Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Fourt Estate is Bankrupt

 Are you for or against us
we are trying to get somewhere
--Join the Boys,
Joan Armatrading

Change is avalanching upon our heads
and most people are grotesquely unprepared
to cope with it,
--Future Shock,
Alvin Toffler

Nobody will have to leave home
to go to work or school,
or even stop watching television.
Everybody will sit around all day
punching the keys of computer terminals 
connected to everything there is, 
and sip orange drink through straws 
like the astronauts. 
--Ladies and Gentlemen of 2088,
Kurt Vonnegut


When did we go crazy?

The New York Times asked last week if the press should cover a duly elected presidential candidate in a disinterested way, sans commentary or prefatory disclaimers and disdain with no apparent irony in absurd non-sequitur, Trump is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism,” (when it is THEY who are demolishing the norms.)

I am a stranger in a strange land reading this.

The press should be an institution tasked with collecting and disseminating the news in a thorough and disinterested way; only the editorial side of the house is permitted to make commentary.

When did this outrageous fascistic press arise which arrogates to itself the power to decide what we see and how we see it? Why have we allowed this and -- moreover -- why do we fed greedily at their trough?

August 8 2016 saw the first NYT coverage of Mr. Trump as a candidate with a platform, and not simply a caricature to be derided.

Three days prior, Robert Parry and Andrew Bacevich considered in separate pieces that Trump is actually a candidate, and that the the liberal media entity has failed both us and themselves in its project to discredit the candidate. In fact, the media has succeeded only in dropping the democratic standards of a free and disinterested press by several rungs.

The shame is entirely upon the press which has fomented the hatred in the public square and erased any serious debate between the candidate’s positions. The talking heads and pens and their creative efforts to curry reader's outrage became the story the year.

Their collective egos trumped the actual story, which is beyond their hatred or disdain.

Surely our abdication of rationality and impartiality to our egoistic social media feeds are partly to blame for our isolation in our respective echo chambers. But there is something else, something more atavistic, which is being awakened in the public.

The decency imposed by exposure to a marketplace of ideas has been erased as a new Left arises which brooks no censure of itself. To be Left qua Left today implies having a lock on the progressive impulse.

Any thought they deem conservative is labeled as hopelessly reactionary and foolish. By extension, the people who hold conflicting ideas are voted off the island of sophisticates.

However, it is the Left in the United States which is missing the bus in their snarky boy-in-the-bubble deshabille. This smug dismissal is ignorance of the highest order.

Opposed to the media story is a mass of people who are chagrined by dynamic world events, and they are not reacting obediently to the Left’s unrelenting insistence upon change-as-progress (lest one be labeled a Neanderthal.)

The Left is wallowing in the madness of the riotous mob (theirs), born of fear and hatred of the unfamiliar, of that which challenges its tidy status quo. They have become bullies. They are they (and therefore, enlightened), and we are we (who are by default, not.)

The reformist and progressivist impulse is gone. I have no sympathy for them and their project to silence their opponents.

By rendering the other side of the aisle as some vague menacing enemy, they give lie to the reality of our political process which for all its variations in opinion, seeks to safeguard and enhance our republic via mediation and amalgamation of a marketplace of ideas.

What I have seen from the erstwhile legitimate liberal press resembles nothing so much as World War II agitprop, which depicted the Japs and Huns as various vermin with exaggerated and grotesque features. Such is the image rendered repeatedly, ad nauseum, of Republican candidate Trump.

Lobbing verbal mortars is so much easier than actually listening and allowing a space for understanding.  One may understand this crude impulse from the average person who lacks access to the details of a precise news feed. But one may not excuse this behavior from the press.

This derogation of the "Other Candidate" is what the liberal media has being practicing for the last year, and they have done so with our imprimatur. Slaves to our shibboleths, the press -- like liberal media wonk Nate Silver at his site FiveThirtyEight who failed so dismally in calling the Republican primary – has NO idea what time it is in our nation.

We are not a very serious people. We play Angry Birds and we are Angry Birds. We prefer to flame-out online versus to engage in rational dialog, and have bifurcated into two dismally remote factions, glowering at each other from our respective caves.

But the more shameful ire and bigotry has arisen from the Left, the corner which should be a shining beacon for liberal thought. The Left has lost any prior claim to excellence and understanding. It has become mean and shrunken.

Snarkiness and much worse rules the day. It is an ugly elitist bastard copy of liberalism with which we are bombarded. Do you present another point of view? “Lalala”, they say, “I don’t hear it”. Moreover, “You are not one of the cognoscenti, because you are with us or agin us.” And with a fillip, the possibility of  an emergent unity from difference is disallowed.

Back to The Cave.

The obituary of liberal and progressive media will say it went down a rabbit hole of begrudging anger and verbal violence born of befuddlement of their fellows, the “Other 50%”. They got lost pursuing cleverly violent bilge to stoke and corral anger against the Other Candidate and his electorate in their easy and predictable derision.

In their refusal to countenance Mr. Trump’s message, the Left shows itself biased, arrogant and dismissive fools. I am not a part of that club. My interest is for the whole of my society, and to understand the impulses behind people’s contentions, and the solutions which are forwarded.

I can’t see all of this from within Plato’s Cave, which is where my liberal fellows currently reside.

August 15 was the first time Trump was mentioned by name as-candidate on the ABC Nightly News. Unfortunately, it was simply to deride some campaign-trail rhetoric (regarding the genesis of ISIS), juxtaposed with an audio-visual of Mrs. Clinton saying something derisive in response.

Because it is her voice alone which was featured, the implication is that she is the Serious Candidate, and therefore alone is sound-byte worthy.

Later the same day, BBC America also mentioned candidate Trump in service of its agenda. Program emcee Kitty Kay asked Former former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen about Mr. Trump’s position vis-à-vis NATO.

Rasmussen predictably said, “[NATO] has worked very well since it’s inception in the Cold War.” (An era which has been, of course, OBE.)

Undeterred by the superannuated bias of her guest, Kay asks Rasmussen asks in her very American form of editorial reportage, “So do you fear for the safety and security of the West if Mr. Trump is elected President?" in what used to be called a "leading question", suggesting candidate Trump would put the entire world in mortal danger from the "bad guys" (Rasmussen's term).

“Indeed,” replied the agreeable-to-being-led Rasmussen (a sina qua non of being Secretary General.)

This abdication of pure reportage -- more pointedly, its devolution into cartoonish verbal partisan violence – is shocking and sad.

We the People do not need to receive this hate and nearsightedness. What fools we are to accept this bludgeoning to our psyches on a daily basis.

We need excellent, careful, disinterested reportage, and we are not getting it.

[cross-posted @ Rangeragainstwar.]


  1. "We need excellent, careful, disinterested reportage, and we are not getting it."

    True Lisa. We have not had it since Reagan gutted the FCC Fairness Doctrine back 30 years ago.

  2. Media institutions tend to be revenue seeking entities which turn eyeballs into cash.

    Bikini clad women wielding cute kittens and war hammers get far more attention than careful disinterested reporting. In the old days, media outlets could afford hiring reporters (mostly as vanity projects) because they made so much money on classified ads. Those times are gone forever.

    Today, clickbait rulez!

    Get over it, or pull out your wallet and start funding alternative media directly.

  3. Ael,

    Advertising has always funded the paper, but actual reporters were not vanity projects. One read the paper for the news, and collecting and reporting it was an actual job.

    Now, like you say, we watch cats walking on piano keys. So, when did we go crazy?

    You're not nuts, Ael, and clickbait doesn't occupy your day. So where do you get your news? How do you feel about the editorializing of your news?

    Do you resent the patronization?

    Does anyone else here?

    1. Lisa,

      The fourth estate, imo, is dead. In some sense, its genesis and sustenance was quite ahistorical. There was a brief point in time when those with the power and wealth left the informational levers well enough alone so as to allow for a separate class of information gathers and reporters. At some point in the last 50-60 years people with power and money realized it was easier to clog that channel than it was to deal with the consequences and we have reverted back to what once was.

      I do not expect, in my lifetime, to ever treat news/political information as something that is not intentionally manipulated or handled for explicit partisan/economic purposes.

      News as I see it consists of genuine events and happenings with partisan slant and artificial events and happenings for the purpose of partisan slant. I'm using partisan in both the political and also business sense. Our news organizations are no more independent than the town crier was of the noble houses that employed him.

      I resent the patronization and I resent that doublethink appears to expected and necessary in order to pursue the news about politics in this country. Our country has changed very much and in many ways for the worse.

    2. Lisa,

      I use technology to assist my internet reading. RSS readers, ad blockers and script filters assist my reading experience. I also give (small) donations to websites that add value. (e.g. if you are not a reader/supporter of Naked Capitalism, you are missing a treat).

      That being said, I am human and I do get sucked into clickbait far more often than I ought. Making "clicks" clickable is readily discoverable science. It is therefore highly advanced. I guess that we are all human and share similar wiring.

    3. Thanks, Ael. Yes, we're all human, but I'm virulently minimalist, so little can tempt me to clik.

    4. "Our country has changed very much and in many ways for the worse."

      From the country that invaded the Philippines and burned Filipino villages for sport? From the country that enslaved people? From the country that exterminated the peoples it found "infesting" what it considered it's God-given patrimony? From the country that considered it impossible for a man to rape his wife? From the country that imprisoned its citizens because of their race?

      "In many ways for the worse.." Seriously, PF? Seriously?

      Worse for whom, if I may ask?

  4. PF Khans,

    I agree: we had a moment (several decades) in which media worked for us, and Americans could turn to the various outlets for actual news written by reporters (it needn't be said that there were conservative vs. more liberal papers and groups. Everyone understood the slant, and made accommodation.) But there was actual news, regardless of the leaning.

    Now, the blatant absence of news and the arrogance of the presenters is amazing to me.

    Justice Steven's dissent in the Bush v. Gore case (2000) perfectly states the condition of the citizen vis-a-vis the press today (just replace "reporter" for "judge"):

    What must underlie petitioners' entire federal assault on the Florida election procedures is an unstated lack of confidence in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges who would make the critical decisions if the vote count were to proceed. Otherwise, their position is wholly without merit. The endorsement of that position by the majority of this Court can only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of the work of judges throughout the land. It is confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system that is the true backbone of the rule of law. Time will one day heal the wound to that confidence that will be inflicted by today' s decision. One thing, however, is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year' s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation' s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.

    Matt Taibbi says what I've been saying for months, here:

    The Summer of the Shill

  5. The press is a business, and its market-originating incentives are not oriented towards delivering relevant, correct and digestible information.

    The case for interpreting such information as a public good is becoming stronger, and thus it may become necessary to reform the entire approach of financing the generation of said public good.

    The real problem is that the people do not really want to consume relevant, correct and digestible information. They prefer infotainment, and that follows the laws of entertainment. Most people mistake sports results and politics for news. Major events are news. Issues and policies deserve journalistic reporting, but this doesn't need be daily; a monthly 100 pp journal for every home financed publicly would be fine. You could literally read all of it during the next month while "sitting" in your restroom.

  6. When I was a child, my father was an editor at the now-defunct Washington Star, which at one time put out three editions daily. News was serious business, and updated throughout the day.

    I remember commuters carrying the latest edition tucked under their arm so that they might read the day's events en route, or at work. This was not the provenance of the privileged; blue and white collar workers were all equally informed by the same sources.

    We weren't always so mindlessly angry and stupid. Europeans still are generally not as silly as their American cousins. A free press is not just a discretionary public good -- it is one of the touchstones of a democracy and an informed electorate.

    Damn that John Tesh. Damn our Hatfield and McCoy legacy.

    1. #1 among Germany's newspapers is "Bild" - which some claim is no newspaper at all. It's a kind of printed Fox News. There's a famous blog that did nothing else in its first years other than correcting fact-checking Bild and exposing its poor ethics.
      "Bild" has lost about half of its distribution in 15 years. It used to be read much more often.

      Bild is even doing worse than other low quality "newspapers":
      (BamS = much bigger sunday issue of Bild)

      So in Germany newspapers in general are in decline, but the politically campaigning unethical and all-too often hatemongering and scaremongering ones are declining even quicker.

    2. I'm glad to hear that people are turning from the sensationalism, in the main.

      Fox news is certainly biased, but it does report facts (from their slant.) IMHO, one needs a Fox, too (tho' I don't watch.)

      IMHO. the NYT is the liberal equivalent today of Fox.

  7. I assume that everyone has already watched John Oliver's take on journalism?

    If you haven't, you should.

  8. If he loses, his supporters will blame the media. They are already blaming his falling poll numbers on what they call biased reporting.

    I do not believe they have a legitimate beef. He has FOX, NewsMax, Breitbart, Drudge on his side plus hundreds of conservative radio talk shows that rule every market in the country. And the other media, what some call the mainstream, is just as hostile to Hillary as they are to Trump. Even CNN pays Trump surrogates to come on and proselytize for him. MSNBC has been described as The Democratic Network, yet they have both the Joe Scarborough show and Chris Matthews show that give a ton of grief to Hillary. She gets a lot more bad press than Trump ever had.

    And then there are the mysterious anti-Hillary email campaigns. They say she is a 'menopausal monster'; she has 'syphillis sores'; she is a 'murderer'; she has 'brain damage' and needs a medical minder with her at all times; she will start a 'nuclear war', she will 'confiscate all guns and gut the Second Amendment'; and on and on and on. Who makes this sh#t up? Each one gets worse the closer we get to November. Sometimes even the mainstream media pick up these stories. They of course do not do claim they fact-checked or investigated. They just quote some third rate blog or newspaper as per the John Oliver take that AEL pointed out above.

    1. mike,

      I thot -- by reading the liberal media for the past year -- that it was Mr. Trump who was brain addled and would destroy the world?!?

      So, which is it?!?

      "What they call" biased media IS biased media. Just read or watch. Really, I'm not making this stuff up.

      Only cognitive dissonance will allow liberals to deny the facts before them.

  9. Jim -

    I know you are not making this stuff up. Neither am I! You ask which is it? Mr Trump's surrogates would have you believe it is Hillary. I have a different opinion. I do NOT believe Trump is brain-addled as you say. And Donald is no dummy. He is extremely slick though. I got that opinion of him many years before he decided to run for president and NOT from election year media ranting whether liberal or conservative. And I don't read the New York Times.

    PS - The WSJ and Barron's jump all over Trump and call his policies dangerous. Do you consider them liberal? They are probably the two most conservative newspapers in the country.

  10. OK, here goes.

    1. Can we, at least, get over this nonsensical notion of "the liberal media"? That fucking nonsense was nonsense when it was invented by Nixon's people. The owners and publishers of the major newspapers, and the owners and producers of the major electronic news organs are, and always were to the best of my recall, extremely wealthy people. Some were politically "left" of center, many more (as is usually the case with the comfortably wealthy) somewhat "right". NONE of them were some sort of screaming hippie radical.

    The idea that the "liberal media" is reporting Trump as blarting looney idiocy is nonsense, jim. The "media" is reporting Trump as blarting looney idiocy because he blarts looney idiocy. You want to change that you can't do it by changing the "media". You'd have to sew the tangerine-hued shitgibbon's lips shut.

    2. The "media" is, as Sven points out, a business and even more so now that most media corporations have forced their news divisions to turn a profit. So droning on about complex policy issues? BO-ring! Naked titties and Trump nuttiness - wowza!

    3. And the real thing that kind of blow up your basic premise for this post, Lisa, is that for most of history, and for most of American history, the "press" was NOT " institution tasked with collecting and disseminating the news in a thorough and disinterested way." You are an intelligent woman with what I consider an exceptional knowledge of the hell could you possibly think that, let alone write it?

    Are you forgetting the infamous "yellow press"? William Randolph Hearst telling his graphic artist (about the lack of war in Cuba in 1898) "you provide the pictures...I'll provide the war"? The partisan papers of the 19th Century, when typically each major American city had a "Democratic" and a "Republican" newspaper?

    Now...we kids of the post-WW2 years great up in a very peculiar situation, where the major news organizations - the networks, and the big newspapers - made a great show of their "impartiality". We just assumed that was, as people always do about the times they live in, the natural order of things.

    But it was, as was the large political center of the time, actually an exception rather than the rule of American society and politics. We are now reverting to the normal conditions that ruled pretty much from the end of the "Era of Good Feelings" to WW2.

    "We weren't always so mindlessly angry and stupid." Whhaaaaatttttt?

    Slavery? Imperialism? "The only good indian is a dead indian"? Radicalism? Jim Crow? The Gentlemen's Agreement and the Chinese Exclusion Acts? The Centralia Massacre? Executive Order 9066? Red scares? Hell, you and I are both old enough to remember the Sixties, riots in Chicago, riots in Watts and Detroit, the Black Panthers coming to get us, hippies versus hardhats, Goldwater's daisy-picking little girl...

    We weren't angry over slavery? Over civil rights? Over Vietnam? We weren't stupid over Red scares? Duck and cover? Iran-Contra?

    We've ALWAYS been angry and stupid, Lisa. We've had our better moments...but if you think this public derpitude is some sort of sudden descent into a hellscape of madness caused by shitty've been reading too much Trump campaign literature...

  11. And I'd simply close my comments with this; is this really a "media" problem?

    As Sven pointed out, reporting the "news" isn't some sort of fucking religious vocation. It's a business. It's never been "objective" (in that reporters, editors, publishers, and owners have ALWAYS had axes to grind), it's never been "impartial" and it's never been...well, anything but a business. If there's anyone here who thinks that reporting the news was some sort of noble, impartial, objective craft try imagining the reporter in 1950 who came to his editor with a story about the toxic emissions from the city's biggest employer (and his newspaper's biggest advertiser...).

    Yeah. I thought so. point is this; is our current craptastic fourth estate - and I yield to no one in my contempt for the "media" mind you - the fault of the members of that fraternity?

    (And I'd pause to argue that the REAL "bankruptcy" of the press has been the ridiculous degree to which it has been completely unwilling - to the point of being unable - to report the actual collapse of any sort of sensible "conservatism" compared to the pretend "Both Siderism" that scours the heavens and the Earth to find some left-wing nut hiding in a basement to shove into place alongside the right wingnuts currently installed in the House and Senate, turning Kansas' statehouse in to an AynRandian monkeyhouse, and ruling the airwaves from sea to shining Morning Joe.

    Or is it ours, for being such shitty citizens? For ASKING for ridiculous crap like "Fox and Friends", for listening to Bloody Bill Kristol, the Guru of the Bush Doctrine about...well, ANYTHING? For insisting, despite all evidence to the contrary, that there is a "contrarianism" to insisting the They Hate Us For Our Freedoms, that Global Warming is a Hoax, or that Obama Wants Death Panels..?

    Are their "left-wing nuts"? Sure. Are they allowed anywhere NEAR the levers of power? Ask Bernie Sanders, the closest thing to a "leftist" we've had in our national politics since the close did HE get?

    Are their "right wingnuts"? Do they have tremendous influence and power? Ummm...

    So ask yourself; should we be upset that our "fourth estate" is "making choices for us"? Or should we be upset because the sonsofbitches refuse to make the simple choice unclear, or complicated, or "both sides"? Because the newsies try and pretend that the tribal wingnuttery is the same as a disagreement over tax brackets, or that defaulting on the national debt is the same as arguing over how to pay for health care..?

  12. Robert Parry just called it, "The Dumbed Down New York Times" (8.29.16), and yeah, they are to blame (for themselves).

    Which is not to say that the electorate is not complicit in their own dumbing down with the Soma of their idiot (FB) feeds.

    Someone's got to be the adult in the room, and Mark Zuckerberg does not qualify IMHO.

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