The Underlying Fallacy of Fake News

Courtesy Austin Schmid

A vast wave of intellectual dishonestly is cresting above us in the argument about fake news. That it is actually taken seriously by the press is perhaps the most dangerous event of the postmodern era, and each day I pray that somebody important will say, “Stop!” My voice simply isn’t big enough for this to be heard, so somebody else is going to have to have the revelation.

Let me repeat what I’ve said in my book The Gospel of Self: there is no such thing as a right-wing press, because it was birthed, nurtured and remains a conduit for conservative political propaganda. For it to be recognized as legitimate, albeit alternative members of the press, it would have to make a solid case that the press is itself a conduit for liberal political propaganda, and that is a specious argument. “The news” by definition is progressive, because it consists of thoughts and activities that are new. There is no such thing as “the olds,” which is what we could expect from a conservative “press,” if such a thing were even possible. “Conservative press” is an oxymoron and as such presents a false logic. The press must at least make an ethical effort at fairness or as we used to say objectivity. This takes it outside the political process, while those claiming the status of a point-of-view news entity are just the opposite.

Political point-of-view journalism can’t be both.

An intellectually honest press would not even try to defend the accusations of liberal bias, which are, again, propaganda from the right. For, in defending itself, the press is agreeing that the argument needs defending. This has academia and the other intelligent institutions of the West reeling in a battle of cosmic consequences that can’t possibly end well for the cause of freedom. Are you hearing me? The mere suggestion that the press needs a conservative alternative, because the press pursues a liberal political agenda is foolishness gone to seed. It’s a dangerous fallacy, people, and we feed it by adopting its narrative.

Remember, I was there when we at CBN promoted ourselves as an entity of point-of-view journalism. WE made the claim and assigned ourselves a position within the mainstream – but to the right – because we presented “the news” with a conservative agenda. So WE, by behaving from a point-of-view, convinced our followers and those to come that even though we had an admitted bias, we still belonged on the same societal plane as the rest of the press. This may be a very slick justification, but it’s still blatantly false.

The professional press has been striving for a sense of fairness or objectivity within the news for at least the past century. As historian Chris Lasch brilliantly argues, this shift was motivated by economics, for advertisers wanted a sterile environment within which to present their ads. Nothing has changed about that, although advertising itself is now again shifting due to new challenges that are irrelevant to this discussion. The point is that the mainstream press may have begun with a great many personal biases, but the modern professional press is represented by ethical guidelines that don’t allow for political propaganda from any so-called “side” in the debate of political matters. That belongs on the editorial page or in commentaries so labeled.

To some, perhaps even many, that sounds absurd. When I spoke of it to a group of very conservative voters last summer at a Colorado Springs book event, the gasp of disbelief was loud. I was ridiculed, scorned, and dismissed by people who were completely convinced of their own narrative. This is the degree to which the public – and now the press itself – has been deceived by propaganda masters now running Washington and beyond.

Think of me as crazy, naive, or whatever you’d like, but until we all begin honestly dissecting what’s taking place around us, we’re going to continue to be buffeted about by this wave. Nothing is to be gained by measuring the trustworthiness of individual news organizations, as is being promoted by New York entrepreneurs Steve Brill and L. Gordon Crovitz with their green, yellow, red guidance system. The right has already labeled Snopes as a player of the left, and it will do the same with ANY attempt to frame them as false or even biased.

Instead of moving deeper into this black hole, journalism needs to end its defensiveness and simply do its job. Tell it like it is and not couched in mushy language designed not to offend conservatives.

Leading With Bleeding

I worked in several hyphenated markets during my 28-years as a TV news manager and also in markets with more than one population center. This produces a phenomenon that I referenced in my essay 20-years ago, The Lizard on America’s Shoulder. The problem is this: when newsrooms cover numerous population centers, their newscasts provide a false sense of danger, because every story seems to be bad news, especially in what we call “the A-block,” the opening segment of news. To my knowledge, there’s never been a study of this phenomenon, but I think we’d find that the practice produces a frightened populace.

Let’s face it: bad news is easy to cover. It’s exciting and works well with the hyperbole demanded by marketing, whether it’s within the newscast itself or in promotional announcements for the newscast. The old saying is “if it bleeds, it leads,” but in contemporary newscasts, it often goes beyond just the lead, and that makes people nervous (like the Lizard of C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce).

What we really ought to talk about, however, is what’s happening with social media, for this nervousness created by constant exposure to the darkness of life is much worse on Facebook than any broadcast newscast. Firstly, we now have the news-gathering process made public, including everything from the original dispatch of police on through the many iterations that exist prior to the story’s finished product (the newscast). Newspapers are in on this, too. Secondly, we have friends who are passing along links that they think might interest you, and very often these represent that same darkness. Then there are click-baiters, those God-awful sites that take an old story – and some are very old – and break every paragraph into a page, leaving the payoff to the hype until the very end. Blend in rampant politics offered by both amateurs and professionals, and there’s little wonder we’re all agitated and at each other’s throats.

Folks, this has a psychological impact, and it’s probably my top reason for not watching local news anymore.

The truth of the matter is that nobody is going to do anything about what we see, read, and watch, because “the media” still functions within a theatrical paradigm and not as invited guests to our individual parties. The web is not a mechanism that really caters to mass marketing, but it’s all that people in media management know, so we’ll just have to put up with it for awhile longer. Everything will eventually shift to pull, and those who only know push are going to find themselves on the outside looking in.

And, if they’re not going to do anything about the mass anxiety they create, then we’ll have to do something about that ourselves. Take note of what you consume and act accordingly.

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Push. Dig. Push. Dig.

AP Photo

Sometimes, events in media are so bizarre that all you can do is just laugh.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (a great school) has been given a $1.9 million grant from the Knight Foundation “that will provide funding over three years to fund initiatives aimed at ensuring TV news companies remain competitive in broadcast and digital storytelling.” The AP says the money will be used to “research the future of television news.”


The story reports that part of the grant will be used to develop “an online hub where newsrooms can see the latest strategies their counterparts elsewhere are trying out.”

“The best way I can describe it is I think it’s going to be a resource where someone can come to this site from anywhere and get a sense of what new ideas are floating around in space, what works and what doesn’t,” said Cronkite Associate Dean Mark Lodato.

The school also plans to become a testing ground for improved local news content and dissemination.

“In an academic space like ASU, you can fail and understand the progress. It’s very hard to do that in a corporate environment when corporate dollars and people’s jobs are at risk,” Lodato said.

This reminds me of the failed “Newspaper Next” project by the American Press Institute over 10 years ago. One thing we learned back then is that it’s pure foolishness to ask the people digging the hole you’re in to come up with a solution to the hole. It’s impossible. They can’t stop digging, and that means every solution involves some form of digging. Dig. Dig. Dig. The money will be used to make sure that TV remains competitive in “broadcast and digital storytelling,” as if that’s a problem. Dig. Dig. Dig. Moreover, the hole doesn’t have anything to do with content in the first place; it’s about paradigm shifts in advertising, so why not study that? Our world today is all about pull strategies, because the devices we’re using to consume content these days are too personal to willingly permit pushing. Again, you can’t ask people pushing to come up with something different, because all they know is push. Push. Dig. Push. Dig. You get the idea.

And, I love how Dean Lodato has already pronounced failure. No need to say it after-the-fact if you admit it up front. Moreover, there’s no more competitive business in all the world than local television news, and if you think stations will drop their pants and reveal their “new ideas,” you’re effing nuts. Besides, that’s what consultants do, right? No, I’m not talking about dropping pants.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve become a total cynic when it comes to this stuff, but I view this as a colossal waste of time, attention, and resources. Besides, the industry doesn’t care. They’re far too busy licking their chops over the $8 billion that’s projected to be spent with them during this year’s mid-term elections. Most of that will likely go straight to the bottom line regardless of whether the fundamentals justify the candidate spending. Therefore, from a corporate perspective – is there really any other that matters? – there’s no problem.

And so it goes.

In defense of (some) Trump supporters

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump yell at reporters as they arrive for a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

You may think me nuts, but there are a few things we need to know in order to better understand the cultural complaints of the people who put Donald Trump into office in 2016. Democrats especially need to consider these five points, for the stakes in November couldn’t be higher. I know there’s a lot of craziness within Trump’s coalition (I wrote a book about part of it), but I’m talking about a group of people who had fair reason to want a change and for their voice to be heard. These people cannot simply be dismissed as ignorant, racist, xenophobic, extremist, or just plain wrong. It’s useful to think of their vote as a reaction to culture and not one driven by a grand manipulator, for each of these things really does have reasonable, fair, and debatable opposition.

  1. Instead of getting caught up in argumentative discourse about America being a Christian nation, why not instead examine the matter of a unilateral shift from BC/AD to BCE/CE? This is a serious matter, for heartland people – most of them Christian – weren’t consulted when academia decided that we’d be better served as a people by removing the inconvenient history of Christianity’s influence on the basic reference to historical eras. To these honest, well-intentioned, and hard-working people, it’s an attempt to remove their influence in the matters of the day by altering history books.
  2. To white people in middle America, the “Urban” culture – with its music, entertainment, and use of foul language – triggers their fear of the unknown. So foreign is so-called “Gangsta Rap,” for example, that it assaults their sensibilities, and the Top-40 is increasingly unrecognizable to them. This is a concern, because music and the arts are gateway drugs to the teenage mind, and when popularity dictates emulation, parents react. “Motherfucker,” George Carlin taught us, is a word of aggression, and white parents raised on modesty and gentleness aren’t likely to be amused. This is not per se racism – at least I don’t think it is – although it may feel that way to the creators of the media, who, if they were honest, would likely admit they aren’t really targeting this particular audience in the first place.
  3. To the slower-paced, solid foundation, self-sufficient people of the heartland, the world of political correctness is illogical and unnecessarily disruptive. The idea that the speaker is responsible for offending the listener and therefore must control her language or provide “trigger warnings” is foolish, because it seems to run in only one direction. Everyone else can be offended, it seems, except them, and this smacks of outside manipulation. Moreover, they’re not especially fond of paying a fortune to send their children away to institutions of higher learning where the schools cow-tow to the demands of students wanting “safe” spaces.
  4. A core value of heartland folks is that one must play the game of life with the hand we are dealt, like all of nature must. This is what mystifies so many when it comes to sexual relations, sexual preferences, and especially decisions by others to change their sexual assignment. Again, they look to their history and to nature and feel their wisdom in such matters is ridiculed without justification and that the culture is moving away from them without their consent. They don’t so much mind this for others, but they fear its presence may one day find its way into their own homes. Frankly, it’s okay for them to feel terrified.
  5. Finally, in all cultural matters, heartlanders feel they are automatically and pejoratively labeled intolerant unless they give their tacit approval to the constant and rapid changes coming from the progressive community. This is used as a hammer to bludgeon them into acceptance. It’s one thing, they feel, to argue over such extreme views but another entirely to simply initiate change unilaterally. To them, this leaves the bitter taste of conspiracy, and as long as this is the method used by people wanting change, they will withhold their blessing until given the chance of legitimate participation in the discussion.

We are all often fooled by the assumptions we make, and there’s a real opportunity here to accept our differences and talk about compromises. It’s always been and always will be a two-way street, although Trump’s top negotiation method, we’re learning, is to strip his opponents of their resources in order to get exactly what he wants and only what he wants. Just ask the Palestinians.

While I identify more with the progressive side of culture, I think it’s a great sickness to view life as either/or, black and white, all or nothing, right or wrong, etc. This is the problem with labels and pigeon holes, and it’s something “we the people” must resist as we embrace postmodern living. It’s beyond foolish; it’s just plain stupid to look at only extremes when assessing relationships. It’s lazy, sloppy thinking, and it puts us on a playing field where defense is the only weapon.

We can do better than that. We simply must, because what other choice do we have? Really?

The CBN formula that didn’t work

In the wake of Roy Moore’s defeat in the Alabama Senate race, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the foundational documents we used at CBN in developing and fine-tuning processes and systems in the creation of the daily 700 Club program. It’s referenced in my book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP -a research project by George Gallup – one of Pat Robertson’s dear friends – into the perceptions of Evangelical Christians by the America public. This would have been around 1980. I wasn’t there for the actual research, but I inherited the results as an outline of what needed to be incorporated into the program. One of our unspoken missions was to change this perspective, and we gave it our best shot.

The research painted a dismal picture of American attitudes and perceptions about Christians. If we were to recruit new followers of Christ through television, we were going to have to shift these attitudes away from the pejorative and to the desirable. It wasn’t easy, but we felt it was doable with a razor sharp focus on attention to detail when it came to those perceptions. People thought Christians were overweight, so we presented mostly fit and attractive people. They thought Christians were old, so we presented young. Same with Bible-thumping, ignorant, rural, and polyester-wearing. We chose questions & answers, educated, urban, and well-dressed. Christian women were submissive and dowdy. We focused on empowered and fashionable. We deliberately and constantly emphasized people who didn’t fit the stereotypes felt by the average American. Whenever we pursued a testimony story for the program, for example, the first order of business was a photograph of the person giving the testimony. This focus became second nature, and our internal membership data strongly suggested we were on the right path.

Then came the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, which slammed a door on what had been perceived as a revival in the church. Oral Roberts told his viewers that God was going to “take him home,” if he didn’t raise $9 million by Friday. Jim Bakker got caught with his pants down with a staffer, and Jimmy Swaggart got caught in sleazy motel rooms with sleazy prostitutes. We had no scandal, but our coffers were profoundly impacted by all this mischief. And who do you think were the ones who gave up on us the most? That’s right, those intelligent, educated, well-dressed, curious, and slim newbies.

Fast forward to today, and the irony is that we now have Donald Trump as President, with 80 percent of Evangelicals giving him their votes. One of the most puzzling questions about the election is how anybody with serious thinking chops could have been persuaded to vote for a guy who represents everything they hate. A salesman. A man who bends the truth to his own liking. A rich flimflam man. Could it be there’s more to these stereotypes than we’d like to think? In the rejection of Roy Moore last month, the voters of Alabama took a stand against those stereotypes we fought against so long ago. The public animosity towards what are viewed as hypocritical bigots with Bibles and bellies is back in full force, and I have to admit that I’m kind of happy about that. I’d love to see George Gallup repeat that study today, for I suspect the results would be even stronger than ever.

Perhaps this will be enough to get us out of this awful pit into which we’ve fallen.

A Christmastime Disgrace in the Holy Land

This is the story of two young people in Israeli jails at this Christmas time. One is a Jew; the other a Muslim. Neither celebrates Christmas, but the holiday’s message of “peace on earth” speaks loudly to their incarceration. The Israeli is 20-year old Elor Azarya (or Azaria). The Palestinian is 16-year old Ahed (or Ehed) Tamimi. The juxtaposition of these two youngsters is a sharp illustration of the extremes of conflict and misinformation in the West Bank.

I realize most of you don’t have much interest in the comings and goings of the West Bank, even though our government sends Israel $10 million-a-day in military and other aid. Embassy in Jerusalem? Who cares? Like images of starving people in Africa, who wants to be reminded of such confusing conflict in the region, especially this time of year? We turn away. That’s okay, it’s of supreme importance to me, so I pay attention. Here’s what you need to know about these two youngsters.

Elor Azarya

The people of Israel – not just the government, the people – want Azarya released, because they view him as a hero and his extrajudicial execution of a Palestinian teenager in the streets of Hebron last year as completely justified. I’m serious. Azarya was 19-years old when he blew the brains out of an incapacitated and bleeding Palestinian who was lying prone on his stomach in a pool of blood. Azarya pulled his rifle, walked a few steps to get close to his victim and shot him in the head. All of this was caught on videotape. This blatant murder was reduced to manslaughter with Azarya sentenced to 18 months in prison, four months of which was immediately suspended. The people of Israel want him released, and the latest news is that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin might just pardon him. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Azarya, “Everyone’s son” in calling for his release. You should also know that there are questions about the belief that Azarya’s victim was, in fact, the man who attacked an Israeli soldier with a knife on the day he was executed. The whole mess stinks, and yet Azarya’s smiling face is plastered all over the country as a symbol of the fine young men who defend Israel and her government.

Ahed Tamimi

Ahed Tamimi, however, is a well-known teenage protester of the treatment of Palestinians by Israelis, especially on the West Bank. Despite her young age, she’s been at it for many years. The Israelis pejoratively refer to her as “Shirley Temper,” because she is loud and obnoxious to her oppressors. Tamimi and her mother were arrested Wednesday after Ahed and another teen were seen in a viral video hitting, kicking, and slapping Israeli soldiers who were blocking entrance to the Tamimi home. The video is said to be humiliating to the Israeli soldiers, an illustration of the “moral fiber” of the soldiers to just stand there are take it, or as a demonstration of the girls’ heroism. Cries of foul are coming from those who think the Tamimi family has been exploiting their daughter for years by making constant videos of her activities.

But here’s the thing: Ahed confronted the soldiers, because her brother Mohammed had been shot in the head earlier in the day with a rubber-coated metal bullet by Israelis during a protest over Donald Trump’s Jerusalem decisions – which the governments of the rest of the world have condemned. Nobody knows if her brother will live or not, but the point is this incident was not unprovoked, exploitive, or some heroic demonstration of restraint on the part of the soldiers, and this is getting lost in the blur of propaganda. Palestinian actions in the West Bank are ALWAYS reactive. They never come out of nowhere, nor are they based in hatred of Jews. These people are reacting to the ghettoization of their land by occupiers who have no regard for international law.

Like the case with Azarya, nothing is ever black and white in the region, because the Zionist government has a need to spin events to represent their narrative. That this escapes only the U.S. is what’s so mind bogglingly frustrating to someone who really cares about the Palestinian people.

And Christians? Their mouths are shut, because they view all of this as prophecy being fulfilled, which in reality is thumbing their collective noses at God Almighty. Meanwhile, the holiday that proclaims Christ’s birth as the “reason for the season” marches forward without a care.

It’s utterly disgraceful.