Tag Archives | media

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.

Nationalism, Statism and Propaganda

This month’s major political conventions will be historic. Nationalist Donald Trump, presumptive nominee of the philosophically bankrupt Republican Party, and welfare-statist Hillary Clinton, presumptive nominee of the New Left-dominated Democratic Party, are the most untrusted and, incidentally, unpopular presidential candidates in modern history. Clinton, exonerated this week by the Obama administration under a cloud of suspicion after the attorney general met with her spouse, the ex-president Bill Clinton, will be the first woman nominated for the presidency by a major party. Trump, generating controversy as always and this time by re-posting a Star of David superimposed on a pile of money via social media, will be the first non-Republican and explicit anti-capitalist nominated by the party which once advocated some degree of capitalism and individual rights. Both will be nominated in American states which were once great industrial centers; Clinton in America’s first capital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Trump in Cleveland, Ohio.

Look for what today’s digital public relations, marketing and social media types call optics at the GOP (July 18-21) and Democratic (July 25-28) conventions. Halting, hair-splitting, cackling Clinton may try to come off as softer, less harsh and hostile and more easygoing as a leader; the safer choice. Spewing, ear-splitting, rambling Trump may try to pass himself off as essentially charismatic and strong, less harsh and hostile and more decisive as a leader; the stronger choice. He will try to be a man of the people, an unapologetic village crier and throwback to pre-Obama days, undoing Obama’s legacy by throwing up tougher, state-sponsored fixes at the strongman’s sole discretion. She will try to appear as a woman of the people, a servant carrying on the Obama presidency’s New Left agenda while silently signalling that the age of statism and egalitarianism—policy dictates defining one’s identity by race, sex or culture—has just begun. The next few weeks will be heavy on optics for two power-lusting frauds in American politics.

Look closer for signs of propaganda, however. Whether at the statist’s or the nationalist’s convention, despite whatever riots, anarchy and attack may be carried out, the coming conventions and 2016 will be filled with symbolism and signs of what’s to come. Trump is a master of this—Clinton is not—as he demonstrates by tagging media personalities, streams and channels to generate greater exposure and attract new followers (read my post on The Circus Cycle). Though Trump polls as a loser, polls have been wrong for years, from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s upset loss to this summer’s Brexit victory. I suspect the Trump voter conceals his planned vote from others. Watch for propaganda to foreshadow (unless Libertarian Gary Johnson is elected president) the new presidency.

TCOHG

Buy the Book

Propaganda, as shown at a recent exhibit at the Richard Riordan Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles, has the power to push a civilized nation to dictatorship. Through visual manipulation, such as digital memes, cartoons and posters, especially in today’s increasingly anti-conceptual, perceptual-level culture, the public can more easily be persuaded of certain assertions. National Socialist propaganda, including promotions for Hitler’s Mein Kampf (which translates as My Struggle), was thoroughly premeditated. Read Leonard Peikoff’s The Cause of Hitler’s Germany for a fundamental explanation of Nazi Germany.

As displayed in “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda”, which runs at the Downtown LA library through August 21 (read about the traveling exhibition here), the Fuhrer (“leader”) and his top Nazis clearly grasped the importance of graphic arts in disseminating their philosophy of duty to the state and submission of the individual to serving others, i.e., altruism, in the name of the god-state-people-race. In certain cases, graphics and images glorify the upshot of National Socialism in practice: mass death and total government control of the individual’s life.

The exhibitionproduced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, shows how “the Nazis used propaganda to win broad voter support in Germany, implement radical programs, and justify war and mass murder”. The exhibit continues in Texas and Louisiana (see the schedule here).

Nazi Propaganda Poster LAPLNazi propaganda posters, movies, art and designs also illustrate attacks on Jews, capitalism and profit. There are other lessons, too. Note the cult of personality employed to foster worship of the charismatic leader. Observe similarities to recent U.S. campaign themes, such as Obama’s “hope and change” paraphernalia, the controversial “Ready for Hillary” capital H with its arrow, and, of course, Trump’s chronic emphasis on himself as the charismatic leader for nationalism, bellowing against others—illegal immigrants, Moslems, Apple, businesses that trade with China—as causing America’s downfall. Clinton, and especially Sanders, target others, too—businesses, Apple, traders on Wall Street, the wealthy—and both sides explicitly target the individual for persecution.

What is so alarming about the 2016 presidential election, and what makes National Socialist propaganda particularly relevant, is the erosion of freedom of speech in America. Obama’s administration attacks free speech, from censoring news to censoring movies and intimidating Americans who would exercise free speech (read Obama Vs. Free Speech). Clinton, who once proposed outlawing divorce for couples with children, has been a part of Obama’s assault on the First Amendment and she sought to evade public and press scrutiny during her entire four years as secretary of state while denouncing an American film as the cause of an Islamic terrorist act of war on the United States. Trump, who cuts off microphones at press conferences, proposes eliminating free speech by weakening libel law and jokes, then says he means it seriously, about having journalists targeted for state-sponsored death.

NaziFlowChartThese are explicit policy ideas, plans and actions. Insidious state sponsorship of media and the arts, like something emanating from the Nazi flow chart pictured here, includes quasi government control of the Oscars (Michelle Obama Ruins the Oscars) and arts and technology conferences (SXSW).

As the free press, too, diminishes with the spread of quasi-government control of industry, subsidizing state-favored cable TV monopolies like Time Warner and Comcast which own and operate major media (CNN, HBO, Warner Bros. Pictures, MSNBC, NBC, Universal Studios), coupled with the dumbing down of American education and culture, it becomes both easier and less apparent for the state to impose controls, cronyism and influence, i.e., blacklists. Only this summer did Tribune Publishing, which owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun, change its name to the term “tronc” (without the quotation marks but with the bad punctuation), an amalgamation of “Tribune online content” in what appears to be a bid to seem modern, generic and anti-conceptual.

Convergence of today’s aggregated, dumbed down media with secretive, oppressive censorship cannot be far behind.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whom the world lost last week, lived his entire life warning of the danger of staying silent while ominous government insidiously gains the power to destroy life. As the summer of ’16—with Clinton, tronc and Trump—goes down shoveling propaganda in conventions and toward a darker history, this is the moment to stay tuned, call statist and nationalist propaganda what it is and speak out.

The Circus Cycle

This week’s press conference showdown between presidential candidate Donald Trump and Univision’s Jorge Ramos was another farce. Such melodrama drives today’s pathetic journalism, with journalists driving Trump’s campaign, and vice versa. The forged, artificial bond between superficial media and superficial political candidates self-perpetuates.

DonaldTrumpThis circus-like cycle will not have a happy ending. Clownish Trump, whose politically incorrect way of speaking and uninspired opponents, more than his ideas, aid his rising fanbase, is the GOP’s 2016 presidential front-runner. The cycle spins out of control with serious consequences.

This week’s spectacle was purely a ploy by Ramos, who is one of those grandstanding television personalities like Megyn Kelly, for instant media attention. He disrupted and hijacked a Trump press affair, was booted from the event, returned and continued his tirade. His purpose was not to report, inquire or debate, let alone inform, enrich or enlighten. His aim, like most people on today’s non-fictional television, was to get attention for the sake of getting attention.

I expect this hitching onto Trump’s populist bandwagon to spread. Fox News, which is built on an anti-intellectual premise, mainstreamed the trend years ago, cleverly marketing its brand of opportunistic sensationalism as an alternative to “the mainstream media”, an industry which now adopts a similarly salacious approach. Look no further than Fox News at Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich or any other TV pundit-politician-populist dealing in bromides, not principles, like Andy Griffith’s power-lusting Lonesome Rhodes in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd. But look, too, for variations of the same, shallow approach across today’s click-baiting media. This week, NBC’s veteran Today Show host, vacuous Matt Lauer, asked Donald Trump, who may be America’s top leader when America’s worst enemy gets nuclear weapons, if he has a crush on Megyn Kelly.

It is a full circle moment in today’s government/media circus; an icon of the empty-headed media elite both aping and ceding his scant credibility to one of the more vacant media figures, Megyn Kelly, an intelligent journalist who can be constructive but never goes deep for long and deliberately dumbs herself down to get attention.

TV_Fox_Kelly_at_Night_inev_t607 The Kelly File hostess initiated the emergence of circus ringmaster Trump, one of the 20th century’s most symbolic figures of the status quo’s cronyism and pragmatism, as a serious candidate for the White House. Kelly’s controversial debate questions for Trump, who continues to gain followers chiefly because he is wrongly perceived as not being part of the status quo, were improper for a presidential debate. Despite Roger Ailes standing by his network’s lead hostess in a statement, and Trump’s vulgar and obnoxious Tweets, retweets, and ramblings, Megyn Kelly was wrong to use Trump’s TV barbs as cannon fodder in Fox’s thinly veiled attack on Trump’s character. Kelly was wrong to ask the candidates whether they heard a supernatural voice. She was wrong to minimize serious policy during the Fox News/Facebook debate (read my review here). Mr. Ailes is wrong that Kelly is a serious journalist; she’s capable of being serious only in fits which is why her dedication to being unserious makes her among the worst of today’s journalists, as I wrote when she debuted with her own show in 2013 (read my review and postscript here). MSNBC’s Chris Matthews observed about her the other night on Hardball that Megyn Kelly has a knack for making an audience interested in her reaction to a guest as he’s speaking. I think this is what fuels her appeal; she plays hard and smart with a wink. But she plays. She’s a put-on artist.

In short, Megyn Kelly is to journalism what Donald Trump is to politics—with Jorge Ramos tagging along—and nothing more: stubbornly, consistently and cockily anti-intellectual. There’s a reason why Trump and Kelly propel each other’s cause; they’re like a nightly show. They both represent an improper mixing of state with economics and show business with journalism. They both embody the person without principles—or, more precisely, the person who has contempt for acting on principle.

This quality attracts people with mixed, bad or worst principles. In fact, the prospect of a President Trump rounding illegal immigrants up based on who the state deems good or bad, and getting mileage out of Trump messing with the left’s new media darling who’s willing to say or do anything for an audience, appeals to former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke. Racist and convicted felon Duke all but endorsed Trump this week as the best candidate for president. That the former Democrat and former Republican legislator, who reflects the worst of both parties, sees Trump’s and Kelly’s pseudo-spat as an opportunity shows that those willing to say and do anything for attention propagate those willing to do anything terrible with the government.

The alternative to this 2016 presidential campaign madness is not the same status quo leadership. The worst outcome for America is more of the failed Clinton-Bush leadership, which spawned Obama and the current band of charlatans. Jeb Bush, for example, rushed to defend Jorge Ramos versus Trump, offering that he thinks Ramos deserves respect. Ramos, like Kelly, Trump and other players, deserves scorn, not respect, for grandstanding and Bush represents the failed past. The new century’s new media, as I wrote here, demands constant and serious judgment. Today’s rational American should beware, because the government crony-media axis spin, to flip a Fox News catchphrase, starts here and now. The circus has just begun.