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Lying Liars, the Media, and Broken Democracies

2017 May 5
by Ian Welsh

I want to return, briefly, to something simple.

You can’t make good decisions if you have faulty information. If you are being fed lies, and you believe them, you’re sunk.

I want to emphasize two numbers:

  1. 70 percent of Americans thought that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.
  2. 89 percent of stories about Jeremy Corbyn in newspapers during one period were found to misrepresent his positions.

As a result:

  1. Americans supported the Iraq War (at first, with notable exceptions).
  2. Brits do not support Labour, because they have been told a bunch of lies about its leaders.

In both cases, you are dealing with a media problem. In both cases, the media amplified and failed to correct various lies–or made them up wholesale.

The media likes to claim that they are the Fourth Estate and that they are required for a healthy democracy. But an unhealthy media, a dishonest media, makes things worse, not better.


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29 Responses leave one →
  1. May 5, 2017

    I would argue that information designed to simply propagate itself (designed to eat up airtime and column inches) is just as bad (if not worse) than false information. It crowds out other content and leaves the public with a feeling of confusion/helplessness.

  2. different clue permalink
    May 5, 2017

    @GH,

    Cotton braincandy . . . as it were?

  3. Tom W Harris permalink
    May 5, 2017

    Hey, check out Miley’s azz!!!

  4. May 5, 2017

    “Cotton braincandy . . . as it were?”-different clue

    Pretty much

  5. May 6, 2017

    For a politician to complain about the media is like a seaman complaining about the sea. I’ve never been a politician, but I was a Merchant Seaman for a long time. You might not like what the sea is doing at any particular time, but as a seaman you have to put up with it and find a way through it. All that the Corbynistas do is complain. Blair found a way through. We are stuck with the media we have. The Morning Star always reports ‘accurately’ by your standard. The Guardian of course is hideously biased as is the Independent. Not sure about the rest because I don’t read them but I am sure that the Express and Mail are scrupulously fair. As for the broadcast media well they are very biased, because they broadcast Diane Abbott’s words unedited.

  6. realitychecker permalink
    May 6, 2017

    You can’t deal with liars, you just have to remove them from your sight and hearing.

    But the real big lie about America is that we don’t really believe anyone can make it big without lying, and we all want to make it big.

    Just think about it for a moment. Nothing is more basic to our system than the right to enter into enforceable contracts. And yet, we allow ‘puffing’ in contract negotiations. Puffing is lying.

    You do the math.

  7. Ché Pasa permalink
    May 6, 2017

    I would only add that the media has always been like this. What’s changed is technology, style and quantity. Nowadays we can be — if we choose to be — inundated by a media that is regurgitating its own or its sponsors’ perspective on events and personalities, presented as fact and truth, with no or only token (and often staged) contrary views. Depending on the outlet, much of what is presented may be false, fabricated, irrelevant or distractive. By design and intent. It not simply propaganda, it’s a deliberately constructed false narrative.

    Critical thinking and skepticism are not encouraged, and I told they are not even taught.

    We tend to prefer media that confirms our biases. But because of the nature of the media business you’re not going to find much on the lefter end of the political spectrum in the mainstream. Thus the term “pseudo-left.” BTW this too has long been true.

    Media criticism has always been one of the core functions of the internet. Interestingly, internet criticism of mainstream mass media has not made it any better. Arguably, it’s made it worse.

    As johnm55 points out, this is the media we have, and politicians are obliged to deal with it as is. Some do it better than others, but those who go against the current are in for a rough ride at best. Those who survive can become near-heroic figures. Most, however, will be swept away and largely forgotten.

    By all means, point out the lies and fabrications and propaganda. On the other hand, it’s incumbent on those who can do so to get beyond criticism.

    

  8. Mallam permalink
    May 6, 2017

    Glad others are talking sense about media here. We know the media will slag against the left. It should be taken as a given. Maybe the problem here isn’t the media, but the bumbling fool leading (or not) his party. I’m so much more disillusioned than I’d have been in 2009 watching Obama had I had any illusions about him to begin with — because that’s what happened here: I’m pissed off because I actually put some faith in Corbyn and that the left would win an argument if oven the chance, and instead he’s ruining the left’s chances to win the argument because he’s not a fucking leader. And yet I still see nothing but apologia. No different than the Clinton boosters who won’t fuck off and take responsibility that they were wrong and backed the wrong candidate. It’s not the media, it’s that right wing Labour were right about Corbyn specifically even if they’re wrong on the politics.

  9. V. Arnold permalink
    May 6, 2017

    Ché Pasa
    May 6, 2017

    By all means, point out the lies and fabrications and propaganda. On the other hand, it’s incumbent on those who can do so to get beyond criticism.

    Or, withdraw all support. I mean ALL support! It can be done; but most will bawk by what it takes.
    There is no instruction manual; it’s a path not mapped.
    The only solution offered is for individuals; certainly not for the masses.
    “Do or do not; there is no try.” Yoda
    True wisdom is found in very strange places…

  10. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 6, 2017

    Propaganda 101

    1.) First and foremost, consolidate The Media to reduce rebellious, dissenting views. That part is already complete.

    2.) Within each Branded Media Monolith, select and/or recruit Key Gatekeepers and put them in the positions that choose what stories get covered and how they’re covered. What & How are paramount.

    As an example of the what, take note that The Media, without fail, across the several consolidated monoliths, will not touch Palast’s theory that the election was rigged via minority voter suppression and instead leads with the story that Russia stole the election. Even CNN, which has branded itself as Pro-Liberal, will not even consider or mention Palast’s theory.

    How about the highly plausible theory, with supporting evidence, that the Saudi Royal Family planned & executed 9/11? This is a HUGE story and it’s buried by The Media.

    There are so many more examples. We’re being lied to and misled and therefore so many are brainwashed.

  11. May 6, 2017

    I would suggest that no one who is “Corbyn-shaped” (speaking broadly) could win an election in a post-industrial capitalist finance-driven representative democracy. People don’t vote for someone just because they have a well-intentioned, possibly even practical ideology. They vote for people who look like they could put their hands on the levers of state.

    The one exception is when the electorate wants to poke their fingers in the establishment’s eye. In the USA, you get Trump, in Greece, you get Syriza, etc. But in the UK that already happened: Brexit. Now Brexit is (has become) the UK establishment. And what does Corbyn do? He promises that he’d be a better version of the new Brexit establishment. That, when he was selling himself as the opponent of the established policy. Which is now Brexit. A very incoherent message.

    Yeah the media is against him but any left-wing candidate must play media jiu-jitsu. Corbyn does not. May is incompetent as a policy visionary, an obvious cynical careerist without even Maggie’s conviction, but she looks like government. If you want an emotionally-satisfying Brexit, best to go with her.

    I think Brexit should happen, the harder the better, but Corbyn’s chances would be better if he promised to reverse it. Just by the emotional logic I am trying to convey. After all, isn’t the critique of the center-left: why vote for the watered down version of right-wing policies when you can have the real thing? And the real right-wing thing is an ugly Brexit with lots of grandstanding drama.

  12. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 6, 2017

    I don’t know about you, but I never would have chosen this guy to head up a major news outlet. No way. Yet someone did. Who? What was the process for choosing? In a general sense, the answer is easy. The Rich chose Zucker to administer and oversee the Propaganda that is CNN. CNN, more than any other news outlet, is responsible for the ascension of Donald Trump to the Onerous Insane Psychotic Imbecile In Chief. CNN’s coverage was straight out of Zucker’s The Apprentice playbook. I’m sure it was Zucker’s idea to make everything BREAKING NEWS as in Breaking News — Donald Trump Takes A Yuuuuge Dump, Even Bigger Than Yesterday’s.

    CNN Profiles

    Jeff Zucker has been the president of CNN since 2013. He oversees all of CNN’s businesses, including the CNN US television network, CNN International, HLN, all of CNN’s digital properties, and Great Big Story.

    Zucker has had one of the most storied careers in media. He took over the Today show at the age of 26 and re-invented the historic morning news program, went on to a 25-year career at NBC Universal that saw him become the company’s CEO, greenlit such shows as The Apprentice with Donald Trump, The Voice and Friday Night Lights as NBC’s Entertainment President, co-founded the online streaming service Hulu, and is currently leading a dramatic turnaround at CNN.

  13. Willy permalink
    May 6, 2017

    “The idea that politics is sport is undeniable, and we understood that and approached it that way.”
    Jeff Zucker

    Makes sense. Jeff Zucker is probably hardwired the same as Roger Ailes. Both take advantage of ‘politics = sports’ people for their own personal profit.

    I’ve observed that those most likely to automatically believe whatever “their” news outlet says, are also the ones most likely to buy season tickets for “their” losing sports team, even if it’s painfully obvious that the reason for the team being a perennial loser is the bad management and ownership. I call them the “more clappers” folk. It’s as if more clapping is the only way to propel the team towards victory. And anybody else is to be shamed. Such people are not naturally hardwired for skepticism or rational thought. Groupthink, tribalism, identity politics, lemmings off the cliff… that’s their forte. I’d think any successful just-cause revolution might have to figure out how to get them to clap for rationality.

  14. Chiron permalink
    May 6, 2017

    The media is 100% Neoliberal, I know you talk about the death of Neoliberalism but everything I see is total Neoliberal dominance in the West and Latin-America.

    There is no superpower backing other form of economy.

  15. Pelham permalink
    May 6, 2017

    For these good reasons and others, maybe we need to begin thinking about what kind of media we want and how to get them.

    Perhaps journalists should be licensed by their industry and certified, with periodic peer review of their work by a politically diverse spectrum of seasoned journalists.

    Perhaps we need a different funding model. Dependence on advertising is an obvious problem. But so is dependence on direct funding by subscriptions. I know from experience that major newspapers, for instance, are more fearful of losing large portions of their readership than they’re fearful of losing advertisers and thus skew their reporting to avoid ruffling subscriber feathers.

    Perhaps we need different media platforms. The internet isn’t working out well for professional journalism and, at this very late stage, it appears it can’t be made to work. I for one don’t think the technology has yet been invented that will deliver top-notch daily journalism to readers. (Research has shown, for instance, that people read and comprehend content much better when it’s presented on ink and paper rather than on a screen. So maybe we need a device that prints broadsheets in the home with a minimum of fuss, thus eliminating the need for centralized press machinery and costly delivery systems.)

    Perhaps we need major national publications that, in the case of newspapers, aren’t based in major cities but, rather, serve different regions or political constituencies and, in the case of other publications and broadcast media, aren’t all concentrated in one narrow geographical and ideologically hidebound band along the East Coast.

    In sum, we need to begin thinking about the media we want and then about the means to build the structures or the incentives to make them possible.

  16. nihil obstet permalink
    May 6, 2017

    I don’t think media are much if any worse than ever. We’re comparing the truly crazy stuff now with the media of the 50s and 60s, Walter Lippman and Walter Cronkite and the apparently educated and judicious journalists of the time. To think that served democracy is to forget how very narrow the range of views allowed into mass media was. In the old cliche, it ran the intellectual gamut from A to B. There were more newspapers, but not much in the way of genuinely different viewpoints. Television news programs were 15 minutes long (local + national came to 30 minutes, so there wasn’t the crazed time-filling that 24 hour news stations have to do, or at least have to do as long as they don’t pay for huge investigative and production staffs).

    During those days, the U.S. ran rampant around the globe with little reporting on it: Iran, Guatemala, the Middle East generally, South America, Africa (notably the Congo) and of course Vietnam. At home, there was the blacklist, the growth of the military-industrial complex, and savage discrimination, ignored by mass media. That was hardly a golden age of mass information.

    I can think of two things that have changed for the worse: the loss of the fairness doctrine on TV, and the extraordinary pay of star TV and newspaper writers and presenters. In the 50s and 60s, the reporters did not generally identify with the rich, so labor reporting was better, and disdain for the readership tended to be less. Media stars are now selected, groomed, and rewarded for being courtiers to the upper class.

    The internet has made access to information much, much better, both good info and genuine vileness. Since what I think is good would no doubt be judged as vile by anyone likely to be in a position of power, I’m not inclined to attempts to control the vileness.

    Politics and media are symbiotic. It doesn’t run one way from lying liars breaking democracy — broken democracy also enabled lying liars. The challenge is to push through a language of truth and democracy that will reverse the downward spiral we’ve been in for some 40 years.

  17. Hugh permalink
    May 6, 2017

    In the US in 1987 during the Reagan Administration, the FCC got rid of the Fairness Doctrine (1949) which mandated that holders of broadcast licences cover issues of public importance and do so in a fair and balanced way.

    And then there was media consolidation. In 1996 under Clinton, the Telecommunications Act was enacted superseding the Communications Act of 1934. The ostensible purpose of the act was to increase competition by allowing media cross-ownership, a corporation’s right to own different kinds of media: phone, internet, broadcast, cable, etc., and it eliminated the cap on how many radio stations a corporation could own. It, of course, did the reverse. Competition did not increase rather already large players entered new areas and bought up the potential competition in a series of mergers and purchases. It led, for example, to the reconstitution of much of the Bell System (Ma Bell/ATT) which had been broken up in a consent decree (engineered by ATT) in 1982, the rise of entities like Clear Channel and the end of many local radio stations. Much of this had been pioneered in the print media where the buying up of local newspapers by large corporations like Gannet really took off in the 1970s. And then too there was the case of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox where in 1995 the FCC relaxed rules on foreign ownership of US media to allow for the expansion of Fox into the US.

    The result for TV and cable news is that they are few in number and all owned by much large “multi-media” corporations:

    Viacom: CBS
    Disney: ABC
    Comcast: NBC
    Time Warner: CNN
    21st Century-Fox: Fox News

    The shorter version is that media consolidation led to media corporatization of the news. The news we get is not the news we need but the “news” these media giants feel like giving us, that is what serves their interests.

  18. Pelham permalink
    May 6, 2017

    @nihil obstet

    Every one of your points is excellent — and, of course, I mean by that I agree with them all and they confirm my biases, which are (if I may say so) well informed.

    But to repeat, we probably ought to be thinking how to get from where we are to where we want to be in media. Mechanisms and incentives are what we need to develop a wide variety of places for a large workforce of highly trained, well-compensated journalists — supplemented, of course, by a freewheeling internet full of all sorts of voices, good and vile alike.

    That said, except for the fanciful machine I mention above, I’m at a loss. But I’m still thinking.

  19. Hugh permalink
    May 6, 2017

    I should add that the New York Times which is owned by the Chucklebergers, oops, Sulzbergers, went all out to sell the Second Iraq War and the hysteria about non-existent WMD. This was essentially the position of the newspaper staff, editors, and publisher. While Judy Miller eventually got canned but with a nice payout, her co-writer on some of the articles Michael Gordon kept his job and continued to cheerlead and lie about the war, for years, as did the Times bureau chief in Baghdad John Burns.

    While Bezos buying the Washington Post was supposed to be something really different, a rich man buying a newspaper, it really isn’t that much different from the Sulzberger control of the NYT. Nor does there seem to be much difference between the control of the media by corporations and the super-rich.

    Or even the rich when you consider how many of the announcers and presenters on TV and cable have 7 and 8 figure incomes.

  20. Hugh permalink
    May 6, 2017

    Somewhat off topic, or maybe not, but the US added 995,000 jobs in the private sector in April, seasonally unadjusted (NSA). Year to date (YTD), i.e. Jan-April, 2.152 million have been created in the private sector NSA.

    A couple of notes: YTD gains still are below the 2.418 million jobs lost after the Christmas holidays, Dec. 2016-Jan. 2017. This is normal. 2017 continues to appear a little weaker at this point than the same period 2014-2016, but remains within range. We won’t have a clear idea how 2017 compares with these years until the BLS figures for June come out in July. But as I have said before, the private sector is supposed to be the engine for jobs and the economy, and 2014 was better than 2015 which was better than 2016, and unless something changes, 2017 looks like it will not be as good as 2016. Finally, the unemployment rate has become essentially meaningless measure.

    Weekly wages were up this month but this looks principally due to an unexpected jump in hours worked, and this jump may or may not last.

    Production and nonsupervisory personnel comprised 82.37% of private jobs in April. This relates to those following the evolution of the 80/20 split in our country.

    How this relates to the present discussion is in how the media even misreport what should be fairly clear and straightforward economic data.

  21. Some Guy permalink
    May 7, 2017

    I have trouble distinguishing ‘media has gotten worse over the years’ from ‘every year I see through the media’s bs a little more’. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

    I think the collapse of the traditional media creates opportunities for change, but it’s hard to say what will emerge instead and how best to channel it to causes one supports.

    I think one thing to look at is local races, as these are starting to become traditional media free zones with the collapse of the media – especially in suburban areas. One post that stuck with me was this account of a recent mayoral election in a nearby suburb.

    The author, one of the few long time journalists I respect, concludes, “But something has gone really wrong with our collective ability to respond” and I think that is indeed what will happen as the media collapse/fragmentation continues – we will no longer have any coherent way of collectively responding to events in any sane manner.

    But back to Ian’s point, given the media we have, we are 100% guaranteed to get a neoliberal response to events now, and that neoliberalism is slowly but surely destroying us and the planet.

    So I guess when it comes to the media I’m a volatility voter, let’s burn down the MSM and take our chances with the ensuing chaos.

    I refuse to give a penny to any msm outfit, I write to my politicians in anger at the merest hint of government life support for them, I encourage every one I know who is still willing to listen to me to stop supporting them and if and when I can, I try to support places like this which offer a rare point of sanity in an insane world. Not sure what else to do at this point except wait for Generation Fox News to die off.

  22. S Brennan permalink
    May 7, 2017

    Agree Ian.

  23. May 7, 2017

    There are degrees of misrepresentation, so to say that 89% of stories misrepresent Jeremy Corbyn only confirms what we already know about the press generally. We in UKIP know all about that! We also know that Jeremy Corbyn has failed to deny his links with the IRA and other terrorists and only this week has stood outside an RAF base and demanded the banning of drones. Would he prefer greater collateral damage as we defend ourselves from our enemies?

    The Tories will win this election, but then mess up Brexit. Many UKIPers are knowingly lending their votes to the Conservatives just to give Brussels one in the eye. We are also standing down in seats where a Brexiteer can win against a Remainer, so our total vote may also be down for that reason as well. This election is just a blip until we have to pick up the pieces in 2022. We’ll be back!

  24. Tom permalink
    May 7, 2017

    28.2% turnout in the French Election so far. Whoever wins won’t represent the people or have a mandate of the majority.

    Very heavy security as well.

    Once again the hypocrisy between European Democracy and Turkish Democracy is exposed as France is under emergency law like Turkey but Turkey is vilified yet the vast majority of Turks still voted in the last referendum for good or ill and the security forces did all they could to help people vote while still providing security.

    The French get what they deserve while the Turks got what they wanted.

  25. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 7, 2017

    What it means, Tom, is the French People have lost faith in The System and they know both candidates are Shit & Shit just as both candidates in the latest American Presidential Election were Shit & Shit.

    I consider it a positive sign that French Citizens have lost faith in The System. It’s a step in the right direction.

    The Turks know they will be persecuted if they don’t vote, so, they hold their noses and vote as they’re expected to vote. In the past year, they’ve watched a bevy of political prisoners being abducted & disappeared and they don’t want to be the next, so they vote.

  26. Duncan Kinder permalink
    May 7, 2017

    I’m unaware of the British situation, so I cannot comment on that.

    However, as the saying goes, “If you fool me once, shame on you. If you fool me twice, shame on me.”

    After a certain point, the American public should be charged with responsibility for doubting media reports. (How many of us take seriously National Enquirer reports about how Elvis is having group sex with Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump?)

  27. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 7, 2017

    I don’t think media are much if any worse than ever. We’re comparing the truly crazy stuff now with the media of the 50s and 60s, Walter Lippman and Walter Cronkite and the apparently educated and judicious journalists of the time. To think that served democracy is to forget how very narrow the range of views allowed into mass media was.

    Good point, but what makes The Media today more pernicious is the appearance of more choice when it’s really just different Shades of Propaganda which is tantamount to Lipstick on a Pig of Lies.

    As well, Media Presentation has become an art and a science and the merging of News & Entertainment, similar to the merging of Banking & Investing with the dissolution of Glass-Steagall, has taken the influence & effect of The Media to an entirely new and socially deleterious level.

  28. S Brennan permalink
    May 9, 2017

    Ian;

    Give this woman a read, she is definitely worth your time.

    https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone/proof-that-your-government-is-lying-to-you-and-the-media-is-helping-them-107e673a4297

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