Trump’s “Fake News” Insult is a Steaming Pile of Bullshit

President Trump and New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger butted heads over the weekend on the matter of “fake news” and public references by the President calling journalists “the enemy of the people.” Sulzberger made his points via a statement after Trump broke the off-the-record agreement he had made with Sulzberger following a July 20 private meeting on the issue. Using his Twitter account, Trump spoke of the meeting while again attacking the press. This prompted a reply from Sulzberger:

“I told him that although the phrase ‘fake news’ is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists ‘the enemy of the people,'” Sulzberger said. “I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”

This apparently angered Trump who went on to assail journalists and – as NPR put it – “dismissing them as unpatriotic and irresponsible.”

Needless to say, this has become a very ugly, nasty, and highly dangerous dispute, if for no other reason than it shifts press focus away from the bigger issues impacting everyone one in America under the anti-leadership of this slick and manipulative salesman that we put in office. But, perhaps that’s his purpose in this whole charade anyway.

So, let’s try this again. There is not now, nor has there ever been a liberal political bias as part of the mainstream news media. I’ve had people actually laugh in my face when making this claim, but my evidence is conclusive. It’s just that some people shut down when they hear it, because they are so absolutely convinced of the opposite. And this belief is nothing new. Remember that Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew said the exact things we’re hearing today coming from the right, yet people examining media history today would hardly view Walter Cronkite as a flaming liberal. The problem Agnew had was that he had no media outlet to back him up, except perhaps William F. Buckley’s National Review.

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propagandist.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s make a distinction between the words “news” and “politics.” While it’s true that the discussion of political matters may be a necessary part of the news, it does not follow that the news business IS a political instrument. This is the fallacy that has clouded our judgment in the arguments over what is and is not “fake news.” When our President uses the term to tag the mainstream press, he is bearing a false witness and demeaning an institution that needs, instead, our protection. This is the nut of it.

I’m one of the people who helped originate the concept of non-liberal-biased TV news by calling it conservative and including conservative political arguments. But this strategy is based on the assumption that the mainstream is, in fact, political, and that is simply not true. Hence, the best we could rightly claim is that we were feeding viewers the kinds of propaganda that we claimed that liberals were doing with the mainstream press. Do you see the inherent conflict in the argument? From the manual on manipulation, The Thinker’s Guide To Fallacies: The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation, this tactic is Dirty Trick number one: Accuse Your Opponent of Doing What He is Accusing You of (or worse).

And yet, those convinced of this fallacy LAUGH at me. I spoke to a group of such people in Colorado last year, and when I started talking about this, they ended the meeting through their astonishment, mockery, and disdain, choosing instead to bring their Christianity into the discussion. I suppose I deserved this by presuming the right to challenge their beliefs directly, but the current political situation in our country demands honesty and open-mindedness in our thoughts and speech, regardless of what anybody thinks.

One must be a fringe conspiracy theorist to actually believe that “the Democrats” are somehow behind the actions of the press. This is absurd on its face, and to argue it is a waste of everybody’s time. It gets traction, however, because it’s said so often, and it fits so well with the grand narrative of the political right. The suggestion likewise that the press might instead be behind the Democrats’ thinking is even more absurd, and yet this is the position into which we are forced by those who have a beef with the progressive culture.

The press does not speak on behalf of the culture; it speaks to the culture. It speaks about what is NEW. That’s why it’s called “the news!” If the culture is moving in a progressive manner, of course we’ll hear about it from the press (and we do), but that doesn’t mean there’s anything of a political (read: manipulative) nature behind it. The press isn’t dictating to the culture how it believes the culture should behave. Of course, the press does provide the editorial page as a separate entity and includes letters to the editor, but this isn’t what Trump is talking about.

The culture doesn’t decide anything based on the news that the press provides. If anything, in providing its observations, the press gives the culture information upon which it can make its own political decisions. If one doesn’t like the current culture, they have every right to resist and object, but it accomplishes exactly nothing to shout “liberal conspiracy” at the messengers. Except, that is, to demonize the press as a political opponent. It is not.

Dog bites man, it’s not news. Man bites dog, it is news. To accuse the messenger of bias in this account is like saying, “Why is the press reporting on these idiots who bite dogs?” or “Oh, Lord, let us please go back to the time when men didn’t bite dogs.” In this sense, so-called “conservative” news isn’t really news; it’s “olds.” I say so-called, because news that is birthed of a political purpose (that’s what we have when we say that this news or that news is “conservative”) is actually propaganda, the kind of which is calculating and deliberate.

And there is nothing righteous about a society that’s built around a backbone of propaganda.

Dirty Trick #33: Rewriting History

Public manipulation by special interests has become a giant and painful carbuncle on the skin of the West today, and it threatens the very foundations of our liberty. We witness it every day, and yet people get away with it, because the public doesn’t have a clue. From the controlling narcissist to the special interest, manipulation is a dangerous game being played at all levels of our culture and something I think we ought to be teaching in high school (along with journalism). Permit me to offer two quotes by Edward Bernays, the father of professional public relations. He was one of the original thinkers on the subject and literally wrote the book on propaganda:

From his 1947 essay and 1955 book “The Engineering of Consent:”

If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it.

From his 1923 book Crystalizing Public Opinion:

Those who manipulate the organized habits and opinions of the masses constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

This is the most under-reported story in the West, because the press not only views it as standard operating procedure in a civilized culture, but it also participates in the manipulation, sometimes knowingly but more often unawares. Again, if smart manipulators are going to be on the loose plying their trade, then we must somehow arm our citizens to recognize what’s going on. My recommended reading for this task is a little book that would serve well as a textbook for the class, The Thinker’s Guide To FALLACIES: The Art of Mental Trickery and Manipulation. I can’t possibly over-recommend this guidebook.

Today, I want to talk about Dirty Trick #33 from the book: Re-write History (Have it your way). It’s a very clever way to win an argument, because it undercuts your opponent by removing their foundational support evidence. It’s one of the most evil and seditious manipulations of all, and its practitioners can be so slick that it’s often difficult to figure out what’s really going on. Here’s part of what the book says:

“The fact is that human memory is continually working to re-describe events of the past in such a way as to exonerate itself and condemn its detractors. Historical writing often follows suit, especially in the writing of textbooks for schools. So, in telling a story about the past, manipulators feel free to distort the past in whatever ways they believe they can get away with. As always, the skilled manipulator is ready with (self-justifying) excuses.”

Sometimes, this appears obvious, such as what happens when the victor in a war is given the responsibility to write the history of the war. It’s guaranteed to be skewed. Other times, however, it is very, very subtle, and I want to point to two current examples of this taking place in our midst, one from the political right and one from the political left. That way, I can be criticized by everybody.

On the left, we have the transgender community – in an effort to justify itself – creatively rewriting history by redefining what it means to be normal in terms of gender identification. This is vitally important to the movement, because words like “normal” shove them into a corner labelled “abnormal” or “deviant,” and this bias comes naturally without people even giving a thought to the idea of gender preference. So, in order to make “trans” more palpable with the rest of society, it’s necessary to offer the idea that all gender difference is a result of nature, for if this can be done, then those who used to be tagged as abnormal or deviant can no longer be labeled as such. It’s just the luck of the draw.

And so, we have a new term inserted by the trans community into the English language: cisgender, cisgendered, or any derivative of cis, which is the opposite of trans. According to Google, it means “denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.” It’s presented as a privilege, which means those so labelled can be the oppressors in society. So, what used to be considered “normal” is now just another position on a spectrum of gender identification. There is no normal. Everybody naturally exists along a linear scale with cis on one end and trans on the other end. Variations on the gender thought stream exist between the extremes, but we’re all just one, big happy family of different personal gender hands that we have no choice but to play, and that is a rewriting of history to the nth degree.

The term was originated in 1991 by German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch, so it’s a brand new piece of thinking. However, as Dirty Trick #33 advises, historical writing will ensue, and our children will be presented with this concept as historical fact. Mission accomplished through a manipulative logical fallacy. Those who oppose the thinking are deemed intolerant, and so it goes.

On the right, we have something that is even more sinister in its manipulation and one in which I participated in my role as executive producer of The 700 Club in the years prior to Pat Robertson running for President in 1988. We innovated what we called “TV Journalism With a Different Spirit,” news from a Biblical, Christian, and conservative perspective. We took ourselves seriously, and to present ourselves to the public, we needed to rewrite history. We did so by presenting as fact the assertion that all “news” is determined by political bias. Therefore, we simply took a position to the political right on the thought spectrum of journalism. This action meant that everybody else – from CBS News to the New York Times – was to the political left of us. This was a core principle upon which we functioned.

This, however, is a total fallacy, because “the news” is not a political product. Political information vehicles are called propaganda, and we’re back to the whole public manipulation theme. Think about it. News organizations used to operate on a belief in objectivity, and while we’ve all come to believe that objectivity was an unattainable ideal, we were always careful to be fair and present opposing thinking to anything that was presented as “new.” We took seriously the responsibility of writing the first draft of history, and our ethical rules were built upon that role. But the news is new, and that’s a cultural problem for conservatives, who are happiest with a tamper-proof status quo. New is progressive, and therein lies the rub.

As I wrote in my book, The Gospel of Self, before there was Fox News, there was CBN News, and we wrote the playbook for propaganda as news. It’s important to note that in the practice of this, there’s no need to provide balance. In fact, opposition to a right wing perspective can be mocked freely, because, after all, this isn’t journalism at all. It. Is. Propaganda. Once again, as Dirty Trick #33 warns, historical writing has ensued since we rewrote history, and now our children are taught to believe that all news is political, and that there are two distinct “sides” in the institution of journalism.

Don’t get me wrong; I do think the arrogance of the press has contributed to its own demise and that objectivity was an unrealistic ideal in the first place. However – and this is what’s important – as long as the press plays only defense in the game of public manipulation, those quietly guiding the disruption – the fundamentalist conservatives – will continue to advance in the culture. The left is being defined by the right today, and this is the dangerous fruit of logical fallacies. For as long as we view justice and mercy as two opposing sides of the same coin, we will always favor one or the other, depending on who’s in charge.

We need to avoid these stacked decks by understanding logical fallacies when they are presented. Otherwise, we’re like punching bag wives in the hands of evil but gifted narcissist husbands for whom all of this is as natural as breathing.

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.”

Okay.

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.

The Religion of Conservative News

I met a woman this year who has the gift of personal prophecy. By that I mean that she’s genuinely very sensitive and able to offer wisdom and encouragement to people who benefit deeply from her words. We can argue over whether this is a real spiritual gift or whether she’s just good at reading people, but to me, it doesn’t matter, for both are the same thing. There’s no doubt that certain fundamentalists have taken this idea and used it for foolishness, but as a sensitive person myself, I can confirm that “reading” others isn’t a form of magic, nor is it all that unique. One can’t brag of specialness for self-centered purposes when such insight is spread around to many.

Nevertheless, a lot of gifted people simply keep their mouths shut, and this woman is a bit different in that sense. Rather than sharing publicly, however, she usually shares her thoughts only with the person to whom they’re intended. I like that. There’s a genuineness to it, and I respect her for that.

She’s very much a loving Christian and often provides uplifting posts on Facebook, but she also has a significant blindspot. She spreads false information about politics based on fake news sources that she consumes with regularity. When I pointed out to her recently that she was actually “bearing false witness” on one particular piece of delicious clickbait, she got angry and basically told me to keep my mouth shut. Fair enough, although I regrettably have no filter when it comes to such, so I’ve been known to really piss people off. I used to care, but I guess I just don’t anymore.

She actually pulled the post after a few days, and I appreciate that. We really don’t need stuff like that influencing others.

This woman is part of a large group of conservative Christians who struggle with my book, The Gospel of Self, How Jesus Joined The GOP, because they don’t like my position on so-called conservative news. I believe it’s propaganda, and I should know, since I was one of the people who helped create it. A full fifteen years before Fox News, there was The 700 Club and CBN News. We wrote the book on conservative propaganda as news, so any argument that attempts to validate it as real news isn’t really worth having. It’s a chasing of the wind, but it does reveal how far off the mark many of these Evangelicals have drifted. They honestly believe that the mainstream press openly supports a liberal agenda for the country and is their arch enemy in the flesh. They seem incapable of reason when it comes to certain things, and this is one of them.

Kaitlyn Scheiss

Some observers are beginning to see the ritual of nightly consuming Fox News as a solemn rite of worship, an idolatry so deceptive that it’s impacted most of Evangelical Christianity. Dallas Theological Seminary graduate student Kaitlyn Schiess offered such insight in an excellent New York Times article, How to Escape From Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism. It came in a discussion of Evangelicals leaping to the defense of Roy Moore, despite the nature and degree of his history with young girls and allegations of sexual contact.

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

This is a brilliant deduction, and I can verify that the devotion expressed by people such as my friend above borders on brainwashing, because it oversteps facts, truth, and logical thinking en route to its fallacious conclusions. Why not view it as a form of worship? After all, that’s what we did at The 700 Club. Here was a Christian talk show featuring Christian guests, Christian themes, and Christian prayers that was a bonafide substitution for church in the early days of the televangelist movement. When we began to weave news coverage into the mix, there was little question in our presentation that it was as much a part of being a Christian as prayer. When Fox News came into being in 1996, conservatives had already been nurtured and convinced of its necessity and its vision. We did that, and the worse thing we did was to believe our own hype. Pat Robertson is so lost today that he can’t separate the faith from his politics, and he’s still among the top influencers when it comes to the agenda of Evangelicals and the Republican Party.

God is judging this version of the church today, and I’m beginning to hear arguments to this effect from voices other than my own. We need to repent and turn from this wickedness, or the church has little hope for tomorrow. We steadfastly blame others – like those dirty liberals – for the sad state of our nation and the world today, when we should be examining our own hearts.

Ever evangelizing, we shake our fists up at those walking by, as we travel along the flow of the gutter toward the awaiting sewer. “Curse you, World,” is our cry. “You’re all going to hellllllllllllllll.”