Newspaper Cartels: When the Media Combine

19842

Last Thursday, led by the Boston Globe, about 350 newspapers ran coordinated editorials to criticise Donald Trump.

Despite the breathless, celebratory reporting by the liberal media who tried to make it sound like a tsunami wave of dissent was washing across the American landscape, this campaign did not involve the majority of newspapers in the United States. According to Wikipedia – whose lists are usually credible – the United States has more than 1,300 newspapers. This means that only around a quarter of the United State’s print media participated in this protest.

For the most part, the participants and their shtick were predictable. The Guardian, for instance, reported it as a “defence of press freedom”, despite there being absolutely zero legislative effort to curtail the freedom of the press. In amongst its story, it added:

The Guardian has also joined the effort and has published an editorial alongside outlets around the United States.

Which is laughably redundant. Was there ever any doubt? Just as a manure seller goes in search of dung, and a jackal is drawn to rancid carrion, so the Guardian is irresistibly drawn to any fashionable liberal shibboleth and any anti-Trump crusade.

This mass media protest appears to be the brainchild of the Deputy Editor of the Boston Globe, Marjorie Pritchard, who “put out the call” to other newspapers. Most newspaper ignored the campaign and a few reacted by strongly distancing themselves from the project. It seems likely that Pritchard hoped this would be a watershed moment of media solidarity.

As Geoff Caldwell of the Joplin Globe wryly observed:

I’m sure when she dreamed it up, she thought it one of those “Yes, that’ll show ’em!” moments.

In an interview with NPR, Marjorie Pritchard emblemised the problem with the modern media. Her remarks demonstrate an extreme narrowness of thought and a worldview that is built over the rubble of mere assumptions.

One gets the impression from listening to her comments that many modern journalists are not very bright and, as a profession, have experienced tragic decline from the trailblazers who went before them. Gone are the trenchcoat-wearing, fedora-capped stalwarts skulking around dark alleys armed only with a notebook and pencil. The sun has set on the days when telling the truth to the public – and properly informing them – was the high calling of the profession.

In the NPR interview, Marjorie Pritchard insisted:

This editorial project is not against the Trump administration’s agenda. It’s a response to put us into the public discourse and defend the First Amendment.

Pritchard simply assumes that the First Amendment is critically endangered in the United States but she never explains why. If an alien beamed down and heard this comment he might justly wonder, “Is there some law being proposed to squelch the freedom of expression?” The answer is no.

Despite the liberal media’s persistent demand for other people’s opinions to be criminalised or marginalised, neither the United States Congress nor the United States President has even hinted that they would yank on the levers of power to trammel the freedom of the press.

It seems in Pritchard’s ivory tower, scrutiny and criticism of the massed media is a form of unconstitutional attack. There is no other way to interpret her remark here.

She goes on:

He’s calling the press a domestic enemy. And we are fellow countrymen. And our profession is to hold the powerful accountable.

The self-indulgence is off-the-charts. Now that the liberal media has had a taste of public excoriation, it suddenly wants to be accorded respect as “fellow countrymen”. Pritchard argues that the media should not be subject to pillory and savage rhetoric because, after all, they are fellow citizens too. They are citizens who just happen to have a different view.

Hypocrisy rises from these words like dust clouds from a third world mining operation.

This is the same liberal media that through their poisonous writings have mercilessly persecuted Christian bakers, florists, teachers, CEOs, and marriage certificate issuers.

This is the same liberal media that fanned the flames of racial tension by uncritically supporting narratives that later proved to to be false.

This is the liberal media that has subjected both the President and his supporters to violent pillory from the moment he was elected. The Guardian, for example, commended the actions of the Red Hen restaurant that threw out Sarah Sanders.

This is the same liberal media that showed a Vaticanesque reluctance to publicly expose horrific instances of child abuse and predatory sexual harassment within their own profession, even when the perpetrators were widely known.

And on it goes.

The media have been a toxic influence on the culture for decades. To now tremulously hold out the hands that have bloodied others and plead for cordiality as “fellow countrymen” is to ask for the sort of civility that the liberal media has never accorded its victims. For all his faults (and they are numerous) Donald Trump represents a justifiable outpouring of disinfectant upon this whole cartel. He has opened it up to the sunshine of scrutiny, factual critique, and overdue scepticism. In other words, journalists are discovering they are not immune from being judged and weighed in the balances.

But the delusions of grandeur get even worse.

In the NPR interview, Pritchard tries to suggest that the media must “hold the powerful accountable” as if they were latter-day John the Baptists denouncing a modern Herod.

But Geoff Caldwell rightly points out that the reason the public is unimpressed with the liberal media is precisely because it does not tell the truth. Instead it lies in order to service its own narratives and agendas.

Neither does it hold all powerful people accountable. It only holds some of them accountable, those it does not like. A good many powerful people get a free ride in the press. Genuinely shocking evils are left hidden even when they would be easily discoverable, simply because liberal journalists have no desire to find them.

Caldwell writes:

It wasn’t Trump who spread the Michael Brown, “Hands up; don’t shoot,” lie around the world from Ferguson, Missouri.

It was The Washington Post, not Trump that falsely reported that Russian hackers had penetrated the nation’s electrical grid via a Vermont Utility.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, a week ago Saturday night, NBC News reporter Cal Perry and crew were attacked by radical left antifa protesters in an event Perry documented on Twitter as it happened.

Yet the next morning, on NBC’s own “Sunday Today” show, none of Perry’s footage of the attack was shown and reporter Garrett Haake referred to it as but “tense moments in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, with far-left protesters heckling the media and chanting anti-police slogans.”

He goes on to add:

Where was that accountability for eight years of a Barack Obama administration? Where was that “truth to power” as Hillary Clinton and staff erased servers, destroyed phones and refused to turn over information duly requested by investigators?

Where is that dedication at this very moment regarding the glaring amount of questionable activities by a multitude of FBI, Department of Justice and intelligence figures that let Clinton skate and brought a sledgehammer to the ice pond against Trump and crew?

Not surprisingly, many of the protesting newspapers looked faintly farcical in the end.

The Morehead News in Kentucky ran a piece that began with a quotation from Josef Goebbels, the minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in Nazi Germany. It was all downhill from there with the editor invoking Hitler and Nazis left and centre.

At one point it was asserted:

We believe the Nazi tactic of “the big lie” is alive and well at the White House because of President Donald Trump’s continuing “fake news” claims since the 2016 presidential campaign.

It should be clear to most Americans that Trump is relying on another Goebbels’ principle of propaganda:

“A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”

The glaring disanalogy seems to have passed over the top of the editor’s head.

In Nazi Germany the state tightly controlled the media. The example of Goebbels only has any relevance in a system where journalists are coerced by force to be complicit with the state. But this is 21st century America. In contrast to Goebbels, poor Donald Trump has no capacity to dictate to the media at all. If anyone needed proof of this, you need only look at this selfsame vanity project where editors pretend the President of the United States is a clear and present danger to the press freedom!

When Trump criticises the press, he is not angling to control it. So spouting off about Nazis and Goebbels is merely a crude editorial effort to manipulate its readers.

But, the editors at the Morehead News are not only illogical, they are also wrong.

The above statement – apparently written with a high school generalist level of historical knowledge and perhaps a Facebook meme as a source –  is a misquotation.

There is no record that Goebbels ever said what the Morehead News claims. The statement was first attributed to Goebbels in Publications Relating to Various Aspects of Communism (1946), by the United States Congress, House Committee on Un-American Activities, Issues 1-15, p. 19. But no reliable source has been found in which this attribution can be credibly said to have originated from Goebbels.

Furthermore, when Hitler wrote about “big lies” in the opening chapter of Mein Kampf, he did not recommend it as a political strategy but instead argued that this was the methodology of Jewish Marxists and their alleged 1918 “stab in the back” of the German army and General Ludendorff. The Jews, Hitler claimed, were widely believed because their lie about the weakness of the German army was so incredible nobody would ever dream it could possibly be false.

Goebbels also wrote about “big lies” but he directed his comments toward the English:

“The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, it should be a big lie, and one should stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”

(Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik, published in Die Zeit ohne Beispiel on 12 January 1941.)

The Morehead News‘ historiography is flatly wrong. It may not be a big error, but it is a falsehood all the same. It also shows precious little fact checking. Five minutes of Googling would have yielded the above information. Moreover, the tormented application to an inverse modern situation makes for a dizzying display of irrationality.

This, then, is the quality of a journalistic rebuke in 2018 against the term “fake news”: a rebuke that includes demonstrable fakery. You really could not make it up.

Meanwhile, the Guardian adopted the standard liberal stratagem of arguing that viewpoints and opinions it detests are potentially dangerous to society. Not for the first time, the Guardian virtually suggests that Trump’s comments about the media is putting journalists at risk of being murdered:

The anti-media mood at some Trump rallies has been intimidating. Social media trolling, violent abuse and threats to journalists (especially sexual threats to women journalists) have reached unprecedented levels. The United Nations human rights commissioner warned this week that Mr Trump’s attacks on the press are “very close to incitement to violence”. In June, five staff members at the Capital Gazette in Maryland were shot dead by a local man with a local grievance. They may not be the last.

As the Prophet Hosea warned, “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). And likewise St. Paul cautions, “Whatever a man sows, that shall he reap in return” (Galatians 6:7). If is true that the liberal media now feel the pressure of public opprobrium, they must examine themselves to find the cause. For it is the liberal media that have sown the wind.

It is the liberal media that have long published reams of material that can only be viewed as a calculated (and at times cynical) effort to create fear and division. They have sought to manipulate social outcomes by sacrificing truth. They have even tacitly tried to inflame segments of society and aim them against others.

They have emboldened violent and intimidating movements (like Antifa) with soft soap reporting. They have attacked law enforcement over one-sided BLM narratives. Many liberal media outlets have approvingly promoted every nonsensical, shrieking, finger-pointing movement that comes down the insane pipeline of the left wing. They attempt to silence or delegitimise people who speak against the liberal agenda (e.g. Dr. Jordan Peterson, Lauren Southern, or Stefan Molyneux). They support speech codes and advocate for censorship in the name of “tolerance” and “diversity”.

Now they are reaping a taste of the whirlwind.

It is simply stupid to imagine that Trump has created a resentment toward the media out of whole cloth. Of course he has not. But he is a convenient scapegoat for a profession that knows it is under siege. On the one hand it is frightened by declining circulation as the New Media displaces the Old (hence their desire to censor the social media space). On the other hand they are battling fresh outbreaks of public contempt.

Donald Trump has tapped into this existing wellspring of anger. He has given that attitude a voice. Even some of the dissenting newspapers recognise this to be true. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette opined:

Just as his lack of restraint has often been the president’s self-inflicted wound, the bias of some of the press has hurt journalism, at the very moment when it is most needed to save itself… It is time for a truce.

The Horn News was even more cutting in its analysis:

Polls show Republicans have grown more negative toward the news media in recent years: Pew Research Center said 85 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said in June 2017 that the news media has a negative effect on the country, up from 68 percent in 2010.

When is the “fake news” going to wake up to the damage their rhetoric is causing this country — and their own professional integrity?

One must ask some questions.

Who do these 350 newspapers think they are appealing to and what do they really hope to achieve? Certainly, there is an obvious profit motive. Many of the newspapers implored readers to subscribe to their papers in order to “defend a free press”. As a stunt, this does have the potential to give the bottom line of the account books a bit of a bounce.

But are these coordinated editorials going to persuade Trump supporters or even Trump-opposing conservatives? Highly unlikely. Conservatives of every sort have long decried the liberal media. That’s one of the reasons Fox News exists and survives. Is it going to appeal to the young to buy newspapers so as to fight the power? Hardly. Young people do not read newspapers, neither do they typically pay for their news. The media can channel the vibe of the French Revolution all they like, but it is not going to save their papers from the inevitable end.

Even critics of the current President think this gesture is a grand form of virtue signalling to fellow liberals that highlights the groupthink of the media class. Jack Shafer at Politico writes:

Another problem with a nationally coordinated pro-press catechism is that the audience likely to reap the greatest benefit from the haranguing—Trump and many in his base—tends not to read newspapers in the first place. While there’s always value in preaching to the choir—that’s why churches hold services every Sunday—the combined weight of 200 pro-press editorials is not likely to move the opinion needle or deter Trump from defaming and threatening reporters.

Most newspaper editorials are already a watered-down product of groupthink. It’s unlikely that expanding the size of the group and encouraging everybody to bake and serve a tuna-fish casserole on the same day will produce editorials that are more interesting and persuasive than the normal fare.

But maybe I’m wrong. If a single day of pro-press editorials is a good idea for a collective assignment, then maybe newspapers should set aside next Saturday for 200 editorials on tariffs and next Sunday for 200 editorials on global warming and next Monday for 200 editorials on Afghanistan. Surely these issues are as compelling and urgent as press freedom.

If anything, this stunt has proven that a large segment of the media really is an ideological cartel – a kind of informational mafioso – that is largely isolated from the grit of the wider society. It shows what a slanted view of the world they have; what disrespect they have for opposing viewpoints; and a chronic over-estimation of their own importance to democracy. It shows what microscopic interest they have in perspectives that differ from the liberal buzz. They have become propagandists.

Fortunately, newspapers are doomed to largely vanish within a generation. Liberal journalists already stand in the centre of the small shrinking islands of their readership. They wish to salvage their credibility without any material change to their stinking methodology. As a result, each time they attack they end up injuring themselves. Like a bumbling knight who falls in his armour and spears himself with his sword or an inept soldier who accidentally shoots his fingers off, the liberal media seem intent on ever-more grievously wounding themselves.

I can remember shortly after Trump’s election, the Guardian (and many other liberal media outlets) started to bitterly report on “fake news”. I could hardly believe that such a term was getting such circulation within the media. If an organisation of heart surgeons exists somewhere, I am very sure they would be careful never to popularise the concept of “fake heart surgeries”. They would avoid any such suggestion because the slightest doubt regarding the efficacy and value of surgery would do irreparable harm to their profession as a whole. Yet though it runs contrary to all common sense, the liberal media promoted such a concept and in the process, effectively undermined their own franchise.

The media confidently assumed that the “fake news” terminology could be safely quarantined. It would be a spear that would be thrown only at conservatives, social media news, or other sources of information that they disliked.

But the term would never remain static. Overnight, it was weaponised against the liberal media, and because of the super-abundance of double-standards and transparent agendas, has become irrevocably associated with the liberal media. They kicked a goal for the opposition.

It is not difficult to see that the Boston Globe and the 350 news outlets have done the same thing here. Again. They have lent fuel to Trump’s fire. He accuses the media of being in cahoots against him. They are the “opposition party”, says Trump, who are working together to destabilise the presidency, torpedo our agenda, and spread misinformation. Thanks to the Boston Globe, the liberal media have just handed him a perfect exhibit for his case. He will forever be able to point to the 350.

They have also just confirmed in the minds of sceptical people that large and disparate media companies will band together to forward a common agenda when they sense that their survival is at stake, or when their politics is threatened. Pritchard’s project will promote the popular anxiety that media groups are merely different branches that spring from the same root. Can any be trusted? For there are few things that so greatly arouses concern among the public than coordinated efforts by big industries, powerful people, influential institutions.

Lastly, the hyper-ventilating and hand-wringing from a profession that are not widely respected will only magnify the impression that the media are worried. They are weakened. They are fighting for survival. In the minds of many people, if the liberal media is worried it is surely because they have something to be worried about. Moreover, it will reinforce the view that whatever is going on with this presidency, it is significant, even historically unprecedented. Unlike anything in living memory. After all, you only get special denunciations from special events, from unparalleled developments, and personalities hitherto not seen before in high office.

Whatever happens, people will be able to point to the participating newspapers and say, “There’s the collusion. There’s the groupthink. There’s the fake news.”

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