Some of you may be wondering where I’ve been the last few months. My last article was about presidential pardons and we now have a US president whose cabinet looks like they may need one in eight years. Possibly four if the DNC can stop kicking itself in the knees. I would like to say that I had been fulfilling that famed author trope of locking myself in a cabin somewhere and writing the next political thriller, but that just wouldn’t be true, my next book is going to be far different.
But I had not planned to write it so soon. I had wanted to write a sequel to Other American Dreams and then a children’s novel before I tackled this nagging outline I’ve had in my head for a long time. Something compelled me to do it now. I wish I could say that like JK Rowling writing the first Harry Potter book, I wrote this new one from a continuous conscious stream of ideas with words that wrote themselves, but that wouldn’t be true either. The reality is that I thought to myself, “I need to write this now before western society collapses.”
Over the last four months I have had several frustrating moments with regard to what I call, The War on Context. Maybe you’ve felt this too. Something would happen in the news cycle. A fairly far-reaching event that deserves commentary like Trump’s January 20th Executive Order to expedite approval for high priority infrastructure projects, that worryingly makes no reference to the DAPL. I might have even developed an outline for how I’ll break it down but no sooner than I’ve gathered the facts and am ready to put finger to keyboard, another far reaching major event happens. Like Trump’s January 27th Executive Order halting refugee resettlements for 120 days.
At that moment, and others, I become forced to make a judgment call. Asking myself; “Which is the bigger story here?” And while I’m busy weighing those pro and cons – the ACLU is busy protesting Trump’s Muslim ban; women are marching on DC in pink hats; FBI Director, James Comey is grilled by the Senate intel committee for five hours on Russian hacking allegations; a terrorist attack in Sweden sees at least four people brutally killed by a speeding truck and is ignored by the MSM; Israel bombs Syria citing intercepted Hezbollah movements; then they do it again a month later. Russia ramps up anti-globalist rhetoric; a sarin gas attack happens in Syria; North Korea starts testing long range ICBM’s. My attention is pulled in every direction but to what I need most – some space to catch my breath, preferably one decorated with a healthy dose of context.
Reading that last paragraph, you may be getting a sense for what I’m talking about. The Russian-hacking scenario alone deserves its own three part series. I’m sure someone, somewhere is writing a book about it already but before I can go into details about it, I have to go into details about why I can’t go into details about anything.
If you’re feeling confused like I was, don’t worry, you’re supposed to. Something has changed out there. The days of purposeful journalism by mainstream outlets are gone. Where once the truth was wrought forward to the public with integrity, now is just an inconsequential side-show in a never-ending circus of public relations blitzes. Where the judgment has been made that the act of hacking matters more than the content of the hack itself; where it is normal to bomb a country as punishment for allegedly bombing itself and where all the MSM requires of you is a reaction, preferably anger or fear. Your critical thinking however, you can check at the door.
According to Catherine Happer and Greg Philo of Glasgow University Media Group, “News may appear as a sometimes chaotic flow of information and debate but it is also underpinned by key assumptions about social relationships and how they are to be understood. At the heart of these are beliefs about motivations, cause and effect, responsibility and consequence.”
It wasn’t long ago that we looked to trusted journalists engaging in measured discourse to examine those assumptions. Often finding that somewhere, behind whatever was making headlines, stood a corporate interest profiting from exploitation. But now, with increasing regularity, we find the mainstream and geo-political narrative magically in line with corporate interests. Sorry MSM, the congruence of these interests is just too blatant now, people are simply not buying it.
Nor is the phenomenon a recent one. I first noticed the MSM’s shift to a more public relations stance back in 2003 during the start of the US led invasion into Iraq. Back then, it was clear that a concerted effort was being made to steer public discourse away from the annoying fact that Iraq had not attacked the US directly. Needless to say, it worked but the question now is, “Could it work again?”
For a start, the wider media landscape of the early noughties was very different compared to now. There were no social media or outlets like YouTube. And especially, there weren’t that many video content providers or bloggers offering well-sourced counter points. Many of those doing so now have platforms that reach millions of context starved people. Which has led to a mini revolution in how people are getting their news. It seems the same PR bait and switch from the early noughties has a harder chance of succeeding now, and the MSM knows it.
Ratings at CNN and MSNBC have dropped significantly since the 2016 election. Nielsen data shows both news agencies registering a decline in viewership in their key 25-54-year-old demographic during primetime hours. Dropping by 47% for CNN and 42% for MSNBC. Conversely, FOX news has only seen viewership drop by 2% but this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
What it does show is that many people are feeling like the old adage of twice bitten once shy. Having seen that a lack of context now, with this many world-changing events happening so close to each other, equates to a willful manipulation of the assumptions that had previously made news informative. Frustrated, many are turning their attention elsewhere, but to where?
Enter the rise of the alternative media and with it, a valid concern; not every alt-media establishment is trustworthy. Some have obvious agendas while others operate from a position resembling the Dunning-Kruger effect- where they don’t know the breadth of what they don’t know. Dealing instead, sometimes un-willfully, like a wholesale distributor of confirmation biases and conjecture. For consumers of news, investing the time to investigate and find out which alt-media sources to trust can be exhausting but there are a few which I have seen who adhere strictly to the notion of impartiality.
Abby Martin – Former reporter for RT, now working for Pan-Latin American television network, TeleSur. Her non-sensationalist, 60 Minute’s-esqe style of measured exposes have not shown a preference for Democrats or Republicans. She now hosts The Empire Files, which has produced informative segments on key Trump strategist, Steve Bannon as well as former Clinton campaign manager, John Podesta. Something the mainstream media has failed to do. Instead asking us to just blindly hate Bannon and not worry about Podesta and his strange emails.
Cynthia McKinney, PHD – Civil Rights Activist and former Representative from Georgia. McKinney’s strength is that her experience in government gives her insight into which news stories are slipping through the cracks of public scrutiny. During her time in government she also served on the Armed Forces and International Relations Committees where in 2005 she famously grilled former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld about his announcement on September 10th, 2001 – that 2.3 and 1.1 trillion dollars of the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal years 1999 and 2000 respectively, could not be accounted for.
Steve R. Pieczenik, MD, PhD – Former US intelligence officer who now blogs and is another keen judge of news that matters.
Vanessa Beeley – A British Investigative journalist who, upon her return from Syria in September of 2016, started exposing the misrepresentations in the MSM’s reporting of the Syrian conflict.
There are others too, many in fact, that are great at informing the public but often with time, start to display deeply-rooted biases. Conservative radio host, Jeff Rense is one of these. If you can get past his hard stance on immigration, race relations and his choice in hairstyles, the guests he has on can offer troves of geo-political context. Others too like Infowar’s, Paul Joseph Watson and conservative firebrand, Mike Cernovich also cover issues largely ignored by the MSM. Which leads to another issue within the alt-media that needs to be taken into account when navigating their stories.
While largely remaining factually oriented, many of the new bigger names of alternative reporting like Cernovich, Watson, Milo Yiannopolis, Steven Crowder, Joe Rogan and others tend to keep the focus of their reports on the immediate results and often not the root causes. That while covering the violent anti-freedom of speech protests at Berkeley (as most alt-media stars have done) is needed, so to would be using their resources to expose those behind it. This is something that needs to be watched closely lest the alt-media falls prey to the same corporate and geo-political interests that taints today’s main stream news.
The final take-away here is that you have to diversify where you get your news from and learn to look past biases. It is clear that the age of having blind trust on the man or woman on screen, telling you the state of the world, is gone. You either have to learn to fact check yourself or run the risk of basing decisions and assumptions on incomplete information. And yes, this includes people like me trying to tell you this now. Fact check me, if you find something not factual, get in touch with me and I’ll address it because there is no more time for bruised egos. The truth, no matter where it leads, matters much more.