The art of telling untruths when talking about Arsenal

Looking behind the ceaseless avalanche of anti-Arsenal propaganda.

By Tony Attwood

It is hardly a novelty to note that the concepts of “truth,” “logical analysis,” “evidence” and even “checking facts before giving opinions,” are not exactly prevalent in football journalism, be it on blogs or in newspapers and their websites, in podcasts, or on radio and TV.

Whether it is proclaiming that Arsenal are going to sign any of the 85 or so players we  were told the club was going to sign through the summer, but didn’t, or making up a story about how much Arsenal had to spend on players in the transfer window and then saying that the story came from Arsenal themselves, when it clearly didn’t, football commentary has become dominated by fantasy.  Or as it is now often called in most contexts beyond football, “fake news”.

Which is rather extraordinary for an industry that has a turnover far in excess of £5 billion a year – (and that is just the Premier League).  But then again, perhaps we should also note that what journalists and bloggers publish about Arsenal is no different, in terms of their divorce from reality, from the tales that President Trump proclaims about himself.

For example, President Trump recently announced that under him, military personnel would get their first pay rise in ten years – when in fact they have been getting pay rises every year for the past ten years.  Which when you think about it, is an odd thing to say, given that he was addressing the military.  Or when he claimed, as he often has done, that he won the popular vote when he was elected; he didn’t, he got 3 million votes less than Clinton.  But presidents are elected by electoral colleges, not by the popular vote, so he won.   Or that his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever which it so very clearly wasn’t. And on and on and on, day after day.

These and hundreds more statements are utterly false – just as are the hundreds of stories about Arsenal published each week.  Of course, it is more concerning when a man with the ability to start a nuclear war tells fibs, than when Football.London or the Daily Star or Arsenal Supporters’ Trust does it about Arsenal.  But in essence, it is still the same thing: making up stories and claiming they are true, just for the hell of it: that’s the game today.

And I mention this yet again because I keep on coming back to the thought: why is this happening?  Why did so many Americans vote for a man who is not only a constant liar, but who keeps on lying and whose lies are utterly obviously lies?  Why do so many newspapers and websites propagate stories about Arsenal that are palpably and obviously untrue, and go on doing it over and over again, no matter how often they are shown to be publishing tales that are untrue?

One insight into this conundrum that comes from psychological studies of fake news sources, is that propagating fake news gives the individual who does it a sense of power.  No matter that the story is mind-boggling obviously fake, people do take notice and if it is something they want to believe, they repeat it.  Which to the originator feels great.

And then even when they too are exposed as liars, they do it again, rather like a junky needing another fix.  They do it to recover that moment of glory when everyone is listening to them and quoting them.

And via this mechanism they come to believe what they themselves are writing, and the issue of “is this actually true?” vanishes replaced by the need to get that buzz again, and again.  As the excitement rush of publication and influencing others vanishes, along comes the need to do it again.  And again.  And again.

But each time, the excitement and energising that happens after their invention gets picked up, dissipates more rapidly.  Each time they need to create another story faster than the last time.  Thus the fantasists who create the rumours and negative tales really are in the same world as junkies.  Each fix lasts for less time.  Each time they need more to get to the same high.

However, if this is mixed with any inner angst such as a generalised fear of the world, insecurity or anger, then real difficulties start to arise.  People with such a condition tend to become increasingly oblivious to the consequences of the deceits they say and write.  The need for the next fix swamps everything. 

Some people may start down this process by running stories that they want to believe are true because they seriously believe that if only they were running Arsenal everything would be fine and Arsenal would win trophies every year.  But others may do it simply in order to get attention.  So the lies and fairytales multiply.

When this process becomes a key part of an individual’s thought, it starts to dominate the internal landscape of the writer or commentator and merges with their desire to be important, and most of all to be seen by others to be important.  That is their craving.

However the real danger comes when a number of writers and commentators all start to focus on fake news of the same type.  At this point negative fantasy stories begin to dominate the discussion.  Once this happens the negative tales, rather than the truth, becomes a base point from which discussions start.  Thus we arrive at the premise that Arsenal is a club that makes terrible mistakes, buying poor players while allowing its good players to leave for a pittance, paying players far too much so the club can’t get rid of them, having the wrong tactics, having an inept board of directors…  If only they would take note of the writer, then everything would be fine.

Within such allegations there is rarely, if ever, any attempt to compare Arsenal with other clubs, first because that requires a lot more knowledge and a lot more research, second because it takes a lot more time, and most importantly third because all this extra work gets in the way of self-aggrandisement and the rush that inventing the negative story gives.

At this point the need is to propagate the fake story and get another fix out of seeing it become a “talking point” overwhelms everything else, including any attempt to check facts or provide evidence.

Thus writers of football blogs and newspaper columns that generate fake news and analysis without evidence are motivated by the desire to proclaim, “I have a story to tell” while not actually having to do any of the work in researching or developing the story.  It is throughout an instantaneous approach: the writer thinks up a tale, and because he or she has thought it up, it becomes true.  Opinion and fact merge.

Meanwhile because others are doing the same thing, the drive to do it again and again and get readers swamps everything else.

As a result, within football, the lies and inventions now dominate, rather like the lies and inventions of Donald Trump now dominate American politics.  Evidence is non-existent and anyone who disagrees is vilified.

And thus we are here.   Fake news and commentary without evidence dominates.  Today 95% of what you read about Arsenal is probably untrue.  Quite likely, by tomorrow, it will be 96%.