The concept of “fake news” appears to be the meme du jour among the serious internet news set … well, the serious mainstream news set, anyway. Calling it the meme du jour is merely a kinder way of describing the mainstream media’s primal scream of denial. Me – I have become extremely suspicious when a meme suddenly pops up all over the national mainstream news and entertainment media and social media takes it up as if they were junior fashionistas entranced with Kim Kardashian’s latest exercise in stuffing ten pounds of avoirdupois into a five-pound sack. It’s as if there were some kind of coordinated list of talking points, similar phrasing, and suggested party lines being surreptitiously circulated among influential cognoscenti … like there was some kind of briefing paper being circulated. But that’s my nasty, cynical mind speaking there. They might have a new name for “JournoList” and circulate it by other means, but yes, that playbook is still operative.
The Primal Scream of Denial from the establishment media is all the more bitterly amusing – because they themselves played a huge part in destroying their own credibility with those citizens of Flyoverlandia who tended to vote for Trump. (With varying degrees of reluctance, I should make it clear. For every voter who went out and voted for him wholeheartedly, there must be at least one who held their nose as they voted for him, and another who regarded a Trump vote as being one big middle finger of protest, extended towards the bicoastal ruling elite.) Tin this latest kerfuffle, those major news establishments continue damaging themselves in the eyes of news junkies and bloggers who have been paying rapt attention since the rise of the internet as an internet news provider and fact-checker. The damage is ongoing, and perhaps accelerated to light-speed by the very Primal Scream of Denial. For anyone who has been paying attention over the last decade or even longer – there has been a long, long and sorry series of ‘fake news’ generated, perpetuated and splashed all over Page 1 above the fold, the endlessly hyped headline story on the evening news, or the one promoted in breathless ads for the investigative programs like 60 Minutes.
The long list of so-called ‘fake news’ might be said to begin with Walter Cronkite declaring that the US had lost South Vietnam in the Tet offensive. Four decades before the establishment of internet-enabled alternate news sources, it took years for it to emerge that no – the Tet offensive had been a disaster for the Viet Cong. But Walter Cronkite spoke … and such was his, and the national media’s authority – that saying made it so. So the established national media maintained the grand castle of their authority … for a while, until bloggers, commenters, and interested parties had the ability to publicly report, comment, fact-check and criticize. I’d date this from the early Oughts, just around the time of 9/11, which is when I became acquainted with the concept, although for some who were more technically adept, it may have been a thing for several years before then.
For me, the biggest crack in mainstream news credibility was the Dan Rather/TANG memo debunking in 2004. Here was a huge story, broadcast practically on the eve of the election, a story based on documents of a deeply uncertain provenance, relayed to a Bush-hating reporter by a man with a grudge against Bush. It came over as a breathtakingly audacious attempt to throw an election based on forged memos. Worse; I began to wonder how many other stories that 60 Minutes had broadcast over the years were built on just as shaky a foundation … which had gone unremarked, as interested amateurs with specific knowledge had never gotten a chance to examine the evidence for themselves. The list of other fake news perpetuated by the mainstream media is frankly overwhelming to contemplate; fabulists, fakes, and selective omission. I’ll skip making a comprehensive list of them, as it would make this post the length of one of my books, and those of us of a libertarian/conservative leaning have our own lists readily in mind.
It’s only gotten worse in the last election cycle, seeing that so many media establishments and reporters were so in the pocket for Hilary Clinton – as revealed by the Wikileaks memos. This had been suspected – yea, assumed – for the last decade, at least, but to see it all laid out in detail – names, networks, publications and favors rendered – was depressing in the extreme. I don’t see that the mainstream media can fight their way out of the tangle they backed themselves into. Their credibility with the conservative portion of the population is sunk as deeply as the Titanic. Once-respected weekly news magazines like Time and Newsweek are a thin shadow of what they were, once. Newspapers are shrinking, television news is going shriller, more partisan and fragmented. It may be as Sarah Hoyt observed – organizations tend to turn hard-left, just as they self-destruct. Your thoughts?