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, naïve, 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.

Deconstructing the path to truth

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

Deconstructing the path to truth

We’re hearing lots today about the laziness and weakness of what Jay Rosen calls “he said/she said” journalism, where writers find what feels like a sterile form of “balance” in the issues of the day by including both “sides” of any particular matter. This formula is fine until we discover that there isn’t another “side,” or that this other view is actually one that’s based on falsehood or worse, manipulation. “He said/she said” has worn out its welcome in many places, where the experiment now is to find a sense of fairness amidst the often manipulative efforts of those who have a selfish interest, and use the rules of “balance” to interject their thinking into complex issues.

In the advancing “age of participation” – what I call “postmodernism” – this artificiality is having difficulty standing up against the wider spectrum of the public, which has two things going for it today. One, they’re more able to monitor and respond to any form of artificiality in the news, and, two, they can participate in the forum that was once reserved only for the professional journalist and make up their own minds. As Gallup reaffirmed last week, the American public simply does not trust the professional press, and the whole “he said/she said” business is a big part of that.

It is against this background that I’ve published another chapter in the manual of postmodern journalism. It is my hope that you will give the ideas expressed herein a few moments of your valuable time.

Why I’m leaving AR&D

AR&D logoMy contract to continue with AR&D isn’t being renewed, and I’ll be unemployed come January 1st. I’m retiring, and the decision is a mutual one for two reasons. One, my body just can’t do what it used to be able to do, which is what happens to most people when we hit a certain age, regardless of how well we take care of ourselves. Two, and this is by far the bigger reason, our clients simply aren’t buying what I’m selling. There are plenty of better qualified people out there to teach media companies how to get the most out of their brands in the network (Alisa Cromer is the best, but there are many others). Anything suggestive of the idea that the Web is a sustaining innovation are functioning in what I call “Media 1.0,” the sandbox of media brand extension.

For the last 14 years, my heart and mind have been elsewhere: creating concepts that will allow local media companies to move beyond that which their brands can sustain. I think we should be using those brands to move beyond the world of advertising, which is what I call Media 2.0. Here, the innovation of the Web is disruptive, not sustaining.  However, this been a really hard sell for the local broadcast industry. 2012, for example, will finish as a record profit year for broadcasters, who see no compelling reason to invest some of that money in the future. Broadcasters made so much money this year that it would overwhelm even a very rich man’s wallet. Millions upon millions upon millions of pure profit. Everybody knows that next year will be brutal, but they press on, because 2014’s election beckons like a reliable point of light on the horizon. The thinking goes that no matter what happens in 2013, all will be well in 2014, because that’s the way it has always been.

Election money is broadcasting’s classifieds, revenue that feels like you can count on it no matter what else happens. I mean, where else could candidates go to actually move the needle when it comes to controlling the political message? Right? TVB boss Steve Lanzano just published a piece declaring that “As Election Day nears, waving off TV would be a strategic mistake of epic proportions.” After election money comes automotive, the “steady-eddie” of broadcast revenue, the number one reliable revenue source for local broadcasters. Where else would auto dealers go to actually sell cars, no matter how the economy is doing? Right? And so it goes.

My dear friend and employer, Jerry Gumbert, has been a real trooper over the past six years, supporting me and my views completely. He’s even allowed me to verbally beat the crap out of the very industry that pays our salaries, and this has taken a level of courage and leadership that few executives even recognize, much less possess. I’m proud of my contributions to the vision that drives the company, and I’m proud of Jerry. The truth is, though, AR&D will do just fine without me.

Alice and the White RabbitThrough my research and writing many years ago, I came to the conclusion that following three broad trends was a lot more fruitful for predicting the future than chasing every “sure thing” rabbit that came along. If a new innovation advanced one of these trends, it was a lot more meaningful to me, perhaps because it helped keep me focused in a time of unrelenting change. Among the chaotic waves of turbulance that surround me in an advancing storm, I’ve learned to zone in on the horizon instead of the waves.

Here are the three big themes of which I speak:

  • The unbundling of content from infrastructures: In 2004, then FCC Chairman (and currently chief lobbyist for the cable industry) Michael Powell told students that “application separation” was “the most important paradigm shift in the history of communications” and that it would “change things forever.” It has already disrupted major industries like music, print media (esp magazines) and video, and it’s just a baby in terms of its growth and development. This means that any industry that makes its money off an infrastructure that surrounds content that people wish to consume has to face this disruptor sooner or later. It’s why, for example, I favor mobile apps done in HTML5 over those that are closed. Discovery is the key to content distribution downstream, and companies close the door at their own peril. A closed app can be the same thing as a paywall in terms of how it keeps content “inside.”
  • Real time flows and streams of knowledge and information: I interviewed Kevin Kelly a couple of years ago about the seminal “We Are The Web” piece that he wrote for Wired Magazine in 2004. I asked if he’d write anything different these many years later, and his response was that he’d include the shift to real time flows and streams of information. People who walk through their daily lives are apt to miss this subtle but sure shift in the way knowledge and information are being distributed. This seems a managable trend until trend number one is added to the mix, because technology wants and needs that which is detached from infrastructure in order to move this to the next level. For media companies, this speaks to a product unrelated to legacy distribution methods, yet most companies — even those who “get” real time — are reluctant to even flirt with unbundled concepts.
  • The Second Gutenberg moment: This theme is by far the biggest and most disruptive to any hierarchically-based institution, including the media. It’s what Jay Rosen has termed “The Great Horizontal” and J.D. Lasica called “The Personal Media Revolution.” I like the reference to Gutenberg, because history can “see” the scope and breadth of how the printing press changed the culture of Western Europe and led to, among other things, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. We don’t have a clue about this Second Gutenberg moment, but the changes will be just as impactful. The power of knowledge at the fingertips of the masses and the power to disseminate knowledge to the masses have only begun to touch us. Those who stand as “special” in the old world — and I consider those with broadcast towers to be among them — simply aren’t as special anymore (or perhaps it’s better to say they “won’t be special”). It is within this theme that I find it difficult to support practices that serve only to advance this “specialness.”

If you’re unable to find sustainability within those three trends, then your future — regardless of your business proposition, media or otherwise — is suspect, and that’s the truth.

I don’t make portability its own theme, because mobile isn’t so much something new and separate as it is where the whole network is going. Computing, in other words, is going portable, and it can be dangerous to think that “mobile” is its own category. For a similar reason, I don’t view “second screen” or “social TV” as their own themes, because these are simply natural extensions of computing and fall more into what I would see as Media 1.0, or brand extension tactical applications.

I’ve worked very hard to stay on top of things on behalf of clients and beyond, but it has become a full-time job without a demand, so my departure from AR&D is both inevitable and understandable. I’m a little unclear as to exactly what I’m going to do downstream, but writers write, so I’m assuming I’ll continue writing. The Pomo Blog will live on.

The Web — and these three broad trends — are going to accelerate their disruptive nature, and sooner or later, television stations are going to have to respond.

But I’m reminded of the old admonition to not “confuse a clear view with a short distance.” Market timing is everything…

…and so it goes.