The Clown could just go on and on about American media illiteracy and its threat to the Republic and so, he will.
Deep in the mists of time, the Clown studied journalism and eventually received an undergraduate degree in same. During these salad days of undergrad frolicking and keggers, he also worked for the campus newspaper, The Sunflower (no snickering) and eventually the Wichita Eagle and Beacon. Then, with Viet Nam raging and the military looking for more than a few good warm bodies, The Clown donned the uniform, sharpened up his hand-to-hand combat skills and became, at the Army’s request, a journalist (Battle Slogan: “We don’t retreat, we delete.”)
Following an Army stint that produced no harrowing combat tales to tell at the American Legion happy hour, the Clown went to work for a firm that represented a Texas State government agency, thus requiring the Clown to routinely interact with beat journalists interested in how that agency was spending taxpayer money. Their efforts and processes were familiar to him.
All of this background is to say, the Clown has a pretty firm grasp on how a nutritious news story soup is made.
Following my last blog post, it became clear that some loyal readers were confused by the term “attention economy”and what it had to do with media illiteracy. The attention economy was supercharged with the coming of the Internet and cable TV. Some version of this economy had always existed but in the last 20 years it has become a dominate business model. Readers may be familiar with the term “owning eyeballs”, a particularly gruesome description for garnering attention. The more “clicks, forwards, time on the site, likes” etc., the more moolah to the provider for owning the eyeballs.
It soon became evident to many Zuckerberg wannabes that outrage, scandal, conspiracy, hate, “owning the opposition”, racism and ism’s of all kinds were far more sticky for eyeballs than the day-to-day tedium of complex news stories. Thus, the misinformation industry sprang from the rancid soil of opportunism giving the world Murdoch’s media empire, Rush Limbaugh, One America News, Newsmax, The Daily Wire and dozens of “news” sites completely built on the attention paradigm. The truth or context of a story plays no role in its usefulness, unless it is a sticky true story.
The content of these outlets has everything to do with money and nothing to do with educating a well informed electorate.
There has always been a level of tension between legacy media and those of a conservative mindset. The reason is understandable. Here’s Webster’s definition of a political conservative:
A: a disposition in politics to preserve what is established B: a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change specifically: such a philosophy calling for lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs (such as retirement income or health-care coverage).
The role of a free press is to shine a light on established institutions, existing policies, powerful players in the public arena, including leaders of industry or religious institutions, and others who play a positive or negative role in maintaining or improving the common weal. In doing so, they often reveal facts and practices that gore a voter’s favorite ox. The legacy media does this as the very definition of its job, yet some are irked by this news reporting or the liberal slant they ascribe to it (many times they are right about the slant but that doesn’t mean the information is incorrect).
The legacy media rarely traffics in unvetted stories, outright lies, innuendo, character assassination, unfounded conspiracy theories or other eyeball riveting drivel. If they did, they would lose half of the nation’s eyeballs, those who depend on reliable gatekeepers to check out the veracity of the report, demand independent confirmation and strive to present information that an informed electorate needs to know to be smarter voters and responsible citizens.
The mainstream media is not an enemy of the people, it is an essential check on the government and the powerful and it does so as an independent representative of “we, the people”. A free and honest press is indispensable to the survival of a democratic republic. Without it, the government, the powerful, the rich and the dishonest will operate in the dark and democracy dies.
The Clown has many conservative friends and acquaintances. These folks come from all manner of backgrounds: finance, ranching, religion, construction, education, pole dancing, manufacturing, farming, law, medicine, etc. In virtually every case, if a conversation has anything to do with that friend’s expertise and background (particularly pole dancing), the Clown defers to their knowledge and experience. He would be a fool not to. However, many of these same nice folks, in a conversation with the Clown regarding journalism, seem to regard the Clown, not as knowledgable source, but as a legacy media shill. They think of themselves as media experts because they watch, read or listen to various “news” outlets. This is akin to believing that you are a musician because you listen to music yet can’t play a note or carry a tune.
Most of these people are being duped (manipulated for their eyeballs) by their sources of information. These folks may not be fools themselves, but they are being fooled and it’s being done for the money. Even good people get fooled, else all magicians would be out of business. However, once you know or suspect that you are being fooled but continue to let the misinformation con continue because your information sources provide content that fits your preferred narrative, then you go from being fooled to being foolish.
Information that is not true but purports to be “news” is propaganda. Think Pravda. When voters base their opinions and votes on propaganda, they have been duped.
As the Clown has advised before, if you want your news and information from a more conservative or completely neutral source, read the Wall Street Journal (but skip the Opinion page, which goes off the rails from time to time, thanks, Rupert) or the on-line Christian Science Monitor. Only use your cable TV for entertainment, not news. The Clown suggests a diet of 30 minutes of broadcast news daily and the source should be a legacy provider, either radio or TV. Read the local newspaper, if you are lucky enough to still have one. Cable news is chock-a-block full of problems caused by 24/7 content requirements, thus merging opinion and propaganda with fact. The Internet is, in the main, a cesspit of misinformation designed to own eyeballs.
The algorithms of social media are designed for people who enjoy a good dose of arsenic from time-to-time and are then eager for a shot of sarin gas for dessert.
So, the Clown stands firm in his belief that media illiteracy is the single biggest threat to American democracy, flawed though it may be. We can improve it and much has been done in that regard, but not lately. Until the bulk of the country sings from the same information hymnal, we will continue to sing off key, suffer a dysfunctional political leadership and slide toward some other form of government, one built on mis-information and run by those who provide it.
Observoid of the Day: Those who say, “The mainstream media is just as bad as (FOX, OAN, Newsmax, etc.)” have lost their grip on reality.