When propaganda is presented as news

Statements this week by our slick salesman President shine a light on how obsessed the man is with the destruction of the profession created to be a check on his behavior in and out of the White House. Unless some serious remedies are found, he and his followers will make it impossible to judge between what is news and what is propaganda, and the very future of our democracy is at stake.

To a group of veterans in Kansas City on Tuesday, he criticized the press and made this remarkable statement:

“Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening. Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”

Many observers responded with fear and noted that the statement was eerily similar to Orwell’s dystopian 1984. That’s a problem, because the press seems to have no response to the corner into which they are being painted.

At the same time, Trump’s FCC took steps to block the merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media, which enraged the President. Tuesday night he tweeted: “So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,. This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!” Very briefly, local news groups have so far escaped the claims of bias and are trusted a great deal more than the national press. Sinclair owns more TV stations than anybody else. They’re famous for forcing anchors to read conservative scripts and editorials penned by Sinclair managers. One day they’ll destroy that trust between viewers and local news, but that’s downstream a bit. The point is that the President of the United States has called the move “disgraceful” in his attempts to control the Washington narrative.

One of the roles of journalism is to write the first draft of history, including all the stuff taught to our children. Without the chronicles of observers – professional observers – where would we begin in drafting the various narratives that make up the grand narrative that is certified as history? Much of my writing life has been dedicated to understanding this process, and we’ve now entered a new era where political propaganda has replaced professional journalism in a bold, manipulative, and dangerous plan to capture the minds of the masses.

My book, The Gospel of Self, is largely about how I helped Pat Robertson produce a form of point-of-view journalism in my substantial role at The 700 Club during the 1980s, up to and including Robertson’s run for President as a Republican in 1988. We literally wrote the book on presenting a politically conservative form of “news,” and as I’ve said many times, long before there was Fox News, there was The 700 Club. The most visible fruit of this unholy snow job today is Donald Trump, President of the United States and a master of propaganda as news.

What’s lost is the need of free people to access truth in current events and thusly our writing of history. News organizations aren’t politically liberal just because their product is often progressive. That’s because news is “new,” not only in its name but also in its mission to report what is new. It is not now, nor was it ever birthed as a form of political propaganda, but the same cannot be said for so-called “conservative news.” I know, because I was there when it was created.

The press simply must stop playing defense in all this and go on the offensive, which should include the use of its own facilities to educate the masses about journalism. All who carry the banner of “professional press” should join together in this process, for the Trump right takes advantage of the ignorance of the masses in this area.

We need to do this now, before this mischief is dragged into yet another presidential election year.

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 press needs a complete reinvention

Jay Rosen

The press doesn’t really believe that it bears any direct culpability in the election of Donald Trump, nor does it believe accusations today that it is biased against him. They KNOW they’re playing it down the middle, so any beliefs otherwise are false and don’t deserve a response. This forms a barrier impossible to penetrate when it comes to covering the Trump Presidency, because there are serious ramifications for all of us so long as the press maintains a business-as-normal disposition regarding its own work. Con artists require a certain equilibrium within which to present their logical fallacies, and the press – by being its same old self – is providing exactly that. In its current state, the press is simply being outmaneuvered by expertise it cannot overcome, because the playing field isn’t even.

As the brilliant Jay Rosen has pointed out – and I have written about subsequently – the press, especially the Washington press corps, operates in a thought stream that it considers “savvy.” To understand this, Jay pointed us to the three spheres of objectivity that the press uses as authored by Daniel C. Hallin in his book, The Uncensored War. It’s comprised of three concentric circles, the sphere of consensus in the middle, surrounded by the spheres of legitimate debate and then the outside sphere of deviancy. Wikipedia:

In the sphere of consensus, journalists assume everyone agrees. The sphere of legitimate controversy includes the standard political debates, and journalists are expected to remain neutral. The sphere of deviance falls outside the bounds of legitimate debate, and journalists can ignore it. These boundaries shift, as public opinion shifts.

The public is unaware of these classifications, but they surely understand that there is something wrong within the mainstream press that blinds them to certain realities they regularly confront every day. Things are not alright, but the press seems stuck in some obscure mindset that assumes they are. This is the pinpoint of the “why” of Donald Trump, but to cover the administration in this light would be to admit the press has been wrong in their foundational thought stream. What we have today is what happens when the press operates with the public’s opinion in the sphere of deviancy. They simply refuse to look at reality in America through any other lens than that provided by their own self-serving savvy. Perhaps it is the press itself that has entered deviant status.

The below meme appeared on my Facebook feed last week, and it’s very clever. It’s also highly persuasive to people who don’t feel they’re getting a fair shake from the press.

You can say all you want that this is merely a fool’s folly, manipulation, or the feeding of ignorance, but to deny it resonates with a great many Americans is just plain dumb. It’s also highly press-destructive and revealing about how we don’t seem to have learned anything since November of 2016. I’d call this completely within Professor Rosen’s admonition for the press to get off its “normalcy,” because the best it can do in its current state is produce the above. I believe this set of images speaks directly to the inability of the press to behave in any way differently than it always has, and it has profound consequences for our country.

And, while this is most certainly suicidal for the press, it doesn’t surprise me, because the press – especially in Washington – suffers from oxygen deprivation atop the pedestal it created for itself in the wake of Watergate. Watergate created the celebrity journalist, a different animal than the columnists of old who knew such status. Woodward and Bernstein were garden-variety reporters being spoon-fed by the number two guy at the FBI. There were books. There was a movie starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. It doesn’t get any more celebratory than that.

J-schools began encountering masses of wannabe Woodwards and Bernsteins, and the dye was cast for a different role for journalism in the culture, the “gotcha” journalist. Gotcha was the pathway, and the higher up the person “got,” the better for the journalist. Not content to just cover the news anymore, reporters saw themselves on the same cultural level belonging to the people it covered. It has produced transparent sitting ducks for spin, because everything hinges on access to a special class on the status ladder – those in charge.

Objectivity has totally failed, and we have to question whether there ever was such an animal in the first place. Christopher Lasch has brilliantly argued that it was manufactured by those who needed a sterile environment within which to sell advertising, and I don’t disagree. That sterile environment was also very useful for the selling of ideas, which is the role of public relations – the spin doctors.

Here’s another great deception that has been sold as a part of an objective press: the press has a duty to be fair. Any honest examination of this postulate will reveal it to be an assumption, a logical fallacy used to defend what Rosen calls “he said, she said” coverage of the news. The press has no obligation whatsoever to be fair. We proved that at The 700 Club 35 years ago, and Fox News proves it every day. “The press” as conceived in the First Amendment is not a bastion of fairness, for why would such an institution need protection from the government if this were true?

At CBN, we positioned ourselves to the right of the mainstream press. The act itself made two false claims: one, that the mainstream press represented a liberal, therefore political view of life, and two, that we should be taken just as seriously as they were in the overall presentation of journalism. Politicizing the press was designed to excuse our own politicalization. Since we were a propaganda arm of the political right, we couldn’t escape the fact that our presentation of the news was political, so in order to claim status as journalists, we needed to paint the entire institution as one, giant political land grab.

The point is that the press operated believing itself to be fair, and we did not. It’s not by accident that Fox News uses the word “fair” in its marketing slogan, for the whole idea is to confuse everything so as to provide an air of legitimacy to what is actually political propaganda.

Professor Rosen has seen this coming for decades and has tried to apply his academic mind to not only uncovering all of this but to also provide suggestions and recommendations on what to do about it. His latest,  “It’s time for the press to suspend normal relations with the Trump presidency,” is spot on but doesn’t go far enough.

I think the press needs to first suspend normal relations with itself.

Revisiting the Lizard

A meme one of my Christian Facebook friends posted to make a case for keeping illegal immigrants out of the U.S.

Twenty years ago, I published my first essay about the media and culture. The Lizard on America’s Shoulder described a phenomenon occurring in hyphenated TV markets, which was bombarding the viewing audience with a steady diet of bad news. In metropolitan markets where one big city dominated viewership, it was easier to avoid this, but in markets made up of multiple, smaller cities, it was extremely tricky. The idea in those markets was to place news bureaus in each community to assure all populations were served. The risk of doing otherwise was to send these viewers elsewhere where they were better served, and this could have drastic economic consequences for the TV stations.

Since the axiom “if it bleeds, it leads” is essentially correct, then the top stories from each of these smaller places are usually of a doom and gloom nature, so the newscasts in markets with two, three, or four separate communities flow with blood and guts coverage. This has a cumulative affect on the people watching who soon get the idea that they are surrounded by crime and bad guys. It’s not true, but it appears to be true, and so those regular watchers live their lives in constant fear, which has a corroding impact on the communities themselves.

I bring this up, because the internet has not only made this problem worse, but it has expanded the problem manyfold. Today – thanks to cameras everywhere – we not only learn of man’s inhumanity to man constantly, but we actually witness it throughout the day. No wonder we want protection from it all. Like driving past a wreck, however, we can’t help but look. The problem is one of perspective, and this is major contributing factor to the reign of Donald Trump and the Republicans (90% of whom now “approve” of the job he’s doing). Their law and order melody resonates with listeners, and it doesn’t matter if their warnings are factual or false; it just “feels” right. This is why the right – who has always exploited fear – has produced the almost fascist state that America finds herself in today. We don’t feel safe and are looking to the Donald and his ilk to protect us. It’s a trap, because – like most of the stuff we hear from the White House and the Republicans – it’s based on a false narrative.

The “lizard” is a reference to the wonderful little book “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis. The story is of a bus ride from hell to heaven, where the ghosts are each given a chance to make their way through the pearly gates. One fellow has a red lizard on his shoulder shrieking filthiness directly into his ear. The ghost claims it’s been with him forever, and that the thing has driven him completely crazy. The angel at the gate tells him “You can’t go in there with that” and reaches for the beast asking, “May I kill it?.” The ghost jumps back and declares, “Don’t touch my lizard.” This is a metaphor for us and our willingness to hang onto things that are bad for us despite the cost to ourselves. The angel asks the question three times, and in the end, the ghost gives the angel permission to finally kill the lizard, and it is transformed a great stallion upon which the ghost rides to freedom. He turns out to be the only one on the bus who makes it through.

I’m a believer in cosmic mercy and cosmic justice, and I think that we are in our current conundrum deliberately. God (or whatever term you use) is indeed judging the world today, but it’s not the sinners who are at the wrong end of the stick. It’s the hypocrites with the Pharisaical spirit who’ve supported punishing the poor and the afflicted in the name of teaching them to fish instead of feeding them. They are the ones against whom the anger of the universe has risen, and they WILL be brought to their knees, because life demands it.

To the same extent that these people close their hearts and our borders, heaven’s gate will be closed to them. No matter how often they proclaim an inside track, the angel will stand there and say, “You can’t go in there with that.”

And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

My Deep Disappointment in “Christianity Today”

Christianity Today (CT) is doubtless the most influential media outlet within Christianity (The 700 Club notwithstanding), but it regularly proves that its point-of-view is decidedly political and of the right-wing, evangelical variety. Would that it would define itself as such, for the world view it promulgates often drifts over into false witness, and readers need to understand that CT is a long way from “thus saith the Lord.”

Founded by Billy Graham, it defines itself as follows:

Since 1956, Christianity Today has been a trusted beacon spotlighting the way in which Christians can live gospel lives for the strengthening of church and society.

Christianity Today consistently demonstrates through all its media how the true, good, and beautiful gospel can not only transform lives but bring hope and flourishing to individuals, cultures, and communities.

This movement now directly reaches over five million Christian leaders every month.

Christianity Today advocates for the church, shapes the evangelical conversation, brings important issues to the forefront, and provides practical solutions for church leaders.

Time and again, CT proves its anti-ecumenism bias and its rooting for the haves (always remember that ministries need those big contributions) in what is represented as “strengthening” society. Even when articles are offered that seem to present the opposite, a careful reading reveals they are always selling their politically conservative point-of-view. This week for example, Christianity Today provides an article about how Christians should respond to Palestinians with “Beyond the Nakba: 7 Ways Christians Can Affirm a Positive Future for Palestinians.” The subhead is “How to understand the “catastrophe” of 1948 and its impact on today’s Israel.” By using the word “Nakba” in its headline, the editors hope to show their understanding and empathy for the Palestinian people, but in the end, this is just another piece in support of the Zionist political narrative about the region.

Here are the “7 Ways:”

1) Recognize that it happened—and why. Sounds like a good start, but the “why” drifts a bit into propaganda (the Arabs started it).
2) Recognize the humanity of all Palestinians. Wow, this might really be good after all.
3) Recognize the Palestinians as a real people who deserve security and self-determination. Can I get an “Amen?”
4) Push back against demonization of the Jews. Wait, what? Where did that come from? I thought we were talking about the Palestinians.
5) Reject support for violence. This one seems hopeful, but it turns out to be about violence against the Israelis. I feel like I’ve been duped.
6) Support those seeking peace. Again, this is about supporting Israel’s view of peace.
7) Encourage a positive vision for the future. Here we have an apologetic for a view that doesn’t “negate” Israeli rule, saying, “It may be that the best response to the Nakba is to help Palestinians to move beyond it.” So there it is, Palestinians. Get over it already. That’s the sum total of Christian advice.

I guess what galls me the most is that here we have a document alleging advice for “Christians” on how they should approach “their Palestinian friends” about the “conflict” in the Middle East. Nowhere does it offer even a word about Israel’s behavior in the extra-judicial executions of Arabs that occur seemingly every day. Neither is there a word about the living conditions the Palestinians must endure, the ghettos and open-air prisons they are forced to call home, the severe restrictions on water and electricity, the expansion in the West Bank, or anything even remotely causal assigned to the Israelis regarding the conflict. In the narrative that Christianity Today embraces, Israel is always seen as defending themselves and Palestinians are always presented as aggressors holding some unjustified grudge against the good guys.

The Nakba isn’t something that can be assigned to the dustbin of history, for it is ongoing. For people who are commanded to judge righteous judgement, this so-called “Christian” article is hot off the press of evil. Why don’t we have the same “get over it” attitude with regards to the Holocaust? Yeah, it happened, but that was history, so just “move beyond it.” Can you see the sloppy thinking on display here? Well, Terry, you can’t compare the Nakba with the Holocaust. After all, one was genocide; the other just moving a few people out of the way, legally I might add. Right.

So what is our truly best response? To love them as we love ourselves. Get over it? Sounds like a typical right-wing plank in the platform of mischief towards the poor and disenfranchised.

And, remember, folks, the U.S. gives Israel $10 million every day, including weekends.

Postmodern Fame

Mean Mary James, a terrific talent you’ve probably never heard of. She makes it in the new world through a deep connection with her fans.

In the mass marketing world, fame is determined by many things, but perhaps the most important is the size of the audience one can grow or the amount of money one can make in so doing. The two are inexorably connected, and this fits nicely with the processes and systems of modernism. Logically, it’s possible to create wealth by accumulating a mass audience that will directly purchase products or allow their eyes to be exposed to advertisements from third-parties. Whether it’s a stadium concert or an Instagram following, this is the historical path to fame.

It’s in this light that a recent Bloomberg story can make the claim, “‘Success’ on YouTube Still Means a Life of Poverty.”

New research out of Germany billed as among the first to review the chances of making it in the new Hollywood shows a vanishingly small number will ever break through—just like in the old Hollywood.

In fact, 96.5 percent of all of those trying to become YouTubers won’t make enough money off of advertising to crack the U.S. poverty line, according to research by Mathias Bärtl, a professor at Offenburg University of Applied Sciences in Offenburg.

Breaking into the top 3 percent of most-viewed channels could bring in advertising revenue of about $16,800 a year, Bärtl found in an analysis for Bloomberg News.

The article goes on to say that “One in 3 British children age 6 to 17 told pollsters last year that they wanted to become a full-time YouTuber. That’s three times as many as those who wanted to become a doctor or a nurse.” This is all based on the fame=wealth paradigm of mass media, and it’s a losing formula in today’s age for two reasons. One, as a business model, mass media is hanging on by a thread. Targeting has replaced it in an effort to overcome Wanamaker’s dilemma of half his marketing budget going to waste on the assumption that his customers would be a part of the crowd. Two, the web is a miracle of horizontal connectivity, and new models for the arts are being developed regularly. A big part of the problem is our addiction to formulas in the West. The whole system is corrupt and serves the few, and there simply is no process that’ll replace hard work and interaction.

I’ve written before about Kevin Kelly’s brilliant “1,000 true fans,” and that model is being exploited by entrepreneurs who sense opportunity. To all makers of content, hear this: scarcity cannot be assumed in an age when anybody can make content, and if that’s the case, then your content must be used in other ways to make money. Patreon is a brilliant website designed to help creatives make money through the support of fans – even Kelly’s “True Fans.” In this way, support for artistic endeavors is garnered without directly selling the products being created. Patreon’s software does all the heavy lifting, but smart creators (or their business managers) have the tools to work with those supporters in making their experience worthwhile. According to Wikipedia:

Patreon is a membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service, as well as ways for artists to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, or “patrons.”

Websites like Concert Window or StageIt provide artists with a way to interact with fans while performing from anywhere, including their own living rooms. There’s a suggested “offering” for participation, and artists can provide prizes for the biggest concert donor. It’s a great way to promote anything and to please those 1,000 true fans.

People (and institutions) will always support the arts, and we have to get it out of our heads that there’s only one way to do that. The lure of Kardashianesque stardom tugs at the egos of many, but isn’t it really about living a reasonable lifestyle while using the gifts we’ve been given to share with others? So what if a second job is required for a season? The passion to share what’s within is driving change as the Great Horizontal presses onward.

Let us not despise the day of small beginnings.