The media -- newspapers, radio, and television -- is not made up of reporters running on a sparkling field of journalistic integrity. Those reporters are instead embedded in a machine intended to do the one thing that Mr. Keen sets as the mark of professionalism -- make money. And the way the media has chosen to make money over the last few decades is, perversely, by devaluing their own product. The clearest illustration of this can be found in three massive changes that have affected news over the last two decades: the increase in radio pundits, the establishment of the Fox News Network, and the reaction of the remainder of the media to the first two events. . . .
But the right wing talk brigade doesn't exist just to build up their own or tear down Democrats. They have, from the moment they first rolled onto the air, existed to tell you that traditional news organizations are no good. The Washington Post? Inside the beltway losers out of touch with real America. CNN? The Clinton News Network. The New York Times? Please. Do you really have to ask?
Punditry has always aimed as much artillery at the people who deliver the news as it does at those who make it. There's a very good reason for this. Before you can convince someone of a lie, you need to make it more difficult for them to check your information. If you establish from the start that NPR is communist, MSNBC and CNN are slanted, and every newspaper this side of Journal's editorial page should be printed on pink paper, then any exaggeration you deliver becomes the de facto standard. Impugning the validity of other news sources is the first job of a successful pundit. They don't seek to be your sources of information by passing along reliable news. They do so by constantly assailing the legitimacy of other sources until you're left shaking your head at the absolute ignorance of everyone but Rush/Bill/Sean/Ann.
The same principles apply to an even greater degree for Fox News. Yes, the network exists to promulgate a rigidly conservative agenda, but it can't do that without first informing you that every other source of news is invalid. Fox doesn't compete with the other networks, it sneers at them. From its motto to its non-existent boundaries between opinion and reporting, Fox exists by being an instrument of destruction to other news providers. Why do those who watch Fox News continue to believe that Iraq was involved in 9/11 despite that idea having been disproved over, and over, and over? Because Fox tells them to. Because Fox's pundits repeat the lie. Because Fox has convinced them that no other source of fact exists.
Fox News Network alone has done more to devalue the whole idea of news than every supermarket tabloid, every radio ranter, and every blogger combined.
If both the institutions at blame are heavily weighted to the right, that's no coincidence. Conservative dogma has long held the idea that it must discredit the press by claiming that the Fourth Estate is in fact a Fifth Column. They have depended on their ability to defame factual sources as a means of easing the way for misinformation since well before the time of Joe McCarthy. The right has successfully extended this campaign into the realm of science, convincing people that both evolution and global warming are somehow "political issues," deserving of no more attention than alternatives despite reams of evidence.
The myth of the "liberal media" came long before the blogs. Discrediting the "nattering nabobs" of the press is not a game that originated with bloggers. Every blogger I know is fully aware that we could not survive without the legwork done by hardworking, professional reporters. Bloggers are not competition to the traditional media -- though they do, hopefully, act as an occasional check on its excesses. However, even if the Internet were entirely dedicated to the downfall of existing media, it would be only one popgun in a chorus of cannons. A large part of the traditional media is dedicated to nothing less than making war on the rest. . . .
The media is working very, very hard to make sure that you don't trust the media. Professionalism defined only by dollars dictates that they chase declining ad revenues through alleys of filth. News outlets have become devoted not to providing stories that are timely and accurate, but to providing proof that their competitors are slanted and unreliable. It's devolved into a battle in which all sides lose. And the biggest loser is the consumer looking for a reliable, authoritative source of information.
The parts I bolded in the excerpts from Devilstower's post reminded me of why I continually have a deeply disturbing sense that the extreme right-wing is more like a cult than a political party. As I understand it, as new members are enticed into a cult, the first thing that must be done to ensure their "capture" into the cult is to isolate them. They must be completely separated from any source of information that would cause them to question the ideology and worldview of the cult.
Cult members are often required to cut off all communication with family and former friends. TV, newspapers, magazines, books (except for any written by the cult leader) are usually banned. The only "information" new members are allowed is the distorted view of reality provided by the cult itself.
Some cult members (often the women and the children) are permanently kept isolated from the wider world. However, it is difficult to impossible to completely isolate everyone in the cult from the outside. The men, for example, may be required to have jobs or the cult itself may establish businesses that require contact with their customers in order to financially support the cult. The truly isolated members may accidentally be exposed to outside sources. So it is necessary to install deep distrust of any information from outside the cult into the very brains of the cult members.
What Devilstower describes is how this is being done to millions of Americans through the traditional media. What started as conscious propaganda on the part of the extreme right has now spread to formerly more-or-less reliable sources of information. And the formerly more-or-less reliable sources are actively participating in their own erosion of credibility.
Scary, when you think about how dangerous the cult mentality can be and where it can lead. What's scary is not that most Americans are buying it. They aren't. What's scary are the horrors that can be unleashed in any society by a minority of "true believers" in the name of an ideology.
[posted on 4/13/08]