by Greg Maybury
Brief:The response from the mainstream media to Wikileaks revelations of CIA surveillance and hacking – against the backdrop of the MSM and Beltway fuelled brouhaha over fake news, alleged Russian spying and interference in U.S elections, and general animus towards Moscow – is further evidence the Fourth Estate is irretrievably beholden to the amorphous Deep State and the ruling classes du jour. It in turn underscores the MSM’s ever present grip on the broader American political psyche. That it was ever thus has been obvious for decades to all but the most deluded afficionados of life, liberty, democracy, privacy, freedom, the rule of law, the pursuit of happiness, and the American way. With this in mind, it’s time to take a deep breath for an even deeper dive into the cess-pool that is the collective press-pool.
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. F Scott Fitzgerald, 1936
So far as I can see, all political thinking for years has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome…To appreciate the danger of Fascism the Left would have had to admit its own shortcomings, which was too painful; so the whole phenomenon was ignored or misinterpreted, with disastrous results. George Orwell, 1945
The soul of wit may become the body of untruth. However elegant and memorable, brevity can never, in the nature of things, do justice to all the facts of a complex situation. On such a theme one can be brief only by omission and simplification. [This might] help us to understand — but help us, in many cases, to understand the wrong thing; for our comprehension may be only of the abbreviator’s neatly formulated notions, not of the vast, ramifying reality from which these notions have been so arbitrarily abstracted. Aldous Huxley, 1958
We are all, as Huxley says, Great Abbreviators, meaning that none of us has the wit to know the whole truth, the time to tell it if we believed we did, or an audience so gullible as to accept it. Neil Postman, 1985
All the News that’s Fit to Fake
Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan once memorably quipped, ‘It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession…I’ve learned over the years it bears a striking resemblance to the first.’ Being an (ahem) entertainment business refugee himself, Reagan understood this reality possibly better than any politician. Put simply, The ‘Gipper’ was not whistlin’ Dixie!
Yet even in his heyday, if pressed the former Quipper-in-Chief might well have singled out journalism as the one profession most eligible to give politics a run for its money for inclusion in the unique occupational pantheon he alluded to. If he was around now, one imagines Number 40 would rule its inclusion a lay down misère, a no brainer as it were. For the realists amongst us, politicians have always been expected to lie, dissemble and to obfuscate, or in the words of George Orwell (to whom we’ll return), ‘to give solidity to pure wind’. In their heart of hearts, they know that, and they know we know that.
The Fourth Estate however is supposed to be something else altogether. Faking it is not supposed to be their raison d’être nor their forte. Sadly for us, it’s become both. To the extent they might’ve been able to lay claim to being “something else altogether”, that train left the station some time ago. Not for nothing are the contemporary members of this theoretically hallowed vocation often referred to as ‘prestitutes’.
Depending on one’s view, Donald Trump’s election either ushered in or coincided with the so-named post-truth era, bringing with it new memes for the zeitgeist such as ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’. For this and many other reasons, there’s much to be gained by reflecting on the quid pro quo nexus between the political realm, show business and the news media in all its inglorious forms. Doing so provides a window into purportedly serious politics as high-wire performance art and meaningful public discourse as cheap thrill-inducing entertainment for a populace increasingly afflicted with a collective manifestation of attention deficit disorder, a condition paradoxically induced at once by both an information surplus (overload?) and an information deficit.
The singular reality (the concept itself under considerable challenge in this alternative not-so-brave new fake/junk news universe we inhabit) is that our front-line political practitioners are first and foremost performance artists, entertainers, and snake oil merchants, all the while seeking to dumb-down, trivialize, dismiss outright, or relegate to the margins serious political and policy debate if the nature of said debate conflicts with their own agenda or self-serving interests, and/or those of their political patrons. In short, it’s the sizzle stupid, not the sausage that matters in the Western media. This state of affairs has transpired under our very noses, perhaps hidden in plain sight for some, but nonetheless enabled in no small measure by our own acquiescence, complacency, and ignorance. This, to say nothing of:
- the blind faith we all too fervently invest both in our democratic and corporate institutions and our political leaders;
- our unthinking, jingoistic acceptance of the official narrative attending some of our most beloved historical mythologies;
- our unflagging lust for new and frivolous entertainment and distractions and diversions; and,
- what we might call an empathy deficit, translating as a depleted mindfulness of — and from there an absence of moral umbrage at — injustice, unfairness, and inequality!
It’s difficult to see how someone like Trump might’ve risen to the top job if not for the prevalence of these pathologies! Yet our own acquiescence or complicity aside, it is our “blind faith” in one particular institution that has been the principal contributor to this malaise, and remains still its chief enabler. In short, the zeitgeist as defined has been eagerly expedited and accelerated by this one institution that purports to be the most reliable, trusted guardian of the imperatives of a liberal democracy. We’re talking here, of course, the mainstream media (MSM) – particularly the corporate controlled, so-called liberal media, a descriptor eligible for immediate inclusion into the Official Orwellian lexicon.
By any definition, the MSM is an information oligopoly at best. At worst, it’s a cartel, but without the drugs and guns. In what we might term the political information economy, it is the MSM which is the most egregious, recidivistic transgressor against informed, balanced, intelligent, free and open discourse in the public interest. It is this institution — and the folks who populate it and to which they proudly proclaim an eternal devotion – that touts itself as the terminal bulwark against those aforementioned “pathologies”. In all of these concerns, its ‘core product’ the truth, is customarily abbreviated, anonymized, and/or attenuated if presented for serious scrutiny at all — the lies just as routinely accentuated, augmented and/or amplified to accommodate the desired narrative.
To be sure, the MSM has for generations always served these same interests, operating akin to an echo chamber located inside a hall of mirrors; although much lip service is tendered to suggest otherwise, increasingly though they make less effort to keep their dirty little secret under wraps. Put bluntly, the Western MSM is an institution that has consistently and blithely betrayed fundamental journalistic principles – truth, accuracy, independence, impartiality, fairness, humanity, and accountability. And as they might be defined by the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights, they’ve made a mockery of the basic tenets of liberty, freedom and the rule of law along with conventional notions of peace, truth, privacy, security, and stability into the Faustian bargain. All the while they have steadfastly asserted they remain islands of integrity as it were in a vast, turbulent ocean of disinformation, misinformation, obfuscation, and manipulation.
To all intents then they’ve collectively morphed into a Praetorian bodyguard of the ‘tissue of lies’ that’s become necessary to hold together the fragile fabric of the all-encompassing delusion that was once the republic, lest it come apart at the seams at the first sign of any collective critical awareness by the masses they have been ‘had’, and had big-time, by both political parties. To say that time is getting closer may be overly optimistic, but keep saying it we must. The powers that be must never be allowed to think we’ve packed up and gone home as it were. This even if they keep acting like we’ve already done so.
The Worst of Both Brave New Worlds
Although he was far from alone in doing so, in his seminal 1985 work, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman delivered us a forensic take on the nexus between the contemporary power/political domain and the modern media and information landscape — from print and electronic news and opinion, to book and magazine publishing, Hollywood film & television production, and most other mediums or modes of entertainment and mass communication in between.
It is instructive that Postman also examined the differences between George Orwell and Aldous Huxley‘s respective views of the human condition and the possible worlds the less attractive pathologies said condition was capable of spawning. These were of course respectively portrayed in their dystopian novels 1984 and Brave New World. In this respect, Postman’s concerns were related to which author’s vision was the more terrifying, clear-eyed and germane to the times when his book was published, with also a keen eye to which would prove to be more (or less) so in the years going forward. His book posited that Huxley – more so than Orwell – had nailed the nature and character of the impending social and political zeitgeist, a point to which we will return.
Written at the height of the Cold War during the halcyon days of Reagan’s era – the former president personifying the symbiotic, incestuous links between media, show business and politics – it was still pre-information revolution, pre-Internet, pre-unipolar and pre-9/11 ‘perpetual war for perpetual peace’ days. Each of these factors and others would go on to help reconfigure the Orwell v Huxley ‘balance sheet’, in ways we are all still grappling with. On its face, it’s easy to see why some might’ve viewed Huxley as having won the crystal ball gazing ‘contest’. Postman’s son Andrew – who wrote the introduction to the twentieth-anniversary edition of AOTD – concluded even at that point his father’s appraisal of Huxley as the more insightful haruspex of the imminent tenor ‘n terror of the times still remained largely intact.
But that was then, and now is now. In this a full decade and a half into the post-9/11 era, we’d be hard-pressed to refute the unassailable reality Orwell’s foreshadowed vision remains similarly intact, with the growth potential ‘bullish’. The T-shirt says it all, (as T-shirts are wont to): ‘Memo to Power Elites — 1984 was not an instruction manual’. Indeed, as paradoxical as saying so might be for some, far from competing with it, it co-exists, even meshes – in a ‘worst of both brave new worlds’ kinda way — with the ‘Huxleyan’ augury. For its part, the aforementioned Fourth Estate is little more than a fifth column, on the one hand serving the interests of the neoliberal elites, and on the other, their neoconservative (though not always mutually exclusive by any means) counterparts. Broadly speaking the former serve to both underscore and realize Huxley’s dire vision, the latter doing much the same for Orwell’s.
None of this is to suggest a critical corrective of Postman’s assessment is in order. Let there be no mistaking it, Huxley’s original insights and Postman’s conclusions in kind are still much in evidence. Nevertheless, since even 2005 – from the pre- to the now post-Obama period – we’ve witnessed a myriad array of unwelcome developments that have served to underline not just the modern reality of the respective visions of these much-studied and much name-checked writers. They have in turn further paved the way for this co-existence and intermeshing to endure.
And though their perspectives derived from different ‘corners’ of the panopticon as it were, for their part Huxley and Orwell were a couple of folk who knew a thing or three about the misuse and abuse of political power, coercive social control, the influence and impact of the media, propaganda, perception management, groupthink, fake news, alternative facts – along with the intersection between the two — and further, what it would be like to live in a post-truth era. They differed perhaps only in how we’d allow – or be forced to accept – the outcomes as envisioned by each of them to prevail. For our purposes, the following extract serves not just to illustrate their respective worldviews as contemplated by Postman. It brings into sharp-edged relief in this fraught epoch of unprecedented political ‘hoopla and ballyhoo’ a schizophrenic dilemma of existential scale.
After juxtaposing Orwell’s main fear of ‘those who would ban books’ with Huxley’s fear there’d be no reason to do so because ‘no-one would want to read one’, Postman riffed further on the following. For him,
Orwell feared those who’d deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who’d give us so much [of it]…we’d be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared [it] would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance….Orwell feared we’d become a captive culture…Huxley feared we’d become a trivial culture….[For Huxley], the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984.…people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they’re controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.’
The Cesspool or the Press-pool?
Let’s unpack this insight for a bit. Beyond becoming merely a “trivial culture”, we are now not simply increasingly susceptible to and ‘preoccupied’ by inane distractions and meaningless diversions, all the while eschewing intelligent, informed discourse in public discussion. We now prefer what amounts to little more than ‘duckspeak’ and ‘bellyfeel’ from our elected representatives, their flacks, hacks and lackeys and their MSM mouthpieces — a formidably facile mix of meaningless weasel words, hollow cant, warmed-over catchphrases and rote talking points forming the essence of the political discourse.
Moreover, we actively seek out these distractions and become addicted to them, placing a whole new spin on the phrase ‘the fix is in’! All the while we have been marginalizing — and by default, rendering unimportant and irrelevant the Big Issues of the times – then sabotaging any real shot we have at restoring integrity, purpose, and depth in public deliberation; at the very least said “distractions” suck up all the oxygen in the room.
Further, anytime anyone who goes against the grain of putative establishment truths or questions the shibboleths we’ve come to believe as reality or fact more often than not is dismissed as a conspiracy theorist, the preferred weapon of mass disdain amongst the ignorant and ill-informed on the one hand and agenda-driven on the other. These targets of their critique – the Assanges, the Snowdens, the Mannings et. al. — are often relegated to the status of ‘unpersons’, with the unprecedented war on whistle-blowers, unauthorised leakers and those who dare to speak truth to power, including journalists avec integrity (yes, thankfully there are still a few) being prime examples.
That a goodly slice of this has taken place with the explicit imprimatur of a notionally liberal president who amongst so many other things, promised to protect whistle-blowers – the first POTUS it needs be noted to preside over two full terms with his nation at war on several fronts, some of which the Nobel Peace Prize recipient promised to shut down, others he initiated himself, and a few more he has more or less prepared the ground for – is even more astonishing. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, this is straight out of the Orwell playbook!
Further, whilst we are being swamped tsunami-like with all manner of information – mostly of the “dis” and “mis” kind — by the glorified stenographers and self-exalted errand boys/girls who populate the MSM, rendering us incapable in our inert, submissive and self-absorbed state of taking time out to ‘smell the flowers’ instead of ‘popping the soma’, we are also being deprived of information. Herein, one only needs to contemplate the amount and type of information we are being deprived of, the lengths to which ruling elites — call them the Deep State, or Shadow Government, whatever — go to keep it from the public, and the Pavlovian vilification that ensues from those same elites toward those with the wherewithal and courage to expose it.
The glaring anomaly here is that whilst the U.S. government seeks to amass increasing amounts of information about us by ever more insidious means and for spurious motives, they are seeking newer and more innovative ways to prevent us finding out what they are up to with commensurately mounting, ever draconian penalties applied to those who somehow get past the gatekeepers.
Again, to be sure they are gleefully aided and abetted herein by their Praetorian guardians in the MSM. The Washington Post’s Fareed Zakaria’s grandstanding umbrage about the most recent Wikileaks revelations themselves is but one more example of just how beholden the MSM brands are to protecting the elites’ agenda and obfuscating the more potent realities of the polity and the sordid secrets of the governing classes from its readership. (Although a story for another time, even Watergate, that much vaunted, ahem, high-water mark of investigative reportage in the public interest and the quintessential exemplifier of integrity in modern day journalism and speaking truth to power — the revelations of which were the aforementioned Washington Post’s finest hour and one in which it arguably has been ‘dining out’ on for several decades — is according to some, not all it was cracked up to be.)
At the same time, we are being drowned in an ocean of irrelevance, banality and crass frivolity, the show goes on (as it must). The audience, for the most part, is oblivious to – or blasé about — the fact that the “show” they are experiencing is a Bizarro fusion of a beauty pageant cum popularity contest, part scripted reality TV show and unscripted Kabuki-like soap-opera, a master illusionist’s live, real-time stage performance all rolled into one convenient, one-stop-shop emporium of fatuous entertainment delights, with a conga-line of carny barkers out front beckoning all to come on in, sit down, shut up and enjoy the spectacle. More than being complacent, we are complicit in bringing about our own personal, social, economic and psychological subjugation and enervation.
The much-vaunted attention economy then has now morphed into a distraction economy, beckoning a disaster in the making for justice, liberty, freedom and the application of the rule of law in an authentic, fully functional, freethinking liberal democracy – already in varying degrees as we now know under ever increasing assault 1984 style — in the country that purports to hold the IP rights on these and allied precepts. Trump’s recent farcical, surreal Tweeting duel with Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself a former ‘moofie’ star turned politician and now erstwhile reality TV show host, provides hard evidence if it was ever needed that Postman was ‘mos def’ onto something.
Which is to say, that the POTUS himself is as addicted to these distractions as much if not more so as any of the rest of us mere mortals should be of great concern to even those who voted for him. Although as a politician he’s hardly cornered the market on doing so, Trump for his part is at once a master at creating said distractions whilst in his case especially, being a slave to them. This would be an exceedingly worrying affair for any major political leader (even in a time of relative geopolitical stability and security), but especially one in a position to ignite a nuclear war at this point in our history, the latter reality bestowing on his well-worn catchphrase/meme “You’re fired”, a whole new lease on life. Well might we say: ‘Welcome to the state of public discourse in the age of show business’, 2017-style.
Whoever it was that originally declared [that], ‘politics is show business for ugly people’ may not have had someone like Donald Trump in mind, but in any event politics has for decades been a vaudevillian affair, and a decidedly ugly, sordid one at that. Again, we might opine that Trump – already the owner of the rights to the world’s biggest beauty pageant Miss Universe – is now the owner (at least for the present) of the rights to the world’s greatest ugly contest, one where every contestant is assured of a prize, said “prize” being one almost always coming at the expense of their long-suffering heartland constituents!
The Mockingbirds of the Mainstream
And it is in America where — from one end of the notional political spectrum to the other, one whose ‘geometry’ has always been more circular than linear, and becoming increasingly so – the show-business/vaudeville metaphor reaches its apotheosis and is where the narcissistic, hubristic practitioners of this quintessential manifestation of the more abhorrent impulses of the human condition don’t come much uglier!
Despite what the liberal elites inside the MSM, and their so-called ‘snowflake’ acolytes and ‘butt-hurt’ cadres might like to argue, Trump isn’t necessarily the best (worst?) example of the latter; he just happens to be the latest incarnation. His elevation as president is a direct result of an olfactory malfunction on their part – put crudely, their inability to detect or failure to acknowledge the putrid aroma of their own righteous excrement. Small wonder then the Great Unwashed (aka the ‘Deplorables’) holds them in such contempt, and that Trump — a president whose elevation to the White House was the direct result of unprecedented media exposure as much as it was from his appeal amongst said “Deplorables” — gets away with behaviour that would deep-six most other politicians. But in the end, Trump is in this for the benefit of no-one else but Trump. Anyone who thinks otherwise, needs a check-up from the neck-up!
Some say Americans don’t do irony. This writer begs to differ.
In this milieu then, one might easily imagine a Trump aide informing the POTUS that Russian president Vladimir Putin is on the hotline wishing to speak to him about a matter of considerable geopolitical import patiently waiting whilst the Trumpster finishes terminating Arnie’s ass via Twitter – itself the perfect medium for the media and political abbreviators’ desired message du jour – because the president feels it is in the national interest for folks to be aware his successor was actually fired from Celebrity Apprentice because he [Schwarzenegger] couldn’t cut the mustard in the reality TV stakes and because he [Trump] thinks no-one does reality TV – like most everything Trump “does” – ‘quite like’ well, he does!
Which to be fair, President Bluff ‘n Bluster has a point. He now also ‘hosts’ the biggest and longest running reality TV show cum soap opera on the Big Blue Ball; no matter what he does or who he offends, the ratings will never falter, irrespective of the frequently dubious quality of the ‘entertainment’ on offer and the singularly unattractive personalities of the principal contestants/cast of characters. We know the ground has shifted. ‘Not in Kansas anymore?’ We’re barely in the same galaxy, with Old Sol a faint twinkle far off into the distance.
A recap is in order. In few other areas of the broad body politic then do the pathologies of presumed privilege, hubris, sophistry, malice aforethought, mendacity, civic delinquency, moral turpitude, self-delusion, righteous umbrage, trivia, venality, elitism, unvarnished pharisaism, and self-serving expediency of the ‘communal’ variety coalesce as seamlessly as they do within the rarefied realm of Brand MSM. And in few areas does Postman’s central thesis manifest itself so obviously than in this same milieu. Notwithstanding the backlash against it of more recent years from some quarters — exemplified by the exponential growth, importance and influence of alternative news platforms and independent media forums and driven by a wider recognition from clued-up news consumers that the MSM has bartered its collective soul for something far removed from the basic tenets of ethical and responsible journalism — it was ever thus. This “backlash” clearly reached a crescendo throughout the 2016 election campaign, and shows no sign of abating since the rise of Trump, said “rise” benefitting in no small measure from the resentment folks feel toward it.
All of which is to say, there can be little doubt then that trust in and respect for the established media has reached a nadir. In fact, when we contemplate it, it is amazing they’ve been able to sustain their shop-soiled rep for so long. Well before the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) usurped effective control of the media conglomerates and their obsequious career minded minions both past and present via the insidious ‘psyop’ gambit that was Operation Mockingbird, the establishment media have always demonstrated a lascivious willingness to bed-hop with the power elites du jour in supporting their mostly hidden agendas whilst simultaneously denigrating then destroying the careers and lives of those who felt compelled to offer alternative narratives to the official line and/or foolishly sought to speak truth to that power in opposing such agendas. The recent Wikileaks revelations are simply the latest evidence in support of this unholy conspiracy, the roots of which go back over seventy years. It isn’t just Big Brother that’s watching us now apparently; he’s brought along the whole family for reinforcements.
Nowhere it seems has this reality been more egregious and socially and economically destructive than when these agendas involved issues of war and peace (“war is peace” anyone?), said agendas invariably fuelled by grandiose predispositions towards empire building, hegemony, and full-spectrum dominance of the domestic public domain and the geopolitical arena. It is here where the blurring of lines between truth and falsehood has morphed into a highly sophisticated dark art-form that challenges even the most perceptive, intelligent, least distracted and proactive citizens of western democratic polities. We only need to take a cursory look at the contrasting way the Western media is reporting on the terminal conflicts taking place in Mosul (in Iraq) and Aleppo (in Syria) and the dynamics involved therein between the notional warring parties in both theatres — a classic case study in media manipulation of the public reality on the ground in the service of the not so public agendas back in Washington.
What makes the countless sins of omission and commission of the MSM so egregious is that it is the purportedly liberal media – represented principally by the likes of the presumptive ‘papers of record’ The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, along with their fellow travellers in the major news networks such as CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN etc. – that long ago cornered the market on promulgating mass-scale misinformation and disinformation of the lowest common denominator kind. We might opine that they are up in arms ‘n umbrage about “fake news” emanating from sources outside their purview simply because they don’t like the competition!
All Propaganda is Equal (But Some is More Equal than Others)
For discerning news consumers then, the MSM brands have for decades been engaging in the dissemination of fake news and alternative facts (might we be so bold as to add another to the lexicon, complementary realities), manifesting itself as an unholy trinity of nonfeasance, misfeasance, and malfeasance in the reporting of news and the provision of informed, clear-eyed, objective political opinion, policy analysis and public interest insight in an age where doing so has arguably never been more important for our society, our economy, and humanity as a whole.
And the recent attack by Trump’s much-reviled chief strategist and advisor Steve Bannon on the “corporatist, globalist media” was nonetheless a wholly justified tirade. Putting aside the reality his own boss is not immune to many of the aforementioned pathologies, whatever any of us might think of the estimable Bannon – and irrespective of whether the former Breitbart editor’s motives for taking on the MSM in such a manner were indeed ‘pure’, what his end-game might be, or even whether he’s the best person to be pointing the bone at his former MSM counterparts — such is the state of play prevailing within and across the MSM, Trump’s controversial grand vizier can be applauded for having the cohones for sticking the knife in and twisting it with such apparent genuine relish. Many folks might like to argue, ‘what’s not to like?’ about having these seemingly polar opposites ‘shirt-fronting’ each other. Less “polar opposites” one suspects though, than two sides of the same coin!
Ultimately though, whilst the broad public fail to notice or react (or simply switch off), all this political finger-pointing and argy-bargy about fake news remains a zero-sum game, the losers of which are those folks who still retain some sense of optimism about the future based on the best of what America has (or once had) to offer them. Although we can safely assume Bannon’s motives aren’t entirely altruistic, one hopes – perhaps forlornly – his tirade will get a few more ordinary people on both sides of the political divide contemplating the complete and total ‘snow-job’ that has been perpetrated on all of them.
Not that the MSM mavens are likely to take Bannon’s animus lying down. Again, the knives are out, and there will be blood, with the backlash against the backlash having well and truly begun. To paraphrase Democratic senator Chuck Schumer, like their simpatico brethren in the CIA, the media also have a half a dozen different ways from the Sabbath to ‘take you down’. If Trump has any doubts about that, all he has to do is pull out the Official Oval Office Ouija board, summon former president Richard Nixon’s ghost from the bowels of the West Wing and ask the spectral Trickster ‘in person’ for his take on the present state of affairs. Given the latter’s personality, we can surmise he’d have plenty to say about the present impasse that might give even Trump pause.
To illustrate the abject state of denial the MSM occupies insofar as to how low their reputation has sunk, the recent report by Wired magazine on the New York Times‘ “strategy for the future” is a perfect example. In this thinly disguised exercise in cross-media hagiography, there was little mention of the NYT’s strategy past. Like their hand-wringing, righteous confreres at the WashPost and other assorted ‘well passed their UBD’ MSM marques, the has-beens of ‘hasbara’ at the NYT seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge the deterioration of their precious brand reputation and the real reasons for it. After referring to a NYT television advertisement – presumably part of the above strategy to rehabilitate itself – Chris Hedges (a former NYT alumnus it should be noted) sums their situation up this way:
“The truth is hard to find. The truth is hard to know. The truth is more important than ever,” reads a television ad for The New York Times. What the paper fails to add is that the hardest place to find the truth about the forces affecting the life of the average American and the truth about empire is in the Times itself. News organizations, from the [NYT] to the tawdry forms of entertainment masquerading as news on television, have rendered most people and their concerns invisible.’
For the NYT then, well might reasonable commentators suggest the following: As per the fundamental principles of ethical journalism, try some old fashioned honest, responsible, accurate reportage as the basis of a genuine change strategy; holding the powers that be accountable and then being accountable themselves; protecting the rights of those who speak truth to power, doing so with a keen eye to encouraging open, transparent, intelligent, informed, deep and meaningful public discourse; and when required, providing full disclosure on people and events. Whilst it is unlikely to erase the sins of the past, at least it might be able to re-position itself as the paper of record in the future and do so without any sense of irony impeding folks’ response to the narrative. Otherwise, they might as well assume the jig is up, pack up and go home, and take their fake/junk news, alternative facts, complementary realities, and post-truth solipsism with them.
Truth be told: The so-called Gray Lady long ago morphed into a decrepit Old ‘n Grey, Bitter, Cynical, Twisted, Lifeless, Ghostly Whore (mucho disculpa to self-respecting emeritus ladies of the night). No clever strategizing about targeting new demographics, embracing new-fangled technologies, or rolling out novel business models designed to refurbish its dated, faded, shop-soiled marque or claw back its former glory in the media marketplace is ever going to change the status quo.
Now that it’s time to resurface for a much-needed breath of fresh air after our exploratory dive into the deep end of the cesspool, it is perhaps fitting the final word should go to Huxley himself, one that it is difficult to see his dystopian-minded contemporary George Orwell – and indeed Neil Postman himself – would have much difficulty with. Taken from his 1958 book Brave New World Revisited, Huxley defined two propaganda types — rational propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with the enlightened self-interest of those who make it and those to whom it is addressed, and non-rational propaganda that is not consonant with anybody’s enlightened self-interest, but is dictated by, and appeals to, passion. For him, where the actions of individuals are concerned,
…there are motives more exalted than enlightened self-interest, but where collective action has to be taken in the fields of politics and economics, enlightened self-interest is probably the highest of effective motives. If politicians and their constituents always acted to promote their own or their country’s long-range self-interest, this world would be an earthly paradise. As it is, they often act against their own interests, merely to gratify their least creditable passions; the world, in consequence, is a place of misery. Propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with enlightened self-interest appeals to reason by means of logical arguments based upon the best available evidence fully and honestly set forth. Propaganda in favor of action dictated by the impulses that are below self-interest offers false, garbled or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repetition of catchwords, by the furious denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats, and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals, so that atrocities come to be perpetrated in the name of God and the most cynical kind of Realpolitik is treated as a matter of religious principle and patriotic duty.’
What’s not to like about all that? OK, time then for your humble author to go take a long, hot shower!