“’News’ is a misnomer for today’s media reporting, where tribalist factions engage in a creativity-driven entertainment battle.” – The Lonely Realist

TLR recently received two new sets of reader criticisms, the first centered on TLR’s “tenuous hold on reality” regarding legal witch-hunts against the former President and Hunter Biden, with one reader pointedly asking TLR whether he “understands what’s really going on.” On the separate subject of immigration, several other readers have reproached TLR for failing to appropriately address the Southern Border Crisis, pointing to “facts” that purport to demonstrate that millions of under-counted immigrants are flooding the country, engaging in rampant crime sprees and overwhelming America’s services and capacities (e.g., as reported by Breitbart News). These recent comments have led to this week’s commentary, which revisits the failings of journalism and tribalism in 21st Century America and the obligation of Americans, all Americans, to seek and confirm partisan-packaged “news.”

As TLR previously noted (as recently in July 2023), the 20th Century was The Golden Age of News. It saw larger-than-life newscasters earning the public’s trust and successfully policing the activities of governments (e.g., during Watergate), businesses (for example, with respect to racial discrimination in mortgage lending), and industries (e.g., Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle). That Age unfortunately has passed. Walter Cronkite, the CBS Evening News anchor, was “the most trusted man in America.” In providing “facts” to Americans, he affirmed a common understanding of reality. He distinguished truth from rumor, propaganda and fantasy. He wasn’t in the entertainment business and had no designs on public office. His personal beliefs didn’t intrude on his accuracy. His integrity – and the public’s trust in that integrity – established “fact.”

The erosion of the Cronkite Era began in the 1990s with a return to full-throated partisan politicking where the media found it increasingly more profitable to provide entertainment fodder for targeted audiences. With truth no longer attracting the eyeballs needed to fund reporters’ wages, America’s newsrooms were gutted. The result is that both mass and social media have been engaging in a race for fans, providing platforms for self-described (but not substantive) newscasters to entertain audience preferences and prejudices. There no longer is a factually-reliable newscaster, yet alone a Walter Cronkite, for the public to trust in distinguishing truth from “truthiness, ” a term coined by Stephen Colbert to mean “the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination or facts”: “It used to be [that] everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore.” Truthiness is an expression of ingrained beliefs that doesn’t tolerate fact-checking. It reaffirms entrenched beliefs…, whether real or fantasized.

Today’s media have enormous influence by reason of their dedicated audiences. They build their headcount by purveying and reinforcing fan-attractive “realities.” The result has been an explosion in shared belief validation shorn of objectivity … and reality. The purpose of news has changed from collation and reporting to entertainment that reinforces audience views…, an intentional slide down the slope of partisanship and fakery.

The dictionary defines “news reporting” as “the dissemination of facts that create a common reality and reconcile truth from falsity,” and defines a “fact” as “a thing that is known or proven to be true and verifiable.” How are audiences to distinguish reality from opinion when what they see and hear from their preferred media sources is presented as “fact” – and when those purported “facts” are their only window on reality? They naturally reject conflicting information, even by credible third-parties. For them, “reality” is found only in their media choices, objectivity is a myth, and the scientific method and fact-checking are an elitist fiction. [Although it is true that fact-finding requires time and effort, careful Googling is reasonably straightforward and not an exercise in either relativity or futility.] Historically, those who chose to believe their own realities were extremists on the fringe. No longer. Today, personal realities are a norm, with each individual finding “truth” in his or her tribally-specific medium.

It is perilous, however, to ignore the words of Philip K. Dick: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

The reality of the “legal witch-hunts” by the New York District Attorney against former President Trump and by the Justice Department against Hunter Biden (who is referred to by opponents as a member of the “Biden Crime Family”) is that both prosecutions indeed were politically-motivated…, yet valid prosecutions nonetheless. Under America’s Rule of Law, Federal and State prosecutions often have been (and continue to be) based on politics, race, ethnicity, etc. What makes American justice unique is that the appellate process (together with Constitutional safeguards (such as a Free Press)) serves to minimize miscarriages of justice. The fact is that both Donald Trump and Hunter Biden were found guilty by juries selected and approved by their respective defense teams. The fact also is that the New York DA used a creatively-combined set of laws to allege a felony for political reasons and, in a similar vein, Hunter Biden’s prosecution was politically-motivated (The Economist reported that, although Hunter Biden was one of millions of Americans who repeatedly violate drug-plus-gun laws, fewer than 300 prosecutions against such law-breakers are brought each year). Selective prosecution is not a 21st Century invention. It has been commonplace under America’s system of justice. That is one of the reasons why both Mr. Trump and Hunter Biden will have their cases (and their sentences) reviewed by appellate courts. The system is imperfect, but most often is successful at meting out eventual justice.

Which “facts” and which “truths” are Americans to believe? Individuals who take their “news” from self-selected media believe in one unalterable set of “truths,” while those who favor different media reject those “truths” on the basis of purported “facts” presented by their self-selected media. Yet facts are not malleable. They are “things that are verifiable.” Because media outlets are irretrievably infected by avaricious truthiness, careful fact-checking is the only means for determining the realities. Doing so is/should be the obligation of every American … as well as a task that every individual should find well worth pursuing.

TLR Index

An index of prior TLR commentaries can be found here.

Finally (from a good friend)

No Comments

Post A Comment