Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t watch news shows. In 1974 I found myself yelling - rather loudly - at a 19 inch black and white TV with Richard Nixon on the screen. A little while later, rather ashamed of raising my blood pressure and having the neighbors knocking on the door to make sure everything was alright, I decided that the TV show had done exactly what it was designed to do; manipulate me into being upset about something, reacting poorly and repeating the cycle endlessly as they moved on the next day to another crisis. The crises never seem to last more than a few days until they’re forgotten, replaced by others, or maybe several more, usually followed by opinions on what or who caused the latest brouhaha and how we should react and, of course, several opinions as to what a terrible crisis this event is. No solution is ever applied and the outrage is rapidly followed with another incident in rather short order. In a rare moment of personal clarity, I saw a progressive and insidious and highly repetitive cyclic plan designed to attract viewers with a scheme almost guaranteed to produce results that only benefited the network. Not solutions, simply numbers of viewers. The shows used to be subtle in their deceptions. That’s no longer the case.
The first part of the cycle is perhaps the most obvious. Twenty four hour news requires the reporting of incidents that would not have made the daily or weekly newspaper in most towns in the 1950’s. My parents would never have heard about a shooting in Ogden Utah or a murder in Dallas or a fire in California or a drowning in Florida in their newspapers, in casual conversation around the water cooler or on the nightly news with Walter Cronkite unless someone they knew happened to be related to the victim or the alleged perp. All are genuinely tragic events, but are they really worthy of national exposure if you live 2000 miles away? They are if your job is to make it appear that these are not unusual events but a rising national phenomena that represents an immediate threat to EVERY CITIZEN unless we take action and all become concerned NOW. News stories like that are part and parcel of every website or 24 hour news show available on whatever medium you choose. They have to be in order to fill 24 hours of news. No emergency is too small for national attention. It’s on your phone, so you can’t really escape it wherever you go unless you can manage to - hold on - leave your phone at home or in the car.
When Eric Severied or Walter used to report the evening news it seemed like Russia and Washington DC and Tokyo reports were all far away and slightly disconnected from daily life and personal reality. The news seemed to be largely, if not completely, about events that concerned the majority of Americans. Now every crime, every theft, every rape and every carjacking is needed to fill that 24 hour news gap and no town is too small to escape an up to the minute breaking news report. The implication is that violence is rampant and there’s nothing you can do. Only the government can solve these problems; they are simply far above the abilities and scope of average people like us, and the steady, reassuring hand of smarter people than us to imagine and implement solutions.
The second step in the process is selective quotes from celebrities and politicians. There is a definite implication here that rich and famous equates to mystic levels of intelligence and insight. There is, in fact, no correlation between wealth and intelligence. The opinions of the rich or famous, dependent upon whether they took the red pill or blue pill, serve no purpose other than to placate or inflame one side or the other, demonstrate network objectivity and fan the indignation of those on the other side. If you examine the statements closely, you can quickly see that the intent is the same as the original story; to make someone angry. Regardless of which side they are on, I resent the basic supposition that the respective opinions of the moneyed are any better than yours, mine or my little brothers. I think we all know some rich people that are dumber than rocks. Especially entertainers.
The third step in the process is the outrageous quote from someone that should know better but doesn’t. There are more examples than can be counted, but my current favorites are Michigan Representative Rashida Tliab’s bill to produce two one trillion dollar coins to pay for coronavirus relief and Representative Ocasio-Cortez’ proposal to implement “decarceration and prison abolition.” A close third is a story from an actual university that paid thousands of dollars to remove a racist rock. It’s hard to say whether any sane, educated person takes these seriously or not, but that’s hardly the point. The point is to create and amplify outrage. Your outrage. Or mine. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s there. Outrage amplifies emotional response and emotional response is antithetical to reasoned behavior. It’s rather difficult to believe that any official in any capacity in any organization, elected or appointed, could fail to understand the idiocy and the devastating effect on the economy of creating too much money, of legalized crime or insanely stupid expenditures without an instant demand for accountability by someone - anyone - responsible for their being allowed to make such statements or decisions in the first place. That leads me to believe that they might understand how illogical the statements and actions are but are creating them for another purpose.
The fourth purpose of the nightly news is that of misdirection and/or deflection. Like the magician that waves his left hand so you won’t notice what his right hand is doing, or the politician that pledges to right a wrong that he fails to mention he helped create, the purpose is to keep your attention focused on something - anything - other than what they don’t want you to notice. Since what they don’t want you to see is not reported, you probably won’t hear about it until after it becomes law or a mandate. Which, by the way, are not the same thing. Bureaucracy has a way, over time, of growing past the constraints of accountability and allowing unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats to make decisions that have the effect of law, but that’s another subject for another day.
The fifth step is not so obvious unless you look for it, and that is one of division. Once you learn to recognize the tactics of division, it’s easy to see it as an underlying constant in practically every news story, and the only practical purpose of political, racial, gender, geographic, financial and social division is the ultimate destruction of capitalism and its replacement with socialism. That’s not the leap of logic that it seems to be at first. The support of socialist systems may be difficult to understand until we remember that humans are both basically flawed and practiced in self-deception, and that’s why we see socialism in its many forms rise again and again in spite of the fact that it always fails. Always. Earth is dotted with the graves of those that believed “this time will be different.” They all say that, at least at first.
So what’s the alternative? I don’t watch news and absolutely refuse to watch videos of interviews, debates, commentary or “reality” shows of any type, but do not remain ignorant. Mama said it’s OK to be ignorant, but what’s not OK is to remain that way. What passes for debate today simply ends up with the participants talking over each other and each telling the other “oh yeah!” and “get out of my yard” in slightly different forms. The selected 15 second sound bytes make good material for political ads but not much else. I do, however, recommend reading. It’s possible to read interviews, news stories, descriptions of events and glean enough information from a wide variety of sources to stay informed and make informed decisions about the things you need to know without being influenced by the psych-ops of “news” shows. Videos are for music, animals and Fred Astaire and Shirley Temple. You will not get the truth from news shows, and limiting your own investigations to one or two sources is a prime way to preserve ignorance. An educated populace is vital to our continuation as a free republic.
The truth only becomes blurred or fuzzy if you allow it to be, and a partial truth is still a lie any way it’s presented. Having the strength of your convictions is difficult in today’s world, but can be done. Your convictions also have to be taught to your children, because this struggle never ends when the current evil is defeated. Like many other bad ideas and the flu it returns again and again no matter how many times it fails. Freedom demands it, because human stupidity and our capacity for self delusion never die.