In John Ford’s classic film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a reporter comments, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Like this surprisingly honest newsman, smart media consumers have figured out the dirty little secret that the mainstream press isn’t their watchdog, but rather, it is often the lapdog for the establishment.
It was a long and arduous road getting here (see “Fake News, part 1: The Myth of Objectivity“), but we have finally disabused ourselves of the notion that reporters are somehow impervious to bias or that they magically have a monopoly on truth, simply because they dwell behind the ivory-tower walls of the fourth estate.
The dinosaur media has lost its cachet, not only among cynical “retired journalists” like me, or enclaves of people who fall outside of the predictable Democrat-vs.-Republican paradigm, or folks who are naturally inquisitive and like to do their own homework, but also among 2/3 of Americans as a whole – an all-time low.
This Gallup data is even more intriguing because it notes a drop in the confidence of even Boomers, who are typically more apt to trust the traditional press. I mean, these folks were reared during the advent of TV and the glory days of print media, yet they too are seeking out other alternative sources of information.
And establishment journalists absolutely abhor this competition, not only because it threatens their fiefdom, but because they’re lazy. They don’t want to do the heavy lifting of seriously researching a story, digging into the details, questioning assumptions, looking beyond a news hook, connecting the dots, and seeking information beyond “official sources.”
They’d rather wait for the news of the day to make it across the wire and simply regurgitate whatever are the talking points. It’s more like PR than heavy-hitting journalism.
And the mass media sees that it’s losing influence and power. But instead of using this opportunity for self-reflection, they’re running scared. Instead of contemplating how it can do a better job or have more rigorous standards or evolve in the marketplace of ideas, the dinosaur press is lashing out with the “fake news” subterfuge.
It’s akin to the Hearst-Pulitzer wars. But this time, instead of newspaper vs. newspaper, it’s the dying old-guard institution pitting itself against the disparate, diverse, and dogged new media.
“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” — Malcolm X
A prime example of this desperation is the extensive catalog that Melissa Zimdars compiled of what she considers to be “fake news.” On the Merrimack College professor’s blacklist are many of my favorites, including TomWoods.com, LewRockwell.com, TheRebel.media, RonPaulInstititue.org, and TenthAmendmentCenter.com. What a nice feather in your cap.
To make the holier-than-thou directory even more insulting is that Zimdar suggests ultra-leftwing outfits, like Snopes and PolitiFact, as trusted sources for debunking what she in all of her infinite wisdom determines is bogus. Plus, universities like Harvard are promoting it to students as a way to avert their gaze from any source deemed an establishment dissenter, pointing them back toward the conformity machine of the statist dinosaurs.
Time editor Nancy Gibbs recently ranted about Trump as fake-news-maker in-chief. Now if that ain’t the pot calling the kettle black (uh, not sure if I’m even “allowed” to utter such an expression in our racially charged times, but there ya go).
“Social scientists have shown that repetition of a false statement, even in the course of disputing it, often increases the number of people who believe it,” she writes. The implication, of course, is that anyone who challenges the mainstream media is either unwittingly misleading or outright lying.
And because of Trump’s former fierce pushback against the press, Time was claiming that now, all of a sudden, the delicate trust between the executive and the people was being broken. You didn’t have to be a MAGA proponent to have found it satisfying that the president had been bypassing the mainstream media by personally tweeting to the people.
Trump wasn’t playing by the old media rules and they hated him for it. Well, that was until Thursday’s Syrian missile strikes; seems the mainstream press can’t get enough of Trump now that he “became president” and “restored the credibility of American power” in that moment of illegality, immorality, and Neocon boot-licking. The predictable praise is sickening. Trump’s warmongering ways have made him “the legend.”
And isn’t it interesting that it’s these very same people in the dinosaur press who often don’t even subscribe to the notion of objective truth. I mean, they are the ones who rewrite history, push for politically correct grammatical madness, support statism at all costs, repel science, detest logic, loathe Christians, and reinvent language, like calling a militaristic president “serious,” Middle Easterners “Asians,” a violent mob “protesters,” black folks nothing (since that’d be racist), and me a “domestic terrorist.”
“The idea that ‘truth’ is situational and changing, always best described in quote marks, has emerged in many areas of contemporary thought,” writes Quentin Hardy of the New York Times. “Postmodern philosophy and literary theory also questions the idea of objective reality, in favor of knowledge based on things like political background or sexual orientation.” Hence, the problem, y’all.
But really, I see the Hardy admonition, the Zimdar list, the Gibbs commentary, and the dinosaurs’ lauding of Trump’s bombing as heartening. The media’s fake-news spin is nothing but the last gasps of a lying and dying beast. The mainstream press, in all of its unrealistic grandeur, no longer has a stranglehold on the dissemination of information, but this fight for freedom of information and liberty of expression will not be an easy one.
“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” — Napoleon Bonaparte
The “issue nowadays is to some extent the need for good filters, pushing away information after centuries of seeking it,” technologist David Weinberger said of the perils of the internet. And some of the new institutional “stewards” of knowledge are putting up roadblocks on the already bumpy road toward seeking truth.
Bigwigs like Google, YouTube, and Facebook are doing much of the heavy lifting for their friends in the establishment. Google even just today launched its “fact check” feature, which conveniently shows up in your search results. Ugh, enough already.
“We’re very good at detecting what’s the most relevant and what’s the least relevant,” commented Google chairman Eric Schmidt. “It should be possible for computers to detect malicious, misleading and incorrect information and essentially have you not see it. We’re not arguing for censorship, we’re arguing just take it off the page … make it harder to find.” Sounds like censorship to me.
And just like how journalism is a field that attracts progressives, so too does the tech industry. Even though many claim to seek a free and open internet, they’re constantly asking for government meddling and net neutrality and all sorts of intrusion into an otherwise organic market. And the federal government is happy to oblige, constantly erecting surveillance and anti-privacy impediments and needless telecommunications regulations.
Despite all that mess, the internet is the media’s new frontier and the genie will not fit back into the bottle. Today’s bloggers and vloggers are like the pamphleteers of colonial times. They are the citizen journalists the institutional media wishes they were.
It took dinosaur-labeled “conspiracy theorist” Michael Cernovich to scoop the Susan Rice unmasking story earlier this month, just as it took online news-aggregator Matt Drudge to break the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky sex scandal some 19 years ago. The mainstreamers tried vigorously to cover up these stories.
But truth-seekers had a new friend in the internet in 1998 just as they have an ally in it today. This new media is a powerful tool in harnessing “sunlight” as “the best of disinfectants” and “publicity … as a remedy for social and industrial diseases,” as Louis D. Brandeis once said. (I know Brandeis was a progressive, but I just love the image of truth as a cleanser or antidote for ridding the world of media and government corruption.)
So, where do we go from here? The odds of getting to the bottom of issues, revealing facts, disseminating truth, holding those in power accountable, telling all sides of a story, uncovering the unwanted and untold stories, and countering the myths, lies, and agendas of the status quo sometimes seem insurmountable. But people have always felt this way and have somehow risen above.
“I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.” ― Christopher Hitchens
You don’t trust Google? Use DuckDuckGo or GoodGopher. Don’t like Facebook? Try Seen.Life on for size. Done with Twitter? Give Gab.ai a whirl. Don’t want to be spied on online? Use a VPN. Want to write anonymously? Use the Tor browser.
You don’t want to be doxed? Fess up to all those skeletons in your closet so malicious hackers wield little to no power over you. Hey, maybe even get into podcasting, which is currently free from government regulation. Stay vigilant and creative, and keep knocking the establishment from atop their thrones.
As a news consumer, take advantage of the alternative media that is filling the void left by the dinosaurs. Don’t elevate “professionals” to a level that they typically don’t merit. Never accept the standard line without question. Don’t depend on any news outlet as a single source for information. Do your own homework. Use diverse sources. And think for yourself. Dissent.
Even Zimdars advised readers of her fake-news list to “read it closely, feel free to disagree, and, in the spirit of media literacy, do your own research.” This is both simple and revolutionary, because it gets us in touch with our radical roots and gets our head in the game in modern terms. True resistance has never been easier. And more importantly, it’s absolutely necessary.