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An Ulterior Media
Having to Ask "Why?" is the Heart of the Rot
And thanks to the Resistance Press for running the story. You can visit the website at: https://resistancepress.com/
We all have an acquaintance – let’s call him Mike – that we know that whenever he says something we immediately ask ourselves “Why is he saying that?”
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“The sky is blue,” says Mike and we immediately think “Well, that’s true but why is he bringing it up? What off-putting statement is surely to come next? Is he somehow going to work that around to asking me for something or say something that is odd, passive-aggressive, or just false? Whatever it is, it’s going to be about him and for his benefit.”
Mike is a walking, talking ulterior motive – just like today’s media and that is a problem it may never be able to come back from because - just like the Mike in your life - you can never truly trust them - ever.
Even if – to everyone’s amazement – every main stream media (I don’t like that term – how about main servile media going forward? it has the added convenience of having the same initials at least) stopped printing blatant lies and stopped “fact checking” the truth into oblivion and started asking even vaguely interesting questions, there would still be that residual question – “Why are they now doing that?”
As Matt Taibbi points out so well here, there was a long-standing media ethic that if something was true and important you printed it even if you knew the person who gave you the info had an axe to grind with the target of the story. In fact, while many of the reasons people leak at all are noble – public service, respect of the truth, correct a lie, make people aware of a problem, etc. – one reason is usually “those people finally went to far and I’m really angry and I’m going to make their lives deservedly miserable.”
While that is not an ulterior motive – it’s actually a very exterior one – it is nonetheless still a motive.
What has happened over the past few years is the purposeful destruction of what was called the “Pentagon Papers Principle,” which made the authenticity of the information the be all and end all of deciding whether to run the story.
Now, according to Janine Zacharia and former Obama and Trump Cybersecurity Policy Director Andrew James Grotto, “authentication alone is not enough to run with something.” Read the report here.
In fact, these two media theorists participated in the ethically unconscionable Aspen Institute “table top exercise,” which involved numerous media figures, civil society foundation types, and government officials to figure out how the media should cover a “theoretical” (nope – not buying that – the feds knew it was actually going to happen, wanted Biden to beat Trump, and wanted to pre-wash the problem – I mean, they already had the laptop, for God’s sake) story about a Hunter Biden Ukraine-related computer “hack and dump” story.
This event took place a few months before the 2020 election and, um, coincidentally, weeks before the Hunter Biden “laptop from hell” story was broken by the New York Post. Also, um, coincidentally, the media, the government, the “intelligence community” (speaking of the need for a new name…) followed the playbook laid out during the “exercise.” The well-known throttling of the story played a crucial role in Biden’s victory, with even a significant number – enough to change the result of the election - of Biden voters telling pollsters after they voted that they would not have voted for him if they were aware of the allegations involved.
All in the name of fighting "misinformation" . From the above report: “Break the “Pentagon Papers Principle:” Focus on the why in addition to the what. Make the disinformation campaign as much a part of the story as the email or hacked information dump. Change the sense of newsworthiness to accord with the current threat.”
In other words, the new main servile media stance is that they will decide not only what is true but that they will not publish the truth if they can somehow convince themselves that it came from someone they don’t like….or serve.
This concept was dialed up to 11 for the 2020 election (and remains there as an attempt to literally prop up an ailing, failing, flailing Biden) but had its birth a years before that.
Much of the press has for generations tended to be a bit liberal, a bit progressive (NOT in the psychotic way it means today, though,) a bit on the side of the outsider, a bit on the side of change. That general tendency – while occasionally infuriating conservatives – did bring certain benefits: a bedrock, go to jail to defend, commitment to the principles of free speech, free thought, a burning desire to make sure the public knew the truth, and an open public square that anyone could say whatever they wanted because in the end good ideas will beat bad ones.
In a recent column, a New York Time writer took the bold stand of agreeing with this boss, A.G. Sulzberger, who had written a piece about the importance of “independent” media.
The use of the word “independent” is galling but very intentional.
Note the word “objective” is never mentioned in the “explainer/agreeing” column here - (PDF link because of the paywall) - though “independent” would seem to imply it through its absurd “let the truth be told though the heavens fall” aura.
Independent does not mean unbiased, it does not discount the idea of aggressively taking a side, and it does not eliminate the possibility of servility or subservience – everything bad about journalism can be hidden under the “independent” rug because it does not mean what it is clearly intended to make people think it means.
Then there is the issue of “independent” from what? Readers, advertisers, disagreers, influence? Since it could mean any of these it means nothing.
The callback in the column to Europe – everything is better there than here in bad old America (everyone knows at least one of those people and I can tell you from personal and direct experience they populate the media and the halls of the regulatory machine at least as much as the woke) – and past partisan media are both manipulative misleaders.
Euro-papers are, for the most, partisan, or, at the very least, they start with a very specific set of social constructs. The huuuuge difference is that every reader is very very well aware of that and what those constructs are. In other words, euro-papers have been “siloing” the population for years; one of the best and funniest explainers is this –
American newspapers, for the last 100 years, have tried (it’s impossible to actually do) to hew to the “objective” line. Generations of people have become used to that, even though they have complained and moaned about political tilt for just as long.
The older political separations were ad driven in a way – afternoon papers, when they still existed, tended to be more liberal/labor oriented because their core readers were the people who just got home from first shift work or were just heading out for second shift work and did not have the time to sit at the kitchen table and have breakfast and read the paper in the morning, and those readers were office/business types who for decades tended to be more conservative.
An example of this can be seen in the last major successful afternoon paper, The Seattle Times, which timed its delivery to the Boeing workday. The paper was on doorsteps at about 12:30 p.m.-ish to make sure the first shift workers had it to read when they got home at about 2:30 and that the second shift workers had enough time to read it before they went to work.
The afternoon papers were always inherently weaker than the mornings as they could not, considering their target demographic, charge quite as much for display advertising. That put them in a terrible position as the nation shifted away from a manufacturing economy, with the death blow finally coming when local television stations realized they could start airing news earlier than 6 p.m., making the afternoon paper pointless.
And tabloids (originally purely a reference to the format) were born out of the need for kind-of the in-between who read the papers on public transport (no space-hogging folding, you see) and had to be more eye-catching to grab commuters as they hurried by, hence the famous giant headlines (called “the wood”) like “Headless Body in Topless Bar” and the more salacious (and heavy sports – ESPN didn’t exist) content.
The far more recent, far more strident shift also has financial underpinnings. First, as actual subscriptions declined, papers like the Times had to start pandering even more to its audience to keep their eyeballs.
While it had always pandered in its “lifestyle’ (or ‘toy department’ as it was known) coverage – literati, gliterati, the pros and cons of which upstate county to buy your second home in, etc. - that pandering has now consumed its news coverage, as well, because there was no longer a need to appeal to a more general audience to bump subscriber numbers to be able to charge more for ads.
And charge they did – owning a paper even in a medium market was a license to print money, not just words and pictures. Ironically, these astronomical values and profit margins - even just 20 years ago, The Boston Globe was grudgingly sold by the family to the Times for just short of a billion dollars, or about $2,500 per subscriber and in 2017 it was re-sold for only $70 million – have played a large part in the downfall of print.
For 20 years or so before and even a bit after the Globe sale, national chains went on a local/regional news buying spree specifically because they had no idea what the future held and only saw the high book values and the consistent 13-20% net (in their pocket, after everything net) margins. Then came the internet and the industry’s ludicrous reaction to it (except for The Wall Street Journal – they started charging for digital access from day one and look at them now) and the subscribers fled, the values plunged, the companies cut their local news budgets so fewer and fewer saw the point of getting it and the spiral just got worse and worse and worse and they were stuck with assets that didn’t make money that they had vastly overpaid for.
One sobering number – the value in classified ads (really, a very large percentage of a papers income – it rivaled display) went from $20 billion to $2 billion in the past 20 years. Considering that it used to cost about $6 per copy to produce (ink, print, staff, reporters, pencils, etc.) a paper (the 50 cents you paid for it covered, maybe, only the delivery costs) and it is quite obvious exactly what type of havoc was wrought.
Oh, and while it is true some newspapers are now being bought by hedge funds and the like, they are not being bought as going concerns – they are being purchased for the real estate, those big old wonderful downtown buildings (though considering what the pandemic did to downtowns that may not work as well they hoped…)
That led to the issue of staffing.
As the numbers got smaller, the media job market got smaller, and the pre-existing biases were only amplified by people wanting to please their bosses and keep their jobs. And as the pay went down the market had to reach out to younger and younger staffers willing to work for less, either because they were excited by the adventure ahead or they had a family with a few extra bucks to support them in their quest for justice.
Newspapers used to be a bit like baseball – start in single A (some tiny, three-day-a-week, middle of nowhere outfit,) move up to double AA (a bit more substantial, like a smaller city,) head to triple AAA (I used to work for the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, CA, for example, and that was a high AAA paper,) and then maybe make to the big leagues.
That process took years and really didn’t allow for a decent, middle-class existence until triple AAA.
Now, the big newspapers in the state hire kids practically straight out of “journalism” school (do not get me started on those ‘how to find an expert who will say exactly what you want them to say to advance your personal agenda’ factories) who know nothing of how the real political world works except that they should always write down what any official says and to tweet about (fill in the blank) justice issues, just like they did in college.
Despite appearances, the process has not occurred overnight. The image of the grizzled, first in the family to have a job “out of the coal mine,” often drunk, iconoclast striving for actual justice reporter was always overplayed, but it had a certain core of truth. It talked to power, but did not become entangled with power (that was the publisher’s job); it tended to disdain fancy jargon and putting on airs, while still remaining rather jealous of those with the wherewithal to make their will manifest in the world.
And then, perhaps in part because of this underlying envy, reporters transmogrified themselves into journalists. One was no longer a craftsman at the paragraph factory, but a degreed professional just like the people they covered. A chumminess with power began to appear, even to the point that journalists began marrying government workers and other people they covered and vice-versa, a practice that had previously been quite rightly shunned.
The craft of reporting became more specialized and was consumed by the professional establishment, leading to a kind of industry capture (for example, the Department of Labor is run by and for the unions, the Department of Education is run by and for the teachers, etc.), leaving the general public it once served out in the cold.
This putative professionalism led not only to a widening gap between reporter and reader and an ever-tightening bond between journalists and the people they cover but also to their adopting the worldview – one of group identity over individual action and the strict enforcement of societal otherness for those outside the group - of the rest of the professional class.
Combining this with an increased (cross-platform and nationwide) similarity of tone, style, and focus, the gutting of local news organizations, and a business model that is increasingly focused on coddling the pre-conceived notions of the individual paying customer rather than serving the diversity of the general public and the result that is today’s media (and political) landscape is practically inevitable.
Being a reporter is difficult; being a journalist can be made very easy on oneself by embracing this sad reality.
Starting the day by going to a car accident, then the courthouse to check in on a murder arraignment, and then off to interview the nice little old local lady who has managed to collect 387 porcelain frogs over the course of her life, and finishing the day by attending a three-hour zoning board meeting is hard. Scanning through Twitter for the latest outrage to write about while sitting at your desk eating $18 avocado toast is easy - while sitting at your desk eating $18 avocado toast is easy.
As for the pre-objectivity days, American papers were just as clear and – most importantly OPEN – about their politics, their raison d’etre if you will. When you bought the (insert city here) Democrat you knew what you were getting, just as you knew Alexander Hamilton was probably not going to be running any stories questioning the need for a national bank in his New York Post .
There is nothing wrong with either a partisan or an objective approach – but what the “independent” claim seems to do is meld the worst of both: it involves having no open and claimed political stance and not even a claim to attempting to be objective. It is a walking, talking, breathing ulterior motive, taking the cloak of a respected word and draping it over whatever they do in order to remain respectable.
The truth may have been a bit shaded one way or the other but it was public, out there in the societal firmament for debate and discussion.
With the rise of Donald Trump, the main servile media – no longer gritty, one drink away from cirrhosis reporters but now professional “journalists” with all the sensitivities and self-deceptions that membership in the lower-upper middle class brings – saw itself under direct attack from an outside force.
At first, the mood was “oh, this will be funny, oh, hey it gets good ratings so we can go along with this sideshow until he inevitably explodes on a ball of orange fire and we can get back to normal.”
A years later the impossible happened and the main servile media felt it had played a role in the rise of this populist monster and was going to make sure it would never happen again so it started “re-thinking,” sorry, utterly gutting, the ethical standards it had abided by for generations.
It even started pre-planning the “news” with government agencies – Aspen Institute, again - and these changes could very conveniently be tied to the boogeyman of an evil foreign power even if that justification was atrociously, purposefully false.
No longer would it speak truth to power, but it would speak lies on behalf of the powerful and psychologically justify that shift by trying to convince themselves they were doing so for the right reasons and proper good of the nation and the world when in fact they were doing so for base, classist, and selfish reasons.
Out went even the pretense of objectivity – a relic of the past that cannot be a part of the “New Normal” because some things are just too evil - “Everybody Knows That!”
Out went telling both sides of a story, deeming anyone or anything that did not agree with the congealed cabal that tries to pass itself off as defenders of democracy . That became the sin of “both sidesism” – “We don’t put flat earthers on the front page, do we?”
Out went treating people involved in the public sphere equally and if anyone noticed this they were accused of the intellectually fatuous crime of “what about…ism?” – “Really? Just because we didn’t do a story about Hilary but we did one about Trump you have the nerve to question our integrity?”
In came “fact checking,” a process by which the main servile media could cherry pick some of the silliest things their opposition says and call them lies while simultaneously finding “context” and, of all things another government official – to say that no, what that person we serve said, well, it’s actually the real truth.
In came the simplicity of open advocacy, only quoting “experts” they already agree with, only profiling groups they need to be more popular and powerful. Being a “journalist” is a very easy job if you always know what you’re going to write, how you’re going to write, why you’re going to write, and for whom you’re going to write it, not to mention that you can just have the PR flack/personal friend involved write it for you.
And this is the crux of the ulterior media.
The media has embraced the idea of the ulterior motive to the point that it is gospel, but when the public questions, let alone points out, the media’s own motives they are shouted down by an infuriated press as loudly and as strongly as a cleric shouts down heresy.
And heretics are abominations, can be banned from society, deemed insane, and then crushed with joyous abandon.
And if this ulterior media is allowed to stand – if the heretics do not take over the church, if there is no grand Reformation - then, somehow, Mike wins and the “Why?” no longer needs to be asked because the answer will no longer matter.
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