Re-writing history by erasure

Media in the U.S. is more often than not the servant of special interests, even though professional journalists would scoff at the idea as absurd. Unfortunately, the truth is that it’s been this way since the early 20th Century and the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson. I’ve written extensively about the Creel Committee and its manipulation of information about World War I and especially the later work of its members, Walter Lippmann and his friend Edward Bernays. The only way to overcome this and set the historical record right is to participate in the postmodern practice of deconstructionism. The problem is rarely one of the facts but almost always of the narrative or grand narrative that comes from selecting certain facts and dismissing others.

Journalism in the future — it is certainly my hope — will embrace active deconstructionism to separate truth from self-serving narratives. It simply has no choice in a networked world. That’s because people can talk to each other without filters. Truth in mass media is often obscured for the sake of populism and nationalism, and we have a great example of this underway currently in the Middle East.

Zionism is a very real attempt to eliminate certain portions of history in order to establish a direct connection between modern day Israel and the historical record of the Old Testament in the Bible. There are regional political and economic reasons for so doing, and I get that. However, we don’t need to sit back as a culture and look aside as crimes are being committed in the process, no matter how righteous our intentions. The truth is there isn’t a direct connection between contemporary Israel and the Israel of the Bible, and attempts to make that connection by eliminating everything between are entirely self-serving. We must not only be concerned with what’s happening today, but what will happen tomorrow, if such a connection becomes a part of the grand narrative of world history.

mamillaMondoweiss, a publication that searches for verifiable truth in the region, today published the words of Sergio Yahni, an Israeli journalist and coördinator of the Palestinian-Israeli organization, the Alternative Information Center. The article expresses concerns about the necessities of Zionists to establish Jerusalem as entirely a Jewish city, despite prior agreements to keep it multi-cultural. The article specifically references an important Islamic cemetery.

“They are commercializing the city, selling it as a modern Jewish city, but at the same time as an ancient one. The mayor, Nir Barkat, wants to sell Jerusalem to the world as an opulent tourist attraction, because of this, he is transforming its character and the nature…”

“To reach this goal, it’s erasing the Islamic history and tradition of the city. Jerusalem is built on multiple layers, a unique stage of history, but the municipality is working hard to simplify it. How? Erasing the Islamic layer in order to replace it with the Roman and the Jewish ones…”

“The scientific archeology was replaced by the ideological archeology: all the Israeli work in this field is based on the Bible and the Old Testament, trying to demonstrate their narrative, and obviously, in this context, there is no space for the Islamic and Arab tradition. Let’s take the example of the Moroccan Quarter, in the Old City, just beside the Wailing Wall: it was built in the 12th century and it was destroyed after 1967 because it was contradicting the Zionist narrative. The same thing is happening in Silwan with the City of David and in Mamilla: the archeology is a tool to justify a personal and self-interested narrative, erasing the real one”.

I realize a lot of people simply say “so what? After all, Israel won the war, so let them do what they want.” The problem is very simply this: The prophecy that both Jews and Evangelical Christians use to justify this (Ezekiel 36:24–36) must be edited in order to apply it to contemporary Israel, for the text concerns God scattering the Jews for their misbehavior regarding the covenant God had established with them. The verses describe God’s great mercy in cleansing them and bringing them home. So one is free to ask the only pertinent question in light of the prophecy: is the nation of Israel’s behavior righteous or is it not? Are the people living in accordance with the laws and sacrifices ascribed to them as the people of God?

Even an idiot could answer that question correctly, unless they’re only given a tilted form of truth.

If Zionism is allowed to get away with this ruse, we will all bear the global consequences of a country, armed to the teeth, doing whatever they please in the name of God.

It’s enough to make you wonder who are the real good guys and bad guys in what we see unfolding day in and day out in the Middle East.

The Nasty Lessons of Ashley Madison

AMThe real story in the Ashley Madison scandal is the crime of the hacking, yet I’ve seen little in the way of follow-up on that and no reports about efforts to remove the database. What and who’s working on finding and punishing the people who did this? While there have been some stories about this, media outlets seem far more interested in exploiting the crime for their own profit. I’m seeing headlines like “Head of Louisiana GOP had Ashley Madison Account” or “Christian YouTube Vlogger Had Paid Ashley Madison Account.” This is journalism? I saw a report this morning on how the stolen database is now searchable. Really, people? Who does that serve if not those who wish to exploit the sordid underbelly of murder by character assassination?

My friends and family know I’ve struggled with issues of addiction my whole life. It’s a very long story — and one that has a happy ending — but before recovery, I lived two lives. Most addicts “live” their mask in order to hide the very deep shame they feel. I, too, had an Ashley Madison account, one that I obtained before addictive behavior in this very private side of life was discovered. I was curious, and what I discovered inside was fascinating but a far cry from what’s advertised. I’m also a cultural observer specializing in the Internet. It’s my life’s work. Nevertheless, I cannot be honest with myself if I were to say that my only motive with Ashley Madison was curiosity or work. We have a saying in AA that “the longer you hang out in a barbershop, the greater the likelihood you’ll get a haircut some day.” That awareness acts as a hedge against what the saying teaches, and besides, my relationship with God is such that I fear very little these days. The point is I never gave AM a dime, and that’s required if you want to make a connection. That doesn’t make me innocent, but it does give me a perspective you may not have.

So here are what I view as the real issues of this scandal.

1. We’re a society of hypocrites (what a shock!), and I’m not talking about those who may have used the site to have an affair. The joyful, self-righteous, and condescending energy behind the “stories” in the wake of the scandal bears the cloying marks of a vindictive form of murder by character destruction. While I have no pity for Josh Duggar, his case reeks of rationalization for the heinous nature of the real crime — the release into the wild of the private database. I honestly wonder how some people can look themselves in the mirror without seeing the enormous mote in their eye, for the exploitation of this leak for the sake of personal or political gain is as much a part of the crime as the leak itself. What have we become? We all need to be careful when stoning our neighbors like this, for the very glass houses we occupy could explode into millions of dangerous shards.

2. This is an early example of the legal system encountering the chaos of the network and attempting to wrestle it to 20th Century ground in service to the hierarchy. For one thing, lawsuits over breach of privacy will bankrupt Ashley Madison’s parent company, so the only people who’ll make any money from this are the lawyers. It’s simply too big a mess, and this is sanctioned and sanctified extortion. Secondly, do we really wish to live in a world where hackers can force this kind of ambulance chasing? If we’re ever going to reach a point where identity is a network requirement, this kind of breach simply cannot be tolerated, for the rules of real life that govern behavior run smack dab into the world of thoughts online. This is why membership in the site does not necessarily indicate intent to act, and why public assumptions to the contrary are such an egregious invasion of privacy and the purest form of “The Scarlet Letter.” My hope is always that we’ll rewrite some laws that will prevent lawsuits in the wake of such actions. There’s little hope for that right now, because our legislatures are filled with the same lawyers who profit from the laws they create. As I’ve written many times, it’s the biggest conflict of interest ever known to humankind. There’s no protection against time and chance.

3. This case reveals the true extent to which modernist hyperbole has replaced fact as a determining element of human understanding. Ashley Madison advertises itself as a place where men and women (can) find each other to have an affair, without strings attached. Hell, there’s even a guarantee and the boast of over a million “satisfied” members! The brand’s photo of a comely woman holding her finger to her lips is provocative and full of meaning. Really, people? Have we forgotten caveat emptor? It’s a business, and businesses are all about money, no matter what’s on the sign out front. These people will do anything and say anything to get a renewable fee from users. And like everything else in the world of adult entertainment (a.k.a. porn), therefore, the promise vastly exceeds the delivery, and it’s hopelessly naïve to think otherwise. Even if their hype is to be believed, for every “satisfied” customer, there are 36 dissatisfied members. What is Ashley Madison to them, if not, at best, a fantasy?

4. There are a staggering number of unhappy people in our world. Rather than slinging stones, we ought to be taking a deep look into the cave that’s home to all of these souls. My Evangelical friends would submit that all they need is Jesus, but you’d be amazed to discover the degree to which many of these people have been utterly rejected by the church. And now, the elbows and winks that accompany our self-righteous judgment of others in the wake of this scandal makes us the ones to be pitied. What is it about modern Christianity that produces such arrogance? The degree of discontent demonstrated in a website alleged to be for cheaters that has 37 million members ought to give us pause that maybe we’re not as perfect as we think we are. What does it say about our institutions? I think it discloses (again) that what we’ve built as a culture isn’t working. Let’s face it; Ashley Madison wouldn’t exist without demand. Shut it down, and that demand will retreat once again to the shadows, but it won’t go away.

Look, if this whole thing inspires discussion about infidelity, that’s a good thing. But during the discussion, let’s also look at the root causes (like the soul sickness of selfishness) and not dismiss it with the oversimplified notion of blaming a symptom instead of the disease.

The Ashley Madison story is one of the biggest of the 21st Century and a harbinger of conflicts yet to come. It has the potential to destroy not only real people but freedom itself, including one that’s most precious to all of us, the freedom of thought.

We all ought to be concerned.

Google takes control of its content

Between work and writing a new book, I don’t have a lot of time for commentary on current media events, but this one demands attention. Google made a couple of big announcements over the past week, and while the amoeba-like splitting of itself into two new companies is getting the most attention, it’s the announcement that it is separating YouTube from its programmatic ad buying through the DoubleClick Ad Exchange is what’s most important.

YouTube is Google’s big content play, so let’s read between the lines to see what’s going on. By including YouTube in the programmatic inventory that DoubleClick serves, Google has realized that it cheapens not only the value of YouTube advertising but also the content itself. This is a logical conclusion and one that I’ve been harping about for many years. The scourge of paid content is 3rd party ad exchanges, for they purchase inventory based on their own reach-frequency needs, not that of the content providers. Local media companies then sell their inventory to them for several reasons. One, it’s easy. In so doing, media companies go back to the order-taking business they know so well. All you have to do is wait for the phone to ring. Two, it’s what everybody else is doing. Our industry is a copycat industry, and nothing carries weight like what the guy across the street is doing. In this way, we drag our offline business online and feel good about it, because it’s validated by everybody else. Three, we’re able to centralize almost everything, which is cost-effective but foolish, because the flexibility for revenue is at the individual property level. Four, it’s what the advertising industry is telling us to do. Everybody in the offline advertising value chain gets paid with this automated buying and selling, because there’s still a place for clients, agencies, creative, networks, and exchanges. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

What we give up in all this is critical, because those exchanges set the value of our property. But Google, clearly the 800-pound gorilla of everything web-based, is throwing a huge monkey wrench in all of that by now forcing anybody who wants to advertise with all those videos (and video, my friends, is where it’s at) must now go directly through YouTube. Google, a major player in programmatic through DoubleClick, has looked at all of its numbers and decided that it can make more money by removing its content play from its own ad exchange.

Folks, this ought to be a revelation to those who run media companies. If Google is willing to do that with its video content, why should we do anything less?

In an insightful post from AdWeek, Lauren Johnson spoke with Raju Malhotra, svp of products at Epsilon-owned Conversant:

“More than half of all video ad impressions today are on YouTube, but Google only gets 20 cents of every dollar spent in online video advertising,” Malhotra said. “With features like TrueView that have better consumer experience, it seems Google can monetize this inventory far better if they control this more tightly.”

And here’s another thing. The TrueView ad concept is a stroke of pure genius for advertising, because it puts users in the driver’s seat. The concept is so pure Web that media companies simply can’t bring themselves to copy it. Its ads are skippable and have produced some very clever responses from the ad industry, like this terrific offering from, of course, Geico.

Video advertising is moving to an entirely different form for online content providers. It has to, because here, the users are in charge, and our needs MUST evolve to fit that paradigm. Google is leading the way. Let’s see who has the courage to follow.

Essay: The Fading Levers of Commerce

Here is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World.

The Fading Levers of Commerce

Hello, friends. I’m writing a new book, so it’s hard to find time to continue my essay series, but the article referenced in this one so got my goat that I simply couldn’t stand it. Last week, Fortune published a missive critical of Apple for encouraging ad blocking on the Web by building new mechanisms into iOS9 that allow for easier ad blocking software by developers. Why is it critical? Because it’ll do exactly what its promising, and that is intolerable to the ad industry. Sheesh. Give me a friggin’ break! Look in the mirror, ad people. You’ve brought this on yourselves.

The colossal ineptness of at&t

I have been a customer of at&t Uverse for two years. The first year was in an apartment complex where I had no choice. The second has been here at the home I bought in Madison, Alabama in July of last year. I had choices, but, well, not really.

Beginning in the fall of last year, we started having problems with our service. It would simply quit whenever it felt like it. This is a new home in a new subdivision, and I know there can be quirks. However, it got so bad after the first of the year that we began having repair people several times a month. By March, it went out several times a day. We knew how to reboot everything, but even so, we were given new modems time and again. Nothing ever made it go away, and our TV would go out at JUST the wrong time in programs. We twice lost our recorded programs. In March, we were without service for 3 days, and even then, it wasn’t fixed. More outages. More repair guys saying the same thing.

Our problem began advancing up the food chain, and the entire system was swapped out for a “more reliable” system in May. The at&t computers — and there are many that provide various elements — could not fix the problem, so they created a new account and basically started over. That and the new equipment solved our problem.

Or not.

I had complained to higher ups that this nonsense had cost me real money. In order to work, I had to use my Verizon hot spot, which ran up considerable charges. I also didn’t think it was right that I should be charged for service that didn’t really work. They were nice about it and credited my account. I still have a positive balance.

But not according to at&t’s computers. I began receiving dunning notices for $586.17 past due a few weeks ago. I was told not to worry. I received a particularly nasty letter on Saturday and notified my contact via text message. This morning, I woke up to blocked service with the blocked websites and the television pointing me to my account on their website. I followed the link, and, lo and behold, my balance is still zero with a credit! Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot!

Okay, now what do I do? At 6:30 this morning, I called the at&t customer service line, 800–288-2020. I went through the tech support voice mail hell and ended up with notification that the number had changed to 800–222-0300. Why not put this up front? I dunno. On the notion that this was a billing issue and not tech support, I redialed the number, went through the entire voice mail hell again, and wound up with the same recording notifying me that the number had been changed.

So I called the new number, which is now “consumer service” and wound up with a nice lady in the Philippines. We’re not customers anymore; we’re “consumers.” She took all my information, beginning with my phone number. I need to mention that at every stop, I was required to give the phone number associated with the account, whether voice mail or in person. The Filipino gal said she needed to transfer me to a different section, and that they would be able to help me. The phone rang, and I was into another round of voice mail hell. When voice mail asked for my phone number, I started to fume again. Here is at&t, one of the biggest phone companies on the planet, and they’re unable to “capture” the number on which I’m calling. I punched in the number for the voice mail and was then asked for my account number. I was seriously angry by that time and just hung up.

I’ve called my contact in Birmingham all day long and am still without Internet or cable. I’m still being directed to my account on their website, the one that shows zero balance and a credit.

At this point, all I can really do is laugh. But here’s the thing. I guarantee you that not a single person on the management committee that created this new “consumer service” system has even once been through it. That’s what is so spectacularly arrogant about a company like this. It makes sense that a technology company would use technology to cut costs, but to come up with a system that serves no one except their bottom line is embarrassing and ineptness gone-to-seed! The disrespect of the people who pay their salaries is so stunningly beyond belief that it is truly remarkable.

And so it goes.

Local Advertising Hits A Tipping Point

“(W)e’ve reached the end of the Golden Age of Advertising,” says pioneering media researcher Gordon Borrell in a new report that paints a very realistic picture of the state of local advertising. This report — Local Advertising Hits A Tipping Point — is a 5-year follow-up to a report published in 2010 and tracks the opinions of 7,228 small and mid-size advertisers (SMBs).

While there is a lot of between-the-lines conclusions to be drawn, here are just a few of the report’s findings. Remember, these are advertisers speaking, or it would be more appropriate to call them “the people formerly known as the advertisers.”

  • 82% of SMBs have established their own media channel in the form of a website or social media page.
  • Since 2007, spending has skyrocketed to the point at which businesses last year spent 72% more on marketing services and promotions than they had spent 10 years earlier. Meanwhile, the annual expenditure on local advertising was 22% less than it was a decade ago.
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  • 72% of those are purchasing digital services to support those channels, spending far more on those efforts than on basic advertising.
  • By examining IRS tax records, Borrell concludes that “if businesses were devoting the same percentage of this year’s gross revenues to advertising as they were 10 years ago, the advertising economy would be $56 billion richer.”
  • Online media appeals to the largest percentage of local advertisers and takes the largest share of ad budgets of any other media. This is a pedestal newspapers have occupied for over 300 years! “Over the next 12 months, the gap will almost certainly widen to the point that all traditional advertising channels — print, broadcast, outdoor and mail — begin to look like niche support mechanisms to a local businesses’ digital marketing plan.”Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 12.33.49 PM
  • Traditional media has devolved into an option, selected by habit or by preference but certainly not by necessity.
  • Online is so strong that by 2020, Borrell projects that all traditional media will scramble to maintain a small set of advertisers who will spend small shares of their budgets with them.
  • Local businesses, on average, get 20% of their sales from online, versus 13% by the old standby, the telephone.
  • These businesses have just begun to become digitally savvy, according to a new metric from Borrell. 85% of SMBs fell short of a line considered “very active” in digital activity. What this means is that they are novices that somebody can teach and that the more savvy they become, the more disruptive they’ll likely be.
  • 82% of respondents maintain a social media page with an average of 2,123 followers, though 61% have fewer than 1,000. The report notes that growing their own audience base equates to real customers for SMBs, which is radically different than buying ads based on somebody else’s reach.
  • Native advertising (a.k.a. Content Marketing) is another area of satisfaction for SMBs, although its use is low. This equates to a growth opportunity for those providing a service.
  • Mobile is another BIG area of interest, although not in any traditional advertising sense. The projected spending categories for mobile relate almost entirely to SMBs own web franchises and include things like Responsive Design (mobile-friendly), search, SMS, proximity, apps and video.

With all Borrell research, it’s useful to take a step back and try to get a 30,000 foot view. What this report doesn’t say directly is that the levers of commerce in our world are shifting to the hands of businesses themselves due to the growth and development of a networked culture. The beauty (or evil, depending on your perspective) of the network is that it is a 3-way communications medium, which allows human beings to by-pass filters that the network deems inefficient and, frankly, now useless. This includes our entire cultural infrastructure of expertise divided into silos, the first of which is how we communicate. There will be others.

This Borrell report tracks empirically the shifts relating to the way money changes hands in the levers that grease of the skids used by businesses to reach customers and sell their wares. Those businesses are loudly telling us now — along with their customers — exactly how THEY want things done, and clearly that doesn’t include traditional forms of getting the word out. It’s too expensive. It’s too haphazard. It’s out of control in ways that we tend to disregard in the name of profit.

While I certainly respect the crisis that journalism may face in all of this, we’ve been our own worst enemies in the assumption that we could simply shift our model to the Web. It’s too late to effect any significant change in that strategic blunder, but it’s not too late to shift our focus to what we’re being given and away from what we want. That, I’m afraid, is the only logical path for the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

Meanwhile, Gordon Borrell will continue to apply his fascinating research to helping us understanding not only what’s going on today but also where that’s all headed.