Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Jehu Chronicles

Flake News

Douglas Wilson


So let us talk for a moment about the term “fake news.” Why are we talking about this all of a sudden? Why is this a thing now?

During the campaign there were various stories that circulated on the Internet, made up of whole cloth, some of which were not flattering to Hillary. In the aftermath of the election, when her people were flailing around in search of someone or something to blame besides Her Majesty, one of the things they tried out was the idea that it was “fake news” that had hurt her in the final days of the election. Let’s run that one up the flag pole to see if anyone salutes.

Not only did no one salute, but something else entirely happened.


But before proceeding further, let me acknowledge fully and sincerely that there were stories out there about Hillary that, when it came to the falsitudinous quotient, ranked pretty high. I also acknowledge that Nigerian princes who are stranded in Manila with a suitcase full of gold bullion are also not, shall we say, legit. Do not send them your bank account number. And further, I cheerfully note that purveyors of clickbait techniques love to tell us that what Ted Cruz said next went BOOM, and that Kellyanne Conway DESTROYED Anderson Cooper, and that when you see what Bo Derek looks like now it will BLOW YOUR MIND. So Hillary had to deal with that foolishness, as well all the rest of us. Welcome to earth, kid.

And here is another qualification. Donald Trump is a wrecking ball. It is possible to applaud the fact of some of the wreckage without applauding, um, the entire project.
Remember that Elisha met privately with Hazael, but was not in cahoots with Hazael. Elisha sent a young prophet to anoint Jehu king, but was not part of Jehu’s faction. I look at Donald Trump calling CNN names in a presidential news conference, and I realize yet again that God loves us and wants us to be happy.


So this is when the other thing happened. Fake news became an item of concern as the Hillary folks were trying to explain to us how the most qualified woman in the world managed to lose to Donald Jehu Trump. They put the phrase "fake news" into play, but they tried doing so by means of an onside kick. The ball flew like a wounded duck, landed on the pointy end, and bounced in ways that would require a sportswriter of the old school to describe. Trump picked it up, but instead of running for the end zone, he ran down the offensive line of the Democratic Party, knocking over CNN, CBS, MSNBC, two refs, and the water boy, and . . .

Look. Let us be frank with each other, you and I. Sometimes when the metaphor mojo is running a little hot, there really isn’t anything you can do except start a new paragraph and hope that the pistons didn’t melt.

At any rate, the phrase fake news was used by Hillary to refer the mole hill of Facebook stories that described her as an illegal immigrant from Area 51, and then Trump picked the phrase up and used it to refer to the Himalayas of bum dope that has been churned by the metric ton for decades out by we call the main stream media. He used it of them and on them, and the dang thing stuck. He refused to allow CNN to question him in a press conference because “you are fake news.” And in his last presser, he said, no, no, that isn’t quite right. “You are very fake news.” Hillary tried to call flake news by the name fake news, and it got turned around and applied to a more worthy object.

Now ordinarily this would be just an insult and, if Mark Twain is to be believed, an ill-advised one. “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” But this is not an ordinary circumstance, and I honestly don’t know if the newsprint, broadcast, and cable establishment is going to be able to recover from this. Here is why.


Let us go back to the logic of the Industrial Revolution, which was a centralizing logic. The capstone of that Revolution was the newsprint media established in major cities (19th century) and the broadcast media (20th century). In the 1980’s, CNN arrived as a Johnny-come-lately on cable, making one think of an episode like the United States colonizing the Philippines—you know, two centuries late and very self-important.

When I was a boy, you got your news, if you got it at all, from the newspaper or from one of the big three broadcast stations—CBS, NBC, or ABC. If they blew sunshine at you, as they frequently did, there was not really much you could do about it. In most cases, you would not even know. There was no real way to cross check anything. What we ingested was mass media, delivered in bulk. To re-adapt an image from a colorful writer of another era, stories went into the massive news factories on the hoof and came out in cans. The gatekeepers were quite diligent, and there were very few gates to guard. If your news source of choice was broadcast television, you had three flavors to choose from. The cans were all the same size, and had basically the same gelatinous content.

If someone was lied about, or misrepresented, or the story that involved them was significantly garbled, there was no practical recourse for that person. And the fact that there was no recourse meant that there was no real disincentive for the media to avoid doing it. To be sure, there was that pesky concept called journalistic ethics that were supposed to govern the whole operation, but because there was very little practical recourse for the victim of a bad story, this meant that journalistic ethics had no one providing any police protection, and they lived on the bad side of town.

If I might insert my own testimony, as one who has been written about in newspapers and magazines a lot, it is safe to say that it is usually the case that some significant fact or facts are gotten wrong, particularly if the story involves some controversy. In other words, usually wrong, frequently unreliable. And in this regard, there has been no appreciable difference with Christian media—magazines like World, for example, have done a much poorer job with us than The New York Times has done. And this is not to say that the Times doesn’t have its issues. Heh, heh, its issues. Get it?

What this has done, over the course of decades, is create a vast pent-up frustration with the media, not quite coast to coast, but close. This has been recognized for a long time, and politicians on the right have angled for cheap points forever by attacking the media during campaigns. Yay. But everything stayed just the same after elections as before, and the frustration continued to build.

What Trump is doing is attacking a venerable institution that is already wasting away. He is dinosaur hunting with shoulder-mounted RPGs. He is shooting at them from a rented safari jeep.


So the significant change that has occurred is that it has become possible to stay reasonably well-informed without coming into contact with any of the establishment media. A lot of people have taken the by-pass, and don’t drive through downtown Big Media at all anymore. I haven’t read a newspaper regularly for over a decade. I would have work to find out when the big three newscasts even air. I have no idea where they are hiding these days. I usually find out about breaking news through Twitter, Facebook, or various web sites. Those web sites are collated for me by me—I am my own “editor,” assembling them to taste. The editorial bias that all such sites have can be regulated and balanced with the presence of other sites. I can drop or add, depending. For example, during the heat of this last campaign I dropped Drudge (because of the pom poms), and now that the election is over, I can handle checking him again from time to time.


What has been striking to me is that a number of Republicans have been leaping to the defense of the legacy media. They have stood for years against media “bias,” and have complained about that liberal bias in a whiney voice for almost the same length of time, but they draw the line at Trump calling them all out for the buffoons, poltroons, and macaroons that they are. I know, don’t look it up. A macaroon is a small circular cake, a dainty, a trifle. Actually I think that works.

Moving on.

It is not an assault on freedom of the press to identify liars. It is not blackening the reputation of a venerable institution to point out that it has ceased long ago to be a venerable institution. Mencken had something to say on this: “American journalism (like the journalism of any other country) is predominately paltry and worthless. Its pretensions are enormous but its accomplishments are insignificant.”

In short, it matters not that Donald Trump is an unworthy messenger. The dinosaurs are old and decrepit, and the safari jeep has been on paved roads the whole time, Trump is going to sleep like a baby in a luxury hotel tonight, and the entire thing is completely unfair. But the fact that something feels unfair doesn’t keep it from happening.

This accounts for why it is that celebrity journalists are dancing in place, and spitting occasionally.

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