Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Truth and the Media
It seems fitting to cover this point before going back to the subject of photo-fakery and the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Earlier this week, in his usual foggy/bombastic fashion, Trump denounced the media as an "enemy of the people" because of their fakery and biases, so of course the media denounced Trump as a "fascist", a "dictator", a "political sociopath" and "mentally unfit to hold public office". Seeing how little evidence the media gave for their claims, I'd say that -- amazingly -- Trump comes out as the more honest of the two.
Look, I've been an editor for three magazines, two newspapers, and a radio station, and I can tell you for a fact that all our media are biased -- every last one of them.
Part of this is inevitable. First, there's the admitted theme of the publication or program; you wouldn't expect to find stories on football coaches in The Western Horseman, and while The Wall Street Journal and The Industrial Worker might have articles discussing the same event, you can be sure that their attitudes, focus, and facts considered relevant will be quite different.
Second, there's only so much space in a publication and only so much time in a broadcast, and no matter what stories the reporters want to display, the editor must decide which ones make the cut. The editor's decision is seriously influenced -- and ultimately limited -- by what the publisher wants the public to know. If the particular medium is big enough, the publisher is also limited by what the CEO of the corporation that owns it wants the public to know. Since most of our general news outlets are owned by just five corporations, that means that the attitudes of just five CEOs shape the majority of our information about the world around us.
How much do the media moguls abuse this influence? Well, just over a century ago, William Randolph Hearst used his media empire to start a totally-unnecessary war. A few decades later, he likewise persuaded the US congress to outlaw the hemp plant -- "Reefer Madness!" -- to protect his timber and paper-mill interests. There's no way the contemporary media can't regard those feats with awe and envy. The way they speak of the "power of the media", it's clear that they've mistaken their influence -- the ability to make people listen seriously to what you have to say -- for actual power -- the ability to force others to do your will. We all know that power corrupts, and addicts; it seems that even the illusion of power can do it.
This might explain the near-hysterical frenzy with which the media have attacked Trump since the election. They were so certain that they had the election sewed up, that they'd persuaded the voters to consider Trump just a buffoon, that his win not only surprised them but proved they were wrong -- that they didn't have the power they thought they did. It was a threat to their power, and there's nothing a power-junkie fears more. That's why they've been piling on the lies, half-truths, baseless accusations and all, with a reckless disregard for the ability of the citizens to check the stories out.
The antidote for biased news is the same as it always was: to get information from as many different sources as possible, compare them, and check their sources. Suspend belief until you verify. Make the effort to verify before you trust. There are enough people who do this anyway to justify Lincoln's famous quote: "You can't fool all of the people all of the time." This is an unbearable thought -- not just to the media but to other socio-political elites, who desperately want to believe that the "peasants" they manipulate are stupid enough to deserve being manipulated -- so they do their best to deny it. Yes, there is definitely an element of class conflict involved here.
This is a major reason why Trump got elected in the first place.