Yesterday’s piece seems to have rubbed a few raw nerves even rawer. I meant every word of it, so those who took umbrage at it for whatever reason can kiss my red-white-and-blue ass. That goes for the anti-Semites, the “flyovers” who think the disease is confined to the coasts, the militant atheists who can’t bear to hear or read a good word about Christianity, and anyone else who soiled his diapers over my sentiments. The lot of you are free to wallow in your own ordure. I don’t need you or your comments here.
Do I sound angry? I hope so. The country I loved has rung down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible. And as I’m already in what dear old Sister Blanche would call “a state,” I shall expand on yesterday’s tirade. Today I’m heading in a critical direction that I stopped short of addressing yesterday.
In his masterpiece The Flight From Truth, the brilliant Jean-Francois Revel wrote:
[I]n a democracy, the law guarantees freedom of expression to its citizens; it guarantees neither infallibility, nor talent, nor competence, nor probity, nor intelligence, nor the verification of facts—all of which are supposed to be provided by or are the responsibility of journalists, not of legislators. But when a journalist is criticized because he is inaccurate or dishonest, the profession as a whole lets out a howl, pretending to believe that the very principle of free expression is under attack and that a new attempt is being made to “muzzle the press.” The journalist, it is explained, was merely fulfilling his “task of informing.” But what would we think of a restaurant owner who, after serving spoiled food, fended off criticism by exclaiming: “Please, let me fulfill my mission as a nourisher, that sacred duty! Or are you in favor of starvation?”
The American media have used that tactic to such effect that today, journalists even manage to deflect provable accusations of libel. In consequence, they can get away with promulgating virtually any lie, no matter how scurrilous. Consider as an example the widely held belief that Kyle Rittenhouse shot three Negroes on that fateful night in Kenosha, Wisconsin. How do you suppose that fable got itself established?
Long ago, we came to depend on the media for news about events distant from us. (We hardly needed it for developments in our own neighborhoods, which is why local papers and broadcasters have always struggled for enough attention to remain viable.) And for quite a while, the media were more trustworthy than not. Yes, there were always bad apples in the barrel, but in the early days of regional and national media, most media operators competed on the grounds of timeliness, completeness, and accuracy rather than with the sensationalism and propaganda of our time.
Well, it didn’t last. Perhaps we should have been more vigilant. From the outset there were forces that sought to colonize and conquer the media. Their planners knew that then as now, to achieve control of a large population, control of its information sources is paramount.
Which brings us to today.
Just recently, long-time Fox News opinion contributors Steven Hayes and Jonah Goldberg, who were frequently seen on Bret Baier’s show among others, announced their departure from that network. Their announcement emphasized their dislike of the recent work of commentator Tucker Carlson, particularly his Patriot Purge series of videos about the events in Washington, D.C. on January 6 of this year. They seemed to allocate the responsibility for their departure to Carlson’s work.
To my considerable surprise, Fox News refuted their statement, reporting that the upcoming renewal of Hayes’s and Goldberg’s contracts with the network had already been declined. Even if that report is truthful, it was nevertheless unusual for that network to publicly contradict two prominent contributors on an issue of fact. Why did the masters of Fox do so, rather than letting Goldberg and Hayes depart with no rancor or foofaurauw?
The most plausible reason for Fox’s riposte is that Tucker Carlson is currently the most watched video journalist in America. He commands a large and loyal audience, which would surely follow him were he to depart Fox. Viewership translates to sponsorship. In these difficult days, no broadcaster, cablecaster, or network can afford to lose any great part of what it has.
Now, I like Tucker Carlson. I tend to trust him…and that is a problem. I have no way of verifying what he tells me. It simply “sounds right,” which is the colloquial for “it’s compatible with what I already believe or want to believe.” In the era of agenda-driven reportage, there is no justification for uncritically trusting anyone in the media.
But we humans tend to trust those who confirm what we already believe. Our inability to perform any substantial verification of media claims is our greatest weakness…and the trade’s would-be deceivers’ greatest strength.
One of the preeminent porkbarrellers of recent history, the late Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, was famous for his statement that “all politics is local.” Sadly for the late Mr. O’Neill, if that was ever true, it’s no longer so. Today, in these United States, very little politics is local in the strict sense. Some is state-level or regional; the preponderance is federal.
That meshes destructively with the power of the media.
I’m a New Yorker. I’ve lived here for 67 of my 69 years. I’ve done everything I can to become and to remain informed about our state’s politics…and I must admit to having failed more often than not. The state is too large. Albany, where the legislature and governor sit, is too far away. The officials who decide on state law and regulation are too well insulated from my scrutiny. The statewide affairs of this 20 million person polity are beyond my humble efforts to track in anything close to real time.
How much worse is the situation for anyone who hopes to track national politics and related affairs?
Without the reportage of the media, the overwhelming majority of Americans, no matter how deeply interested in such things, would have no idea what’s going on anywhere outside their neighborhoods. The media provide something, even if it’s fragmentary, tendentious, or utterly false. And so, as Washington has sucked nearly all power and authority out of our villages, towns, cities, counties, and states, we’ve come to rely on them for lack of any alternative.
That is the essence of the information crisis.
The national news media can no longer be trusted to any degree. Each of them has an agenda to promote, and will slant its coverage in whatever way best serves that agenda. As the great majority of them lean heavily Leftward, the slant will usually facilitate the claims of the Left and its political arm, the Democrat Party.
But it would be equally unwise to trust the “maverick” outlets that lean Rightward. The incentives are just as strong for those media to slant their coverage as they are for the ones on the Left. Moreover, as the Left-leaning media become more strident and less concerned with the facts of the stories they cover, the Right-leaning ones will do so as well, in a sort of Newton’s Third Law of Journalism. Those who take any of the reportage at face value will do so not because it’s inherently trustworthy – certainly not on the grounds of actual, on-the-ground verification – but because it tells them what they already believe and would like confirmed.
Trustworthy information, in our time, is that which we personally witness. Reports by others can be trusted, conditionally at least, if accompanied by a video recording of the relevant events. Yet even those reports would become more trustworthy if confirmed by other sources whose veracity is well established, for most video recordings are digital, and therefore mutable. This is the age of the special effect, the computer-generated image, and the “deep fake.”
We are being thrown, informationally, on our own resources – and those resources extend only to the range of our eyes and ears. This is a major component of the influences that are steadily atomizing what was once a great country: the land of E Pluribus Unum.
Verbum sat sapienti.