The Media Owns a Part of Whatever Chaos this Week Brings
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” — H.L Mencken
Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that we’ve kind of all just accepted that this week will not go well? Short of a blowout one way or the other, we are going to spend the next few weeks or, god help us, months in a protracted battle in the courts and with each other. We have grown to accept the reality that we have to be miserable through all of this, and for some unknown reason we keep turning to the people who keep making us miserable for answers. The decision was made somewhere in the early days of the Trump presidency that you must be unhappy all the time. I can’t even read tech news without someone reminding me how anxious I’m supposed to be.
I don’t think it will ever be possible to quantify the damage the media has inflicted on the American Psyche. But it will be impossible to ignore the results this week. Wolf Blitzer marvelled on twitter at people boarding up their businesses ahead of the election like an arsonist standing outside a burning building hoping nobody notices that he’s holding a half-empty box of matches.
Politicians love to scare us, but they can only succeed because of the people willing to amplify the hysteria. Look no further than the last few days where the media has made almost no attempts to defuse the tension. Trump may have been lighting a lot of matches, but they were more than happy to provide the fuel and keep the fire going.
It was good for ratings.
They amplified every stupid thought the President had and blasted it out to you, along with their own equally incoherent hysterical “analysis” that this is the biggest crisis since the last crisis with no regard for the effect it had on the public. When I say the Media, I don’t mean everyone in the media. I mean the corporate media, mainstream (or lamestream) media if you will. The talking heads that blather on day in and day out. The people who aspire to put every thought to paper(or Tom Friedman, who aspires to put every metaphor ever written to paper).That mainstream media. The people who have made every week feel like a different lifetime.
It’s a testament to their skill that they’ve managed to turn only two possible outcomes into a million little miseries. Remember how we were subjected to several days of “Can/will Trump try to push off the election” coverage? it left me wondering how those people can still have jobs (and more importantly, how can I get one of them?). In any other profession, if you were that wrong about such recent events, you’d get fired. The people who can only get the weather right every now and then and who got it SO wrong last time want you to trust them. Again. Remember when Trump was stealing the Mailboxes to prevent people from voting? I don’t think the inspector general of the postal service ever thought that his name would be in the mouths of thousands of Americans for a few weeks when he took the job.
They keep telling you to take a jacket because it’s going to rain, but it’s really because they plan on pissing all over you. See this interview Nancy “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you” Pelosi:
Talking about the House’s ability to prevent Amy Coney Barret from being confirmed to the Supreme Court, she said “we have arrows in our quiver” and they just….went with it. No follow up. No nothing.
It’s all performative. Pelosi knows she can’t go on TV and say they’ve got nothing and so does CNN, and that’s why they don’t ask any follow up questions. They’re not here to give their viewers a realistic understanding of what’s going on, there here to watch Pelosi lead #TheResistance.
It’s amazing how clean Amy Coney Barret must be that nobody could find any dirt about here. Never mind that some BU professor said that she was racist for adopting children who were a different colour than her. Pelosi and the media were powerless to stop the Republicans from confirming her. It would have been really nice to know what arrows Pelosi was talking about. If only the interviewer had asked some sort of follow up question or something? I guess we’ll never know. It’s lost forever into the sucking malestrom of swirling garbage that is the modern news cycle.
I consider myself a news junkie; I’m on twitter, I skim several news outlets in the day, across the political spectrum. On an average day I’ve flipped through the front pages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Review, Vox, Slate, The Daily Beast, Politico, The Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post and whatever else came across my twitter feed by the time I’ve had lunch. Some days I can make it through the half-assed fact checking, moralizing and editorializing and hyperventilating to extricate some facts to form my own opinions and understandings.
Some days, I could barely tell what the fuck was going on either.
I pity the people who neither have the time, the inclination, or energy to try and ingest that much garbled nonsense conflicting nonsense. It’s impossible to think that anyone could come come out the other side a sane human being with a balanced political opinion after four years of this. It’s hard to think of a moment that any American should trust the media farther than they can throw its bloated corpse.
This isn’t about them not sugar-coating the truth. This is about them not telling the truth at all because the truth isn’t nearly as consequential or scary as the made up fantasy world that is the news cycle. Most of these people wouldn’t know the truth if they saw it. The truth would sue them for libel.
This is the current side-bar at Slate.com. Does this look like a slate (ha ha) of article designed to inform or re-assure? No. It’s meant to keep you scared and angry. Never mind the bizzare spectacle of an outlet accusing another of using scare tactics when 2 inches above it’s the headline version of “THIS IS THE END PEOPLE”.
This is only the most consequential election of our lives, since the last election or until the next one. Just like the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the supreme court was one apocalypse, and Brett Kavanaugh was another. It was barely a month ago that the media tried to sell us on the idea that an intelligent White Lady who didn’t read from notes, had a lot of kids, and succesful career was the god damn end of the world because she went to Church sometimes.
The media has been desperate for their “The Handmaid’s Tale” moment that never came. This might have been their last chance and gosh darnet they were going for it. See the headline:
Now see the “correction”
That’s not a correction: it’s a retraction in sweatpants. The fact that the handmaids tale isn’t real, and that America was not ever on that path the last four years should have been clear to everyone. But nobody cares. Because they are used to lying and being taken at their word. No matter how many times they get caught. The worst thing CNN could have done to combat Trump’s accusations of #FAKENews were to become #FakeNews and yet they slipped on that banana over and over again.
It’s a shame though because we could really use some trustworthy fact-based institutions right now. It’s incredible paradox of our lives: Never has more information been brought to bear on the individual citizen to make them less informed. That doesn’t stop media members for patting themselves on the back for the work they’ve been doing the last few years.
Margaret Sullivan and The Washington Post were not generally on my media diet and after reading this piece by Margaret Sullivan I’m reminded that I saved myself precious minutes doing more useful things that reading the Washington Post. Like counting my nose hairs.
Even Sullivan though admits that the media is not equipped to deal with this crisis:
“Journalists at this fraught moment carry a heavy burden to do something that is not in their nature: to be patient, to linger with the uncertainty and to explain relentlessly rather than join a rush to judgment.”
It’s incredible to me that someone could write that sentence un-ironically. Sure, they could all wake up Wednesday morning and realize that being the first to tell half truths doesn’t make you a journalist, but why start now? Of all the media bias out there, the most infuriating is their own bias that that they elevated priests of the temple of truth not the attention whores hanging out outside of it. For the last four years we’ve been yanked from one crisis to the next, without ever having any time to stop, breathe, and think about who was wrong or right. Ruth Bader Ginsberg died barely 6 weeks ago and it already feels like it happened in a different lifetime. Trump had Covid for god’s sake.
We fought each other to the death over net neutrality: “The six terrible ways your life will change when Net Neutrality dies” Remember that?
The story was never important. Neither are the facts; the only important thing is being the first one to say something. Anything. It doesn’t matter what channel you watched, or what newspaper you read, they were all competing on the same landscape. Action always met reaction in an endless cycle of escalation that left us dumber. The desperate competition for clicks, likes, and eyeballs made this possible.
I know that you are probably anxious right now, wondering what will happen on election day but you should remember that at least part of the anxiety is because you’ve been fed a steady diet of “THE WORLD IS ENDING UNLESS…” for at least the last four years. It doesn’t mean political engagement isn’t important, or there are things that you shouldn’t get angry about, I’m just asking you to stop and think about why you’re angry: Is it because you are? or someone told you have to be?
In his most recent weekly column aptly titled “The Worst Choice Ever Matt Taibi summarized this quite neatly:
The last four years have been a ceaseless tantrum of security state hacks, media lackeys, and Beltway nomenklatura who from day one openly sought to jail our Clown-in-Chief for the unforgivable crime of getting elected without their permission. Their behavior is the only reason the Tuesday could turn out to be close.
Some have said that I am somehow an apologist for the Trump administration or the Big Orange Blowhard himself. The point is not to say that Trump isn’t bad, it’s just to say that nobody, not Fox or CNN or any of the other major outlets thought they could make a buck off of “just bad” or that it was responsibility to convey the proper tone and seriousness of issues. All hysteria all the time was the only way to make money. They’re made richer for it while we’ve probably lost years off of our lives because of it.
Whatever the election result, consider yourself the winner if you don’t let yourself be convinced that it’s the beginning of the end. You can consider yourself the winner if you don’t let yourself be talked into hating half of your fellow Americans simply because the man on tv told you so. You can be sure that if, by some miracle, we come out of this ok with a clear winner and minimal property damage and violence it will be in spite of the media. Not because of it.
Think about that.