Tag Archives | free press

Buyer Beware of the News

How do you know what you know? This is the question studied in the field of epistemology. If you go by reason, it’s important to apply the question to today’s media, too. The freedom of speech implies freedom of the press and, as censorship and so-called soft censorship or suppressed speech worsens, trusting the facts you read, watch and hear becomes more challenging.

CNN’s recent report linking Russians to fake Twitter and Facebook accounts constantly posting about racism, police brutality and Black Lives Matter (BLM) — one fake Facebook account for “Blacktivist” had thousands more ‘like’s than BLM’s official account — underscores the potential power of foreign and domestic enemies and adversaries to affect the course of American news, events and laws. The whole police-are-racist position may have been impacted by such false posts, claims of outrage and expressions of disgust. CNN’s report (read it here) shows that the Russian state-sponsored smear campaign against police, whites and American law enforcement was conducted with specific targets including Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, where controversial police shootings were being protested by BLM, leftists and others — and feverishly covered by the press.

CNN’s report raises disturbing questions about reporting, gathering, aggregating, disseminating and consuming facts, assertions and conclusions regarded as “the news”. Does Russia, which reportedly tried to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of Trump, consider black outrage over police brutality and institutional racism to be distinctly pro-Trump in political terms? If so, what other steps if any has Russia taken to foster leftist and BLM outrage? Are riots and attacks by anarchists who show up whenever Nazis exercise free speech — or vice versa or both — funded by Russia? Amid a national sports controversy purportedly instigated by opposition to police racism, it’s legitimate to question the origins, sourcing and funding.

This is especially true because, increasingly, journalism in all forms is unduly influenced by unseen, anonymous and secondary sources such as posts on Twitter and Facebook. Today’s news assignment and segment producers and editors are as whim-worshipping as the president. The coverage of purported trends is often highly charged with emotionalism, sensationalism and hyperbole. News often comes in spurts to match short attention spans. Suddenly, the news is dominated by events in Houston — Florida — Puerto Rico — depending on a variety of factors, including ratings, advertising, favoritism, related crony-controlled entities and political bias.

In today’s perceptual-based media, news aggregators and prodcuers tend to pounce on whatever third-hand (or, sometimes, non-existent, as happened in Mexico) reports emanating from some batch of real, premeditated, purchased or automated posts that, in turn, feed pre-programmed algorithms calculated to determine what’s trending. This estimate then regurgitates the same false, distorted or misleading claims. This invariably feeds your small or large screen or page as what’s news.

Earlier this month, I cautioned against deciding which movie to see based on what a band of programmers decides by consensus (read my post on Rotten Tomatoes here). This week, as Saudi Arabia prepares to let women obtain permission to drive, someone using a word commonly and quite distinctly associated with Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) followers (the flipside of the left’s social justice warriors or SJWs) threatened to kill anyone supporting women drivers (read the article here). This makes me doubt whether the threat is credible.

Is someone really trying to stop any attempt to bring Saudi Arabia into the modern, civilized age? Who stands to gain from the press and public assuming that Saudi Arabia is encountering, facing and defeating opposition to women drivers? False claims of horrific threats have in some cases been found to have been self-generated by members of intended victim groups. Arsonists, in certain cases, are the firemen whose job is to put out fires. America’s history of enemy agents who infiltrate the highest levels of American government, movements, industry and institutions, from Soviet Russia’s Communist spies to Islamic terrorists’ agents in place, must also be kept in mind. The nation is deeply and severely fractured and divided over a range of complicated and serious issues. It stands to reason that America’s enemies will exploit the divisions.

So, CNN’s report is more evidence that outsider and insider forces have every reason to divide Americans, which makes one’s need to read, think and judge with ruthless rationality more urgent. Anyone opposed to statism is well warranted to conclude that failed statist schemes such as ObamaCare might be intended to fail — to lead to total statism. Or that terrorist threats feed the total surveillance state. And it is reasonable to suspect that fake news propagates the media, including social media — to achieve total government control of the media. Congress is now considering legislation to regulate social media, a threat that reeks of censorship which authoritarian Trump seems seriously predisposed to enact.

What can stop it is you, or, more broadly, each American reading, thinking and judging for himself or herself what’s real, what makes sense, whether a claim has a credible source, makes a credible assertion, fits a particular agenda, context or policy goal, who’s making the claim (and who influences, owns or controls who’s making the claim), what’s at stake, where reports are coming from, how it’s being delivered, i.e., with breathless emotionalism, and why it’s coming out now.

I first warned about the emergent need to better discern how media’s consumed in a February 13, 2015, blog post on “New Media and You” (read the post, in which I first used the term ‘fake news’, here). I addressed the issue again later that year after Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly engaged in a televised spat, which I saw not as a real conflict but as two sides of the same mangled and defective coin (read “The Circus Cycle” here).

More than ever, the reader, thinker and trader — anyone who thinks for himself — must beware of what’s news and, as a corollary, assert his absolute right to judge what’s news for himself.

Opposing Censorship

From whom do you gather what you know from today’s media? Increasingly, today’s news media is driven by independent bloggers and freethinkers, reporting facts and disclosing news that drives what the individual ends up reading or hearing second and third-hand.

For example, whistleblower Edward Snowden, who released government documents proving that the U.S. government indiscriminately spies on Americans—documents first published by the Guardian on this date in 2013—has direct, measurable impact on Americans’ lives, more than major news outlets. Majors, such as Fox News, CNN and the Washington Post, are capable of good work, too, and aggregate media services such as Drudge and Google News serve an important function. But more than ever, the independent, individual thinker enlightens the West.

Much of today’s relevant news involves national security and arbitrary, indiscriminate government control, which is why one’s life depends upon the freedom of speech. This is why it’s crucial to support absolute free speech and its corollary, the free press, and actively oppose censorship. I recently applied and was admitted as a member of PEN American Center, which awarded its courage award to Charlie Hebdo in defiance of Islamic jihadists and their apologists, such as Joyce Carol Oates, for this reason.

Today’s podcaster, columnist or blogger, probably working with limited resources, risks incurring the wrath of barbaric religious fanatics, New Left radicals and smearmeisters in the media. But they do so to provide today’s individual with knowledge of tomorrow’s planned dictate, control or impending attack and the potential remedy, resistance or escape. It’s often been said before by many others, though, today, it bears repeating on this blog: when you support free speech and patronize the freethinking press, you act in your self-interest. According to my philosophy, this is the highest virtue. Egoism begins with a mind that’s free to think. In a world where the freedom to know what you know about current events is diminishing, the egoist goes out of his way to rally behind the writer, creator and thinker brave enough to buck the trend.

New Media and You

nightly_newsJournalism suffered a few blows this week and not for the reasons you might think.

First, NBC Nightly News anchorman Brian Williams was suspended and had his pay slashed in half after he apologized for conflating a story in which his war correspondence was at issue. I’ve written that I’m giving Williams (if not NBC News) the benefit of the doubt, which he’s given me no prior reason not to grant, though I think it’s clear that he is an example of journalism driven by having fans, not gathering, having and reporting facts. Still, I think NBC News is more responsible for whatever wrong has been done, given what is currently known. That the nation’s top anchorman was caught conflating (there is no evidence of lying) the truth, which he acknowledged and for which he apologized, who was, in turn, vilified by the press and the public without a proper and thorough inquiry and then suspended without half his pay before either exoneration or proof of wrongdoing strikes me as a disincentive for others to step up when they make a mistake. That NBC News, which is totally infected with subjectivism, is not at all transparent about what is known by its investigators compounds the problem. No one should expect NBC, which is controlled by a crony cable utility, to be objective about Brian Williams, his replacement or the news. What happened to Williams is, as I wrote when the story broke, a black mark on today’s journalism and not only because of Brian Williams. The blame also lies with those who watch.

This was my point a few years ago when I wrote about comedian Jon Stewart, who announced this week that he’s quitting his Comedy Central program. It’s the audience that ultimately propels today’s media and the vicious cycle of mistaking satirical, cynical, absurdist humor mixed with facts for news is that it leads to more reasons to feel like sneering at the world and its corollary that the whole world deserves it. So what’s left is a landscape of shockmeisters such as Howard Stern, Greg Gutfeld, Bill Maher, and other crude, sniveling types where once the public tuned in newsmen such as Harry Reasoner, Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace. In between, even hosts and publishers such as Johnny Carson, Hugh Hefner and Tom Snyder were serious and intellectual compared with today’s often vacuous and self-centered TV personalities such as Oprah, Barbara Walters and Bill O’Reilly.

American media has been in a steep decline for decades, since Woodward and Bernstein made headlines out of relatively trivial matters and, perhaps through no intention of theirs, became bigger than the stories they covered. This made personality-oriented print and broadcast journalism all but a necessity in the age of new journalism. The fabricating began in earnest and it never let up, from Janet Cooke at the Washington Post to Jayson Blair at the New York Times. But the padding and airheaded advancement of stories not based on facts and truth emanated from the highest levels and the most vaunted institutions, not working class blokes like yours truly and other less anointed bloggers, freelancers and scrappy, self-made journalists. The list of those caught lying or concealing is not only long; it includes today’s biggest names: Mike Barnicle, Fareed Zakaria, Stephen Ambrose, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Joe Klein, to say nothing of the newspaper scandals in auditing circulation and the Los Angeles Times‘ Staples Center fiasco.

If you’re reading fake news, why not watch fake news that admits it’s fake?

jon-stewart

Enter Jon Stewart and his cohort the ascendant Stephen Colbert, owing to the godfather of fake news, the Weekend Update segment on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Could Borat, stunts by Breitbart and Michael Moore’s Sicko among other fabricated stories be far behind? Now, Stewart, coddled by and nuzzling up to his intellectual cousin O’Reilly, formerly of the torrid A Current Affair, moves up into a presumably higher status. The circus goes on while the public knows less and seeks only to laugh through the sneer. So, the cycle continues: subjectivism spreads. Laughing with, or even at, the irrational as an evasion of being rational becomes a heavy burden that gets heavier with each major development. The Simpsons, once a segment on a Fox variety show, has been on the air for decades. Stewart has been on The Daily Show (note its antithesis to the nightly news) for 15 years. Deterioration of cultural discourse parallels the rise of the absurd and the asinine.

Last night, news came that punctuates the point. CBS News correspondent Bob Simon, who traveled the world, took risks and was captured by an Arab dictatorship and held for 40 days, died in a car accident at the age of 73. Police said Simon was not wearing a seat belt and there may be more to the story.

But the fawning, personality-driven, subjectivist media wanted very little or nothing to do with facts. Fox News hostess Megyn Kelly mentioned Simon’s death briefly and then moved on. The Los Angeles Times did not find it necessary to bother addressing, let alone reporting, the circumstances of the car accident. CNN invited its leading newsman Anderson Cooper, who had his own syndicated daily talk show, as a guest to talk about working with Bob Simon. But, rather than discuss the facts of Simon’s death, Cooper kept saying that Simon’s death is “incomprehensible”. The fact is that dying in a car accident is not incomprehensible, especially if one is not wearing a seat belt.

The media’s herd mentality on Bob Simon’s death is that it is ironic because Simon lived in such a risk-oriented manner but died in a presumably random car accident. As the LA Times reported: “60 Minutes boss, executive producer Jeff Fager, noted the irony: Simon “had escaped more difficult situations than almost any journalist in modern times” but lost his life as a passenger in a hired car that smashed into a Mercedes Benz at a stoplight.” As usual, the Times reported only partial truth and they reported it as the definitive and final account. Strictly speaking, the Times report is false. Simon’s life was not lost in the manner the newspaper describes; Newsday reported that Bob Simon wasn’t wearing his seat belt and “died from blunt force head trauma as well as other injuries in a Manhattan car wreck” and that “a law enforcement source said his driver had nine past license suspensions and two outstanding traffic summonses.” Simon’s death is not ironic. On the contrary, if Newsday‘s report is true, Simon died as he’d lived: knowingly risking his life.

This aversion to reporting facts in favor of framing the story, in this case the Times‘ compulsion to impose an irony theme on the story regardless or in absence of the facts, is subjectivism. It starts with the public accepting, following and buying fake news and demanding more of it to consume and laugh at, lulling them into the plausible denial that the world is collapsing. Subjectivism ends, and objectivism in news begins, with thinking for oneself and demanding facts even if it means making an effort to gather, grasp and analyze facts. This means tuning out fake news and tuning in (or learning how to look for) real news. To use a noble phrase which is more likely to be satirized, being objective means seeking the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about reality.

The Press Defies the State

PPThough serving what is largely a symbol of pretentiousness, the Pulitzer Prize juries boldly defied the American government and awarded the highest prizes to those who reported facts disclosed by an American who worked for the government, defied the government, fled the country, heroically spoke against total government control and was deemed a traitor by the state.

The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize today for a series of stories that exposed the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance programs. An award also went to a team associated with the British-based Guardian newspaper, which also reported extensively about the NSA’s secret programs. The Guardian’s NSA articles are also based on classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former government employee and contractor who fled to exile in Russia.

In a statement about the awards, the Jeff Bezos-owned Post‘s executive editor, Martin Baron, said today that the NSA reporting exposed a national policy “with profound implications for American citizens’ constitutional rights” and that “[d]isclosing the massive expansion of the NSA’s surveillance network absolutely was a public service…In constructing a surveillance system of breathtaking scope and intrusiveness, our government also sharply eroded individual privacy. All of this was done in secret, without public debate, and with clear weaknesses in oversight.”

But, as far as what barely remains of a free press is concerned, the best part of what Baron said is that, without reporting on Snowden’s disclosures:

  We never would have known how far this country had shifted away from the rights of the individual in favor of state power.”

Today’s press is bullied, pressured and dominated by the state, and permeated by faith in either the dogma of statism or traditionalism, as evidenced by most of media including MSNBC and Fox News, a fact reflected by the worst part of what Baron’s statement says: “… As even the president has acknowledged, this is a conversation we need to have.”

The free press is not based on need and does not exist to have a conversation, though a conversation may be fostered and may occur, whether a conversation is acknowledged by the leader of the executive branch in a republic based on individual rights. By using the language of the Obama administration, which controls the government that has a monopoly on the use of force and has seized unprecedented power through unconstitutional means, the Post‘s editor undercut the truth of what he said – that individual rights are paramount. The press exists to express, report and speak in free exercise, but at least the editor identified, named and defended individual rights, he said it out loud, and he said it in defiance of a government that exhibits contempt for the rights of the individual, aims to destroy the nation based on this sacred ideal and seeks total power over every aspect of the individual’s life, liberty, property and pursuit of happiness.

The nation’s capital newspaper editor defied the nation’s government in explicit support of “the rights of the individual.” This fact, and the free exercise of press independence, is pure progress.