The Big Lie of Mainstream Fake News

A supporter gestures at the press as Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Cincinnati

Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing political commentators are now making mileage with the absurd delaration that the mainstream press is “the real fake news.” As a group, these political arguers have long been uniform with the claim that the mainstream press is “liberal,” but this new meme takes that a step further by proclaiming that nothing from the mainstream can be believed, because “they just make it up.” (Limbaugh) This is a textbook example of blaming the messenger for the message delivered. However, the press is not blameless in its failure to properly investigate some of the messages it carries. Welcome to the new world of professional journalism.

It was nearly fifteen years ago that I first began describing the rise of blogs and blogging as a response to the falling lack of trust in the American press. This was a clear harbinger of something really wrong with the function of America’s Fourth Estate. Nearly every year since, we’ve seen Gallup research produce record-setting lows in press trust among Americans – it keeps getting worse – and one of the most important takeaways from the election of Donald Trump is that the press has now become nearly irrelevant when it comes to influencing culture. Each press entity is now simply another node on the aggregated information superhighway.

We need to go back to the nineties to better understand this, for the truth is it goes back that far, back to the early days of the web and even before that. Let’s be clear, geeks invented the web, not news people. A key part of this invention was the method of communicating, which was real time and in reverse chronological order, also known as blog presentation. It is the basic form of all social media, too, and it could have been the media’s.

Dave Winer

Dave Winer was the real pioneer in all of this, and his “Scripting News” remains the longest running continuous blog on the entire net (1997, although its roots go back further). The biggest blunder in the collapse of media today is the refusal of so-called “professional media” to adopt the communications concept associated with networked humans – simple blogging software. This allowed other people – those not associated with contemporary “media” – a voice in the public square that was never there before. The demand for this voice has been incredible, for those who were silenced by the information gatekeepers of the time were suddenly able to object publicly to that silencing. One simply cannot comprehend the mess that the press finds itself in today without accepting this, because blogs and blogging were a reaction to the narrow perspective of the professional news media. A blog is a simple content management system, which can be – and is – used to run “news” websites beyond the information mainstream. They are, in fact, now tributaries to that main stream, and this genie will never return to its bottle.

There has been no end to the analysis of the failure of the press since the election, but I’ve yet to hear anybody say, “You know what? They’re right. The public is right. We blew it, and we need to get off our pedestals and admit it.” The right is now peddling the claim that the mainstream media is the real “fake news” with which we ought to concern ourselves. In so doing, these political hacks are securing for themselves the self-serving position that THEY are the real arbiters of truth, that THEY are the fact-checkers, that THEY are deserving of trust, and that THEY are the media that matters. The claim is made easier by the refusal of the press to operate in any meaningful way beyond its hierarchical norms, so the reaction of distrust continues the same as it has for the last forty-plus years. The claim of mainstream fake news would be laughable were it not so dangerous, because right-wing media is political propaganda by default, while the press has traditionally been led by curiosity, skepticism, a check on power, and an ethics code that prohibits such nonsense. Those things don’t matter in a world where perception is reality.

Moreover, the imagination of the right wrongly creates a left-wing conspiracy, one which includes the ludicrous notion that the mainstream press functioned as a part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign team. The convenience of this claim goes unnoticed, because the right is using it to justify whatever political claims it chooses to make for itself, including those listed above. After all, if it’s acceptable for the liberal media, then it’s “acceptable that we do it too.” The problem, of course, is that the claim that the press was a part of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign – hence, “we can be a part of Donald Trump’s campaign” – is a logical fallacy, even if the press is tilted toward the progressive. One is entirely political; the other is reporting the news. That reporting may be utterly bad, but it isn’t even loosely organized, as these right wing political commentators would have us believe.

However, let’s admit that being partially biased is a bit like being partially pregnant, so a little goes a long way. This is not to suggest that there’s a vast, left-wing conspiracy underway within the press, because there’s no need for such coordination when the very definition of news pushes media to the left. If it’s progressive, it’s news, because new concepts are, well, new. The job of the press is to run it up the flagpole for reaction, which is always the second-day lead. Conservatives react defensively, and so the idea presented almost always advances. There’s nothing “fake” about it, although it is certainly progressively biased.

The problem is that the press doesn’t see this behavior as biased, so there’s no need to provide any differing narrative. It really is biased, however, and that’s why we were so easily able to provide evidence of it during my days at The 700 Club in the 1980s. Before Fox News, there was CBN News. Both are utterly political responses to the liberal drift of the country that the press plays a natural role in developing. But to claim it is fake? That requires a level of deception not before seen in our culture, one that will reverberate deep into our future.

Who even today, for example, will argue to an unbelieving people that the term “conservative” is no longer appropriate to describe the extremism of the Republican party? The GOP is now so far right that it more resembles the Nationalist Party, one that is merely a breath away from Facism. Who will be the acceptable critics when the press that represents the new right continues to lead the public deeper into totalitarian responses to legitimate questions? This is the behavior of those who will do and say anything to destroy any group they see as hostile to their agenda, and that is the very definition of totalitarianism. Who will fly the warning flags that were put in place by our Founding Fathers to guard against autocratic rule and assure liberty? If constitutional questions are dismissed as fake news, then we, the people, are without hope against the ruling class.

Milton: “License they mean, when they cry ‘liberty.’”

 

EDITOR’S BONUS HEAD SHAKE: Rush Limbaugh actually states that his commentary is satire.

Going, going, almost gone

It’s time to update my graph of the Gallup organizations “media trust” measurement. In 1997, Gallup switched from taking this pulse every three to every year, and the graph they produce today only begins in 1997. However, I’ve never felt that was appropriate, for it misses a big part of the story, and so my graph goes back to 1973 and is spaced every three years.

galluptrust2016

2016 is an off-year to include, so I’ve projected this year’s numbers forward. That’s because the drop-off between 2015 and 2016 is significant, and I don’t expect it to rebound. Here’s Gallup:

Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year. (Emphasis mine)

The culprit is the election and more specifically the Donald Trump campaign, which has been very effective at accusing the press as being party to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if the accusation is accurate; in politics, perception is truth.

It’s fair to say at this point that the illusion of objectivity in the press is history and that transparency is all that’s left. Americans will never again heed the press as “the voice of God” as we did in the days to which Donald Trump wants us to return. This alone should convince Trumpers to look beyond the slogans, but it probably won’t.

Meanwhile, any media outlet believing it does its work with the public trust is operating daily under a highly fallacious assumption.

Of course evangelicals can vote for Trump; they just shouldn’t

Donald TrumpEvangelical Christians face a quite a quandary this election season, because they’ve painted themselves into a narrow corner when it comes to politics. It’s the right-wing conservative way or no way, and that forces them into the camp of Donald Trump, a slick, self-promoter with questionable business and personal ethics. Mr. Trump also comes off as pretentious, racist, bigoted, and uninformed, and watching Evangelicals rationalize their support is frustrating, confusing, and sad. Were it not, it might actually be humorous.

Believe it or not, the biggest issue for these Christians is who will appoint perhaps as many as four Supreme Court justices over the next four years. That’s it. That’s issue number one for Evangelicals. This is what Christians are willing to roll the dice over in electing a man who admits he will stretch the truth to get what he wants. Read his book. He’s a salesman for whom it’s all about closing the deal, not about how you get there, and that disqualifies him for anything other than being one of the globalist corporate menaces that he accuses others of being. Anyone who believes anything that comes out of his mouth is dangerously misled, and that includes my Christian friends.

jackgrahamLast week, Mr. Trump met with certain hand-picked Evangelical Christian leaders (who were publicly referred to as “Christian Leaders,” a bad joke) where he selected a board of advisors and spoke to them about why he’s the only candidate on their side. In the wake of that meeting, evangelical pastor Jack Graham of the mega Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas published an article titled “Of course, Evangelicals can vote for Trump.” He gave three reasons why “I could easily vote for Mr. Trump this November without endorsing him, his behavior, his language or his “temperament,” adding, “I would vote for Donald Trump because he has convinced me he will fight for the issues that matter most to conservatives.”

He then lists these three issues: the Supreme Court, abortion, and religious liberty. Pastor Jack notes that Mr. Trump’s opponent “promises” she won’t support any of those, and so he’s willing to roll the dice on everything else required of the President of the United States, just because he’s got us covered on the Supreme Court.

If this is at all representative of other Evangelicals (it is), then the faith has gone completely mad. I got into a discussion about this with Christians yesterday on Facebook, and here’s a portion of it:

LL: And to me, SCOTUS is the ball game when you will have as many as 3-4 justices appointed that could affect and dictate policy for the next 50 years — and on much more than just abortion. I’ll pass on Hillary, whose intentions are clear, and go w Trump, whose stated intentions I can agree with…

Me: L, it would be more honest if you were to say “go w Trump, whose stated intentions I can agree with, no matter what.” I appreciate your candid position otherwise.

LL: Not sure I understand your first point, but thanks for the rest…

Me: That you’re fully prepared and content with whatever might happen with him as long as you get your Supreme Court justices.

LL: Let’s say I am willing to take my chances with Trump, and consider it a calculated risk. I am also about derailing globalism, and feel he is our best chance for that as well.

‘Lest you think I was speaking with a fool, this person is very intelligent and has done her homework. However, she believes Mr. Trump is a fine family man and would give her the Supreme Court justices she requires. Where did she do her research? I don’t know. Most of the conservative talking points come from the many loud fearmongers who filter everything through a sky-is-falling lens that distorts the reality of liberalism. But I digress.

Donald Trump’s very own life has proven him to be a tickler of the ears, and he admits as much in his book. Remember, he’s trying to sell us on the idea of himself as U.S. President:

The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.

I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.

He is utterly untrustworthy, my dear Christian friends, and even if he’ll give you conservative justices, there’s no assurance they’ll be approved. Even if he’s pro-life, there’s no assurance that will mean anything in real life. And even if he is stating how much he supports Christianity (not religious freedom), there’s zero assurance he’ll ever be able to act upon it. Of course, I don’t believe he ever would anyway.

He just wants to close the deal, and we can’t let him.

Gallup: Lack of trust in press hits record high

The folks at Gallup today released their annual survey about trust in the press, and it’s bad news. Six of ten Americans now say they have little or no trust in the news media. Here’s the chart published along with the release:

Gallup Trust in media displayed in annual increments since 2001

While this may be depressing, it pales in comparison to the chart I’ve been creating ever since Gallup switched to annual data in 2001. Prior to that date, they only asked the question every three years. I think the story is more precisely told by looking at the data in 3-year increments going back to 1973:

Gallup media trust data in 3-year increments

Either way, this is an incredibly dangerous sign for the press, the elements of which are fighting for their own survival. Here’s the way Gallup summarizes the problem:

On a broad level, Americans’ high level of distrust in the media poses a challenge to democracy and to creating a fully engaged citizenry. Media sources must clearly do more to earn the trust of Americans, the majority of whom see the media as biased one way or the other. At the same time, there is an opportunity for others outside the “mass media” to serve as information sources that Americans do trust.

The bottom line is this (and it’s been this way for many years): When your newsroom employees hit the door to do their jobs, they do so without the public trust. The only way we’re going to get any of that back is to be trustworthy.

Agnew was right

Friday was the 40th anniversary of Spiro T. Agnew’s famous speech on the power of the television news media. The press vilified Agnew at the time, but I have to acknowledge a few head nods as I re-read the thing this weekend (read it here).

…the President of the United States has a right to communicate directly with the people who elected him, and the people of this country have the right to make up their own minds and form their own opinions about a Presidential address, without having the President’s words and thoughts characterized through the prejudice of hostile critics before they can even be digested.

Agnew charged that such power in the hands of just a few “men” was not good for democracy, for even these men acknowledged their biases. In looking back at this with an open mind, one cannot escape the reality of what’s happened with regards to trust of the press in the U.S. since Agnew made the speech. I can’t prove it, but the evidence suggests that the people agree with Agnew, and not the press. Agnew’s speech was in 1969. Here’s Gallup data going back to 1973.

galluptrust

For the first time, more people in the U.S. distrust the press to be fair and accurate than trust us, and this must be a central theme as we try an reinvent ourselves for future relevancy.