The Ongoing Hoax of Fox News

Senator Doug Jones
Will the Alabama press paint Doug Jones as a liberal?

Let’s try this again.

Observers of the press in 2020 can be excused for their misrepresentation of Fox News, because it flows from their predictable understanding of the news business: that stories in the press rightly contain the many voices representing the issue being examined. That the mainstream even regards Fox as part of today’s news ecosystem is a significant error, for Fox News doesn’t fit the news paradigm, because its behavior represents itself as a mouthpiece for the political right. Despite its “Fair and Balanced” slogan, Fox News has no need to represent other views, because the “balance” it allegedly supplies is juxtapositioned against the purported bias of the mainstream press as a whole.

Everybody got that?

This is exactly what we did in the 1980s at The 700 Club. We positioned ourselves and our bias as on the same level as everybody else in the press, but with one huge exception. We, like Fox, felt we were providing the “balance” that the mainstream refused to provide, because they were biased in favor of liberalism. The latter, of course, was routinely proven false, but propaganda has no need of or respect for the truth.

Read these next words VERY carefully. The news business is based on what’s new, which includes both ideas and practices within our generally progressive/evolving culture. It’s not rocket science to understand that the word “news” involves that which is new. Those who only wish to protect the status quo certainly have voices within the framework of reporting something “new,” but those voices don’t have the authority to present people simply doing their jobs as representing their political opponents. This is very useful for the extremists, who need to present the press as an outside agitator or key facilitator of the evil they boast about defeating.

This forces the mainstream press into a box convenient for the political right, because the press can do nothing but play defense. It’s especially the case when the right drags out the “fake” news paintbrush. Logical fallacies abound, but there’s nothing the press can do about it, so long as they wish to be called the press.

And, here’s where the thought line gets murky, because professional journalism has its own deception to deal with, one that clouds everything regarding the press in 2020.

We used to think those many voices could be presented within individual stories. Balance, we called it. Fairness. All “sides” included in stories relevant to these varying voices. It was known as “objectivity,” the gift of Walter Lippmann’s “professional” journalism of the early 20th Century. That’s right; it’s only 100 years old.

However, as historian Christopher Lasch so brilliantly noted in his 1990 essay “The Lost Art of Political Argument,” thus began the detachment of the people from the political process. As this professional press grew, involvement in the political process by Americans declined, and not only that, but another consequence was we lost our ability to form arguments. The press did it for us, and this was viewed as progress.

Read further into Lasch’s essay, however, and you come across the real intent of all this, which was to create a sterile environment for the sale of advertising. That’s right. Commerce giants didn’t want their brands soiled by acquaintance with dirty politics, so Lippmann’s views became mainstream. Moreover — and this is the important point — it empowered the tactics of public relations, as envisioned by Lippmann’s Creel Committee cohort, Edward Bernays.

Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, had sneaky and psychologically-based ideas about how a small group of men (this was 100 years ago) could manipulate public opinion through what he called “propaganda.”

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

Propaganda, by Edward Bernays

The ideas of propaganda have been with humankind for several centuries, but it was the space created by the professional press that boosted it to prominence. After all, the essence of mass media is that a single entity can reach great throngs of people, and the 20th Century — with its industrial revolution — was a great test tube for experimenters like Edward Bernays. His access to significant resources (such as money from the tobacco industry, one of Bernays’ initial clients) allowed him to manipulate mass numbers of people.

So the effort to position right-wing propaganda against the mainstream press was really just clever public relations, because these deliberately biased organizations don’t really belong within the body of what we know of as “the press.” This is likely fine with the perpetrators of this false witness, because it served the special interests — a.k.a. the aristocracy, a.k.a. the silk stockings, a.k.a. corporate masters — in their wishes to escape government regulators or cultural responsibilities to the communities they serve. “Noblesse oblige” has gone the way of the Dodo bird, for today’s aristocracy is only interested in themselves.

I will quote John Milton at every turn: “License they mean when they cry ‘liberty’.”

As Pat Robertson taught me, “If I’m playing the position of fullback, and the announcer calls me a halfback, that’s not MY fault; it’s the ignorance of the announcer.” This kind of thinking, we believed, gave us license to call ourselves whatever WE thought was proper. So, the heck with those pesky announcers (cultural observers).

It’s also easy to understand that the press is exasperated with this turn of events, because it’s gone beyond a case of simple political positioning; the radical right is exceptionally skilled at propaganda and no longer wishes to be just a “side” in some observer’s reporting. No, their clear “want” is to always be the player with the most marbles and to keep others (meaning those who are different) out of their inner ring. Call it racism, xenophobia, classism, or whatever you wish, but an economy that serves only the top 1% simply isn’t sustainable absent a bayonet at everybody else’s back. And that, my friends, isn’t liberty; it’s totalitarianism. No wonder Donald Trump envies Valdimir Putin.

Here in Alabama, the demonizing of Conservative Democratic Senator Doug Jones has begun, and his race for the Senate against newly-minted candidate Tommy Tuberville (a former football coach at Auburn, of all things) has all the earmarks of a unilateral attack on the character of a real servant of the people. What qualifies Tuberville? He supports Donald Trump and was a way for him to get revenge on Jeff Sessions for what Trump believes was a betrayal. They’re trying to present Jones as a liberal, which is hilarious to those who pay attention, and it’ll be very interesting to view how the Alabama press responds. I think we already know what Fox “News” will present, as well as the many lesser known Fox wannabes that exist here.

That’s how it goes with propagandists, those bearers of false witness demanding license for the 1%.

I’ll keep you posted.

BONUS LINK: The Underlying Fallacy of Fox News

Can/will the Virus Open Eyes?

The deception that is Fox News grows more dangerous to our republic as time passes and more and more people are bathed in the lie that it is a news organization. It is warping our sense of unity and pitting American versus American at a scale that wasn’t even present during the Civil War. Add to this the omnipresence of so-called “conservative” commentators who mix news events with their propaganda, and we have a monster storm against “peace and good will” on this Easter weekend.

Well, Terry, but they’re no different than those on the other side of the aisle.

And this, my friends, is the essence of the lie. It’s perhaps too late to fix it, but let me explain.

The news doesn’t care about political affiliation. It is neutral in that sense, because it’s always based upon that which is “new.” If “new” drives the news agenda, “old” drives the conservative point-of-view. This was evident in Donald Trump’s Make America Great AGAIN slogan. We can’t go back as a culture, and everybody should know this, for to run with a perspective that pushes only the good from yesteryear without considering the alternate pressures that were also in play is foolishness gone-to-seed.

Political coverage is certainly a part of any “news” agenda, but only to the extent that news organizations can speak to new events or trends in informing their audiences. It’s very easy to accuse, but when the accusation is required to justify one’s own existence, it ceases to be relevant to the very concept of news. Simply stated, it’s just propaganda. Contemporary marketing is very often a form of propaganda, foisted upon us in the name of commerce. The same is true with conservative “olds”, and that’s the point.

If news organizations spent as much time trying to shape those thoughts as they are accused of doing, we would have left-wing propaganda groups sharing their views in the form of news. We don’t, and ANY attempt to shape a narrative that says otherwise is pure and self-serving folly. It’s simply absurd, so the argument that “both sides do it” is specious, at best. Survey any group of citizens, however, and this is exactly what they’ve been taught to believe, namely that the news industry’s players are either left or right. Nonsense, and I know, because I was there when we created the concept of “conservative news” in the early 1980s at the Christian Broadcasting Network. We wrote the playbook that Fox copied.

A key part of this effort was to position ourselves alongside existing news organizations and claim that a liberal bias was the same thing as liberal propaganda. Hence, we saw no problem with presenting our conservative propaganda as a participant on the same level as CBS, ABC, and NBC. We spent our money on technology and especially graphics to make ourselves look no different than the rest. We were selling this to an audience ripe for the taking by stating our abhorrence with what we felt was a satanic effort to destroy America.

Conservatism is not at all associated with the news except to provide a “side” to developing stories. News organizations have an ethical governor that demands presentation of all sides in any issue relating to political points of view. The organization itself has no political point-of-view, except perhaps from their editorial boards. As anybody who has worked in the news business knows, there is a vast separation between a news organization’s newsroom and its editorial side. But ownership is ownership, and there are plenty of stories of owner pet projects that find their way into the content presented.

The point is that the bias of news is towards that which is new, and if that is seen as political, the only response can be propaganda. It cannot be expressed as “news”, because that would require a bias towards something else. It also requires looking the other way when events — take, for example, the gender identification movement or political correctness — weaken or destroy its propaganda. Again, this is why we cannot use the term “news” in describing something that isn’t “news”.

I was ridiculed and mocked during a talk about this subject with a group of Colorado right-wingers. When it got too uncomfortable for them, they retreated to the gospel to end the discussion. Open minds, these were not. I knew that going in, but the overwhelming and defensive response revealed that the matter is far more important to their worldview than most observers really imagine. Why else use the Bible to talk back to me, the former Executive Producer of the TV program that created the thing in the first place?

This is why I often reference religion in my writing. White evangelical Christians are completely convinced of their righteousness in this or any other argument.

Methinks they doth protest too much.

1920 — When the Rules All Changed

Image result for woodrow wilson

When I first discovered historian Christopher Lasch many years ago, I was stunned by his brilliant reading of the role of Woodrow Wilson in all the nonsense we deal with today in the worlds of politics and the press. Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on a platform of “He’ll keep us out of the war.”

World War One was America’s chance to become a world (business) power, however, and Wilson knew this, so the trick became how to run opposing the war while at the same time preparing to enter the conflict. Wilson formed a group of advisors and thinkers — including influential newspaper publishers. This organization — The Committee for Public Information, also known as The Creel Committee was named after its leader, George Creel. The characters making up this committee was a who’s who of a new type of thinking, one that would change the rules for everybody 100 years later.

I’ve written much about these remarkable people whose good intentions have had a lot to do with today’s untenable government-press relations. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, was a member of the committee as was Walter Lippman, the father of professional journalism. Volumes could be written about these two characters alone, but everybody on that committee shares the responsibility for what we have today. Bernays, a cousin of Sigmund Freud, used lessons from his Uncle to shape new ideas for marketing. Here’s just one of his famous quotes:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must coöperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

From “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays

If that sounds familiar, it should, but we must understand that this thinking is only 100 years old. Here are four Google N’Gram graphs about the use of certain thoughts in the books of our world. Note that these all show rising use in the wake of 1920:

Here’s the use of the word Propaganda in publications.

Here’s the phrase “Public Relations”.

Here’s one that works in concert with the above. Objectivity. It’s necessary for public relations to insert itself into journalism.

And finally, here’s what “Professional Journalism” looks like:

The other side of this whole “Right Wing News” fallacy is going to require something completely different, because in 100 years, we’ve gone from a government of the people to one of propaganda and self-interest of the few.

Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to put all this into the dust pile of the past. Maybe we should begin with technology that labels news as propaganda (regardless of the source) when such passes through our filters.

One thing is super clear, however, and that’s that this doesn’t work, not at all, for the country that our founders created.

When propaganda is presented as “news”

The phrase “right wing media” is increasingly used to label talk radio and television that provides a conservative political spin on the news. Its entire premise, however, is based on the false assumption that the mainstream press is “left wing media”. This raises their act to hero status in taking on those who would drag Western culture into the chaotic abyss of socialism.

And certainly America doesn’t want THAT!

This is the exact justification we used in the early and mid 1980s at CBN when Pat Robertson declared that God had told him to run for President and that he would win. We needed to craft a way for us to justify a chair at the big media table, one that placed us to the right of everybody else. Naming the press as an existential threat to the culture, we not only reported “the news” but we often became the news, and this was no accident. It was one of the 20th Century’s most significant examples of propaganda-based marketing.

Propaganda doesn’t require balance, so our complaints about the right wing bias of Fox News are not only foolish but irrelevant. However, by labeling itself “news” and using the word “balance” in its slogan (“Fair and Balanced”), Fox permits itself to make the subliminal justification that they’re an alternative to the mainstream press, who are not balanced either. This seems to make all sorts of logical sense, unless you have eyes to recognize that such a claim cannot be true.

Fox relies on the 20th Century concept of objectivity, which, to them, “should” translate to a 50–50, “he said she said” paradigm. In practice, however, Fox only presents a conservative narrative, so it is decidedly neither fair nor balanced. Besides, objectivity in news has been largely discounted for journalism, which recognizes the idea only in that it creates a sterile environment in which to place advertising. Companies, the thinking goes, don’t want their political bias to be known, for it carries the threat of product rejection by about half of all consumers. It was their demand for a sterile platform that ultimately led us to the mess we have today. Such is the curse of mass marketing, which is, to say the least, a broken and inept concept for selling (remember John Wanamaker’s dilemma).

The cultural need for advertising is changing dramatically since the dawn of the network, because corporations can now make themselves function as media companies and speak directly to consumers instead of going through the filters of advertising.

Transparency is the new objectivity, wrote David Weinberger many years ago. We are currently experiencing an entirely new operating paradigm for news, one that permits a degree of subjectivity, as long as that subjectivity is made known up front. With Donald Trump, Fox News has dropped entirely its claims of balance and has become the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. That’s fine, but it cannot ever again make the claim of balanced. Balance no longer means considering all sides in reporting; today, it’s a given that Fox presents itself as the balance, so there’s no need for including other opinions.

I know this, because it’s precisely what we did in the early 80s with the rise of “CBN News” via The 700 Club television program. The first order of business was that we needed to make the case that the mainstream media was, in fact, biased towards liberalism. One of the ways we did this was to cite cultural ruin (a.k.a. rampant sin and iniquity) as being caused ultimately by the devil, who was working in league with an ignorant and compliant press. If we could make it so, then we — as an alternative — could make the claim that we were an alternative to a steady stream of liberalism as news. Like the plausible impossibility of Superman, we wore the hero’s cape in our pioneering efforts.

The logical problem, of course, is that this makes for an unknowable assumption, one that doesn’t require evidence, for no one can know for certain the motivations of others.

I was there at the beginning and worked my tail off in concert with talented others to write the rules for doing television news with a conservative (a.k.a. Bible-based) point-of-view. You can say what you want about Pat Robertson and The 700 Club, but the truth is that we were the innovators that Fox emulated ten years later. The time was the early 80s under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and the first rule was to present — as fact — a self-justification based on the certainty that all the rest of the press presented a liberal political perspective and not objectivity. We pressed that we were providing the balance left out of mainstream reporting. It was a very strong and sellable point-of-view, for Richard Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew wasn’t speaking in a vacuum when he labeled the press “nattering nabobs of negativism” in 1969.

This history is important, because Fox News will never admit to “borrowing” the tactics we pioneered. They simply copied the finished product, so foundational motives and representations are hard to pin down. This gives them ample wiggle room to deny certain allegations of bias while marching forward as the mouthpiece for conservatism. As earlier pioneers, we took the arrows that could’ve been destined for Fox, but I digress.

Pat Robertson supports the business side of culture, largely because it has the money for his vision — a world governed not only by laws but also by the internal governor of Christianity. Business executives argue that freedom is not possible in a world where it’s every man for himself. This would be fine, except the right more often espouses the ideals of license rather than those of liberty, which assumes the rights of others.

Fundamental to our premise at CBN was the position that the entirety of the press presents a product that supports Democratic (a.k.a. “socialist” or “liberal”) political positions. Moreover, we posited, the journalistic hegemony of objectivity required that media companies provide political “balance” in presenting the issues of the day. Since the press “wouldn’t” do that, according to us, we gave ourselves permission to present the balance ourselves. Fox News is not original, not in any sense.

Fox News doesn’t have the basic straw man of “sin” to define the enemy left, but it certainly makes the press out to be evil, especially in social matters like crime and especially abortion. At least we were honest in the religion-based spiritual claims we made.

Of necessity, it meant operating to the right of the press politically but on the same level of all who claimed to provide “news and information.” The problem with this position, of course, is that the assumption of mainstream press bias — on the same scale as what we practiced from a conservative perspective — is entirely false. Nearly every attempt to create a “left-wing radio” response to conservative talk radio has failed, because there’s no similar artificial cultural necessity. News isn’t propaganda, just because it reflects the progressive (new) in society. America wants to grow in every way and is generally approving of a more progressive life in these United States, so naturally the news would reflect that.

Growing pains don’t have to be political.

The culture — which we presented as corrupt — had long ago decided issues we’re again debating today due in part to our efforts to keep those issues alive. The only “new” in the thinking of the right is ways for the rich to get richer, while increasing the burdens on the poor and the afflicted. And it is quite sad in America that a great many poor and rural actually side with the business interests of Republicans, because they’ve been convinced of the moral righteousness of those who “provide jobs”. Big corporate interests don’t hire people, because they’re concerned about the culture; they only do so to the extent that such an action will produce greater profits for themselves.

However, the rural poor are largely Christian evangelicals who are driven by issues other than what will pad the pockets of the rich.

The role of abortion, sexual preference, and school prayer — issues the Supreme Court long ago declared resolved for the culture — play a huge role in the folly that we have for political debate today, because the claim can be made that they are important to God. These issues brought some pro-life Catholics into the fold by convincing them that capitalists have their best interests at heart. Pro-Life became the clarion call, even though it did not extend to those who’d already been born.

Once again, the core argument for conservative news in 2019 is that the media as a whole better represents a liberal point of view more than one of political balance, which is required, they say, by the hegemonistic concept of objectivity. We need to fully unpack this before we’ll ever find the antidote to attacks on journalism and acts of journalism, such as the press being labeled “the enemy of the people” by our current President. Today, in simply doing their jobs, the press appears biased when it reacts normally to Donald Trump’s antics and misrepresentations, reporting that the right wing propagandists use to support their case to the public.

A good way to look at it is to understand that to qualify as “news,” there must be an element of something “new” in order to be recognized as a practitioner of the profession. There must be something “new” to qualify as “news”. Conservative “news,” however, can only present “old” as its core, as in “Make America Great Again.” It attempts to reach back into history and claim that the culture got it wrong back then, that things have changed so much that we have to go back and revisit cultural decisions that they opposed back then and still do today. This would be fine if the discussion took place on a level playing field, which it can’t, because propaganda doesn’t work that way.

So powerfully driven are the Republicans by big business that Trump is turning our military into a protection racket involving other countries. He’s extorting other countries in the name of profit, for our military won’t protect you now unless you pay for it. The Kurds obviously couldn’t pay, and now we have that on the record as our response to those who don’t or won’t pay. The Republicans see only a bottom line when examining every issue, whether foreign or domestic, although government is supposed to represent everyone, not just the one percent who form a shadow government under the GOP.

Today — and to further confuse things — Republicans are calling Democrats “socialists” so they can make references to capitalism as being the proven better way. Again, this would be fine, if it were true. It’s not, however, and we’re entering a season now where the reference will sooner or later become communism. The word “socialism” strikes fear in the hearts of those its designed to ping, but true fear mongering always reaches for the worst possible alternative to the status quo.

There are two important arguments that need to be on the table:

One, the idea that objectivity is the goal of professional journalism is only about 100 years old and stems from the efforts of Walter Lippmann and his cronies to accommodate two factions of American culture: to create a sterile environment in which to sell advertising, and to bring about the social engineering of American elites through Edward Bernays’ “public relations,” better known as the deliberate manipulation of citizens according to the values and beliefs of those who could pay for it. More than any other two people in history, Lippmann and Bernays created what Lippmann called “The Manufacture of Consent” and Bernays’ “Propaganda”. This knowledge is critical in sorting things out today, for when Bernays put cigarettes in the mouths of Suffragette marchers in New York knowing they would be photographed and presented in newspapers everywhere, he did so on behalf of his client, the American Tobacco Company.

Cigarette sales to women skyrocketed, having been elevated to political protest status by Bernays’ clever manipulation. Bernays was keenly aware of what he was doing, as he wrote in his seminal book Propaganda:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

Two, the press represents the people, and news coverage follows the ebbs and flows of the culture. Those publishers who consider first the best interests of the business community, are more inclined to both espouse and represent a conservative position. The Wall Street Journal comes to mind. The same is true for publishers, such as the New York Times, who don’t believe that capitalism should be the default determiner in all matters involving what’s best for our citizens. Both are considered “first writers” of history, which means they follow the ups and downs of the culture.

America is uniquely governed in such a way that there is necessary tension built into the relationships between branches of government, but that is also the case with journalism, because it covers current events as the people’s representatives, and human beings don’t always come with built-in bullshit detectors. The discovery that they are being manipulated may be the determining factor in how long this sham will continue to dominate the grand narrative of life in these United States.

Donald Trump is not under attack in the press because he’s different. He’s not under attack for taking on the system. He’s not under attack, because foreign countries don’t pay us protection money. And he’s most certainly not under attack for pressing a white evangelical Christian agenda. He’s under attack because he’s a liar, a business cheat, and a manipulator of people. He is a salesman and ought never to be in charge of product development, because he actually believes his own hyperbole. He’s simply not fit for public service, because the only public that he serves is himself and his mob-like underlings.

And, you simply do not withhold security aid to a foreign government until they provide you with dirt on political opponents. This is against our law, as stated in the Constitution of the United States of America.