Reality Based People Can Fact Check The ‘Fact-Checkers’

Friday, 3 March 2023 — Moon of Alabama

Stavroula Pabst, a writer in Greece, has published an interesting piece on the nefarious purpose of fact-checking and ‘dis-information’ debunking.

Guy Debord’s Warning of “The Role of the Expert”: A Philosophical Perspective on the Rise of Fact-Checking

The piece explains this by going back to the writings of the French philosopher Guy Debord and his musings about ‘spectacles’.

While anti-disinformation efforts proliferate, what’s missing from the conversation is a discussion about power. Of course, the powerful have reasons for wanting to combat what they consider to be “disinformation” — they want their version of the truth to become ours. Many commentators observe as such, noting that so-called disinformation researchers, fact-checkers, and experts are often partisan in nature, and themselves frequently disseminate things that are not true.

Basically, anyone calling themselves a “misinformation expert” or “disinformation reporter” is a partisan fraud, trying to make their activism seem scientific:

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) November 21, 2022

But a larger force is at work within the rise of fact-checking and other counter-disinformation efforts. That force is our society’s current arrangement of appearances, the totality of social relations mediated by images, or spectacle. Spectacle, as elucidated in Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, is a concept that can help us to understand seemingly unconnected, yet deeply intertwined phenomena that have come to fruition as the economy has subjugated society to its needs (as opposed to the other way around), and thus recover our ability to experience life directly.

As its dominance over our everyday lives grows complete, the spectacle has become powerful enough to turn our understanding of what is true upside down. Because spectacle replaces real life with a mere mediated representation of life that cannot be experienced directly, it provides a framework where mass deceptions and lies can consistently and convincingly appear as true. Thus, spectacle is perhaps one of the most effective tools we have to explain how elite deceptions, including fabrications and lies about imperialist wars like those in Iraq and Syria, can consistently go unpunished and even unnoticed. As such, it follows that spectacle can help us understand how modern fact-checks and counter-disinformation initiatives can consistently do the opposite of what they claim, as many have observed.

In Germany one provider of the daily spectacle is the premier news program of public TV, ‘Die Tagesschau’. It has an online presence which includes a section for ‘fact checking’ deceptively called Faktenfinder – fact finder.

Its current main purpose is to promote the NATO war in Ukraine and to blame Russia for waging it.

It is quite embarrassing to read its highly manipulative pieces. Last week though it topped its usual nonsense with a mistake that exposed it to a wider audience and led to lots of taunts and jeering.

Its main writer was tasked with debunking Symour Hersh’s piece about the U.S. terror attack on the Nord Stream pipeline. Not being sufficiently capable of understanding the original English text, the writer used Google Translate to convert it to German. Google Translate is quite good if you need some base to work from but it is far from perfect:


The original sentence in question:

That would be well within the range of the divers, who, operating from a Norwegian Alta class mine hunter, would dive with a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen and helium streaming from their tanks, and plant shaped C4 charges on the four pipelines with concrete protective covers.

The ‘translation’:

Das wäre gut im Bereich der Taucher, die von einem norwegischen Minenjäger der Alta-Klasse aus mit einer Mischung aus Sauerstoff, Stickstoff und Helium tauchen würden, die aus ihren Tanks strömt, und pflanzenförmigen C4-Ladungen auf den vier Pipelines mit Betonschutz Abdeckungen.

The descriptive “plant shaped C4 charges” had become “pflanzenförmigen C4-Ladungen” which I would translate back into English as “plant like C4 explosives” or “C4 explosives formed like plants”.

The verb ‘to plant’ had suddenly turned into the noun ‘the plant’. But outside of the spectacle, in reality, “C4 explosives formed like plants” do not make sense.

So what did the fact-finder do? He could have turned to a different site like Deepl which, in this case, produces a correct translation. Or he could have turned to the original English text to recheck that sentence. He would have found that without the verb ‘plant’ it would have no other one and would make no grammatical sense.

But that is not what he did. His task was to reinforce the spectacle, to hide the truth of Hersh’s report. He thus called a German explosives expert and asked him about “C4 explosives formed like plants”. The expert (he actually is one) knew of course that there were no such explosives and that camouflaging pipeline explosives as plants would not make sense to anyone. He responded in length and thus helped to debunked the alleged Hersh claim.

The fact finder writer was happy to learn that explosives formed like plants do not make sense. He wrote that up and published it.


The headline says “Further Discrepancies in Hersh Report”, the sub-headline “Explosives formed like plants are unlikely”.

My back-translation:

The details related to the detonations are also not clear. Hersh writes the divers had placed the C4 plastic explosives “in form of plants onto the 4 pipelines with concrete protected covers”.

That is of course not what Hersh wrote but what a cognition challenged fact-checker with rudimentary English skills made of a report written in that language.

A few hours after it the ‘fact finding’ piece was published the German Twitter world erupted in laughter.

Someone contacted the explosives expert who had been quoted in that piece. He of course was embarrassed when he learned that his musings about ‘explosives formed like plants’ were caused by a false translation. He contacted the fact finder which only then corrected the error.

The whole ‘plant based’ part was removed from the piece but no remark or explanation was attached to it.  That can only be found on a separate correction page where it is simply noted as ‘translation error’.

The spectacle lost that one when itself got debunked by people who live in reality and talk to each other.

As Stavroula Pabst concludes in her piece:

The spectacle’s totality of domination over our lives is an amazing yet shocking feat that forces those recognizing the phenomenon to reckon with the “un-lives” we live. Thus, while “ignorance knows… it has nothing to say,” overriding and dismantling the spectacle requires finding something to say: as Debord writes, a “practical force must be set in motion.”

This “practical force” needs the meaningful dialogue that spectacle’s creep into our lives has largely eliminated, if not wholly erased, via phenomena including today’s fact-checking and anti-disinformation crazes. And that dialogue and communication cannot be initiated by atomized individuals or by lonely crowds susceptible to spectacle’s influence, but by people who share community and a meaningful connection to what Debord describes as “universal history,” “where dialogue arms itself to make its own conditions victorious.”

And that is perhaps what this Moon of Alabama is about.

Despite all the pessimism that nothing ever changes I continue to believe that a steady uncovering of spectacle nonsense, and talking about it, will over time change things – even if only a bit.

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