Reading the morning newspaper,” the German philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel wrote, “is the realist’s morning prayer. One orients one’s attitude toward the world either by God or by what the world is. The former gives as much security as the latter, in that one knows how one stands.”
But in our age, this morning prayer appears to be less directed at the Deity than in times past. Today, we live in an age of the proliferation of news. All kinds of news. Celebrity news, world news, real news, fake news.
Legacy media might not have a stranglehold over the news industry, but it has left a legacy of its own. That legacy is one of propaganda, which is exactly what journalism in all its forms has become.
Pick a topic, any topic. Now look at the headlines and the attendant articles journalists have produced about an event. What do you find? Not a “tossed salad” of various perspectives but a “melting pot” with very little diversity.
Diversity is our strength? Nope. Not in the media. Not anymore.
Repeat After Me
To choose a particularly egregious instance of alarmist journalism—#MeToo and the sexual misconduct allegations against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
To the thoughtful individual, the ambiguity of the case offered a near-limitless amount of interesting positions for which one could have advocated: Kavanaugh might have committed the alleged acts, but did not recall them; the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, remembered the experience she related, but the memory itself was a confabulation; the supposed victim misook an action of Kavanaugh’s friend for that of Kavanaugh (Ed Whelan was the one brave soul to promote a unique theory along these lines, though he irresponsibly outed a classmate by name); the accuser actually projected her own marital problems on a fictional occurrence with a relatively little-known acquaintance (i.e. Kavanaugh), etc. etc. etc.….
Now compare this multiplicity of positions to those taken up by the creatures of the media, the journalists and pundits: “The Charges against Judge Kavanaugh Should Be Ignored,” “Is Brett Kavanaugh A Nice Guy? That’s Irrelevant. So Is Alleged Sexual Assault Decades Ago,” “The GOP Response to the Kavanaugh Allegations Sends an Unmistakable Message to Women,” “How Conservative Christians Are Responding to the Kavanaugh Allegations,” and on and on and on. Where there once was an endless variety of nuanced takes, there is only shallow polemic and the most blockheaded of tribal positions.
Journalists do not convey truth: they manufacture but a few versions of the truth and sell it as capital-R Reality.
But it is not just the simplifying of reality which produces dangerous effects – it is also the repetition of those false constructions.
“A hundred repetitions makes one truth,” goes the old adage. If so, then a hundred headlines makes one truth just as well.
All news is “fake news” because the system which produces it is one hell-bent on reproducing the same story ad infinitum. It is not interesting in letting you, humble reader, decided what does and does not merit your belief. The news decides what you believe even before you see the facts.
The effect of all this replication? Propaganda. Of a particular news story one soon becomes, much like Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, “accustomed to her face.” Familiarity, far from breeding contempt, breeds a kind of familial tolerance, even an acceptance.
In induction the more examples of a principle presented, the more likely the principle is to be true. Propaganda operates no differently: the more the same example is repeated, the more likely the example seems to be true.
How often does the phrase “alleged sexual misconduct” have to be dinned into the ears of newspaper-readers before they start remembering the phrase without the “alleged” in front of it?
Are We All Old Women Now?
We forget the fundamental purpose of reading more broadly–education. Alas, we also fail to recall the purpose of education, which is not the knowledge of useless things but the grasping of eternal truths.
Perhaps we ought to approach the news in the fashion of Henry David Thoreau. In his famous book Walden he is not afraid to announce:
“I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter—we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip.”
Real news–that is, news which gets us to Reality and not distraction–would at the very least repeat the principle and not the example.
If we have the principle, we can deduce all the possible examples. This is why deduction is more trustworthy a way of drawing conclusions than induction…and this is why propaganda, which relies of induction, is so frequently untruthful.
Even The Washington Post, which fails to notice the cognitive dissonance between its fake-news practice and truth-loving theory (“Democracy Dies in Darkness”), acknowledges in its sloganeering that the press exists–or rather, should exist–for the promotion of truth for the betterment of the nation as a whole.
But journalism is no longer a means of transmitting information to the public for the benefit of the Republic; as we have seen, it is the reproduction of the same narratives, talking points, and ideologies unto the ages.