” so many times that when the real wolf is at the door they’ll have lost all credibility. This is particularly true in the international arena, where the threat of war is looming large: from the Persian Gulf (Yemen, Iran) to Ukraine (where Kiev is engaging in dangerous provocations), to the South China Sea, the arc of crisis is getting bigger and more volatile by the day.
Yet the “news” media is so busy bickering with the new administration over such burning issues as the crowd size at the Inauguration that they have little time or use for such trivial matters as war and peace. And when they do concern themselves with such questions, their bad case of Trump Derangement Syndrome prevents them from seeing – and telling us – what’s really going on.
This presents us here at Antiwar.com with a difficult problem: we rely on reporting from other media to give our readers an accurate picture of events as they unfold. However, our job is made much harder if a large section of the media has simply given up reporting the facts. The solution, if there is one, is to be very careful about what we report as news: to check and re-check, without jumping to conclusions, and then check again.
In short, we are doing our best to navigate these troubled waters, and I can say unequivocally that we are absolutely committed to reporting the truth rather than merely repeating the conventional wisdom. I am pledging to our readers right here and now that we aren’t letting our biases take precedence over factual reporting.
Yes, Professor Zimdars is correct, at least to some extent: we do have a bias in favor of peace. But that doesn’t mean that the information we impart to our readers is “unreliable.” The reason for this is simple: our readers aren’t stupid. Once burned, lesson learned: we would soon lose all credibility if we took to reporting only what seemed to conform to our ideological preferences. Our readers would find that neither convincing nor worth supporting – and we do depend on our readers for the resources we need to keep this web site going.
We’ve been bringing you the news of the world, from an anti-interventionist perspective, for over fifteen year now, but I have to say we’ve never faced challenges quite like this in all the time we’ve been online. The air is thick with propaganda, and – worse – hysteria, on both sides of the spectrum. In the face of all this, we are doing our best to pursue the straight and narrow path of truth before ideology, avoiding both the Scylla of confirmation bias and the Charybdis of groupthink.
Wish us luck: we’re going to need it.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.