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.

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 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.”

The Winds of Change

Hello, friends. I feel a familiar tug in the wake of recent dealings with The Huffington Post, and I need to take a step back and reconsider everything regarding my mission in Life as I continue to get older. I’ve got another book in the works, and perhaps that’s where my attention needs to be right now. I’m tired of being broke, and the book that I’ve dedicated my life to over the past couple of years (The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined The GOP)  isn’t selling like I thought it might. But this latest business with the online publication I’d hoped would help has left me a bit cynical and very disappointed

I’ve enjoyed commenting on current events for HuffPost, but this episode affirms my belief that our society has no real wish to deal with its problems, because we are complicit in their continuation, even to the point of rooting for them. My piece on Harvey Weinstein was rejected due to “the assumption of pathology and the discussion of victims’ responses and clothing choices, among other things.” This is, of course, their right and perhaps even their duty, but it tells me that despite my experience on the issue, my opinion simply doesn’t matter. Offered the confessions of a reformed serial sexual predator, the editors couldn’t bring themselves to consider another perspective in the matter. Meanwhile, I’ve read countless expert and non-expert opinions on Weinstein, all of which make assumptions of pathology or character defects. This is similar to responses I’ve received regarding articles about Christianity that I’ve produced, so I’m thinking that perhaps it’s time to just move along. One of the great tests of leadership is to turn around and see if anybody’s following. Just like what happened in media circles, with religion and feminism, there’s too much at stake to risk going off-road with sacred cows. And so, I need to back away – at least for a bit – and give some thought to where I go from here.

I’ll continue promoting my book, because I still believe it’s an important read in the age of Trump. I got an invitation to participate in a major book event in Tucson in March, and that’ll be a lot of fun.

I’ll publish here the article that was rejected by the folks at The Huffington Post and let you be the judge. It took guts to step out and admit what I did in that piece, but I really thought it would help advance the discussion. I know where Harvey Weinstein is getting treatment, and I know who is helping him. I’ve taken very similar steps, but apparently that’s of no consequence.

We’ll see.