Marcy Wheeler: On “Fake News”

Yves here. Marcy points out how what is considered to be “news” has changed greatly over time, and that the requirement that news be objective is recent and marketing-driven.

This essay covers a great deal of important ground. I’d like to add one topic, which is the role of propaganda. Even though organizations have done all sorts of evangelizing, the use of the media and social networks of the day for that purpose is relatively recent. Alex Carey in his book Taking the Risk Out of Democracy dates it to the early 1900s. One early, successful campaign led by the National Association of Manufacturers, already a leader in campaigning against organized labor, was to counter the backlash against immigration, which was then seen as a threat to American values and communities. One of their initiatives was institutionalizing “Americanization Day,” later rebranded as “Independence Day.”

As we’ve discussed before, the first full-bore government-sponsored propaganda campaign took place in World War I. The Creel Committee, an agency of the Federal government officially called the Committee on Public Information used all the communication vehicles of its day, not just newspapers. An overview from Wikipedia:

The committee used newsprint, posters, radio, telegraph, cable and movies to broadcast its message. It recruited about 75,000 “Four Minute Men,” volunteers who spoke about the war at social events for an ideal length of four minutes, considering that the average human attention span was judged at the time to be four minutes. They covered the draft, rationing, war bond drives, victory gardens and why America was fighting. It was estimated that by the end of the war, they had made more than 7.5 million speeches to 314 million people in 5,200 communities. They were advised to keep their message positive, always use their own words and avoid “hymns of hate.” For ten days in May 1917, the Four Minute Men were expected to promote “Universal Service by Selective Draft” in advance of national draft registration on June 5, 1917.

The CPI staged events designed for specific ethnic groups. For instance, Irish-American tenor John McCormack sang at Mount Vernon before an audience representing Irish-American organizations. The Committee also targeted the American worker and, endorsed by Samuel Gompers, filled factories and offices with posters designed to promote the critical role of American labor in the success of the war effort.

The CPI’s activities were so thorough that historians later stated, using the example of a typical midwestern American farm family, that

Every item of war news they saw—in the country weekly, in magazines, or in the city daily picked up occasionally in the general store—was not merely officially approved information but precisely the same kind that millions of their fellow citizens were getting at the same moment. Every war story had been censored somewhere along the line— at the source, in transit, or in the newspaper offices in accordance with ‘voluntary’ rules established by the CPI.

The Creel Committee was able to turn America from being firmly pacifist to being eager to fight the evil Germans in a mere 18 months. In Serbia, a concerted propaganda campaign was able to turn public polls radically in a mere six weeks.

In other words, the hysteria about fake news appears to be members of the officialdom realizing that their traditional propaganda channels don’t work because too many people get information on the Internet, and they can no longer orchestrate a Mighty Wurlitzer of unified opinion. This may seem obvious but surprisingly few people are willing to say that in simple terms. The reflex of government opinion managers and their media allies is to shut down or delegitimate offending outlets. But there are too many, not just in the US but overseas, for them to do that other than by severely curtailing Internet publication. Are they prepared to go the route of the Chinese government in terms of restricting foreign access and censoring domestic writers? That’s the end game if they are serious about stopping what TPTB deems to be “fake news”.

By Marcy Wheeler, an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial. Originally published at emptywheel

I’ve been getting into multiple Twitter fights about the term “fake news” of late, a topic about which I feel strongly but which I don’t have time to reargue over and over. So here are the reasons I find the term “fake news” to be counterproductive, even aside from the way Washington Post magnified it with the PropOrNot campaign amidst a series of badly reported articles on Russia that failed WaPo’s own standards of “fake news.”

Most people who use the term “fake news” seem to be fetishizing something they call “news.” By that, they usually mean the pursuit of “the truth” within an editor-and-reporter system of “professional” news reporting. Even in 2017, they treat that term “news” as if it escapes all biases, with some still endorsing the idea that “objectivity” is the best route to “truth,” even in spite of the way “objectivity” has increasingly imposed a kind of both-sides false equivalence that the right has used to move the Overton window in recent years.

I’ve got news (heh) for you America. What we call “news” is one temporally and geographically contingent genre of what gets packaged as “news.” Much of the world doesn’t produce the kind of news we do, and for good parts of our own history, we didn’t either. Objectivity was invented as a marketing ploy. It is true that during a period of elite consensus, news that we treated as objective succeeded in creating a unifying national narrative of what most white people believed to be true, and that narrative was tremendously valuable to ensure the working of our democracy. But even there, “objectivity” had a way of enforcing centrism. It excluded most women and people of color and often excluded working class people. It excluded the “truth” of what the US did overseas. It thrived in a world of limited broadcast news outlets. In that sense, the golden age of objective news depended on a great deal of limits to the marketplace of ideas, largely chosen by the gatekeeping function of white male elitism.

And, probably starting at the moment Walter Cronkite figured out the Vietnam War was a big myth, that elite narrative started developing cracks.

But several things have disrupted what we fetishize as news since them. Importantly, news outlets started demanding major profits, which changed both the emphasis on reporting and the measure of success. Cable news, starting especially with Fox but definitely extending to MSNBC, aspired to achieve buzz, and even explicitly political outcomes, bringing US news much closer to what a lot of advanced democracies have — politicized news.

And all that’s before 2002, what I regard as a key year in this history. Not only was traditional news struggling in the face of heightened profit expectations even as the Internet undercut the press’ traditional revenue model. But at a time of crisis in the financial model of the “news,” the press catastrophically blew the Iraq War, and did so at a time when people like me were able to write “news” outside of the strictures of the reporter-and-editor arrangement.

I actually think, in an earlier era, the government would have been able to get away with its Iraq War lies, because there wouldn’t be outlets documenting the errors, and there wouldn’t have been ready alternatives to a model that proved susceptible to manipulation. There might eventually have been a Cronkite moment in the Iraq War, too, but it would have been about the conduct of the war, not also about the gaming of the “news” process to create the war. But because there was competition, we saw the Iraq War as a journalistic failure when we didn’t see earlier journalistic complicity in American foreign policy as such.

Since then, of course, the underlying market has continued to change. Optimistically, new outlets have arisen. Some of them — perhaps most notably HuffPo and BuzzFeed and Gawker before Peter Thiel killed it — have catered to the financial opportunities of the Internet, paying for real journalism in part with clickbait stories that draw traffic (which is just a different kind of subsidy than the family-owned project that traditional newspapers often relied on, and these outlets also rely on other subsidies). I’m pretty excited by some of the journalism BuzzFeed is doing right now, but it’s worth reflecting their very name nods to clickbait.

More importantly, the “center” of our national — indeed, global — discourse shifted from elite reporter-and-editor newspapers to social media, and various companies — almost entirely American — came to occupy dominant positions in that economy. That comes with the good and the bad. It permits the formulation of broader networks; it permits crisis on the other side of the globe to become news over here, in some but not all spaces, it permits women and people of color to engage on an equal footing with people previously deemed the elite (though very urgent digital divide issues still leave billions outside this discussion). It allows our spooks to access information that Russia needs to hack to get with a few clicks of a button. It also means the former elite narrative has to compete with other bubbles, most of which are not healthy and many of which are downright destructive. It fosters abuse.

But the really important thing is that the elite reporter-and-editor oligopoly was replaced with a marketplace driven by a perverse marriage of our human psychology and data manipulation (and often, secret algorithms). Even assuming net neutrality, most existing discourse exists in that marketplace. That reality has negative effects on everything, from financially strapped reporter-and-editor outlets increasingly chasing clicks to Macedonian teenagers inventing stories to make money to attention spans that no longer get trained for long reads and critical thinking.

The other thing to remember about this historical narrative is that there have always been stories pretending to present the real world that were not in fact the real world. Always. Always always always. Indeed, there are academic arguments that our concept of “fiction” actually arises out of a necessary legal classification for what gets published in the newspaper. “Facts” were insults of the king you could go to prison for. “Fiction” was stories about kings that weren’t true and therefore wouldn’t get you prison time (obviously, really authoritarian regimes don’t honor this distinction, which is an important lesson in their contingency). I have been told that fact/fiction moment didn’t happen in all countries, and it happened at different times in different countries (roughly tied, in my opinion, to the moment when the government had to sustain legitimacy via the press).

But even after that fact/fiction moment, you would always see factual stories intermingling with stuff so sensational that we would never regard it as true. But such sensational not-true stories definitely helped to sell newspapers. Most people don’t know this because we generally learn a story via which our fetishized objective news is the end result of a process of earlier news, but news outlets — at least in the absence of heavy state censorship — have always been very heterogeneous.

As many of you know, a big part of my dissertation covered actual fiction in newspapers. The Count of Monte-Cristo, for example, was published in France’s then equivalent of the WSJ. It wasn’t the only story about an all powerful figure with ties to Napoleon Bonaparte that delivered justice that appeared in newspapers of the day. Every newspaper offered competing versions, and those sold newspapers at a moment of increasing industrialization of the press in France. But even at a time when the “news” section of the newspaper presented largely curations of parliamentary debates, everything else ran the gamut from “fiction,” to sensational stuff (often reporting on technology or colonies), to columns to advertisements pretending to be news.

After 1848 and 1851, the literary establishment put out alarmed calls to discipline the literary sphere, which led to changes that made such narratives less accessible to the kind of people who might overthrow a king. That was the “fictional narrative” panic of the time, one justified by events of 1848.

Anyway, if you don’t believe me that there has always been fake news, just go to a checkout line and read the National Enquirer, which sometimes does cover people like Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel. “But people know that’s fake news!” people say. Not all, and not all care. It turns out, some people like to consume fictional narratives (I have actually yet to see analysis of how many people don’t realize or care that today’s Internet fake news is not true). In fact, everyone likes to consume fictional narratives — it’s a fundamental part of what makes us human — but some of us believe there are norms about whether fictional narratives should be allowed to influence how we engage in politics.

Not that that has ever stopped people from letting religion — a largely fictional narrative — dictate political decisions.

So to sum up this part of my argument: First, the history of journalism is about the history of certain market conditions, conditions which always get at least influenced by the state, but which in so-called capitalist countries also tend to produce bottle necks of power. In the 50s, it was the elite. Now it’s Silicon Valley. And that’s true not just here! The bottle-neck of power for much of the world is Silicon Valley. To understand what dictates the kinds of stories you get from a particular media environment, you need to understand where the bottle-necks are. Today’s bottle-neck has created both what people like to call “fake news” and a whole bunch of other toxins.

But also, there has never been a time in media where not-true stories didn’t comingle with true stories, and at many times in history the lines between them were not clear to many consumers. Plus, not-true stories, of a variety of types, can often have a more powerful influence than true ones (think about how much our national security state likes series like 24). Humans are wired for narrative, not for true or false narrative.

Which brings us to what some people are calling “fake news” — as if both “fake” and “news” aren’t just contingent terms across the span of media — and insisting it has never existed before. These people suggest the advent of deliberately false narratives, produced both by partisans, entrepreneurs gaming ad networks, as well as state actors trying to influence our politics, narratives that feed on human proclivity for sensationalism (though stories from this year showed Trump supporters had more of this than Hillary supporters) served via the Internet, are a new and unique threat, and possibly the biggest threat in our media environment right now.

Let me make clear: I do think it’s a threat, especially in an era where local trusted news is largely defunct. I think it is especially concerning because powers of the far right are using it to great effect. But I think pretending this is a unique moment in history — aside from the characteristics of the marketplace — obscures the areas (aside from funding basic education and otherwise fostering critical thinking) that can most effectively combat it. I especially encourage doing what we can to disrupt the bottle-neck — one that happens to be in Silicon Valley — that plays on human nature. Google, Facebook, and Germany have all taken initial steps which may limit the toxins that get spread via a very American bottle-neck.

I’m actually more worried about the manipulation of which stories get fed by big data. Trump claims to have used it to drive down turnout; and the first he worked with is part of a larger information management company. The far right is probably achieving more with these tailored messages than Vladimir Putin is with his paid trolls.

The thing is: the antidote to both of these problems are to fix the bottle-neck.

But I also think that the most damaging non-true news story of the year was Bret Baier’s claim that Hillary was going to be indicted, as even after it was retracted it magnified the damage of Jim Comey’s interventions. I always raise that in Twitter debates, and people tell me oh that’s just bad journalism not fake news. It was a deliberate manipulation of the news delivery system (presumably by FBI Agents) in the same way the manipulation of Facebooks algorithms feeds so-called fake news. But it had more impact because more people saw it and people may retain news delivered as news more. It remains a cinch to manipulate the reporter-and-editor news process (particularly in an era driven by clicks and sensationalism and scoops), and that is at least as major a threat to democracy as non-elites consuming made up stories about the Pope.

I’ll add that there are special categories of non-factual news that deserve notice. Much stock reporting, especially in the age of financialization, is just made up hocus pocus designed to keep the schlubs whom the elite profit off of in the market. And much reporting on our secret foreign policy deliberately reports stuff the reporter knows not to be true. David Sanger’s recent amnesia of his own reporting on StuxNet is a hilarious example of this, as is all the Syria reporting that pretends we haven’t intervened there. Frankly, even aside from the more famous failures, a lot of Russian coverage obscures reality, which discredits reports on what is a serious issue. I raise these special categories because they are the kind of non-true news that elites endorse, and as such don’t raise the alarm that Macedonian teenagers making a buck do.

The latest panic about “fake news” — Trump’s labeling of CNN and Buzzfeed as such for disseminating the dossier that media outlets chose not to disseminate during the election — suffers from some of the same characteristics, largely because parts of it remain shrouded in clandestine networks (and because the provenance remains unclear). If American power relies (as it increasingly does) on secrets and even outright lies, who’s to blame the proles for inventing their own narratives, just like the elite do?

Two final points.

First, underlying most of this argument is an argument about what happens when you subject the telling of true stories to certain conditions of capitalism. There is often a tension in this process, as capitalism may make “news” (and therefore full participation in democracy) available to more people, but to popularize that news, businesses do things that taint the elite’s idealized notion of what true story telling in a democracy should be. Furthermore, at no moment in history I’m aware of has there been a true “open” market for news. It is always limited by the scarcity of outlets and bandwidth, by laws, by media ownership patterns, and by the historically contingent bottle-necks that dictate what kind of news may be delivered most profitably. One reason I loathe the term “fake news” is because its users think the answer lies in non-elite consumers or in producers and not in the marketplace itself, a marketplace created in and largely still benefitting the US. If “fake news” is a problem, then it’s a condemnation of the marketplace of ideas largely created by the US and elites in the US need to attend to that.

Finally, one reason there is such a panic about “fake news” is because the western ideology of neoliberalism has failed. It has led to increased authoritarianism, decreased qualify of life in developed countries (but not parts of Africa and other developing nations), and it has led to serial destabilizing wars along with the refugee crises that further destabilize Europe. It has failed in the same way that communism failed before it, but the elites backing it haven’t figured this out yet. I’ll write more on this (Ian Welsh has been doing good work here). All details of the media environment aside, this has disrupted the value-laden system in which “truth” exists, creating a great deal of panic and confusion among the elite that expects itself to lead the way out of this morass. Part of what we’re seeing in “fake news” panic stems from that, as well as a continued disinterest in accountability for the underlying policies — the Iraq War and the Wall Street crash and aftermath especially — enabled by failures in our elite media environment. But our media environment is likely to be contested until such time as a viable ideology forms to replace failed neoliberalism. Sadly, that ideology will be Trumpism unless the elite starts making the world a better place for average folks. Instead, the elite is policing discourse-making by claiming other things — the bad true and false narratives it, itself, doesn’t propagate — as illegitimate.

“Fake news” is a problem. But it is a minor problem compared to our other discursive problems.

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58 comments

  1. epynonymous

    Saw some fake TV today.

    Episode 2 of the new gameshow “The Wall”, which features up to ~$12 Million in possible prizes, they cheat the very first question.

    Confirm it for yourself. The ‘couple’ (the game is for ‘couples) is a military family. The hot-shot helo-pilot doesn’t know who won the tortise and the hare.

    He screams, the hare! And presses the button in plain sight.

    Never-the-less he is rewarded a win. His wife later cannot tell the nicknames of the F-16 and the F-18 apart for 100% sure.

    https://www.ohow.co/secret-%C9%A2oogle-com-trump-spam-google-analytics/

    Also, a link which I can only guess details spammers who spam and then offer a solution to their spamming.

    Reply
    1. epynonymous

      Once upon a time, the search string “I have a secret fake” in Google would return lone string of a book where a lone voice in the wilderness put in print that the whole show was ‘managed.’

      A sophisticated re-viewing shows it to have been ‘faked’… this is all back in the 50’s. It’s coming back, but two years after my last research on this, the same search string only gave me the above link to…. what?

      Reply
      1. epynonymous

        The tortise wins. Correction: The show’s later episodes (just watched) reveal that answers in transit can be changed. So this is no repeat of ‘Card Sharks’ (Time magazine complicity included.)

        It’s awkward when nobody quite knows what exactly the rules are and the prize is so high.

        It’s going to be a weird week.

        Reply
        1. JTMcPhee

          Let us remember Charles “The Genius Of All Time” Van Doren, and his skyrocket fame (what’s the end point of a skyrocket’s trajectory, again?) in the Great Quiz Show Manipulation of the ’50s and early ’60s, this story link from the NYT in 2008 kind of lifts some of the corners of the curtain that the Bernaysian manipulators hide behind, “After 49 years, Charles Van Doren talks,” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/21/opinion/21iht-edbeam.1.14660467.html

          “For evil to triumph, all that is required is for a few good people to remain silent,” or some such sh!t.

          And there’s this, on another YUUUGE cultural phenom, “The $64,000 Question,” which was one of those “quiz” game shows my parents and us kids sat mesmerized watching, with visions of “free money” dancing in our peabrains, and which “program” (what a wonderful meme-name for what “media” does to us mopes) pure deceit and buzz-building on a par with state Lotteries: “The American Experience: The $64,000 Question,” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/quizshow/peopleevents/pande06.html (note that this was from PBS, in 1999, before the Reagan Rot had really gained a full head of steam).

          Once again, the popular interpretation and infusion and internalization of “information” displaying and relating, “those who have eyes, let them see,” the unhappy sicknesses of a pleasure-and-greed-driven human infestation gets it all wrong, finds no wisdom leading out of the cave, turns possible insights into just more grist for the Bernaysian mills to roll out…

          “Jerr-Y! Jerr-Y! Jerr-Y!” “And in the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo…”

          Reply
  2. epynonymous

    Just because I’m really on a tear, has anyone seen the Late Show where Colbert spends 12 minutes on Trump ‘Golden Shower’ rumors?

    The piece even runs mainstream TV headlines about a “rift” between Trump and the intelligence agencies while never explaining a thing.

    The inside angle on such ‘rumors’ (Russian rumors, I presume… looking at you DNC…) is fit to be reported as fact in this case.

    Reply
    1. clarky90

      I view the Main Stream Media as merely, Shopping Channels. They will sell you anything that their advertisers pay for. A FOREIGN WAR, a new pillow, a powerful vacuum cleaner, a CIVIL WAR, six-pack abdominals, or miracle pimple cream. If someone pays them, they will push it.

      It is a form of prostitution.

      NYT and Washington Post are what is called “junk mail”. Innocent trees died….to bring you these Great (never to be repeated) Post Christmas War Specials!!!!

      Reply
  3. jabawocky

    ‘In other words, the hysteria about fake news appears to be members of the officialdom realizing that their traditional propaganda channels don’t work because too many people get information on the Internet, and they can no longer orchestrate a Mighty Wurlitzer of unified opinion.’

    Bang on Yves. And I would add that if you run a propaganda machine, and are a little paranoid, any ‘unauthorised’ story on the web looks like someone else’s propaganda.

    Its wrong to put all this down to internet news however. Adam Curtis’ ‘Bitter Lake’ is a must-see on this topic. Just like in 1980s Soviet Union where the stories of Russian greatness were so obviously contradicted by the experience of ordinary Russians of a failing state, the fakery of the war on terror propaganda has worn away our trust in the Mighty Wurlitzer. Curtis linked the cultural collapse of the Soviet Union intrinsically to the failure of the war in Afghanistan and the mirror it held up to the supposed values of Soviet Society, as trumpeted by their version of the Mighty Wurlitzer. And maybe he’s right.

    1933 Germany, 1989 Sovient Union, 2016 USA. All three stemmed from failures of the Mighty Wurlitzer. The big question is whether we will long for it back.

    Reply
    1. Clive

      One for Curtis hardcore fans only (he really stretched his already tenuous hold on the conventions of documentary making in this one) but his latest, HyperNormalisation, takes the themes you refer to in your comment above and expands on them to explain how we got to Fake News.

      Well worth a watch, if you can access it.

      Reply
    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The last CEO of the company, a publicly traded company, where my dad worked before the sale to GE told my dad that in the future companies can’t go public if they don’t want to work for Wall Street wolves. This was around ’95. Dad still goes to company reunions. Those weirdos liked their jobs.

      Of course, the longer trend is business formation related. The Internet and social media booms are over, and those were the new IPOs of the last 20 years. The ends of growth are the real issues.

      Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        I had an epiphany of sorts, at a gathering of my father’s friends at a celebration of dad’s 80th birthday. These were guys he worked with (and secretaries too) for 46 years, peddling Wrigley’s various brands to the public. He was sales promotion chief, coming up from selling boxes of Spearmint and Doublemint and Juicyfruit and “P.K.s” to little drug stores and gas stations and general stores all over New England and New Jersey from his junky Model A. I once said a lot of very unkind “Teenagers know everything” insults to my old man about his lifetime investment in his company, the job-with GOOD-benefits-and-a GREAT-defined-benefit-pension that kept mom and 3 kids fed and clothed and educated and roofed over and all that — though he also did a gig job, doing advertising for a bunch of local businesses, to pay for “extras,” and he and mom did pretty good with a small stake in an investment club when the ‘market” was less a rigged casino racket. Illuminating to see things with new eyes…

        These people held each other in a family kind of affection, complete, of course, with jealousies and power plays and all the usual human stuff, but with an underlying sense that they were “A COMPANY OF MEN,” and that the legal business entity was THEIR creature, not the other way around. Even if they were busily “manufacturing demand” and making dentists happy with all the dental damage from sugar. And they were proud of their products, which back then were made from chicle, a natural, sort of sustainable base gum, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicle, now supplanted by a petroeum-based “meta-product.”. Wrigley was a family, privately held, then publicly traded, regular-dividend-paying “company of men,” and is now just a brand swallowed by that post-supra-national-unnatural entity, “Mars, Inc.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrigley_Company (My mommy told me I should never swallow my gum…)

        I keep hoping that somewhere in all of this, the stuff that gets discussed and nattered about here every day, there is a clue to finding a particular butterfly wing that might be beaten in just the right way to catalyze something in the way of “Golden Rule For All,” trumping our ape-person predilections and heritage…

        Reply
        1. readerOfTeaLeaves

          This is such a lovely comment, and says so much about a time when business was a way to develop prosperous, solid, long term relationships, rather than being used as a social cudgel [see also: bailouts, foreclosures, strained municipal budgets, ad infinitum].

          Corporate business structures and ownership need a lot more attention – I’m really glad that Lambert is often including ‘cooperatives’ as one of his link categories these days, because it’s a Butterfly Wing.

          Reply
        2. Norb

          I think often along the same lines. I even have spent most of my working career working with Wrigley and Radio Flyer in prototype and marketing capacity, and the executives and owners I have personally met are good dedicated people. Everyone is diligently working away propagating existing products and trying to engage their creative minds to expand the business into new markets. They are concerned about their Brand and making their business a success. For me, it has been a successful, 30 year relationship.

          But this is really the insidious dilemma we are all facing. The best intentions leading to negative outcomes. Capitalism’s evolution from small businesses providing wanted services and commerce, to global corporations dominating the world and dictating all human activity.

          I have an inkling that the butterfly wing force you allude too centers around humility. With humility comes the ability to express unselfish love. The real important work is to tame human ambition- to know when to say enough is enough.

          Reply
          1. Lambert Strether

            I rather like Corbyn’s idea of a maximum wage. Maybe even the perks of being the CEO of a ginormous global corporation wouldn’t be worth it if the salary were limited to, say, six figures (and no stock options). Institutions that nobody wants to run don’t survive…

            Reply
            1. aab

              You’d need to define it as total compensation, very carefully, to include all the perks, like the free housing, staff, etc.

              I personally think we should put a “death clock” on corporate life. One of the things that makes corporations so insidious is that they live forever. What if they couldn’t? What if they were required to dissolve completely after 50 or 100 years?

              I have never read a real policy expert mention this, but it seems like it could work.

              Personally, I think corporations should be banned. But I’m getting more hardcore these days.

              Reply
  4. David

    I don’t think anybody is “fetishizing news,” but whilst its true that there’s a far greater variety of information sources today, and many of them are not subject to the pressures of conventional media, the implication that somehow the overall level of “truth” has gone up is not sustainable. If anything it’s probably gone down. Those of us of a certain age remember a time when there were far more newspapers than today, when ownership was spread much more widely, and where newspapers had a lot more staff and were under a lot less commercial pressure than is the case now. You could, and did, allow for political bias, and it was possible, though not common, for blatant untruths to be published. But that was more difficult than it is today, because the barriers to entry were much higher, and the total media space was much smaller.
    I also think its unfair to blame the problem solely on the effects of neoliberalism, damaging as those have been. Journalists themselves have to bear some of the blame. In the 1990s, it became fashionable to deride objectivity (mere “objectivity, a white, patriarchal western concept) as an objective of journalism. Because total objectivity was impossible, it was said, you shouldn’t even try. And as a number of journalists at the time argued “you can’t be objective between good and evil.” The same people who lied about WMD in Iraq in 2002 had already lied about Bosnia a decade before, were to lie about Darfur a few years later and are busy lying about Syria, the Ukraine and “free trade” today. In each case, the argument is the same: the service of a higher moral principle. I’ve even heard it argued that Trump is such a terrible human being that journalists have not only a right but an actual duty to print anything that might cause him harm. To the extent that you abandon the demand that journalists should do their professional best to be as accurate as possible, and you see “news” itself as a contested, contingent term, it’s hard to rationally criticise the actors in any of these episodes.

    Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        You mean you don’t know? Or is this just drive-by impeachment? Or an honest question?

        Seeing the difficulty — nothing can be trusted to be honest or even to be what it seems, motives are hidden, and we all know in our hearts that SOMEBODY is benefiting from all the manipulation and manufacturing of consent and demand, and yet we mopes don’t want to line up and insist that what we vaguely and vacuously imagine to be the “general welfare” must be served, above all, first and foremost, save the planet and all that.

        Reply
        1. Vatch

          It’s a honest question. I suspect he has confused Kosovo with Bosnia. As for Darfur, well, I don’t know what he is saying.

          Reply
          1. David

            Very briefly, 75% of the media coverage of Bosnia (and about 90% of that concerning Kosovo) was either inexcusably incompetent or simply untrue. This continued until at least the late 90s, and I was one of those who had to deal with the practical consequences. There are any number of representative stories, but as one TV reporter told the then UN Commander in Bosnia “my job isn’t to report the truth, it’s to get the West into the war.” For Darfur, well, read Mahmood Mamdani’s book on the subject. But the point is less the technical failings, important though they are, than the kind of attitude typified by the BBC’s Martin Bell, when he spoke of the “journalism of attachment” – i.e. propaganda in favour of the side you support. Nice as it would be to blame everything on the rich and powerful (and heaven knows they bear enough of the blame) journalists, and those who put quotes round “objectivity” have done a lot to prepare the ground for them. And governments, not being stupid, have realised that they can manipulate journalists and NGOs with human rights rhetoric into supporting almost any initiative no matter how cynical. Kosovo was perhaps the first example where the media allowed itself to be shamelessly manipulated in this fashion, and I suppose Libya is the currently topical one. I do wish people would stop giving presents to the Right.

            Reply
            1. JTMcPhee

              …and manipulate “journalists” by “embedding” them (getting them in bed with, “Good Embed: How the White House and Pentagon improved favorability of coverage through embedding journalists,” http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1307&context=apme?), and for a “more objective” well-massaged discussion, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embedded_journalism, with the Troops who are sent to foreign formerly sovereign lands to attack and demolish and intimidate and control the assets, asses, and resources “our” rulers have an eye for. All “in the national interest,” of course. And all cynically “embedded” to ensure that “the story’ that the command structure wants to tell (like Pat Tillman, “Heroically Bravely killed by hostile fire,” instead of by “friendly fire” in just another futile “patrol” into the Graveyard of Empires terrain…)

              So “we” go to Iraq or Notagainistan or Syria or Libya with the clear plan to send troops out on patrol to drive or walk over IEDs and “draw fire” and play Sitting Duck at variously and idiotically sited Forward Bases and Outposts, to take casualties, which then creates the momentum for “getting our own back” because how dare those Wogs and Hajjis resist the irresistible might and honor of the fokking Greatest Military Machine On The Planet? and “we” were just protecting women and children, or “invited in” by the central government that has zero nationwide authority or control and no guiding principle but graft and greed but plenty of corruption, or “democratizing,” or some such sh!t…

              Reply
    1. Carolinian

      I think you have put your finger on it. The issue is not that there has always been fake news but that certain segments of the current news media pretend to be neutral arbiters of “the facts” and therefore of a higher status. Since these “respectable” outlets now have so little competition in their markets they can print what they like with little fear of contradiction from competitors. There is pushback from the internet but the vast majority of the public get their news from cable or network television which enjoys similar “barriers to entry” that help keep away competitors.

      Perhaps Walter Cronkite–“the most trusted man in America”–is to blame on some level since he was a leading exponent of the cult of objectivity. He said that the only thing journalists have to sell is their credibility. However it subsequently turned out that they had plenty of other things to sell such as infotainment. At the tail end of the Cronkite era the movie Network predicted this quite well.

      Still whatever his failings I believe we can look back with some nostalgia at Cronkite and his notions of integrity. Lots of people still read the news because they want the truth rather than escapism. It’s why some of us are reading this very website. The current MSM has plenty of self-importance–integrity not so much.

      Reply
      1. readerOfTeaLeaves

        Cronkite was a man of his times.
        Back in the 50s and 60s, in terms of science and general worldview, people believed in the idea of ‘objectivity’, which was IIRC originally rooted in the physics of the early 20th c.

        I think the more important point is that he did value his integrity. However, he operated in an environment when CBS was making truckloads of money, and people were generally home by 6:30 to turn on the news.

        Reply
      2. lyle

        Perhaps 50 years ago it was easier to identify fake news or as it was called back then propaganda. And back then the issue was that unless you lived near the Canadian border you got only the big three version of the news, Near the border you could get Canadian news. (It appeared that there were two wars in Vietnam at the time one reported by US news and one by the Canadian news. Of course unless one had a shortwave radio one could not get the BBC, while Radio Moscow was easy to receive on shortwave. In Mi at least Radio Peking was hard to receive however. But back then we had the grocery store news rags and one learned quickly to consider the source when getting news.

        Reply
    2. MItch Ritter

      Hey David, you may be overstating the mainstreaming of the fetishization of “objectivity” in U.S. corporate-captured journalism. Or, at least in the better Media Studies and J-School programs.

      Going way back to early pioneers of investigative journalism like George Seldes up to today’s Seldes-influenced mass mediated news and views deconstructionists like Norman Solomon and the late lamented popularizer in Boston, Danny “The Media Dissector” Schechter there has been a struggle to distinguish between “objective” reportage and “fair” reportage. “Balanced” is really pushing this noble if utopian pursuit of best practices guiding hacks and their editors and the payroll-concerned bean-counters higher up.

      With the advent of High Tech and the deluge of competing content streams, I’ve found it therapeutic to return regularly to an early oracle of the shifting paradigm of gate-keepers regulating a well-informed body politic and electorate, namely Neil Postman’s 1984 book AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH. Especially Postman’s succinct page and a half referential FOREWARD. Now there is a formative scripture or holy writ pre-sage-ing the DATA\CONTENT SWAMP.

      Mitch Ritter\Non-Aligned Paradigm Shifters
      Lay-Low Studios, Ore-Wa
      Media Discussion List

      Reply
  5. dontknowitall

    Interesting essay…I am not mollified by reading that Google, Facebook and Germany are uniting to defeat ‘fake news’ and then remembering the recent rumors (fake news?) that Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook, is considering running for President…so what happens when the bottle-neck king also runs the nation, or is even just thinking of it (Zuckerberg finding God recently comes to mind), when most voters are getting their news from their Facebook news feeds ? Would something mildly critical of Mark Zuckerberg survive ‘fake’ news review ?

    Also, just because China has a walled garden doesn’t save them from a torrent of local fake news. In the US the current business model of the internet news is actually a greater danger to democracy and that is the automated binning of consumers into narrow categories (right, left, techie etc) from which they find it hard to stray, if they even think of it, and so it makes it hard for a reader to see in his newsfeed countervailing news or analysis, people thus get polarized. The effort to find different/opposing opinions is not painless and quite by design. This trap has to be broken.

    Quality education of the population and freer access to information are greater defenses of democracy and freedom the any Facebook designed filter.

    Reply
  6. susan the other

    great essay. Makes me think there is some bedrock reality beneath all the noise that keeps us rational enough to survive. All forms of life display good judgment; practicality. So do we. So I’m not very concerned that we might be pants-less without an ideology to shroud all the embarrassing craziness. I’m encouraged by that prospect.

    Reply
  7. Disturbed Voter

    Sheep get slaughtered … I choose not to be a sheep. I had no choice in the 60s, when I had three oligopoly networks to choose from. With the Internet, I am my own reporter. This is more like how the printing press destroyed the Catholic Church. I make my own narrative, I don’t let anyone else do it for me. Facts are few and far between, but they are just signposts on my own superhighway which I build myself. Are my beliefs factual? Are they for anyone? That was a rhetorical question. People who think their beliefs are The Truth are maniacs.

    Reply
    1. lyle

      As I pointed out even in the 1960s one could buy a shortwave radio and get the BBC and Radio Canada International, for a different slant on news than the US media. It might have cost 50 to 60 to get such a radio back then but if you wanted a different view you could get it. It was just harder to get non us sources of news back then.

      Reply
  8. Altandmain

    This whole “fake news” business is all about suppressing dissent, as others have noted.

    The media tried to coronate Clinton. With falling advertising revenues in some cases, and decreasing trust in the mainstream media, they have begun to panic. They know that the people realize that they are the Pravda of plutocracy.

    At the same time, the alternative media has grown with the Internet. It has reached growing members and allowed people to see the truth.

    Counterpunch had a good article on this one:
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/13/why-ridiculous-official-propaganda-still-works/

    The reason why propaganda like “fake news” exists is to create a false narrative that can be repeated that people can believe in. The other of course is to force people to comply or face professional and financial consequences.

    The thing is, I think that we’ve reached the limits of propaganda. Inequality has reached an extent that the myth that America is a meritocracy has failed, while efforts to force the American people to accept war have been faced with opposition.

    Reply
    1. Altandmain

      One more point I should repeat. Perhaps a blatant example: Fox News has been making fake news for years and yet nobody called it out.

      That’s because it served the interests of the very rich. That’s what this is all about.

      Reply
      1. Art Eclectic

        Exactly. Fox News has been the leader in opinion disguised as news. Sadly, it doesn’t even matter to most people. Fox rightly concluded that people do not want the truth, they want their biases confirmed and if you can confirm biases in a way that makes someone feel superior, you can sell a lot of advertising.

        You cannot fix stupid, nor can you fix people wanting their biases confirmed by any means possible (true or not).

        Reply
        1. lyle

          But if you go back to the early 19th century fake news was all that was to be had. Newspapers were owned by political parties and reported as they desired. This changed when the cost to enter the newspaper business went up with the steam powered press. Then you had a restricted set of tv stations. The newspapers established the UPI and AP to share their view of the news also. With the rise of cable and the internet the barriers to entry in the news business have been lowered to the level of the early 19th century at least.
          To give a concrete example a bit later in the 19th century in towns in Indiana at least there were papers that were known as republican or democrat. Back then you took the paper that confirmed your political biases.

          Reply
  9. John Wright

    What is unsurprising is that the media does signal what the insiders want/plan to do.

    I was in a library that had some old bound Life Magazines and decided to see what the Life covered just prior to the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

    There was an article about a Midwest congressmen who was visiting his district, who knew his constituents did not want to go to war, but seemed to see the US entry into war likely.

    Even Hollywood got into the act, as the Sergeant York (American WWI hero) 1941 movie was released on July 2, 1941, well before Pearl Harbor.

    There seems to be little penalty for journalists getting it wrong, for example Tom Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, and Michael Gordon of the Times still have jobs after their “let’s promote the Iraq War effort”.

    Judith Miller was the lone sacrificial lamb.

    Some of them even re-write history, as sanctimonious Nicholas Kristof, while recently pimping for the USA’s involvement in Syria (on humanitarian grounds, of course), pushed a “trust me on Syria” story by asserting his prior wisdom in his alleged strong opposition to the Iraq war.

    Yet I archived an August 27, 2002 column in which he wrote:

    “Iraq may well be different. President Bush has convinced me that there is no philosophical reason we should not overthrow the Iraqi government, given that Iraqis themselves would be better off, along with the rest of the world. But Mr. Bush has not overcome some practical concerns about an invasion.”

    What about ethical concerns, Kristof?

    I believe it was Chomsky who said that the print media has content and filler, the content is the advertising and the filler is everything else.

    As advertising revenues have gone down, the print media may be looking for a new operating funds, maybe from wealthy owners (Bezos, Carlos Slim) paying for their views to be featured, maybe from US government hidden funding to “counter fake news” that is contrary to the story the elite wants told.

    If there is a feedback loop in the mainstream media, it is very slow and does not correct errors to result in lasting reform.

    The Times promoted the Iraq war and then had the Bill Keller retrospective “we got it wrong” years later.

    Then the Times moved onto promoting military action in Libya, the Ukraine and Syria.

    The Times recently had an “Obama regrets Libya” retrospective, what other “we got it wrong” retrospectives will occur in the future?

    Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      As far as “the government” funding fake news and fake culture and the generation of memes and such, there’s Operation Mockingbird, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird. And of course the whole long arm and perversion under this grand program, “The CIA and the Cultural Cold War,” http://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/CIAcultCW.pdf, that went for a song compared to the current efforts to enforce “US” imperial hegemony (especially when all the externalities, beyond coups and military adventures and the MIC and environmental destruction and all those deaths and demolished landscapes, are toted up. But then externalities get counted toward the WDP (World Domestic Product), right? Isn’t that inherent in the Grand Notion of Creative Destruction?

      Reply
  10. Jamie

    In the third paragraph Marcy begins talking about objectivity and then shifts to denigrating “objectivity” without a word about what the scare quotes mean to her. Now I understand that the language used by an oppressive system can itself be oppressive. But if “objectivity” omitted women and people of color, well, clearly that’s bad, but what does that have to do with objectivity?

    Maybe I’m just too old and out of touch to get the post modern project to dismantle objectivity and replace it with self-centered wishful thinking. But without objectivity, we would never have seen the civil rights movement or the rise of feminism in the sixties.

    I was still very young during the civil rights movement so I won’t talk about what I don’t really know first hand, but the rise of feminism took place in the prime of my passionate youth. What many middle class women were experiencing in the ’50s was a complete isolation in the suburbs and a feeling (due largely to rampant blaming the victim) that all the problems of their lives were their own personal problems. It was not until politically active women began to share their experiences in consciousness raising groups that they discovered that they were not alone in their experiences… i.e. that many of their so-called personal problems were objectively imposed upon the entire group of women by the oppressive society. That is, these were not personal problems at all, they were socially constructed problems that effected all women to some degree. Without objectivity there could be no oppression theory, consciousness raising groups are transformed into support groups, oppression theory becomes psychology, and the oppression of women is dissolved into nothing more than the personal problems of individual women. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

    Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      Yah, women should be proud of where the rise of feminism has taken them — to supporting Hillary (or going to a special place in hell,) to the “right” to join the Marines as they kick in doors in Kandahar and turn tribespeople into pink mist and body parts who would not pose a threat to THEIR sacred female bodies, or our Imperial trooopers of the Y-chromosome defect either, if said tribespeople (including women and children) were just left to their own devices. Victoria Nuland. Etc.

      And for all that, women still face vast health cruelties in over half the states in this great land, and the ladies of high credentials go to the workout spas and get their toenails trimmed and painted, and in the room they come and go, talking of Michelangelo and the best new restaurants… While their sisters are screwed out of medical services. For jeebus sake, women are what, 52% of the voting population? Why not all get together on the big issues? Wait wait don’t tell me

      Reply
  11. Gaylord

    Propaganda, as Yves points out, is the point to be stressed. The MSM are being used by powerful elites to support their agenda which remains hidden but is motivated by the insatiable desire for more wealth and/or power and/or attention. That is the same motivation of many media owners and journalists, ethics be damned, and it inevitably leads to conflict.

    Reply
  12. Robert Hahl

    This is my take-away: “If American power relies (as it increasingly does) on secrets and even outright lies, who’s to blame the proles for inventing their own narratives, just like the elite do?”

    If feudalism ended with the invention of firearms, which greatly equalized the distribution of power between proles and the elite, then the internet/printing press situation seems analogous and points to big changes coming.

    Reply
    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Agree that we are in a process of changes larger than any of us can really grasp.
      The dustup over ‘fake news’ is one symptom of profound social distress as the failures of neoliberalism continue to unfold.

      Reply
  13. JMM

    considering that the average human attention span was judged at the time to be four minutes.

    They surely didn’t have Twitter back then.

    Reply
  14. Andrew Watts

    The Creel Committee was able to turn America from being firmly pacifist to being eager to fight the evil Germans in a mere 18 months.

    I doubt propaganda convinced many Americans of Irish or German descent to support the war. Similarly the pacifists and anti-imperialists wouldn’t be moved by hysterical propaganda. Consider how much domestic repression followed America’s entry into the war. This included the mass jailing of the anti-war crowd, over 2000 Espionage/Sedition Act convictions, persecution of German-American individuals and the banning of their organizations, and finally the scourge of “liberty cabbage”.

    Merely a prelude to the Red Scare and the repression that would follow. But hey, the war-profiteering and politically connected DuPont family was owed over a billion dollars in 1917 money and if the Allies lost they wouldn’t get it back which is so unfair!

    Reply
    1. RWood

      Look for American Protective League. Wikipedia refers to vigilantees.
      “Unsafe for Democracy” has a chapter on vigilantism.
      In “Living My Life” Emma Goldman relates the effects of vigilantism.

      Reply
      1. Andrew Watts

        Thanks, I vaguely recall some of those details about the proto-fascists from Goldman’s memoirs. It’s definitely worth looking into.

        Reply
  15. Katharine

    Ouch! Please, please write English! Even good commentary can be harmed by bad writing. You want people to think about the content of what you say, not how you said it.

    The thing is: the antidote to both of these problems are to fix the bottle-neck.

    Is not are! The antidote, singular, is, singular, to fix… The adjectival prepositional phrase is irrelevant to the number of the verb.

    I will now go back and try to pick up the thread of what I was reading.

    Reply
    1. H. Alexander Ivey

      Well, in a fuller explanation…

      One of the quirks of the English language is the requirement that English verbs must show a number (either one or more than one, known in grammarian circles as singular or plural). Now this number refers to the number associated with the word that is directly linked to the verb. (Remember, students, the verb has other word(s) linked to it, the purpose of which is to show who or what does the action of the verb. This / these words are known in grammarian circles as the subject of the sentence or clause. Clause…?? Don’t ask.).

      So, for the example cited:

      the antidote to both of these problems are to fix the bottle-neck

      the verb ‘are’ suggests a ‘more than one person or thing’ number for the words linked to the verb.

      Ok, so what are those words? ‘the antidote to both of these problems’ are those words.

      Got it. But which word here is the true subject: ‘antidote’ (singular) or problems (plural)? Grammarians argue that ‘antidote’ is the true subject. And they are right. (It’s always best not to argue with grammarians – they are touchy since their patron saint, William Safire, passed away). So, due to the quirks of English verbs and nouns, literate English speaking people consider it proper to say:

      ‘the antidote to both of these problems is to fix the bottle-neck’.

      There will be a quiz later, students. Thank you for your attention.

      Reply
  16. George Dawson

    So fake news has always been with us and the truth is always hard to know.

    Nothing really new there.

    I think that the real story behind fake news is that it is an equalizer between people who may actually know something and people who don’t. That plays out every day in financial markets and algorithms for stock trading based on news and fake news – but the real casualty is science.

    People with no knowledge of science (or medicine for that matter) can flood the available news with so much nonsense that scientific consensus becomes public debate based on whatever feels good and matches ideology.

    This is a threat to both literacy and civilization.

    Reply
  17. Steve H.

    : In other words, the hysteria about fake news appears to be members of the officialdom realizing that their traditional propaganda channels don’t work because too many people get information on the Internet, and they can no longer orchestrate a Mighty Wurlitzer of unified opinion.

    Let me quote Jalen here (conversation starts at 29:27):

    : Wanna trust the media, can’t trust the media… Now the media just want hot takes. Now the media just wants it first. I Must Break A Story.

    The game has changed. The idea was that content drove the story, people followed the news which followed the event. But now the technique of the story driving the content has been institutionalized at a systemic level. Not only is the top-down approach cracking, the open source nature of content creation can pop up anywhere, like an information version of a gunman in a nightclub.

    So O’Keefe was allegedly trying to hire people to riot, the logical extension of the Rent-a-Mob tactic exposed this election cycle. Well, it does help to be on the spot to film the riot if you know where it’s going down. Spiderman did it and no one complains about that.

    The logical action of Wurlizter Maintenance could be to jump on board with more noise to try to swamp the signal, since they can’t stop the signal. That’s not inconsistent with Adam Curtis’ hypotheses. And the smart people will know who to read, the new words from the innovative sources to construct the social narrative necessary to maintain credibility beyond credentials.

    Reply
  18. Mitch Ritter

    It is clear from the delightfully well-informed reader comments above mine that there is little need for me to point out that any summary of official and gray-area state propaganda in the U.S., focusing specifically on mass media usage within the rubric of “FREE MARKET” fundamentalism and as studied by scholars from various academic disciplines in other national systems begins as Yves notes in the early 20th Century. Generally U.S. systems of indoctrination via media market tools starts with the birth of the PR industry and Freud’s American nephew and Advertising Industry pioneer Edward Bernays.

    I took an interest in the nexus between government contracts and the creation of entire academic disciplines such as Area Studies and Communication Studies, pursuing independently and often in collaboration with others writing and producing works that dovetail nicely with what another reader comment brilliantly links to the BBC archive narrative docs and film collages of Adam Curtis.

    I tended to work with community radio stations after my own Mass Communications\Journalism studies at U.C.-Berkeley in the early 1980’s and thereafter as a contributor to what was perhaps overly optimistically referred to as the Alternative Press. We produced recorded and re-broadcast Town Hall meetings, panel discussions and various public forums studying and attempting to popularize inter-disciplinary ongoing analysis and discussion of state and market systems of indoctrination and propaganda. (Usually for pledge break fundraising purposes offered as premiums on listener-supported radio like the Pacifica Radio network and KBOO in Portland, Ore along with some more adventurous college broadcasters).

    Two very important streams of this research and popularization spring from the work of early French media critic Jacques Ellul (PROPAGANDA) and American U. Communications Professor Christoper Simpson (SCIENCE OF COERCION, UNIVERSITY & EMPIRE) whose editions of books tracking government contracting of academics and use of universities is seminal. Like Noam Chomsky’s work i.e. NECESSARY ILLUSIONS, MANUFACTURING CONSENT and the MIT Linguistic Prof’s collaborations with UPenn’s Wharton School of Econ Prof Edward Herman like AMERICAN POWER AND THE NEW MANDARINS is intended to be easily accessible to non-academics with no specialized education encouraging wider participation and furthering of independent study.
    https://www.amazon.com/review/R34RBX6UFL8W17

    Robert McChesney and his partner in the study of early U.S. attempts to insulate from Market Forces and the Tyranny of Popularity (advertiser-driven lowest common denominator programming) slim broadcast spectrum for educational purposes and the discussion and dissemination of news and public affairs programming should also be forced into any curriculum that in my own mind should include mandatory primary and high school courses in a new discipline we could call MEDIA SAVVY. Like a mandatory primary and high school course in COMPARATIVE RELIGION the pay-off in reviving a healthier body politic would be immediate if humiliating to the titans of advertiser-driven broadcasting and narrow-casting.

    One additional and largely overlooked contribution to what we know about government contracting on university campuses pursuing objectives that could now in international law qualify as crimes against humanity is the first-person narrative of former Canadian diplomat and U.C.-Berkeley Comp Lit Professor Emeritus Peter Dale Scott’s book-length poem COMING TO JAKARTA which serves as an academic’s confession of conscience and testimony into what was observed of colleagues who took entrepreneurial approaches to government-funded research.

    Such historical context renders Steve Bannon a piker in guiding the direction of BREITBART MEDIA and now the TRUMP TEAM SWAMP’s CroNeo-Lib\Con Cabinet that so resembles a CORPORATE CALIPHATE like nothing since the Nixon era LEWIS POWELL MEMO with its attendant elevation of LEWIS POWELL to the U.S. Supreme Court despite his lack of judicial experience.

    As Scott’s COMING TO JAKARTA artfully illustrates and as the work of Ellul, Chomsky-Herman, Simpson and McChesney-Nichols more conventionally essays, some very low profile and tweedy (often socially liberal) Area Studies scholars pioneered what we now refer to as Neo-Liberal Privatization of Public Policy and Geo-Political entanglements. Often acting in concert with and parallel to government’s role as global market-maker. Entrepreneurial educators laboring on academic contracts for the U.S. National Security State and its various agencies dating back decades to the Dulles Brothers own Regime Change On Demand administrations and Daddy Warbucks-style geo-politicking. An opaque nexus between the pursuit of privatized profit-maximizing\liability limiting Corporate Interests and tax-payer funded academic research designed to serve the PUBLIC INTEREST flips most of the conventional wisdom that frames our mass mediated view of the daily if not hourly shredding of the SOCIAL CONTRACT and the progress of other nation\states who have made efforts to insulate Public Education and MASS MEDIA from MARKET FORCES and PRESSURES.

    Peter Dale Scott’s glimpse of Washington and the contracted ‘Berkeley Economic Mafia’ on-the-ground role in subverting the main message of the MIGHTY WURLITZER during the Cold War (namely Centrally planned command economies are commie and evil, while FREE MARKET demand-driven economies are virtuous) is germane to understanding how we got here. ‘Here’ being a place where every day in every way the built-in contradictions of our government’s widely disseminated core values (that are used to vet our Public Servants a la the ultimate litmus test) like increasing competition, access to quality education, facilitating upward social mobility and stabilizing while expanding the key middle\working class all flock home to roost.

    Keep on doing,
    Mitch Ritter
    Lay-Low Studios, Ore-Wa
    Media Discussion List

    Reply
  19. Jay

    I have long long long respected Marcy Wheeler.

    Obviously I did not live in the era of yellow journalism, but I tend to think that we were better off with cities that had four or five yellow journalistic rags than a city with one objective newspaper or a nation or world with dozens of objective media sites all putting out the same, safe audience tested, investor tested nonsense.

    With an “objective” newspaper, given the human processes that create it, who knows what the truth is?

    With three or four yellow papers, where I know that’s a right wing paper, and that’s a left wing, that’s a communist, that’s an investor’s. Well, knowing their biases, I can correct for them to a much greater extent.

    If Mick Lasalle reviews a movie and dislikes it, if Gene Siskel reviewed a movie and disliked it, I knew I would like that movie. I can trust their reviews. The two have integrity, and are precise, and are precisely wrong, and I know how and in which ways and how to adjust their statements to make them accurate and reflect reality.

    When I read a story at the nytimes, and at wapo and at huffpo and see how it’s really the same journalists echoing each other, out of laziness, incompetence, and a search of clicks and karma, well, I have no idea what to believe. But it’s probably not what they said!

    But Marcy, come on, Salon? They became the problem. Your writing there makes you complicit.

    Reply
  20. ewmayer

    Does anyone else find it more than a little curious that Marcy’s piece – not to be confused with Yves’ introduction thereof – does not use the word ‘propaganda’ even once?

    Also, amid the “there has always been ‘fake news'” theme it would have been nice to see a discussion of the level of MSM propaganda and going all-in-for-one-candidate-who-does-not-threaten-to-break-their-rice-bowls to previous election cycles. Because I (a 50something) found the blatancy of the MSM lying and propagandizing this time around to be quite unprecedented. First they alternately ignored and smeared Bernie in order to help the corrupt Dem establishment rig the primary process, then they turned their full-time smear machine on Trump. And it was only through a remarkable, historic combination of a brash billionaire outsider who managed to tap into widespread discontent in normally-ignored rust belt and flyover country states and convince large numbers of folks there that he actually gave a rat’s ass about their immiseration at the hands of the ‘Davos Man’ global looter elite that the MSM campaign to manufacture consensus failed this time around. Nonetheless, they and their narrative providers in the Deep State are still busily at it, trying very hard to deligitimize and bully the incoming administration. Again, none of these are phenomena without precedent, but I find the unabashedness of the effort, and the zeal of the MSM and the defeated Dem partisans to abet what is nothing short of an attempt at a soft coup, without precedent.

    In that light I find Marcy’s bit about “It is true that during a period of elite consensus, news that we treated as objective succeeded in creating a unifying national narrative of what most white people believed to be true, and that narrative was tremendously valuable to ensure the working of our democracy” to be more than a little ironic. Because the narrative the insiders are trying to foist on us this time around has motives that could not be more undemocratic.

    Reply
  21. Dwight

    Thank you, very interesting. A correction – it’s Ian Welsh, not Ian Walsh. Another great writer – glad to see him linked here.

    Reply
  22. Hen Kai Pan

    I read Marcy’s coverage of the Libby trial years ago. I considered her reporting ‘objective news’, in a sea of distortions by MSM. Her reporting helped to open my eyes to how the MSM operates.
    I am confused by her above article, and what she means by “objective”.

    Reply

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