Know your enemy: the establishment journalist.
The origins of journalism go back a long way. For most of agrarian history, there were individuals who travelled from settlement to settlement, mainly trading goods but part of what they did was bring the news of what was happening in those distant lands twenty or more miles away.
Beyond the news, some of their offering was oral history and a fund of folk stories. If they did it entertainingly enough, they were rewarded with a decent meal, something to drink and a dry place to sleep. If you’ve been in a lively bar and seen people crowded around someone who was good at telling stories, you can see that in some ways, not much has changed. A good one, who could tell a story well and perhaps play an instrument or hold a tune, could survive on that talent alone. The wandering seanchaí of Ireland were probably the last example in Europe of that long vanished breed.
They disappeared under the twin pressures of the spread of literacy and the development of more complex social structures. News could be found in papers, a keeper of oral history was no longer required and the several talents they possessed were each rapidly evolving into their own specialist professions such as journalism, written history and the performing arts. I think we might have lost something important then.
What we think of as journalism really started with newspapers. The format settled upon was what the reader wanted; the reporting of the raw facts up front, otherwise known as reportage, and then some commentary or analysis of what it meant in opinion pieces on the inside. That none too subtle distinction doesn’t appear to exist in the minds of certain journalists nowadays.
As always happens when a new technological medium develops which disseminates news and comments on it, the governing powers will seek to bring it under their control. At times when the authorities brought the newspapers under their heel, people who couldn’t get their viewpoint aired, were obliged to publish it themselves in the form of what was called pamphlets. That might ring a bell to you folks out there in the skeptic blogging community. The pamphleteers always ran the risk of being put on trial on some sort of trumped-up charge, and indeed, when that happened it often led to some high-profile trials.
Over its lifetime, print journalism has been a football various forces fought over to gain control of it; governments, big business, crusading causes and its own proprietors. Not much has changed.
When the medium of radio was born, the authorities in Europe were very quick to bring it under control, not only by legislation and licensing but by essentially limiting it to one national radio station per country. That government monopoly of the radio was broken in the middle sixties by the advent of pirate radio stations. The pirates broadcast from ships safely outside territorial waters and broadcast exactly what the listeners wanted, rather than the establishment approved stodge that bored them to tears. Again, that development might be familiar to the skeptic community.
Between the two world wars, people going to the cinema could for the first time actually see moving pictures of news in short topical films sandwiched between the main and supporting features. They were essentially silent movies with music and a voice over added.
When mass television came along in the late fifties, the ruling governments in Europe again resorted to licensing and a single channel per country but commercial pressures became too intense, which soon forced them to release to a modest extent their stranglehold on the growth of television, by allowing a single commercial channel.
Interestingly, America never went through that government control of the airwaves loop but instead went commercial straight away. Americans might possibly have had a problem with the government dictating what they could hear or see.
The latest technological medium to deliver the news is of course the internet. The young, who are obviously the future, barely reference any other news medium nowadays. What makes the internet a very cost-effective information medium for the skeptic community is that unlike distributing printed pamphlets on a street corner, which doesn’t spread a message very far, with the internet you can talk directly to the entire world.
As to how it’s doing against its more established competition, we’ve only to reference Conan the Barbarian, who can be surprisingly articulate when the mood takes him. In reply to being asked what pleased him about the internet, he said “to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.” There’s lots of crushing, driving before and lamenting going on about the barbarian internet in the legacy media.
My reason for sketching out the history of technological developments in disseminating news is to pick out certain patterns, which I think are intrinsic to every revolution in news media.
The first one is the prime reason for the initial explosive growth in the new medium. It always provides a cheaper, more up to date news feed and provides a simpler and yet more data enriched view of it.
Simpler because why read a description of the news while you can hear it? If you can see news happening, isn’t that better than just hearing someone talking about it? Why wait to buy a newspaper once a day or wait for a scheduled news bulletin when you can simply get it all 24/7 on your smartphone wherever you are?
More enriched because what was just written words became words with still photographs, written words became spoken words, still pictures became mute moving pictures, mute moving pictures became talkies. Why bother with anything else when you can get the news in your home on television? Instead of just reading what someone wrote down about what they thought someone else had said, now you could actually see and hear that person for yourself and make your own mind up. You can pick up on all the interpersonal clues yourself. Why be just a passive recipient of the news when you can make your own comment back in real-time?
The second one is that the new medium always grows at the expense of the old media, so it’s invariably looked down upon by the old media and always attacked by it. The growth of radio took a bite out of the profitability of the newspaper business. In its turn, television took a very big bite out of both of them. The internet is growing exponentially at the expense of all previous news media and as its delivery speed inevitably increases in the coming years, it’ll almost certainly nearly kill off most of the printed media and definitely the essentially state supported television channels.
Any notion of a state enforced television tax will disappear as people access thousands of internet television channels on the internet. You may have reservations about the quality that’ll be on offer, but that’s undoubtedly what’s coming at us. After the usual initial revolutionary chaos, I think the thermidor phase will float the quality content to the top.
The third lesson is that the current powers that be will always try to get control of the new medium. Always.
They may be a government, a theocracy in the case of the printing press, a political party, big business or as with climate alarmism, a crusading political movement. China has built the great Firewall of China to keep those dangerous foreign ideas at bay. Australia is edging towards Finkelstein Legislation that’ll not only bring internet things like blogs under the indirect control of the government, but also even busy Facebook pages. English bobbies now invade blogger’s homes to confiscate their computers on fishing expeditions. Microsoft thinks every Internet user should have a passport, which they’ll be more than happy to authorise for a nominal fee. The Levinson report will be used to finally put the jackboot down on the neck of the tattered remains of investigative journalism in the UK.
The fourth lesson is that on the occasions when the new medium is brought under control by the establishment, an unexpected aspect of it is always used against them by the dissidents. It may be pamphlets, Samizdat, pirate radio stations or even skeptic blogs. There’s always that screech of righteous indignation from the controlling establishment – how dare they be so cheeky as to question our authority?
That screech of indignation is always echoed by establishment journalism, because put quite simply, they effectively own it anyway – that’s what it’s there for. It’s not as if the journalists are being told what to write but rather that they know what’s expected of them to write and do exactly that. They might not strongly agree with what they’re writing but at the same time, nobody is going to take on city hall.
On trivial issues that really don’t matter, anything goes and usually does. Who wore what dress to the première, who sang best on the talent contest, who’d you vote for, isn’t that cookery judge a picky bastard? It’s a sort of pointless bitching and bickering which is nothing more than displacement activity. In terms of signal to noise ratio, it’s all noise and no signal.
However, on any big issue, there is usually only one official line. If popular sentiment doesn’t agree with the official line, then that sentiment is rarely represented and more usually attacked as being atavistic or somehow almost verging on the Neanderthal.
It should be possible to object to big government without being labelled as a redneck. It should be possible to ask the question why basic literacy and numeracy rates are now lower than they used to be without being called an educational elitist. It should be possible to discuss concerns about immigration levels without being branded a racist. It should be possible to ask why people are being forced into fuel poverty, when the global temperature hasn’t risen in nearly two decades, without being compared to a holocaust denier.
In those and certain other free-fire areas, journalism simply acts as the establishment’s attack dog being unleashed on those people daring to pose the awkward questions.
You see, they’re no longer allowed in the mainstream media (MSM) to hurl gutter level abuse at foreigners, non-whites, non-Christians or most minorities, but if you do happen to disagree with an establishment doctrine; that stricture simply ceases to apply to you. The gloves come off and the rules of civilised discourse are forgotten. You can quite safely be called a racist, redneck, elitist, denier, sexist, flat-earther (thank you for that one from the supposed democratic leader of the free world), a shill, insane, Aryan Nation, a flag fetishist, a paid protester, a conspiracy nut or whatever they need to label you, to simply avoid addressing your awkward questions.
Nearly all commentary on any substantial news item is first unconsciously checked to ensure it goes along with the approved view and then run through the politically correct sieve, to make sure it won’t offend any professionally offendable minorities, which of course includes other politically correct journalists. When that happens, the media handbagging the media becomes the story. It’s safer to just passively resort to a practice called churnalism; they receive a press handout and simply cut and paste it with a few added flourishes of their own into the news stream.
When a concrete news event self-evidently contradicts the official line, the only thing to do is not report it. The shining example of this is the Climategate leak of emails in 2009. It was such a devastating blow to the credibility of climate science, that it was barely mentioned for a year in the MSM, and any comments referencing it on their online editions were simply deleted.
There are a few journalists around the world, who are not afraid to go against the official line in sensitive areas, but they’re all too few and always seem slightly besieged by various pressure groups for simply exercising their right to speak their mind.
The content of the internet and the blogosphere is young, boisterous and by no means perfect, but it’s getting a lot better. There are many objectionable sites which I don’t visit, preferring to leave them to wither on the vine, which is what usually happens to them, but I’m prepared to accept their right to present a view, even if I find it personally disagreeable. I’d rather they told me what’s in their head than close them down. That’s the price we have to pay for the genuine plurality of viewpoint which the blogosphere provides, rather than the oppressive, monolithic, politically correct consensus of zombie-like walking dead MSM journalism.
Most importantly, you get all the news on the internet, even if it’s being studiously ignored like Climategate was by the MSM, and irrespective of whom it might be inconvenient for
Too many journalists are living in what I call medialand. It’s a virtual living space firmly removed from the basic day-to-day concerns of the working person. It’s well-heeled, inward-looking, paternalistic and ultimately condescending to the rest of us poor Morlocks, shuffling through our brutish lives outside of it. It lives off the juicy crumbs of gossip swept off the rich men’s dining tables of Washington, London, Berlin and Canberra and is very careful never to give serious offense to them.
On too many important issues, they fail to reflect honestly what a lot of ordinary people think and consequently they’ve not only lost the trust of the wider audience, but that audience is walking away from them. The circulation numbers spiral down and the number of viewers drift inexorably lower, because the content is quite frankly the sort of predictable pap most people are sick and tired of and can’t relate to.
They’re empty men, hollow men, talking to nobody but a declining audience and their like-minded chatterati in medialand. They’re going nowhere and just simply repackaging the same old tired content from the legacy MSM for the web isn’t working either. If it isn’t selling off the web, it most certainly won’t sell on the web either. There’s no content or genuine point to them. In the final analysis, there’s nothing much substantial there.
Contrary to what most people in the skeptic community may think, it is the house-trained establishment journalist who is the one doing the most damage, not the blatantly green propaganda journalist. It is the former who has a greater audience, because while the naked propagandist will always be read by the shrinking community of true believers, the ordinary person soon tires of their preachy tone and dire warnings about what’ll happen if we don’t repent our evil ways.
The blatant propagandist journalism serves only one useful purpose for us; to alienate the general public with their diatribes. Given the material they hand us nowadays, deploying the humour weapon against them usually suffices, but never for a moment think you can somehow persuade them to our viewpoint. You can never change a fanatic’s basic belief system, which is precisely why it should never be an objective. They are by now irrelevant to the common person, which is why the MSM, most recently Reuters, is cutting back on them and their input. Putting it in commercial terms, they just don’t sell like they used to.
It is the self-censorship, compliant silence and cowardly refusal by establishment journalists to question anything about green policies and their damaging effect on ordinary people, which makes them the real enemy, not the propagandists masquerading as journalists. At the same time, I think it’ll be the establishment journalist who’ll eventually start to push the skeptic viewpoint, and that is a more realistic expectation than you might think. We have three things going for us which I think will make that happen.
Firstly, popular sentiment has quite simply turned against climate alarmism and despite what many people think, including some journalists, journalism mostly follows the mob rather than leading it.
Secondly, the skeptic community has humbled the authority of the supposedly settled science and is digging out scandal after juicy scandal of various people doing things like pigging out on green money. Ordinary people may not be scientists, but they are remarkably good at understanding a scandal, and a good scandal always sells.
Thirdly, given the freedom brought about by the change in public opinion, the investigative gold being dug up by the skeptics has by now become simply irresistible as ammunition for headline grabbing scoops, which is what really fuels careers in journalism.
Let them borrow our material, hand it to them even and watch the new generation of hungry young journalists build crusading reputations on it.
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