Below is a take on the role of the media in Tuesday’s election by our Danish correspondent and volunteer tech whiz Henrik Clausen.
An article from today’s news is relevant to the topic: Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The New York Times, has announced that in the wake of the election, his newspaper will now concentrate on honest reporting. This is not only a tacit admission that his paper has been dishonest (at least as far back as the Duranty scandal), but also an indication that he may be feeling the pinch of ‘UNSUBSCRIBE’ from dissatisfied readers.
Fallout from the US election: Just Unsubscribe
by Henrik Clausen
After having followed what is arguably the worst election campaign I have ever had the displeasure to follow, one conclusion is clear, no matter who one would have preferred as President of the United States:
It is time to unsubscribe from mainstream media. Quit the cable subscription, cancel the newspaper delivery, stop bothering to visit their web pages or worrying about their priorities and opinions.
Bias, bias everywhere
It’s not hard to find bias: Just go to a mainstream media web site, such as cnn.com, and enter a keyword or two into the search field. If you find a series of snide articles about one candidate and lots of fawning articles about another, that’s bias. And headlines matter: They influence those who don’t have time to read the actual article, by exploiting the common assumption that the journalists are being fair, professional and impartial.
One may wonder why the press even bothers to favour one candidate over another — shouldn’t it be aloof and impartial? Unfortunately, that doesn’t sell a whole lot of tickets, or create millions of advertising exposures. If the press goes against one candidate, the default understanding is that it is understating a good case — for doing so without good reason would be profoundly unprofessional. The result, as observed from Denmark, is that even well-educated people have been led to consider Donald Trump an irresponsible psychopath, and therefore a profoundly dangerous president.
There is no reason to believe that mainstream media will admit it and abandon their bias. Just unsubscribe.
Where did the issues go?
The key purpose of spending immense amounts of time, energy and money on an election campaign should be to highlight and discuss actual political issues. Real topics, such as how many wars the US should be engaged in, how the healthcare system is doing, monetary policy and the debt situation, the threat from Islam or the attacks on police authority. These are the topics that will determine how living conditions in the United States can be expected to develop, and should be the bread and butter of political debate.
Unfortunately, actual issues have to a great extent been reduced to window-dressing in a campaign dominated by pundits and political analysts. The three direct debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (the other three candidates were not allowed to participate) did try to focus on issues. One interesting takeaway from those was that Clinton hates Putin and Russia more than Trump does — presumably she believed that would resonate with the voters and gather support for her — but the debates did not bring actual political issues back onto the MSM front pages.
Fortunately, actual political issues are subject to serious discussion, just not in the mainstream media. If one goes to bloggers and YouTubers, there are lots of articles and lectures about real issues. The problem here is that those are long — frequently 30 to 60 minutes — so hardworking common people hardly have time to absorb so much material. But if one wants to know lots of relevant facts, YouTube channels belonging to Stefan Molyneux or Alex Jones have plenty. And they have more subscribers than Fox News and CNN, respectively.
When it comes to real issues and important facts, mainstream media is junk food. Just unsubscribe.
Propaganda and agitation
It’s hard to define exactly what is and what is not propaganda, but the aim — to manipulate public opinion — cannot be in doubt. Misuse of confidence is one key element; harming rational debate is another. A third is that propaganda is easy: One does not need to understand complex issue, nor undertake the hard work of making the complexity comprehensive to Jane Average Voter.
Here’s a dictionary definition (Collins) of propaganda:
The organized dissemination of information, allegations, etc, to assist or damage the cause of a government, movement, etc.
The operative word here is ‘damage’. Propaganda is destructive. It is used under the assumption that causing damage to your opponents will automatically translate into support for yourself or your cause. That may appear to work in the short run, but the ethical damage caused by this dishonesty is profound — and boomerangs when the public eventually sees through the manipulations.
A related activity that has seen no analysis is that of agitating the reader. Here’s a dictionary definition (dictionary.com) of ‘agitate’:
To disturb or excite emotionally; arouse; perturb:
A crowd agitated to a frenzy by impassioned oratory; a man agitated by disquieting news.
Agitation addresses emotion, not rational thinking, and is meant to agitate into action, not create space for reflective thought. One example from the US election campaign is the private recording of Donald Trump making some rude comments about women — nothing really relevant to the election, but sure to agitate emotion in those whose moral values make them object to the style, as well as in those who dislike Trump. Case in point: There was no outrage when Jay-Z was much ruder in his concerts in support of Hillary Clinton. No moral values were violated here.
The effect was massive: Overnight, the news was dominated by these few minutes rather than rational discussions about healthcare price increases, supporting terrorists in Syria or the latest WikiLeaks revelations. Group Think can be an extremely powerful tool towards hiding what’s relevant.
There is no reason to expect that mainstream media will abandon the laziness of propaganda or the raw power of agitation. So just unsubscribe.
Those pesky opinion polls
Opinion polls are big business, but they are neither facts nor political issues. Thus, covering another two point surge or drop in the latest poll as compared to the previous one takes time away from covering actual political issues — the raw material that should help viewers and readers decide who to vote for. Worse, opinion polls can be manipulated, wrong, transient and/or insignificant.
One particular problem with opinion polls is that they can be used to discourage your political opponents. If polls show a commanding lead for your side, it is assumed that your opponents will give up on making more campaigning efforts. That’s not a fair practice, of course — it’s manipulation without political substance — but as WikiLeaks has exposed, the Democratic Party has this method on its agenda in order to win the election.
It’s pretty clear that more resources have been devoted to creating and commenting on opinion polls than on analysing and reporting on actual issues of policy. That’s just deplorable when it comes to enabling Joe Average Voter to decide which candidate is better for him. For opinion polls are merely that: Aggregated opinion, not political substance.
There is no reason to expect that mainstream media will downplay opinion polls in the future. So just unsubscribe.
Corruption? What corruption?
The greatest new force to arise in the US elections was WikiLeaks, without a doubt. The US government was so disturbed by the revelations of corruption in the Democratic Party that it forced Ecuador to cut the Internet connection of WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange, who has been a political prisoner at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. To further escalate matters, US President Barack Obama threatened Russia with war due to the leaks, despite the fact that both Russia and WikiLeaks denied any Russian involvement in the revelations.
The crimes and corruption revealed by WikiLeaks include gross negligence in handling state secrets, misuse of funds from the Clinton Foundation (a so-called ‘charity’), the purchase of political influence by foreign donors through the Clintons, and much more. Yet this was summarily dismissed by American mainstream media as merely an “Email scandal”. The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten even editorialised that it would be quite a shame if Hillary Clinton was to lose the election merely due to her using a wrong email account — entirely ignoring the severity of the issues.
Again, the issue of severe political corruption has been addressed only by independent commentators such as Steve Pieczenik. What he describes is a scenario so severe — all-pervading political corruption at the highest level of US politics — that the fear of being sued into ruin will keep mainstream news editors from running stories about it. In this way, the problems as such remain unaddressed, and Joe Average Voter just loses confidence in the political and judicial systems.
But there’s an Internet revolt going on against what appears to be a conspiracy of silence. A heavily sourced eight minute video about Clinton’s personal assistant Huma Abedin had some eight million views leading up to the election. A thrilling example of how powerful citizen journalism can be, it is also a stark reminder of the in-depth reporting that mainstream media are no longer willing to do. And while unacknowledged by mainstream media, such documentaries deal with real political issues and help viewers make up their minds before the election.
Unfortunately, there is no reason to expect that mainstream media will return to in-depth research. As the MSM chases the 30-second attention span, in-depth research suffers dearly. Just unsubscribe.
So, what are we gonna do now?
The shortest summary is this: Learn! Media and politicians cannot deceive a well-educated public, so reason, honesty and knowledge is the best tool to hold them responsible for the deplorable state of current political debate. Reading books and watching real documentaries is a must, as quite a bit of background knowledge is needed to see through the shallow ‘storytelling’ of modern media. This is real effort, and not everyone has the time and curiosity to do it.
Then, if you find good web sites and YouTube channels, with relevant news reported with a proper understanding of context and background, do consider supporting them with a voluntary subscription. Even a small, monthly amount is very helpful, for the Internet provides an amazing economy of scale: Take a YouTube channel with 500,000 subscribers. If just 1 percent of those subscribe with a moderate $5 per months, that’s $25,000 monthly! This will enable the channel owner to not only work full time on his alternative media outlet, but even hire people to assist him. This is great value for money compared with traditional broadcast media, and has potential for a real revolution.
But first and foremost: Just unsubscribe from the MSM. It saves money and gives peace of mind.