None Of The News That’s Unwise To Print
Many people naively imagine that what they see or read in “the news” is a moderately accurate reflection of reality.
Many people, of course, also believe the universe was made by and continues to be controlled by a magic pixie.
Beliefs are a very unreliable guide to reality.
All the “news” we consume is the end-product of a constant battle for attention. Most news organizations, whether print or television or streamed video, rely absolutely on grabbing eyeballs for a moment or two during which time ads can be served. Sure, there are subscription-based models but even they rely heavily on advertising to make ends meet. So any “news” organization not grabbing eyeballs with sufficient ferocity will rapidly cease to exist. This is a Darwinian struggle and the survivors have learned how to grab our eyeballs with consummate professionalism.
Even State-funded organizations must compete in the marketplace for attention in order to justify the enormous subsidies that keep them afloat. Thus they too end up looking and behaving just like every other “news” organization.
Editors know their audiences, whether right-wing dullards or left-wing hysterics. And no editor worth their sizeable monthly paycheck is going to risk alienating the people who keep the money flowing in. Editorial positions, and hence all stories presented, reflect this laser focus on maintaining the bottom line.
Right-wing propaganda units like Fox News in the USA and trash papers like The Mail and The Mirror in the UK simply lie to their audiences, safe in the knowledge that such people are far too stupid and ignorant ever to realize they’re being lied to and duped on an hourly basis. Center and left-leaning organizations don’t tell infantile lies because their audiences aren’t quite as brain-dead; instead these organizations simply omit key information that would undermine their editorial positions.
No one is doing this because of any grand conspiracy; it happens because it’s the easiest way for people to make money. Journalists aren’t very bright and they are so obsessed with the minutiae of the moment that they have zero capacity for seeing the implications of their actions. That’s why journalists, who almost universally loathed Trump and despised Brexit, guaranteed their success: these were “great stories” and the infantile lies told by Brexiteers and by Trump were the modern-day equivalent of traveling freak shows. They guaranteed eyeballs and thereby guaranteed ad revenues and that was all the journalists were thinking about.
It simply never occurred to any of the thousands of journalists endlessly repeating Brexiteer and Trump nonsense that billions of dollars of free publicity and endless repetition of those lies would pave the way for catastrophic outcomes.
Journalists live in a bubble of instant frenzy. Everyone is in competition with everyone else to get the headline, the byline, the picture published. I was in Paris during the gilet jaunes manifestations in December 2018. One picture in particular captured the mood: an enormous bonfire in the middle of the Champs Elysée. Here was proof that anarchists were on the loose, that society was breaking down.
Only, here’s the truth: I happened to be on the Champs Elysée when that iconic photograph was taken. The shops were all boarded up, making looting impossible. The gendarmes were about 50 meters from the protesters. The fire was real, but it was a handful of cardboard boxes and the flames didn’t rise above two meters in height. That famous photograph was taken by a photographer lying on his stomach less than two meters from the bonfire, angling his camera up so that the flames would seem to be huge and appear to be engulfing the shops nearby.
He wasn’t trying to undermine society by lying; he was simply trying to earn a few Euros by creating an artifact that would be front-page-worthy. It almost certainly never crossed his mind even for an instant to wonder about the ethics of what he was doing. He was almost certainly too busy calculating the money he would make if his sensationalist photo was syndicated.
Early on in my time in the USA I learned how to decode automotive magazines. These are the ones that put glossy pictures of new cars on their front covers and do their very best to stir up excitement about what are generally nothing more than generic clunkers. Here’s the secret to reading automotive magazines: notice what the journalists carefully avoid writing about. If you read a breathless article about how amazing the new paintwork is on the Chryford SuperNipple X5Z and about how easily the engine accelerates, you can be sure it handles like a drunken dog, the seats are excruciatingly uncomfortable, the headlights are out-shone by glowworms, and it has no brakes.
Six years later, when the brand-new SuperNipple X5Z replaces the old model, you’ll hear about how the seats are more comfortable than the old version, how the brakes now work moderately well, and how the headlamps have been upgraded. But during the model run, you’ll never learn any of these salient facts from any automotive mag because they all rely heavily on the auto manufacturers advertising in their pages — which wouldn’t happen if auto journalists told the truth about the clunkers being shipped out of the factories into the hands of unsuspecting consumers.
It turns out that this habit of uncovering reality by looking for key omissions is a very useful skill now that we’re bombarded 7/24 by a frenetic media that sensationalizes absolutely everything in order to attempt to be heard above the clamor of every other media organization doing precisely the same thing.
Today the generic media message of all but the right-wing propaganda organizations is that SARS-CoV2 will kill everyone unless we all wear facemasks, keep our distance, and await a miracle vaccine. Silent spreaders mean that even asymptomatic people are a source of lethal danger, and destroying the global economy is a small price to pay for “saving” lives.
So let’s look at the omissions.
Anyone remember Sweden? The naughty Nordic country the media was incessantly castigating not so long ago for refusing to panic like everywhere else and refusing to smash their economy and terrify their people. Sweden, we were told, was suffering terribly for their foolishness in not being as hysterical as the rest of the media-sensationalism-induced world.
Hundreds of thousands of Swedes would surely die.
Funny how the media doesn’t talk about Sweden any more, isn’t it? Perhaps that’s because Sweden’s total per capita mortality rate has remained stubbornly below many of the countries that did panic and rush to lockdown. Maybe it’s because Sweden’s covid-19 mortality numbers have been at zero or just above zero for months now. Publishing this important fact would spoil the story and once we’ve terrified all the children with scary bedtime stories we can’t then tell them we misled them. That would confuse people, make them angry, and perhaps then they wouldn’t buy our newspapers or watch our broadcasts any more.
And if that happened, the money would stop coming in and those nice salaries would disappear.
So we won’t talk about Sweden any more, because facts that don’t fit the standard narrative can simply be omitted and no one will be any the wiser.
Anyone remember Jair Bolsonaro? The infantile Trump-like creature who’s busy destroying Brazil with Trump-like incompetence? Remember how a few weeks ago the news organizations were crowing over how Bolsonaro, who’s always said that covid-19 is a very minor virus from which 99.9% of people recover without issue, contracted the virus himself? Remember the triumphalism of the media when they reported this fact? How it was presented as life’s riposte to Bolsonaro’s insouciance, the heavy implication being that Bolsonaro would now inevitably die of the disease he once scorned?
Only… Bolsonaro recovered without any problems, just as he said would happen. So the media now doesn’t mention anything about Bolsonaro and his brush with this minor ailment. It’s as if it never happened, because it contradicts the standard narrative. Instead, the media regales us with nonsense about how Jenny Jones of Topeka Kansas contracted covid-19 four months ago and now she has an ingrowing toenail! No one is safe!
Anyone noticed how the media narrative has shifted from deaths to infection rates? This is because, as always happens with nearly every pandemic, after the old and the sick have died off in the first wave, infection rate and mortality rate decouple. Switzerland, for example, saw its infection rate rise in July but there was no rise in mortality in August. The same phenomenon is true across more than 30 countries for which reliable data is readily available.
But you’d never know this by watching or reading the “news.” Instead, you’ll see breathless articles about rising infection rates, all presented with the implication that catastrophic death is sure to follow. Except, it doesn’t, which is why the media has to remain focused on infection rates instead. When reality stubbornly refuses to conform to the standard narrative, reality is ignored — or carefully presented context-free. Nearly 200,000 US lives lost to covid-19! A catastrophe! Except, the projections were for more than five times that number by now. And nearly ten times as many US residents die daily from smoking and obesity-related diseases, which puts covid-19 into context as a very minor threat indeed.
But information like this would confuse people, spoil the sensationalism, and risk all-important revenues. So it all goes unmentioned.
Again, there’s no conspiracy happening here. It’s just ordinary people, who happen to be journalists, protecting their paychecks.
The problem is, endless sensationalism has real-world consequences. Although the media carefully avoids mentioning the fact, our global hysteria has resulted in massive harm to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. More than 140 million children have missed out on life-saving vaccinations and the WHO estimates between 10% and 30% will die over the next handful of years as a result. More than 250 million people have been thrust into abject penury in countries that have no safety-net. Again, the WHO estimates that a significant percentage of these people will die, and indeed have already died — many starving to death, but pleasingly unreported by Western media for whom such facts would be a disagreeable contradiction to the standard narrative that “everything must be done to save (Western) lives!”
Amusingly, our attachment to free-market economics in the field of news has resulted in a situation not dissimilar to that existing in totalitarian regimes: widespread and highly effective censorship. Only our censorship isn’t imposed by heavy-handed governments; it’s self-imposed by journalists not wanting to confuse their audiences and disrupt their income streams.
Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse. Tyrannical regimes may eventually crumble and fall, but news that relies on endless sensationalism to secure revenue streams may persist for much longer and do much greater harm.
At least Soviet citizens knew they were being lied to. Nearly every single Westerner is totally clueless about the reality of the “news” we so avidly consume every day.