Last autumn, before the election, a writer for Bloomberg asked to spend a day with me to interview me for a feature piece about my blogging on Trump, and my life in general. I could tell from the initial conversation that it was going to be a hostile article. The reporter was open about being deeply frightened of Trump, believing him to be a racist, sexist, homophobic monster. So you can imagine how she felt about me for writing flattering blog posts about his persuasion talents.
I quickly determined that agreeing to the interview would be foolhardy. Obviously it was going to be a hit piece. The writer weakly tried to conceal that fact, but failed miserably.
If I agreed to the interview, I knew I would be making myself the target of ridicule and shame, baring my flaws to the world – both the real ones and the fake news ones. No rational person would agree to such an interview. It was a suicide mission.
So I agreed to the interview.
Regular readers know I don’t experience embarrassment like normal people. I just thought it would be funny to have them write about how wrong I was… just as the election was about to prove how right I was.
The day I agreed to the interview, I told my girlfriend Kristina that I was going to be the subject of a “hit piece” in Bloomberg. When the writer asked to speak to my brother, for background, I told him it was a hit piece, but I invited him to do it anyway, just for fun. Obviously, no sane person would agree to be interviewed for hit piece on his own family.
So my brother agreed to the interview.
We’ll have a good laugh about it later today. He got framed as a gullible idiot for “believing” something my mom told us when we were kids.
Check the article here and see if you can spot the fake news and the places where context has been tweaked to make things look both true and misleading at the same time. I’ll tell you what you missed, if anything, after you read it. Compare your impressions to my Fake News Report Card below.
Here’s the Bloomberg article by Caroline Winter
Fake News Report Card
1. The article and headline used my old phrasing “master wizard” instead of the updated “Master Persuader” that I used in 95% of my work. That was an intentional choice by the editor to create the KKK association in your mind, or at least to make it all seem silly.
2. The anecdote about me showing her a Victoria’s Secret Whencast that I made didn’t happen. One of the hundreds of public Whencasts on the site included that content, created by a woman. I might have opened that one along with others as different examples of what the software can do. By highlighting that one bit of fake news (saying I created it), and putting it in the context of my girlfriend being too young for me, it created a powerful and intentional creepy vibe.
3. Kristina doesn’t live with me. She was staying at my house temporarily while her place was having some repairs and upgrades.
4. When an article is intended to be favorable, you see photos that make me look relatively good, like this one, from Peter Duke:
When an article wants you to look bad to the reader, you see photos like this, from the Bloomberg article:
This is standard practice on both sides of the political spectrum. Publications pick the photos that tell their bias, not the story.
5. The headline suggests I am somehow, maybe, in favor of genocide. Obviously I’m not in favor of genocide, and the article later weakly explains that. But by then, the damage is done. Your brain is most influenced by what you read first, especially if it is in a headline.
6. The headline says Trump hypnotized me. I would accept that as a hypothesis, but the article doesn’t address the point at all. The implication is that I’m a gullible nut-job, as opposed to one of the few people who predicted Trump’s win and provided lots of cognitive-science-backed reasons for the prediction.
7. The article was initiated before the election, and was originally intended for publication about then. But a funny thing happened that ruined everything for Bloomberg. Trump won, and in so doing, he made me look like less of a nut. My accurate predictions, against all odds, would have been the headline in any article that wasn’t designed to be hostile.
8. To explain my Linguistic Kill Shot idea, the writer focused on the Carly Fiorina “look at that face” incident. She could have mentioned Lyin’ Ted, or Low Energy Bush, or Crooked Hillary. All stronger examples, but they don’t make me look like a sexist when the context is omitted. The Fiorina examples does.
9. The writer refers to my wide field of interests as “unusual fixations,” thus turning ordinary discussions of fitness and diet habits into something that sounds like a fetish.
10. Last year, the author of a book about seduction called The Game mailed me a copy of his book. This is common practice among authors. Sometimes it happens because an author thinks another author would be interested in the book. Sometimes an author hopes to get a public mention to boost sales. I have lots of unread books all over the house for this same reason. The Bloomberg writer focused on this one. The Pre-suasion book she mentions was also signed and sent to me by the author, for the same reason. But I read that one. (It’s great.)
You might recognize this book-related persuasion trick as the Mein Kampf play. If someone gives you a book that you didn’t ask for, somehow the book still explains your soul.
11. The writer asked me what would happen for me personally if Trump won. I talked about the good and the bad of it. She picked only the following words to make me look like a douche bag: “If Trump gets elected, my profile will go through the roof, because I’m in a very small group of people who publicly said he would win in a landslide. … I’ll be very popular,” he said, with satisfaction.”
Notice the three dots before “I’ll be very popular.” That is your signal for a manufactured quote. They assembled it from bits of what I said and left out the context that would have rendered it un-douche-baggy.
12. This quote is out of context: “In the kitchen, Adams installed three microwaves so he “can make a lot of popcorn at once.” The missing context is that I designed the house knowing that whoever makes the popcorn for the rest of the family misses the first part of the movie. Plus, the extra microwaves come in handy all the time. I use them at the same time quite often. How did that come out sounding nutty?
13. My girlfriend, Kristina, has an advanced degree from UC Berkeley, plays multiple instruments, has succeeded in several fields, and now has 3.3 million Instagram followers. The writer mentioned her bra size.
14. This quote was cobbled together to make me look like a racist and a sexist because I write about Trump. “Adams has said, his professional advancement was thwarted by diversity hires. ‘There was no hope for another generic white male to get promoted any time soon,’ he wrote in Dilbert 2.0: 20 Years of Dilbert. (Later in the book, he noted that his Dilbert TV show was canceled after ‘the network made a strategic decision to focus on shows with African-American actors.’)
Both events are true, but in the first case she left out the fact that my bosses told me in direct language that they couldn’t promote a white male. I didn’t imagine it. Likewise, the UPN network literally made the decision to focus on African-American viewers at that time. it wasn’t just my interpretation of events.
Here’s the problem with that sort of reporting out of context: I’m also the guy who thinks men should stay out of the abortion question and leave it to women to decide what should be legal. I also blogged about my ideas for slavery reparations. I also described myself to her as “ultra-liberal” on social issues, because I am. If you leave out that context, the anecdotes sound like an explanation for why I grew up to be so terrible.
15. The article quotes my friend and cartooning colleague Stephan Pastis as being appalled at my Trump support, and speculating that the reason might simply be that cartoonist crave attention.
Of course I crave attention. Plus, it’s my job. That part is not in dispute.
But I think Stephan’s quotes were from before Election Day, when people still thought I was nuts to predict a Trump win. Today, I think Stephan would add a second hypothesis: I did it because I thought I was right, and it seemed important to me to share with the world what I could see coming from a mile away.
Plus I crave attention. It was a twofer.
16. The writer badgered me on several occasions to make a comparison between Dogbert and Trump. I said Dogbert’s personality is based on my own dark inner thoughts and had nothing to do with Trump except they are both ambitious in the extreme. So she wrote this: “I’d thought the point of those strips was to laugh at Dogbert’s cruelty—not celebrate it. But Adams seemed elated by the triumph of a Dogbertesque president.” WTF?
That’s sixteen intentionally-biased or incorrect components in one story.
By the way, Bloomberg did have a third-party do fact-checking on the article by running a bunch of questions by me for verification. That is standard practice for the big publications. None of the things I mentioned here were in the fact checking. The fact-checkers don’t check the writer’s own eye-witness accounts for accuracy, and they don’t check for missing context.
When normal citizens read the news, they think it is mostly accurate. But when you are the subject of reporting, you can see the fake news all over it. I thought I would share this view with you so you can increase your skepticism when you see this sort of thing presented as truth.
Plus, I crave attention. I couldn’t solve healthcare funding without it, among other things. Attention is fun, but also a tool.
You might still wonder why I volunteered to be interviewed for a hit piece, aside from the attention thing. My brother just sent me a very short video clip of his first reaction when he opened the article to read it. I think this answers all of your questions.
Update: An alert Twitter user sent me one of Caroline Winter’s 2015 articles. You might be wondering if all of her subjects get similar treatment.
You’re going to laugh when you connect the dots.
You might enjoy my book because I crave attention.
I’m also on…
Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays
YouTube: At this link.