The Failure of the Fourth Estate

 

Introduction

It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong. – Voltaire

We live in an age of instant-outrage. Out is long-form discourse and argumentation; in is 140 characters of headline judgement. Out is random and serendipitous exposure to different ideas; in is intricately personalised echo chambers that expose the same few ideas. Out is nuanced and self-doubtful consideration of a topic; in is immediate black-and-white absolutes. Out is believing people are good and generally mean well; in is assuming those who disagree are bad and definitely mean ill. Out is treating every individual based on their unique merits; in is absolute adherence to base tribalism.

We need, more than ever, a principled and objective fourth estate. An impartial media, or press, that independently investigates, reports on, and holds to account the actions, transgressions, and abuses of the state, our governments. We need journalistic integrity to always speak truth to power. Yet with a growing set of perverse incentives in our hyperconnected digital age and idiosyncratic historical developments in our politics and media, we find ourselves with a fourth estate content to use their own power to speak their version of truth. To engage more often than not in ignoble yellow journalism. To mislead and manipulate instead of informing and empowering. 

As an example, this commonly manifests as a complete rejection of Hanlon’s Razor, an aphorism expressed in various ways including “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” or “Don’t assume bad intentions over neglect and misunderstanding.”

Another example includes lying by omission, which is arguably the foundation of biased and partisan reporting. And then we have the emergence of Fake News, news of events and people that sounds true but is provably false; but the collective definition of which has now expanded to include a whole taxonomy of misleading and manipulative news.

One of the defining features of the historic year of 2016, and one of the reasons 2016 will be considered historically significant, is how most of our media was revealed as being completely divorced from reality. How, instead of reporting on reality, they were revealed as trying to engineer it. Many will rightly claim that this was obvious long before, but never was it so overt as during 2016.

They were so out of touch that their existential shock at Brexit and Trump was palpable; so locked in an echo chamber of their own reinforced creation that they’d predicted with absolute confidence that people would overwhelmingly vote Remain and Hillary. The narrative they projected both before and after these events was one of elite dictation rather than impartial reporting, and of sanctimonious preaching rather that objectively informing. They were more worried about telling you what to think than showing you things to think about.

This essay is primarily intended to serve as a resource to be referred back to as needed. I’ve attempted to collect and collate numerous counter arguments, counter-examples, and counter-narratives regarding the conduct and behaviour of the mainstream media and our vaunted fourth estate. This includes highlights and selected excerpts from many persuasive articles as well as excerpts from compelling interviews and presentations that I have transcribed. I believe these many examples weave together a compelling and self-reinforcing narrative that paints a far more accurate view of the world. The examples are organised around general themes and can be referred to or quoted as needed for those who feel the same frustration and need to fight and counter the endlessly divisive narrative that dominates the media and those who have bought into it.

While many items may be familiar to some readers, I think the sources are broad and deep enough that there are new nuggets of wisdom and knowledge for everyone.

Contents

Sargon’s Law: Whenever an ideologue makes a character judgement about someone they are debating with, that character judgement is true about themselves.

  1. Russell Conjugation
  2. Fake News
  3. Misleading News
  4. Hanlon’s Razor
  5. Kayfabe
  6. Confirmation Bias
  7. Fact Checking
  8. Glenn Greenwald
  9. The New York Times
  10. The Washington Post
  11. BuzzFeed & CNN
  12. Groupthink & The Backfire Effect
  13. Escaping Cathedrals
  14. Closing
  15. Epilogue

1. Russell Conjugation: A Concept With Which You Need to be Intimately Familiar

To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise. – Voltaire

A big component of the decline of the media and fake news is Russell Conjugation, otherwise known as emotive conjugation, in which synonyms with the same factual content but different emotional content (factual synonyms and emotional antonyms) are used to manipulate and influence the narrative built around a particular news item. Eric Weinstein outlines this beautifully and succinctly in his latest Edge piece here https://www.edge.org/response-detail/27181 and also as part of a fascinating discussion here https://youtu.be/Q0QtZmLC14U?t=15m. Russell Conjugation is a sophisticated and insidious way to misrepresent and lie without propagating an outright falsehood. As Weinstein explains in the discussion:

Russell Conjugation provides no additional factual information about a thing but it can make you feel vastly different about that thing. This ability can be weaponised for propaganda purposes and the media, via opinion pieces, conjugates almost exclusively. These conjugates are also frequently applied exclusively with a person or thing e.g. “controversial businessman” vs “bold businessman” to twist perceptions and control the narrative. The big outlets don’t generally play around with faking the facts. They understand that people have many opinions and they can manipulate the emotional state of their audience  in order to influence a particular opinion. “Undocumented workers” vs “illegal aliens” or “death tax” vs “estate tax”; these are the same things. The mind simply doesn’t see itself, doesn’t see the conflict and overt doublethink that it is engaging in as it is only rarely that this rises to the level of actual cognitive dissonance. This allows us to be for and against everything.

While we go to the news and media for information, the media aren’t looking at the information itself but rather the emotional shading of that information, because our emotions pick out which of our opinions we are actually going to act on. This is the language you need to be aware of to get underneath the constructed lexical world you are presented with.

We’re developing a piece of software to crawl text and reference this against a table of Russell Conjugates to determine the exact biases of that document and what you are being told to feel. We’re seeking to add another layer of data, an emotional layer, alongside the conventional information layer in order to better inform people of how that source is trying to emotionally manipulate them.

With the Internet we democratised information but still asked the major media outlets to tell us how to feel, tell us who we should empathise with and who we should consider a pariah; we don’t trust other people to tell us this. It is only when you hear the authoritative source that you have personally empowered to tell you how to feel that you switch the language and change your mind. If you then take your different opinions into your social group, [which hasn’t made this transition to a more sophisticated narrative,] you will be instantly ostracized.

This relates to Post-Truth.

Post-Truth

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016

Which is defined as: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. And specifically, belonging to a time in which the concept of truth may have become unimportant or irrelevant.

Presently, I’d suggest that it isn’t so much that the truth and facts don’t matter, but rather that the way they are presented to people, the subjective emotional significance and narrative woven around these facts, plays a far greater role in controlling people and engineering public opinion than the mere existence of these facts themselves.  

2. Fake News

“Fake news” was born in August 2014, in Ferguson MO. when MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post all propagated the hands-up don’t-shoot lie. – Sheriff Clarke

The Fake News narrative was originally launched in a literal sense. It was intended to refer to news of events and people that sounds true but is provably false. It referred to dedicated websites that were set up to generate fake stories for the purposes of catching reputable outlets and personalities referencing the articles as true and so making them look foolish and less credible. It also referred to simple memes or images that reference correlated data that isn’t actually correlated or is outright false.

But Fake News quickly became twisted into a figurative meaning that has now expanded to include a whole taxonomy of misleading and manipulative news in addition to outright falsehoods.

Our media now states that any news not sanctioned by them is fake news. When those who invented fake news start to warn about fake news then you can see their desperation. – Dave Rubin

Eric Weinstein’s discussion on Russell Conjugation continues in relation to Fake News

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofDXJsKsA30

We’re in this crazy narrative over fake news where fake news is supposed to be limited to things that are just made up and untrue. But the problem is that they’ve opened this Pandora’s Box that instead forced us to consider how many different ways news media manipulates us into thinking something that isn’t true, or shading our feelings or emotions, or presenting us with some sort of fait accompli without giving us any ability to question otherwise. There are four types of fake news:

  • Narrative Driven. For example, some outcome or story is inevitable, “the right side of history,” the only thing that can happen. This directly influences the theory of “preference falsification” that results in willful blindness to the truth, e.g. “Only racist people vote for Trump, who are you going to vote for?”
  • Algorithmic. For example, I no longer have my news in the same way you do because we’re getting it off algorithmically personalised social media feeds, and these can be spoofed by emphasising and de-emphasising different news items.
  • Institutional News. For example, credible institutions can release what they claim to be credible facts, receive a friendly reception due to their position of authority, when this might be just a biased construct that directly emphasises and de-emphasises people, events, and facts.
  • Made Up. For example, this is what the media want us to believe is fake news; made up events and correlations, general hoaxes.

Breitbart does this, and the mainstream media denigrates them for it. But this is the height of hypocrisy as Breitbart only does it because the media has been doing it forever. The media simply wants authoritarian control over the narrative and what counts as fake news and what doesn’t. [They want you to ignore the new, alternative media, or what might be called the Fifth Estate.] But you can’t ignore new media; you might not like Mike Cernovich but you cannot ignore him. 

Fake News is a Rhetorical Superweapon

A Rhetorical Superweapon is a powerful grammatical term, laden with irresistible semantics, and beautifully designed to be launched at an opponent to utterly destroy their argument and credibility, for all time. If used poorly however, and it fails to destroy the opponent, the opponent may simply pick it up and launch it right back at you. The mainstream media, after systematically failing through one hyperbolic crisis after another when their ideology and credibility were rejected by the masses, launched the Fake News superweapon as a desperate defensive measure to reassert dominance. They failed. The literal was twisted into the figurative and the Fake News weapon was returned to them a thousand-fold.

Finally, researchers from Stanford and NYU concluded in a study of literal Fake News that it had no material effect on the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election cycle https://web.stanford.edu/~gentzkow/research/fakenews.pdf 

16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won

by Daniel Payne

http://thefederalist.com/2017/02/06/16-fake-news-stories-reporters-have-run-since-trump-won/

This is a good, succinct collection of clear examples of the media publishing and promoting fake news and outright lies in order to push an agenda and drive the narrative they want people to believe. The added significance to these examples is that even after being thoroughly debunked many outlets continue to use them as building blocks in their narrative and subsequent arguments. While this is only a selection of many more examples it really helps to drive home not only how prevalent and obvious a problem this is, but also how this behaviour has become systemic in the culture of the mainstream media.

Since at least Donald Trump’s election, our media have been in the grip of an astonishing, self-inflicted crisis. Despite Trump’s constant railing against the American press, there is no greater enemy of the American media than the American media. They did this to themselves.

We are in the midst of an epidemic of fake news. Whenever you turn on a news station, visit a news website, or check in on a journalist or media personality on Twitter or Facebook, there is an excellent chance you will be exposed to fake news. It is rapidly becoming an accepted part of the way the American media are run.

But all of [these examples], taken as a group, raise a pressing and important question: why is this happening? Why are our media so regularly and so profoundly debasing and beclowning themselves, lying to the public and sullying our national discourse—sometimes on a daily basis? How has it come to this point?

Perhaps the answer is: “We’ve let it.” The media will not stop behaving in so reckless a manner unless and until we demand they stop. No one single person can fix this problem. It has to be a cultural change, a kind of shifting of priorities industry-wide. Journalists, media types, reporters, you have two choices: you can fix these problems, or you can watch your profession go down in flames.

3. Misleading News

If you don’t read the newspaper you’re uninformed. If you do read the newspaper you’re misinformed. – Denzel Washington

There are a number of additional ways that the media twists the narrative of particular news items to suit an agenda in order to influence and persuade you to think how they want you to think. Some of these are very subtle but very effective. One of the biggest crises of our time is pithily summarised by Denzel Washington https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrE1ZvldiFE:

Professional Liars

Sargon of Akkad, (aka Carl Benjamin) demonstrates in this video how the media lies to you through omission, which is perhaps the most pernicious manner in which the media lies to its audience with the aim of promoting propaganda and driving its preferred narrative. The entire video is very worthwhile.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjFmOKqyWpE

During Trump’s first press conference he refused to answer the CNN Whitehouse Correspondent’s questions, declaring him to be Fake News. The response from the Mainstream Media was hysterical, claiming that this is something that would happen in North Korea, that this was unjust, that it indicated Trump was going to be a complete tyrant because he wasn’t going to talk to the media. This is completely stupid because he was in the process of talking to other media outlets: he simply wasn’t going to talk to CNN who he called Fake News. That’s because they lie constantly. They are professional liars.

CNN and the Mainstream Media lie to you through omission. This is the highest and worst form of lying. This is a form of lying that is so advanced and they have perfected to such a degree that they do not even need to tell you an untruth in order to mislead you. You can’t point to their statements and say “this is a lie” because they don’t make lying statements. But by the narrative that they weave, by the story that they tell you, they deliberately leave out key pieces of information that leave you with a false impression of what happened. And that is how all of this has occurred. It is completely endemic to the mainstream media, both on the left and right.  

How the media lies by omission:

  • Cherrypicking.

Example: During the Milwaukee riots after a young black man was shot CNN showed a clip of the victim’s sister apparently calling for peace “Don’t bring the violence here. Don’t go out and riot.” Whereas the full clip shows her demanding and encouraging they take the violence and riots to the suburbs instead.

  • Gatekeeping.

Mainstream media decides what they will cover and put out over their networks. This is not necessarily everything that is verifiably true. Why would you feel the need to suppress relevant information if you weren’t pushing an agenda first and reporting fact second. This is most clear in live broadcasts. For example CNN has been caught deliberately interrupting and cutting interviewers’ broadcasts when the person says something counter to their narrative-driven agenda.

CNN lied to the public by failing to report accurately or adequately on the WIkileaks revelations. It got so bad that they intimated to the public that it is illegal for the public to read Wikileaks’ “stolen documents” but there is a special exemption for the press because the public has to get all of its information through the mainstream media. This was arguably the weakest and most transparent attempt at gatekeeping in evidence.

  • Willful Ignorance.

Mainstream media journalists will go out of their way to not inform themselves about a topic. This generally stems from their own activism and confirmation bias. For example, CNN’s Van Jones declared the election of Trump a white-lash, despite counter-evidence that included for example millions of former Obama voters switching to Trump, and he only realised through after-the-fact investigations that his stereotypes were [grossly] wrong. Jones has been trapped inside his elite bubble for so long he doesn’t understand that people have different points of view, problems, and perspectives to him. These people are totally out of touch.

This is why Trump attacked CNN at the press conference; because they are liars and have been acting like a privileged class. They believe their own lies. They have failed as journalists, and they have failed to accurately inform the public, because they have failed to inform themselves.  

Voting Trump, like voting Brexit, has forced the media elites outside of their comfortable insular bubbles. This is one of the reasons these votes against the establishment were necessary, and something the establishment were responsible for because of their complete hubris and disdain for those outside of it.

More recently CNN doubled-down on trying to censor and silence people from using the claim of fake news against them by declaring that calling CNN or the media fake news is the same as calling an African American the N-Word http://thehill.com/homenews/news/318794-cnn-host-fake-news-the-n-word-for-journalists. Even though the apology came quickly, nothing quite stinks of hyperbolic desperation as an overtly amoral attempt to equate being called fake news as the same thing as a disgusting racial slur.

A Taxonomy of Misleading News

Continuing the theme of lying by omission, Scott Adams covers a brief taxonomy of misleading news practices that are routinely pushed by the media, and which are arguably more detrimental than fake news.  

http://blog.dilbert.com/post/154336783261/fake-news-versus-misleading-news

The theme they are pushing is that fake news stories are more damaging to society than normal news. But normal news includes the following:

  1. True stories told out of context to intentionally mislead.
  2. Biased reporting that the media doesn’t realize is biased.
  3. Giving a spotlight to people who are lying.
  4. Misleading by putting emphasis on some things and not others.
  5. True stories too complicated for the public to understand.
  6. True reports of sources that happen to be lying but we don’t know it. (That gives you the Iraq war, for example.)
  7. Having boths sides represented when one side is clearly lying or wrong.
  8. Simplification to the point of misleading.
  9. Showing clear disdain for the opinions on one side but not the other.

Outright Lies

Brendan O’Neill, journalist, editor of Spiked, and writer for Spectator discusses outright lies recently propagated by mainstream media outlets.

https://www.facebook.com/brendan.oneill.79/posts/1245175182239239

Yesterday the White House correspondent for Time magazine, actual Time magazine, said the Martin Luther King bust in the White House had been removed on Trump’s orders. Not true. It hadn’t been touched. It’s where it has always been. Also yesterday, the Mail, the Independent, Esquire and others reported that Trump’s first act was to take down the LGBT pages from the White House website, in what Pink News called a “purge” of LGBT rights, giving rise to a wild Twitter-panic about Trump “erasing” homosexuals. This also wasn’t true. Every time in the modern era that a new president has taken office, the old president’s web pages, on everything from social issues to business concerns, have been moved to an archive — where they’re still available for reading — while the website is reoriented around the new president. Also yesterday, CNN said Nancy Sinatra was angry about her father’s song ‘My Way’ being performed at the inauguration. Again, not true. “Why do you lie?”, Sinatra asked CNN.

Made-up stories and misinformation and overblown panic in the space of a few hours. And they wonder why people don’t trust the mainstream media. It looks like truth is the first casualty when an entitled political set doesn’t get its way. Take every scare story about Trump with a pinch of salt.

Promoting False Claims

A common tactic is the deliberate promotion of false claims to spread a false and libellous statement, and then later apologising when called out on the lie after the narrative has been sowed and the damage has been done. This is an increasingly more common occurrence. An example is https://twitter.com/asamjulian/status/827686112520962048. I would have preferred to link to the original but unfortunately the originator has since switched all posts to private.

Other Misrepresentations & Omissions

Other examples include:

There are innumerable others.

4. Hanlon’s Razor

When does the rhetoric of the media cross the line to the equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater? – Stefan Molyneux

Like Occam’s Razor, Hanlon’s Razor is a philosophical tool for eliminating unlikely explanations and is typically expressed as an aphorism such as “Never attribute to malice, that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” or more relevantly here, “Don’t assume bad intentions over neglect and misunderstanding.”

Without referring to the examples above or the many that follow in this piece it should be profoundly obvious that the mainstream media has completely abandoned Hanlon’s Razor. Not so much bad intentions but the very worst of intentions are automatically assumed. People are painted as automatically guilty until proven innocent at best, but most commonly as automatically guilty and worthy of a hyperbolic rage-fueled mob-driven witch hunt, and invariably with very little evidence to support such fundamentally illiberal treatment.

Alternative Facts

The desperate Alternative Facts narrative created and promoted by the media is a classic straw man fallacy arising from a systemic and deliberate failure to apply Hanlon’s Razor.

Kellyanne Conway’s reference to “alternative facts” when pressed by the media on inauguration crowd numbers, in which numbers estimated by Trump and the media were significantly different, was jumped on by the media as a disturbingly deliberate attempt at lying, and was framed as chillingly Orwellian. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_facts

The straw man here is the claim of deliberate lying without any evidence of the intent to lie, and the failure of Hanlon’s Razor is claiming bad intentions without granting the far more likely possibility of a simple misunderstanding. The assumption of bad intent was automatic and without thought.

There was no consideration of whether, in the heat of a live interview, the utterance of alternative facts was meant like alternative evidence in the sense that the current evidence they’d gathered genuinely suggested a certain conclusion that might be compared against a different conclusion from different evidence (suggested by the media for example) to determine which was correct. Incidentally this is what happened as the Press Secretary subsequently admitted that this was the case. There was no consideration of whether this was actually an apples vs oranges comparison, for example with one party counting both on the ground and online numbers and the other only counting on the ground numbers and the possibility that this difference may have been lost in the rush or during the discussion. There was never any presumption of innocence, only the immediate assumption of bad intent and the howling call for yet another witch hunt.

In hindsight we can see once again that with the failure of the Fake News narrative that was turned against the media, the Alternative Facts narrative is simply the media’s latest attempt to discredit and smear their opponents. Time will tell whether this new rhetorical superweapon will be turned against them in the same way. I predict this is likely as it would be easy to do so given trivial examples of questionable statistics being quoted by the media on a routine basis to drive some agenda.

Once again: if you’re going to launch Rhetorical Superweapons you had better be absolutely sure that you yourself are completely impervious to them.

5. Kayfabe

The purpose of thinking is so that we can let our ideas die instead of us dying. – Alfred North Whitehead

The Kayfabe institution of professional wrestling helps explain the failure of political pundits and the media generally, as suggested by Eric Weinstein in an older Edge piece: Kayfabe is a Concept that Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit

https://www.edge.org/response-detail/11783

It is deception rather than perfect information that often plays the decisive role in systems of selective pressures. Kayfabe describes the simulated sport of professional wrestling in which the deception, antagonists and protagonists, and ritualised battles are negotiated, choreographed, and rehearsed beforehand. The outcome is predetermined and yet despite this the audience is aware of this and eagerly goes along for the ride.

Kayfabe helps explain why investigative journalism seems to have vanished and bitter corporate rivals cooperate on everything from joint ventures to lobbying efforts. Battles between “freshwater” Chicago macro economists and Ivy league “Saltwater” theorists could be best understood as happening within a single “orthodox promotion” given that both groups suffered no injury from failing (equally) to predict the financial crisis. Battles in theoretical physics over bragging rights between the “string” and “loop” camps would seem to be an even more significant example within the hard sciences of a collaborative intra-promotion rivalry given the apparent failure of both groups.

The key is that the “combatants”, left and right political pundits for example, benefit from the conflict and the buy-in and intra-promotional rivalry of their “sport” generally, while neither suffers the consequences of their failures. This relates not only to political pundits but the ever-more hysterical, ever-more outraged, ever-more combative thrust of most mainstream media. You have to keep the public engaged and tuned in, enjoying the spectacle, paying with attention if not with dollars, and conveniently ignoring repeated abject failures of journalistic standards.

6. Confirmation Bias

The alternative to discourse is physical conflict. – Jordan Peterson

The most infamous of all human cognitive biases is that of confirmation bias, defined by Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias as the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. It is systemic in human cognition and drastically hinders reasoning about information. It is a form of intellectual laziness and something everyone should be vigilant against, both in themselves and others. It is one of the drivers of groupthink.

Allow Me To Explain

Vernaculis explains the bias of, and mistrust in, the mainstream media. The entire presentation is lengthy but worthwhile, especially given the examples of failures in the media, and the different perspective through which to view the media.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88M38Bu7o0c

A Gallup poll reveals that 68% of Americans have little to no trust in the media, a figure that has steadily declined over many years. This rises for Republicans, 86% of whom don’t trust the media, and declines somewhat for Democrats, 49% of whom don’t trust the media. This massive difference undoubtedly reflects the massive Democrat/Progressive bias of the mainstream media, and is a stunning development for an institution designed to inform the public. There are hilarious responses from the media wailing about the report; political pundits “have no qualms about lying to cover up lies told by liars six lies ago to push whatever they’ve been told to push.”

Media is a confirmation bias jungle.

Every other story or argument is either a witch hunt or a hard thought-out attempt to make playing dumb look like skepticism. This is not journalism, this is a confirmation bias vending machine. We’ve reached a point where remaining ignorant on a subject makes you look less stupid than one of these pundits on cable news. Their goal is to polarise or coddle, not to inform, to analyse and instruct the audience in the meaning of a thing and how they should feel.

One of the highest virtues of journalism is objectivity, specifically the method of objectivity, which has been tossed aside in order to be the first published outlet on the case. They care more about someone being accused of something and less about whether they actually did it. There is conflict between being first, and being correct. The goals of journalists have become completely at odds with what journalism should be. The goal has become persuading, manipulating, and incurring the least effort for the most profit. The most egregious of errors in journalism of course, present themselves in the field of politics.

News outlets are more interested in influencing elections instead of informing people about them as evidenced by editorial board endorsements. The only point of an editorial board endorsement is to influence an election by power of their outlet’s credibility and authority. There is no ethical reason to continue with this practice and it is simply embracing bias. They have decided to sacrifice their credibility for the benefit of a politician, which cannot be accepted in principle.

Being informed is the greatest weapon one has in the face of liars, manipulators, political henchmen, and demagogues.

How Pundits Get Everything Wrong and Still Keep Their Jobs

Michael Tracey discusses the confirmation-bias-driven failure of pundits and the media.

https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/01/how-pundits-get-everything-wrong-and-still-keep-their-jobs

Understandably, the elite media class is eager to move swiftly onward, as if nothing just happened. They might have been directly complicit in one of the most cataclysmic mass analytical failures in modern US history, but no matter: there are ever-more predictions to be made, more rash surmises to blithely proffer. Self-criticism and introspection—who needs it?

But as the 2016 presidential campaign should have conclusively demonstrated, this pretense of [pundit] expertise is a fabrication. Far from being especially prescient about matters of public affairs, members of the Pundit-Commentariat Industrial Complex are actually incredibly ill-suited to the task of accurately gauging the political sentiments of their own nation.

We still have not yet fully taken stock of how systematic and massive was the scope of the failure, [but it is instructive to look at] the 2016 pundits, whose mixture of arrogance and ignorance is almost unmatched in the history of letters. One liability of having a geographically-clustered, incestuous pundit class is that they almost all know each other. They all reside in the same one or two cities and are members of overlapping friendship circles. This social proximity will inevitably cause a certain kind of in-group solidarity and excusing of failure; [incentivising] groupthink and confirmation bias.

To give a flavor for Slate’s politics coverage, witness two Bouie headlines from only a week apart: “Donald Trump is a Moderate Republican” (November 19, 2015) and “Donald Trump Is A Fascist” (November 25, 2015). It is not unreasonable, then, to surmise that proclamation that Trump is a “fascist” was more a provocation for clicks than any sincere attempt at political categorization. Bouie claimed “There is no horse race here. Clinton is far enough ahead, at a late enough stage in the election, that what we have is a horse running by itself, unperturbed but for a faint possibility of a comet hitting the track. Place your bets accordingly.” Whatever Bouie’s motive, he clearly failed spectacularly. Bouie had “one job,” and that was to accurately inform his readers about what was going on in the electorate.

The central assumptions on which [professional pundits] based a huge portion of their election analysis proved utterly, humiliatingly wrong; their entire analytical framework was drastically, catastrophically faulty. But in the world of punditry, there is no price to pay for failure, [they are] shielded from anything that they’d recognize as professional accountability.

Unravelling Media Bias

Laurel Lieb discusses evidence of media bias.

https://therationalists.org/2016/12/08/unraveling-media-bias/

I am fascinated with the words the mainstream media uses to describe events, ideas, populations and the cartel-style tactics they use to discredit most American’s who don’t subscribe to the elite worldview of polarized, identity-politics-driven belief of reality. That personal identity is almost exclusively based on superficial characteristics from Critical Theory, with an intersectional perspective backed up by questionable and manipulated statistics. This has been the driving force of the MSM, as they have become more accustomed to using highly charged words like racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia and bigotry every time they believe something is objectionable.

Over the period 2004-2016, there was on average three times more positive pieces per Democrat presidential candidate, than their Republican counterpart. The significant change was when President Obama ran and won in 2008 with a 26:5 ratio of positive to negative stories. See main article for data and analysis.

The “Fake News” and website stories seem to be the most egregiously written, with a couple of lists from sites like Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Buzzfeed who claimed to do an “analysis” of fake news. The problem with these lists and “analysis” is the lack of credibility they have given their addition of largely conservative or libertarian leaning publications, and ignoring progressive sites and similarly polarized and biased leftist-leaning publications.

If we are to listen and believe everything that is being told to us by the MSM, Hillary Clinton would be the current President-Elect. But since that is not how this shook out, the only logical explanation is that many red flags were missed along the way by those tasked with informing us. These same people now demand we listen and believe their version of the events from the last month, that the United States is a hopeless, cesspool of racist bigotry, humiliating sexism, oppressive homophobia, and blasphemous islamophobia. Unfortunately for them, this isn’t a narrative that will have a long or productive shelf life.

Failure of Mainstream Media

Dave Rubin and Stefan Molyneux discuss the many failures of the mainstream media in an interesting and wide-ranging discussion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XO777qS_yr4

Half of the people in mainstream media are married to people in politics or worked for people in politics, or they worked on campaigns that they are now commenting on.

People generally didn’t have as much of a chance to see how manipulative the media was, how they manipulate, twist facts, bait, and pursue an agenda until the Internet reached maturity and the alternative media came along; now things have become so rapid that when a media narrative is being constructed in real time it is being deconstructed on the Internet in real time.

It has always struck me that the purpose of independent thought, of a commitment to principles, reason, and evidence is to resist and overcome the great danger that is the mob. The mob that gets riled up by sophistry and false narratives, and more recently by the oppression olympics. The mob is exceedingly dangerous, it is all body, all fists, and very little head. The purpose of being an independent thinker is to have the courage to stand in front of the mob, plant your feet, and yell ‘Stop.’ ‘Slow down.’ ‘Put down the pitchforks, we don’t want to act in haste and repent in leisure.’ And the media seems to be at the back, diving the people forward, provoking the basest instincts of human nature, directly mobilising the mob. The alternative media acts to blunt this, demanding people wait for the facts, to consider nuance and context. And to think independently.

A Picture Tells a Thousand Words About Mainstream Media Bias

Nothing conveys so simply, immediately, and powerfully the reality of media attempting to manipulate you and drive a narrative than this simple collection of pictures http://www.xyz.net.au/picture-tells-thousand-words-mainstream-media-bias/

A range of pictures of the meeting between Trump and Obama appear to show it was quite jovial and light hearted. Yet the image, the perception, the propaganda most of the media tried to influence the public with was the one image that appeared to convey the opposite.

Mainstream media organisations are not looking after your interests. Not only did they fail to report accurately on events like the 2016 U.S. Election and Brexit, but as these photographs show they are knowingly and willingly distorting the facts in pursuit of their own agenda.

7. Fact Checking

What is freedom of expression? Without freedom to offend it ceases to exist. – Salman Rushdie.

Much as there are “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.” there are “Facts, Damned Facts, and Fact Checkers.”

PolitiFact are Heavily Biased

http://thefederalist.com/2016/12/16/running-data-politifact-shows-bias-conservatives/

Long suspected to be guilty of bias in their coverage of politics and fact checking of politicians a meta-analysis of Politifact data reveals that they are indeed grossly biased in their coverage. They treat different political parties differently and apply different standards of truth depending on the political party. Far from their honesty being a baseline principle this analysis verifies a lack of honesty and objectivity. Casual observations always suggested this, for example, according to PolitiFact during the two years Romney was the nominee he rivalled the number of falsehoods told by the entire Democrat party, and Clinton is the most honest politician to run for President during the last ten years. The data now strongly suggests a strong bias that should be challenged. Their most egregious lies and attempts to manipulate are evidenced by their calls over falsehoods, which are dominated by lengthy arguments that rest on little more than semantics:

When you’re explaining, you’re losing, and we can see this in effect here. It is vital for the PolitiFact brand to boil down all explanations into a metric that simply says “True” or “Mostly False.” When they need to explain their rating, they are frequently in the process of convincing us of a very subjective call. The more plainly subjective a fact-check is, the more likely it isn’t so much of a fact-check as it is just another opinion. PolitiFact often rates statements that are largely true but come from a GOP sources as “mostly false” by focusing on sentence alterations, simple mis-statements, fact-checking the wrong fact, and even taking a statement, rewording it, and fact-checking the re-worded statement instead of the original quoted statement.

How The Cult of Fact Checking Helped Trump Win

Michael Tracey discusses how obsessive literal fact checking of figurative statements and related pedantry is essentially perceived as a witch hunt that alienated the average voter.

https://medium.com/mtracey/how-the-cult-of-fact-checking-helped-trump-win-bc51f7b69f49#.g7vin24jn

Often he’ll take things that Trump obviously said in jest and send them through his “Fact check!” Rube Goldberg device, thereby rendering the judgment that Trump’s facts were wrong. Most of this is just completely superfluous: he is often “fact-checking” Trump jokes and wisecracks, which are not interpreted by most Americans as definitive statements of fact in the first place.

The reason Trump’s various “scandals” didn’t cut through to the electorate is because the media spent 1.5 years in hysterical meltdown mode. …Far from acknowledging the blind spot and trying to compensate for it, every day brings a new wave of mindless Trump hysterics. … to hang on his every trifling word as if the fate of humanity depends on it is going way, way overboard. They are so insulated, and cocky, and lack any capacity for self-criticism or self-awareness, that they don’t realize their “fact-checking” crusade is the product of ideology, not direct communion with universal divine wisdom. This gets to the “fake news” craze now sweeping the punditocracy.

8. Glenn Greenwald

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. – George Orwell

Simply put, Greenwald’s journalism and reporting against the corruption and failure of the mainstream media has been stellar. I’ve had a number of critical issues with Greenwald’s conduct and stance on certain matters over the last few years, and was certainly not a fan. But his work recently against the media has been incredible.

A Clinton Fan Manufactured Fake News That MSNBC Spread to Discredit Wikileaks Docs

https://theintercept.com/2016/12/09/a-clinton-fan-manufactured-fake-news-that-msnbc-personalities-spread-to-discredit-wikileaks-docs/

Fake News lacks any clear definition; it is essentially useless except as an instrument of propaganda and censorship. The most important fact to realize about this new term: Those who most loudly denounce Fake News are typically those most aggressively disseminating it. As an egregious example, see the Washington Post article hyping a new anonymous group and its disgusting blacklist of supposedly pro-Russia news outlets — a shameful article mindlessly spread by countless journalists who love to decry Fake News, despite the Post article itself being centrally based on Fake News.

An even more damning example occurred when WikiLeaks was releasing emails from the John Podesta archive, and Clinton campaign officials and their media spokespeople adopted a strategy of outright lying to the public, claiming — with no basis whatsoever — that the emails were doctored or fabricated and thus should be ignored. That lie — and that is what it was: a claim made with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard for its truth — was most aggressively amplified by MSNBC. That the emails in the Wikileaks archive were doctored or faked — and thus should be disregarded — was classic Fake News, spread by established news outlets such as MSNBC, The Atlantic, and Newsweek. And, by design, this Fake News spread like wildfire all over the internet, hungrily clicked and shared by tens of thousands of people eager to believe it was true.

As a result of this deliberate disinformation campaign, anyone reporting on the contents of the emails was instantly met with claims that the documents in the archive had been proven fake. it was this accusation from Clinton supporters — not the WikiLeaks documents — that was a complete fraud, perpetrated on the public as deliberate disinformation. The Fake News tweets from those media personalities — warning people to view the WikiLeaks documents as fake — remain posted, with no subsequent retraction or acknowledgment of the falsehoods that they spread about the WikiLeaks archive.

Every day, literally, you can turn on MSNBC and hear various people so righteously lamenting the spread of “Fake News.” Yet MSNBC itself not only spreads Fake News but refuses to correct it when it is exposed, has repeatedly proven that it tolerates Fake News and outright lies from its personalities as long as those lies are in service of the right candidate.

That journalists and “experts” outright lied to the public this way in order to help their favorite candidate is obviously dangerous: “If you have a society where people can’t agree on basic facts, how do you have a functioning democracy?” If you have prominent journalists telling the public to trust an anonymous group with a false McCarthyite blacklist, or telling it to ignore informative documents on the grounds that they are fake when there is zero reason to believe that they are fake, that is a direct threat to democracy.

Anonymous Leaks to the WashPost About the CIA’s Russia Beliefs are No Substitute for Evidence

https://theintercept.com/2016/12/10/anonymous-leaks-to-the-washpost-about-the-cias-russia-beliefs-are-no-substitute-for-evidence/

The Washington Post published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: The key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.

Needless to say, Democrats — still eager to make sense of their election loss and to find causes for it other than themselves — immediately declared these anonymous claims about what the CIA believes to be true, and, with a somewhat sweet, religious-type faith, treated these anonymous assertions as proof of what they wanted to believe all along: that Vladimir Putin was rooting for Donald Trump to win and Hillary Clinton to lose and used nefarious means to ensure that outcome.

No accusations should be accepted until there is actual convincing evidence to substantiate those accusations. To begin with, CIA officials are professional, systematic liars; they lie constantly, by design, and with great skill, and have for many decades, as have intelligence officials in other agencies. Most important of all, the more serious the claim is — and accusing a nuclear-armed power of directly and deliberately interfering in the U.S. election in order to help the winning candidate is about as serious as a claim can get — the more important it is to demand evidence before believing it. Wars have started over far less serious claims than this one.

Contrary to the blatant straw man many Democrats are railing against, [they engage] the lowly neo-McCarthyite tactic of accusing anyone questioning these accusations, or criticizing the Clinton campaign, of being Kremlin stooges or Putin agents.

9. The New York Times

Specific failings of the most prestigious newspaper in the world.

An Obituary of The New York Times

by Johannes Wahlstrom

http://www.unz.com/article/an-obituary-of-the-new-york-times/

During the current election cycle in the United States, The New York Times has so clearly abandoned all rudimentary standards of journalism and alienated its readership so badly, that it has sentenced itself to wither away into irrelevance. Remembered only in history books as a relic of the Cold War, much like its sister newspaper Pravda of the Soviet Union.

As a Swedish reader of The New York Times, I may be surprised that the paper has ignored election rigging in the governing party of the United States serious enough to cause its top five officials to resign. But it doesn’t really matter, since I can read the source material on it via WikiLeaks. As a foreign journalist I may be surprised that the paper has chosen to downplay the political bribes of the Clinton Foundation, but it makes little difference because the Associated Press has made the investigation available for me to report on. As a citizen of a western democracy I may be surprised that The New York Times so clearly campaigns against Trump and for Clinton, rather than reports on the policy issues of the candidates, but I can ignore this since I can read and listen to what they say themselves, while I can get a variety of more enlightened and entertaining campaigns all over the blogosphere. If I were a US citizen however, I would be more than just surprised. And this is where The New York Times has lost it. By dropping its veneer and abandoning its self acclaimed standards of journalism, it has sentenced itself into irrelevance.

New York Times Edits Its Election Apology Letter

by Keith Kelly

http://nypost.com/2016/11/15/new-york-times-edits-its-election-apology-letter/

The New York Times penned a post-election letter to their readers on Nov. 11 that promised to “rededicate ourselves” to good journalism — while insisting the Times “reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign.” This was an acknowledgement that they had not been dedicated to good journalism. The letter was later edited, acknowledging of course that their reporting on candidates had not been fair.

How The Times Failed You

by Emily Hines

https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/01/how-the-times-failed-you

Liberal anti-Bernie thinkpieces frequently relied on treating a desire for “purity” as worthy of ridicule. But replace “purity” with any noun from your resume, such as “excellence” or “objectives” or “strategization,” and it sounds like they’re all telling you to run out and vote for him. Try rereading Krugman’s last sentence with your finger over the phrase “of purity”: Krugman is now saying that holding people accountable is good, but having standards you use to decide what things to hold them accountable for is verboten. The Times’ election coverage will live in infamy. Our paper of record had no idea how to interpret the moment as it unfolded, flailing wildly and trying to build an imaginary world in which Hillary Clinton’s campaign went the way liberals wished it would go, rather than the way it actually did go.

Badly Out of Touch or Deliberate Promotion?

The New York Times was so badly, blatantly out of touch that at the end of October 2016 they told readers Clinton’s chance of losing is about the same as the probability that an NFL kicker misses a 31-yard field goal, that she had a 92% chance of winning compared to Trump’s 8% chance. https://twitter.com/nytimes/status/792071216437850112

Recruitment of Self-Described Partisan Hacks

Wikileaks shows us that The New York Times is happy to recruit journalists that are self-described hacks who solicit approval and edits from their Democrat masters on pieces that mention them https://twitter.com/wikileaks/status/808458549844201472.

New York Times Complicit in Violations of Professional Ethics

The New York Times appears to support clear professional ethics violations by psychiatrists breaking the Goldwater Rule that forms part of their ethical code of conduct https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/13/opinion/mental-health-professionals-warn-about-trump.html?_r=0, and then try to double-down and explain away this violation as being okay in this case “because reasons” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/17/opinion/is-it-time-to-call-trump-mentally-ill.html. It is medically unethical for a psychiatrist to diagnose the mental health of a person who has not been consulted or examined by the psychiatrist, and a clear breach of the psychiatric code to do so against a political opponent. But it seems that for certain media outlets ethical violations are acceptable so long as the diagnosis aligns with the narrative you wish to present.

10. The Washington Post

Specific recent failings of one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world.

Russians Hacked Vermont Utility

by The Washington Post

The Washington Post launched the story claiming that Russian hackers had penetrated the US electricity grid, but subsequently rolled this back to claim that Russians Hacked a Vermont Utility, Showing Risks to US Grid Security https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/russian-hackers-penetrated-us-electricity-grid-through-a-utility-in-vermont/2016/12/30/8fc90cc4-ceec-11e6-b8a2-8c2a61b0436f_story.html?utm_term=.c851cf2a3a15. Then, a few days later they admitted that this was a lie and Russian Hackers Did Not Target a Vermont Utility afterall https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/russian-government-hackers-do-not-appear-to-have-targeted-vermont-utility-say-people-close-to-investigation/2017/01/02/70c25956-d12c-11e6-945a-76f69a399dd5_story.html. But by then the damage from this Fake News, this inflammatory rhetoric, had already been done. People believed it, people lapped it up, and they shared it to “inform others” in their outrage as I saw numerous times on social media feeds.

Forbes ran a couple of pieces analysing this utter failure of The Washington Post.

Fake News and How The Washington Post Rewrites Story on Russian Hacking

by Kalev Leetaru

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2017/01/01/fake-news-and-how-the-washington-post-rewrote-its-story-on-russian-hacking-of-the-power-grid/#4c28f652291e

This narrative was false and as the chronology below will show, illustrates how effectively false and misleading news can ricochet through the global news echo chamber through the pages of top tier newspapers that fail to properly verify their facts. From Russian hackers burrowed deep within the US electrical grid, ready to plunge the nation into darkness at the flip of a switch, an hour and a half later the story suddenly became that a single non-grid laptop had a piece of malware on it and that the laptop was not connected to the utility grid in any way.

The Post still had not appended any kind of editorial note to indicate that it had significantly changed the focus of the article. This is significant, as one driving force of fake news is that as much of 60% of the links shared on social media are shared based on the title alone, with the sharer not actually reading the article itself. Thus, the title assigned to an article becomes the story itself and the Post’s incorrect title meant that the story that spread virally through the national echo chamber was that the Russians had hacked into the US power grid.

Once a story enters the journalism world it spreads without further restraint as each outlet assumes that the one before performed the necessary fact checking.

“Breaking news” is a tremendous problem for mainstream outlets in which they frequently end up propagating “fake news” in their rush to be the first to break a story.

How The Washington Post’s Defense of the Russian Hacking Story Unravelled

by Larev Leetaru

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2017/01/02/how-the-washington-posts-defense-of-its-russian-hacking-story-unraveled-through-web-archiving/#551938902bc1

It turns out that the Post not only did not fact check the story until after it was published live on its website, but in its defense of the story, the Post made a number of false statements about what was written when, which the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine reveals.

It is simply astounding that any newspaper, let alone one of the Post’s reputation and stature, would run a story and then ten minutes after publication, turn around and finally ask the central focus of the article for comment. Not only does this violate every professional norm and standard of journalistic practice, but it feeds directly into the public’s growing distrust of media. In the era of “fake news” hysteria where publications like the Washington Post tout their extensive fact checking and vetting workflows as reasons that the public should trust their reporting over anyone else, it is surprising to see just how chaotic or non-existent that fact checking really is.

That the Post would run an entire story based exclusively on the word of its US Government sources and without any other external fact checking (such as contacting the two utilities), offers a fascinating glimpse into just how much blind trust American newspapers place in Government sources, to repeat their claims verbatim without the slightest bit of vetting or confirmation. Even the most celebrated outlets like the Post will run a story without the most basic of fact checking or, in this case, appear to have done their fact checking only after publication, allowing a false narrative to ricochet virally through both social and mainstream mediums for hours before correction.

The answer to “fake news” and the issue of false and misleading information in general is not to place a few elites in the role of ultimate arbitrator of truth, but rather to develop a citizenry that is data and information literate.

Washington Post Lied About Bannon Confrontation

by Michael Calderone

http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/washington-post-steve-bannon-sean-spicer_us_58965b8ce4b0c1284f26473f

The Washington Post no longer stands by its account of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon personally confronting Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly last week ― an incident the White House says never took place. The dramatic showdown, as reported, would suggest Bannon was ignoring the presidential chain of command and trying to strong-arm a Cabinet member. The Post hours later walked back the column’s claims of a personal “confrontation,” but the story had already circulated widely on social media and was picked up by other news outlets.

The Post appended an editor’s note to the column Saturday morning acknowledging that Rogin only approached DHS and not the White House. The Post couldn’t verify that the meeting occurred. “I think we got things wrong in this column,” said Fred Hiatt, who oversees the Post’s columnists.

This is yet another example of the tactic to deliberately promote false, misleading, and unverified claims to spread an inflammatory narrative or hit piece, and then later apologising when called out on the lie after the narrative has been sowed and the damage has been done. This particular case tied into a growing narrative against Bannon, painting him as a puppet-master pulling all of Trump’s strings – another example of a Manchurian Candidate-style conspiracy theory – and brilliantly fed into people’s confirmation bias and motivated skepticism on the matter. The Post’s apologies are irrelevant and as worthless as their journalistic integrity at this point; the story had gone viral, the damage had been done, and their audience were subsequently stupider and less informed about the world than before.

11. BuzzFeed & CNN

BuzzFeed and CNN presided over one of the most egregious failures of the mainstream media in recent times.

The Deep State Goes to War With the President-Elect Using Unverified Claims

by Glenn Greenwald once again

https://theintercept.com/2017/01/11/the-deep-state-goes-to-war-with-president-elect-using-unverified-claims-as-dems-cheer/

The Deep State is now engaged in open warfare against the duly elected and already widely disliked president-elect, Donald Trump. They are using classic Cold War dirty tactics and the defining ingredients of what has until recently been denounced as “Fake News.” Their most valuable instrument is the U.S. media, much of which reflexively reveres, serves, believes, and sides with hidden intelligence officials. And Democrats, still reeling from their unexpected and traumatic election loss, as well as a systemic collapse of their party, seemingly divorced further and further from reason with each passing day, are willing — eager — to embrace any claim, cheer any tactic, align with any villain, regardless of how unsupported, tawdry, and damaging those behaviors might be.

Empowering the very entities that have produced the most shameful atrocities and systemic deceit over the last six decades is desperation of the worst kind. Demanding that evidence-free, anonymous assertions be instantly venerated as Truth — despite emanating from the very precincts designed to propagandize and lie — is an assault on journalism, democracy, and basic human rationality. And casually branding domestic adversaries who refuse to go along as traitors and disloyal foreign operatives is morally bankrupt and certain to backfire on those doing it.

Beyond all that, there is no bigger favor that Trump opponents can do for him than attacking him with such lowly, shabby, obvious shams, recruiting large media outlets to lead the way. Nobody should crave the rule of Deep State overlords. Yet craving Deep State rule is exactly what prominent Democratic operatives and media figures are doing. Any doubt about that is now dispelled.

Once CNN strongly hinted at these allegations, it left it to the public imagination to conjure up the dirt Russia allegedly had to blackmail and control Trump. By publishing these accusations, BuzzFeed ended that speculation. More importantly, it allowed everyone to see how dubious this document is, one the CIA and CNN had elevated into some sort of grave national security threat. Almost immediately after it was published, the farcical nature of the “dossier” manifested. The overwhelming reaction was the same as all the other instances where the CIA and its allies released unverified claims about Trump and Russia: instant embrace of the evidence-free assertions as Truth, combined with proclamations that they demonstrated Trump’s status as a traitor.

There is a real danger here that this maneuver could harshly backfire, to the great benefit of Trump and to the great detriment of those who want to oppose him. If any of the significant claims in this “dossier” turn out to be provably false — as done with Cohen’s trip to Prague — many people will conclude, with Trump’s encouragement, that large media outlets and anti-Trump factions inside the government are deploying “Fake News” to destroy him. In the eyes of many people, that will forever discredit — and render impotent — future journalistic exposés that are based on actual, corroborated wrongdoing.

Before the BuzzFeed dossier had been discredited and Greenwald was able to write the brilliant piece above, we had other journalists like Michael Tracey pointing out how mind-numbingly absurd it was to publish let alone believe such utterly fantastic claims.

It’s Only Going to Get Worse

by Michael Tracey

https://medium.com/mtracey/its-only-going-to-get-worse-the-trump-golden-showers-edition-4457703b96a5#.eqfocckos

Journalists such as David Mack of BuzzFeed are going to take snippets of the so-called “Report” and tweet them out. Because Mack is a purported journalist and by dint of that presumably commands some measure of credibility, the fact that he promulgated the excerpt is going to be interpreted by many as a corroboration of the authenticity of the excerpt. Most news consumers aren’t terribly sophisticated.

The “Report” made available in full by BuzzFeed alleges explicitly that Trump’s “operation” was “directed by” Putin, which would make Trump the textbook definition of a Manchurian Candidate — someone who is not just an unwitting stooge of a foreign power, or who by happenstance advances the interests of that power, but who is a direct agent of the power. If true, this could well be among the most blockbuster events in all U.S. history, potentially superseding 9/11, the JFK Assassination, and Pearl Harbor.

BuzzFeed Takes Fake News to a New Level

by John Podhoretz

http://nypost.com/2017/01/10/buzzfeeds-trump-report-takes-fake-news-to-a-new-level/

At a moment when journalists are up in arms about “fake news,” what BuzzFeed has done here is take fake news to a new level. Its editor, Ben Smith, acknowledges “there is serious reason to doubt the allegations.” In other words, there is almost certainly fake news inside these memos, and it might all be fake, or some parts of it might be true but buried so deeply under falsity that it would be impossible to separate it out.

“Publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017,” Smith writes. This is an amazing thing to say, because if you think it through, it means publishing open libels and slanders is the job of reporters in 2017.

“Fake news will become more sophisticated, and fake, ambiguous, and spun-up stories will spread widely,” warned an important American editor at the end of December 2016. His name: Ben Smith. His publication: BuzzFeed.

As Wolfgang Blau observed, it is “Rare that a story stinks from every possible angle: the source, the content, the consequence, the messenger, the target,”  

The New York Times of course, declared that this was a crisis for Trump, completely oblivious and ignorant of the fact that this was actually a crisis for the media https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/11/us/politics/donald-trump-russia-intelligence.html?_r=1.

12. Groupthink & The Backfire Effect

As evidenced by the examples above and the utter insular failure to account for the major elections in 2016, one of the defining characteristics of our media today is rampant groupthink https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink. For reasons outside the scope of this post but undoubtedly related to the rise of pervasive political correctness, most of the people within the media have such a strong desire for conformity, such a strong desire to minimise internal conflict and reach consensus with other ingroup members that critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints becomes almost impossible and dissenting viewpoints are often actively suppressed; viewpoints that are outside the Overton Window that the media has narrowed over time. This leads to irrational decision-making, fallacious predictions, the belief that group values are right and good, and ultimately to irrational and dehumanising actions and rhetoric against outgroups.

That last sentence, especially the last part of the last sentence, perfectly captures the state and actions of the media in 2016, whose outrageous reaction was to vilify, dehumanise, and mercilessly attack all who were perceived guilty of wrongthink. Such authoritarian intolerance of different views, speech, and opinions, the overt attacks on segments of the public and herculean efforts to publicly destroy prominent dissenting personalities is a textbook definition of fascism in action.

On the topic of groupthink and wrongthink, drawing parallels between the media and 1984’s Ministry of Truth is entirely appropriate. More than any previous year the media engaged in a type of Newspeak https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak, in which language was controlled to eliminate ambiguity and nuance (shades of meaning) from the language, and so reduce the language to simple concepts — pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, goodthink and crimethink — that reinforce the totalitarian dominance of their preferred narrative. More than any other year, nuance and ambiguity in language and news was sacrificed, things were either all-good or all-bad, you could only be for or against, and false-dichotomy black-and-white thinking was the rule.

In a humorous turn of irony sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have been booming. Sales have been booming because of the media continually making references to Trump and the fallout following his inauguration as being starkly Orwellian, and implying that his administration might be better understood by reading 1984. This is ironic because 1984’s authoritarianism describes the actions of the media and segments of their ideological audience far more accurately than it does Trump: https://reason.com/archives/2017/02/10/orwells-1984-a-better-reflection-of-the/.

In the Party, in the treatment of ideas as disorders, in the Two Minutes Hate against those who are offensive or different, in the hounding of unpopular opinions, in the memory-holing of difficult things, [the media] will see their own tragic creed reflected back to them. They will find a stinging rebuke from history of their own embrace of the sexless, joyless, ban-happy urge to control almost every area of individual thought and life. Although, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury may be a more accurate portrayal http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/fahrenheit-451-is-a-better-guide-than-1984/19461#.WKb57fl96Ul, even the notable Flemming Rose believes that efforts to censor and silence fake news will bring us closer to 1984-type scenarios https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/shutting-down-fake-news-could-move-us-closer-to-a-modern-day-1984/2017/02/10/fd02d29a-ef1a-11e6-9662-6eedf1627882_story.html and Democracy will not survive a lack of belief in the possibility of impartial institutions. Using legal measures to counter disinformation is likely to be a cure worse than the disease. One does not need to go back to the Cold War to worry about what happens when governments become the arbiters of truth.

Yet another recent example is the vilification and witch hunt against Piers Morgan for the crime daring to utter factual statements that were indicative of wrongthink https://www.facebook.com/brendan.oneill.79/posts/1265792203510870.

Piers Morgan [is being mauled by the media] after he said there is no Muslim Ban in the US and it is hysterical to say Trump is just like Hitler. But these are factual statements. They just are. Muslims are not banned from visiting America. Trump, for all his unpleasantness, has done nothing to warrant comparison with Hitler. Morgan is being hauled over the coals for saying things which, by any cool, reasoned, objective measurement, are true. Things are getting serious now. When people can be mobbed and demonised and told they should lose their jobs simply for saying factual things, then you know the political climate has become unhinged. The hysteria around Trump is making rational discussion impossible. Your choice is to rage against the devil or risk being found guilty of being in communion with devil.

It is crucial to understand the role of The Backfire Effect in all of this, both in the media itself and in the different audiences it targets https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/. When it comes to the media this is especially pernicious because when the media publish a correction for a mistake or an article that otherwise got the facts wrong, it turns out that the correction actually results in those who originally believed the erroneous article was correct to now become even more certain that the original article was correct, even in light of or because of the subsequent correction. The corrections only serve to backfire. This single factor suggests grounds for far greater sanctions against journalists and outlets who deliberately employ this as a tactic, for example Promoting False Claims above. As the wonderful David McRaney explains:

Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do it instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. You stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead.

Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper. Stories like these are called narrative scripts, they are stories that tell you what you want to hear, stories that confirm your beliefs and give you permission to continue feeling as you already do.

Most online battles follow a similar pattern, each side launching attacks and pulling evidence from deep inside the web to back up their positions until, out of frustration, one party resorts to an all-out ad hominem nuclear strike. The cognitive dissonance of belief-challenging information locks up the gears of your mind until you deal with it. In the process you form more neural connections, build new memories and put out effort – once you finally move on, your original convictions [and neural connections] are stronger than ever.

The backfire effect will become more and more difficult to overcome as communications technology continues to improve. You will have more opportunities to pick and choose the kind of information that gets into your head along with the kinds of outlets you trust to give you that information. In a world where everything comes to you on demand, your beliefs may never be challenged.

The relevance to religious beliefs, ideological beliefs, and political beliefs is obvious.

And a possible future in which no-one’s beliefs are ever challenged should terrify you.

One of the specific mechanisms that powers the Backfire Effect is known as motivated skepticism. This isn’t skepticism at all of course. While confirmation bias is an active and effortful process to search for proof until you find something to defend or reinforce your beliefs, motivated skepticism is passive and only activates when credible information that challenges your beliefs is unavoidable, with the result being that credible counter-evidence aimed at correcting erroneous beliefs often results in strengthening those incorrect beliefs https://youarenotsosmart.com/2017/01/30/yanss-094-how-motivated-skepticism-strengthens-incorrect-beliefs/.  

Interestingly the neurological underpinning for this effect – in which challenging strong beliefs only temporarily weakens convictions before rebounding to stronger levels of resolve and convictions in those beliefs – has recently been elucidated. It turns out that when people were presented with evidence that alerted them to the possibility that their political beliefs might be incorrect, they reacted with the same brain regions that would come online if they were responding to a physical threat. https://youarenotsosmart.com/2017/01/13/yanss-093-the-neuroscience-of-changing-your-mind/

Of course it is good to know about the Backfire Effect and how it works, both in others and especially ourselves. But just as important is knowing how to combat it, how to get through the Backfire Effect and convince others to change their mind about certain key facts and opinions. In addition to more subtle methods of emotional manipulation and persuasion there are objective tactics to consider that have been proven in psychological studies on this topic.

First, the Backfire Effect results in people continuing to believe in and act on discredited information when the original discredited information has been incorporated into and affords causal structure to a larger narrative or model – but not when incidentally mentioned. Indeed the act of providing a plausible causal alternative, rather than simple negating or corrective information was able to mitigate the effect. An original piece of misinformation that may be true is often adopted by a person because it allows a more complete and causally-consistent representation of an event to be constructed. The more interconnected a piece of information becomes in different causal models the person maintains the more likely it will persist after a correction; these central pieces of information are more difficult to eradicate but are the most important to correct accurately. The Backfire Effect will also be stronger if the person has previously communicated the misinformation as true, and especially if they have communicated it repeatedly; those who communicate a particular model or narrative not only have reason to believe any message they provide, but must also reconcile the intent to communicate truthfully with the fact that they were actually wrong. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232501255_Sources_of_the_Continued_Influence_Effect_When_Misinformation_in_Memory_Affects_Later_Inferences

Second, another study shows that continuing to provide additional information designed to increase anxiety about the misinformation the person holds in place via causal models can force an affective (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affect_(psychology)) or emotional tipping point to be reached beyond which the person abandons the old model and updates to the new http://docplayer.net/335141-The-affective-tipping-point-do-motivated-reasoners-ever-get-it.html. To quote:

And while the voters in our experiment show heightened negative affect and evidence that the choice becomes more difficult as incongruency grows, they also show attitude strengthening effects as motivated reasoning predicts. But we also show clear evidence that these effects do not necessarily continue under all circumstances. At some point our voters appear to wise up, recognize that they are possibly wrong, and begin making adjustments. In short, they begin to act as rational updating processes would require. Why? Our results are consistent with the idea that as anxiety increases (leading to more difficulty in the decision and less confidence) voters pay closer attention to the environment (and processing time increases).

They then begin to more carefully consider new information and potentially override existing affective or emotional expectations. Such a process would be consistent with affective intelligence overriding motivated reasoning. An affective tipping point exists at which existing positive evaluations give way to a newly understood reality – the candidate is just not what he or she seemed to be at first. As more negative information about a liked candidate is encountered, the information environment becomes more threatening leading to increasing negative feelings and a sense that the decision is more difficult. This increasing challenge is resolved at the tipping point, as subjects stop the process that leads to attitude strengthening and instead begin a process leading to accurate updating.

There are subtleties here however. For example, if the anxiety you are trying to induce in an area happens to be of little relevance to that person’s causal model then this is unlikely to be effective.

For those who have had the fortune to undergo a drastic update to your inference model or worldview these experiments provide the opportunity for additional self-reflection and insight. Think back to that transition period you underwent. Do you recall (i) being exposed to ever-more disturbing or absurd events and information that made you feel anxious up to a point or period where something had to give, and (ii) having your model or worldview adjust significantly as all of this new, more accurate, and better information was incorporated into interconnected causal structures that were far-more-complete and seemed to provide a far-more-accurate representation of an event, person, or worldview in general?

13. Escaping Cathedrals

Historically liberal and progressive rhetorical devices are now being co-opted and used for purposes that are the antithesis of progress. – John Newman

It is instructive to look back on the history of news and the dominance of mainstream media driving decreed dogma from their modern cathedrals. We need to consider how we as individuals go about obtaining better news during an era of a declining and ever-worsening fourth estate.

Journalistic Obsolescence and Innovation

by Simon Penner

https://status451.com/2016/12/16/journalistic-innovation/

[As early journalism matured,] reporting stopped being a purely regional thing, as large media empires were formed. It lasted this way up until recently, with well understood, precisely-controlled, standardized news delivered to us from the news factories. This was the age of industrial news production. Until the internet happened.

When Twitter, Facebook, and various other social networks popped up, the news industry changed dramatically. By far the biggest difference was a massive reduction in cost. As we’re all journalists now, the marginal cost of producing journalism is zero. This marked the transition of news into modern production. We know what parts of news production are essential, what parts can be modified, and what can be thrown away. We know how to make foundations of news cheaply, so we can build all manner of customizations on top. We know how to privately produce customized, professional news.

But consider the full implications of this: One guy, [Trump,] paying for his own private news source, was able to get more truthful, reliable, and actionable news information than the entire journalism industry combined. Modern production. [It appears as though Cambridge Analytica, who counts Steve Bannon as Director, may have been a component of this http://motherboard.vice.com/read/big-data-cambridge-analytica-brexit-trump]

We used to enjoy true, accurate media, because some people relied on that media to inform high-stakes decisions. But if news is now in modern production, if it is viable for people to get individualized professional information on the things they need, then there is no more incentive for the mainstream media to be accurate. The people who care about those things get it elsewhere.

“Fake news” is here to stay, and will only get worse. The prestigious mainstream media institutions are on a long, slow decline into irrelevance. Forevermore, news will become less and less relevant. But paradoxically, it will become easier and easier for individuals to get reliable, true, accurate, actionable information in ways that are cheap, easy, and plentiful. It just won’t be through the cathedrals like The New York Times.

14. Closing

Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage. – Winston Churchill

There is little authenticity in the media today. Reputation and credibility continue to grow in importance in an ever-more interconnected age. These modern virtues carry immense value and take years to build. Yet they are fickle and subjective and can be destroyed overnight. Reputation, credibility, and authenticity are pillars of trust. They each take a hit and are weakened with every instance of irrational hyperbole, partisan bias, overt manipulation, lie promotion, and attempt at control.

Given the nature of the information and technology environment we find ourselves in, our media no longer appears to be incentivised for telling truth at all costs. Rather, incentives are now driven by attention, conforming narratives, and emotional outrage. By buying into and rewarding all three we are collectively our own worst enemy and have no one but ourselves to blame. Just take a look at one of the worst recent examples covered in this essay, that of the BuzzFeed Dossier that tarnished not just BuzzFeed but CNN.

The narrative that was spun and which a great many people believed at the time, was essentially that Trump was a Manchurian candidate and a direct agent of Russia. That the biggest event and most insidious attack in US history was currently playing out. It got massive attention, conformed to popular anti-Trump narratives, and generated vast amounts of emotional outrage. And all despite being based on outright lies, unverified half-truths, and incredible – if not fantastical – claims. It would have made the most deluded conspiracy theorist proud and yet went viral through social media as a credible news narrative worthy of serious consideration.

I specifically recall seeing snippets of the dossier shared on my social streams, along with claims that it was cause for grave concern. And this by otherwise very intelligent, well informed, and educated people; traits that don’t defend one against profound gullibility induced by confirmation bias and motivated skepticism it would seem. With the release of discrediting evidence after a short wait, I went back to those posts to comment as such, but found they had been deleted in an act of intellectual shame.

Other amusing facets of my social streams include righteous commentary by the same intelligent, informed, and educated people claiming that, with the goals of becoming more informed and supporting proper journalism they were going to proudly start or continue paid subscriptions to the New York Times, Washington Post, and others. This was amusing because they’re kidding themselves. Kidding themselves because they fail to realise they’re not paying for news with that subscription. They’re paying for entertainment, they’re paying for confirmation bias, they’re paying for an echo chamber. They’re paying for that pleasurable little spike of dopamine you get from exclusively reading material that continually reinforces your pre-existing beliefs and biases, and which inflates your own sense of self-importance and self-righteousness for having the right opinions. All too often the result is people just holding and regurgitating opinions that they paid an agenda-driven partisan entity to spoon-feed them without any critical analysis, critical insight, or self-reflection on their part.

As an aside I find it useful to think of the media as a sophisticated memeplex in the original Richard Dawkins and Susan Blackmore formulation of the term. An interdependent collection of self-reinforcing ideas, concepts, and narratives that evolve together for the benefit of the memeplex, much like a religion, and not for the benefit of the believer. A super-organism made of information that exists on a landscape or environment comprised of the minds of all humans, that competes in an ecosystem of other memeplexes, and that evolves ever-better ways of replicating and maintaining itself at the expense of all else. Perhaps the political-media chaos of 2016 and the shift in the zeitgeist has drastically altered the fitness of our media, leading to desperate attempts to ascend the peaks in the landscape from which it fell, and opening up vast opportunities for different media, new media, and agile media better adapted to the new environment and now rapidly ascending to dominance in the environment of our collective minds. There is a metaphor here around asteroids, dinosaurs, and mammals of course. If nothing else I hope this article has helped bolster the defences of your memetic immune system so that you might better recognise bullshit and resist being manipulated.

Never forget that the media isn’t a cohesive entity: it is comprised of myriad individuals and ideally should not be judged and punished as a group. We should frequently take a moment to spare a thought for the many genuinely good and principled journalists out there. They struggle daily within this oppressive system, trying bravely to objectively speak truth to power. It is a difficult line to tread when you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. These are people of different capabilities, profiles, and audiences. From people like Glenn Greenwald to Brendan O’Neill, Rita Panahi, Michael Tracey, Tim Pool and legions of others. We need their principled journalistic services and they need to be supported. When you find such people, don’t let them go; follow them, share their work, and support them where you can. We each individually have to be proactive in incentivising the journalism we collectively need.

There is no denying that we are in danger here. A demonstrably corrupt, lying, and untrustworthy media that is more focused on whipping up outrage, violence, and division is a legitimate threat to peaceful democracy. A media that can often be characterised as gaslighting – seeking to manipulate people by sowing seeds of doubt in individuals and groups by making them question their memory, perception, and sanity – is neither servant nor benefactor of the people. Your opinion may differ but I think we have already passed the point at which this conduct by the media is the equivalent of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Always punch up if you can, always speak truth to power. Always criticise those who should know better and who are using their platform and power to commit the cardinal sin of every communicator: making one’s audience stupider and less informed than they were before they heard you speak.

Regardless of whether you love Trump or hate Trump or are indifferent, his effect on the media in forcing the revelation of their systemic failings and helping us to see that the Media Emperor has no clothes has been undoubtedly a good thing. It should now be very clear to readers who have made it this far as to why Trump rails against the media, calls them the “enemy of the people”, and actively excludes the worst offenders that partake in yellow journalism. As a side note on the ongoing Trump-media farce playing out on a daily basis I’ll mention that we are due for a bear market correction in 2017, possibly 2018 as briefly outlined here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi9uy1P9bzk and by many other leading indicators and commentators. This correction is unavoidable and would have occurred regardless of who won the election. Keep an eye out for media coverage during and after the market correction. You can pretty much predict what it will look like. Because there is nothing Trump nor Clinton could have done to prevent this, you can and should dismiss as imbeciles those who leap to blame this on Trump. They will be the usual actors, the usual outlets, and they will have lost any shred of credibility.

To kill the old media dragon, as we have previously killed old gods in order to escape their influence and control over so much of our lives, we simply need look away. Stop paying them attention. Stop clicking. Stop sharing and infecting other innocents with their corrupting influence. Strive to disintermediate them. If we all do this they die. This needs to be done gradually however because an impartially informed populace is such a crucial foundation for any democracy to function and thrive. At first this might be enabled by better tools and practices that facilitate collective averages and comparisons (every story is averaged over many outlets) to help discern the fact of an event from the spin. Later, as more and more people turn from passive to proactive consumers and originators of news, building up networks of credible alternatives, and actively supporting these people, we might develop an objectively better fourth estate that is worthy of institutional reverence. At the very least the worst offenders need to be allowed, even made, to fail; this is the only way to evolve better systems.

For the time being however, we must contend with a state of affairs summarised by autopsy87: Our media is fucked and has zero credibility https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIHJHtboi7s. And be sure to check out Enemy of The People by Sargon for a recent dissection of the Wall Street Journal and withering critique of the media generally https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1ulkykn7jc; it covers many of the issues discussed here and this essay was in no small way inspired by Sargon.  

In times of societal crises the righteous don’t suddenly decide to become righteous. They aren’t superheros. They just refuse to go over the cliff with everyone else. It seems like today the world is going insane and everyone is going over the cliff of insanity. It is critical that you say “Stop. I’m not going there. I won’t go with you. No matter how much you push, no matter how much you shove, no matter how much anger you want to stir up in me, I won’t go over the cliff with you.” The righteous are remembered simply for standing their ground, and maintaining their principles while everyone loses theirs. – Anonymous

15. Epilogue

This essay wouldn’t be complete without reference and homage to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. While Plato’s Cave refers to deeper knowledge of reality, it nonetheless provides a powerful yet conceptually simple metaphor with which to explain the machinations and failure of the media, and the behaviour of those who continue to mindlessly, uncritically believe that the media always presents them with an accurate portrayal of reality. If you’ve read this far you’ve no doubt already looked away and stepped into the light. The image below provides a 1,000 word summary in a glance. More information on Plato’s Cave here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave, and this YouTube video provides an excellent adaptation and summary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69F7GhASOdM.

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One thought on “The Failure of the Fourth Estate

  1. Award winning, ground-breaking, freelance journalist Tim Pool discusses various aspects of the media, its failures, and how the Internet has helped drive established media outlets towards the current state of affairs. 15 Minutes.

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