January 15, 2009
The Artificial Reality of the Matrix MediaBy Selwyn Duke
A common defense of error today is to say, with due indignation, "I have a right to my opinion!" Legally this is true, given that our First Amendment is extant. But as G.K. Chesterton once said, "Having the right to do something is not at all the same as being right in doing it." There is no moral right to an immoral opinion -- nor to one bred of emotionalism unconstrained by reason -- nor to a deceitful one.
More than ever, Americans are realizing that this isn't a sentiment to which the mainstream media subscribes. In fact, with how it shamelessly carried water for Barack Obama during the election, 2008 has been dubbed "the year journalism died" (Sean Hannity is fond of this label). Yet, while such pronouncements make for compelling commentary, nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is that journalism is alive and well -- outside the mainstream media. As for the latter's journalism, by the third millennium it was not only dead, not only laid to rest, but fossilized and buried under the stratum containing the hula hoop and pet rock. And it would take a Jurassic Park-like effort to reconstitute its DNA and resurrect the ancient beast. Thus, a more accurate statement about 2008 is: It was the year that many more illusions about the validity of mainstream journalism died. Let us now take a look at a media that has made malpractice an art.
During the budget battles in the 1990s between the Republican Congress and Clinton Administration, we heard much talk about "cuts" in spending. While this was a time when the GOP still stood for fiscal responsibility, in reality there rarely if ever were any cuts; rather, at issue were merely reductions in the rate of spending growth. How it worked was that the government would start with a "current services baseline" that would automatically raise the budget by a certain percentage annually; then, any reduction of that already inflated budget projection would be called a "cut." It's like this: Let's say your son receives an allowance of $10 a week and, in a spirit of entitlement, assumes it should automatically be raised 10 percent per annum, which would give him $11 after New Year's. When the time comes, you do give him more, but settle on the figure of $10.50. He then protests, calling it a "cut." What does this mean? Your boy has a future in politics and knows Washington-speak well.
Despite this being a consistent theme in the 90s, I only remember one instance in which a mainstream media reporter broached the topic. The scene was a press conference with President Clinton, and a reporter -- I can't quite remember who it was, but he must have woken up on the right side of the bed that day -- asked the President why he was characterizing spending increases as cuts. Talk about hitting a nerve. Clinton, at his petulant, red-faced best, chastised the newsman, saying something to the effect of "Don't ask me! This is the language you people were using when I came to Washington!"
In other words, how dare you confront me with the truth after making lies the norm?
Really, though, I can't place too much onus on Clinton. Sure, we all have an obligation to speak the Truth, but a liar only rises to prominence in a culture of lies. And if the so-called watchers in the media deal in deceit, how can we expect the watched to be any different?
The budget con of the 90s is just one of innumerable deceptions. The reality is that the mainstream media are thoroughly corrupt -- manifesting itself in a lack of both conscientiousness and honor -- which leads to incompetence and duplicity. It deals in half-truths, the suppression of facts, the exaltation of evil and savaging of the sublime, and outright lies all the time. And we could use up countless gigabytes compiling examples.
During the 2008 campaign, for instance, CNN correspondent Drew Griffin interviewed Sarah Palin and, to discredit the governor with the notion that even conservatives were lambasting her, said,
What is the truth? Those words were taken grossly out of context. The point of the NR writer, Byron York, was that the media coverage of Palin was so biased that based upon it one couldn't tell if she was "incompetent, stupid, unqualified, corrupt, or all of the above." And the irony is bittersweet. By taking words designed as a defense of Palin and indictment of the media and using them to impugn the governor, CNN reinforced the very point York was making. That is, among the small minority of the population that actually heard the truth from alternative media sources.
This is reminiscent of the Dan Rather forged-documents scandal. They both were, I believe, the result of incompetent and biased underlings handing off misinformation to incompetent superiors, yet the latter's culpability is greater than this characterization indicates. For conscientiousness is an imperative of morality and a prerequisite for competence; thus, the more immoral the person, the less he will care and the more incompetent he will tend to be.
But while we can argue about what percentage of the media's untruths are actually lies (when you tell an untruth knowing it's untrue), the number of untruths - as well as half-truths and distortions -- is staggering. Here are a few off the top of my head.
The media used to disseminate a statistic that 150,000 women a year die from anorexia, but when the originally-cited source was tracked down, the real number was found to be about 52. We continually hear that the male/female wage gap is caused by discrimination, when in reality it's a function of the sexes' different career choices. The press widely disseminated the statistic that there were 3 million homeless people in America and John Edwards' claim that 200,000 veterans were "sleeping under bridges" yet failed to report that these figures were wildly exaggerated.
The media never pointed out that what they were calling "assault rifles" -- a term conjuring up images of machines guns in laymen's minds -- were merely semi-automatic firearms (one shot is fired every time the trigger is pulled). Diane Sawyer once did a report on the low crime rate on the isle of Fiji and attributed it to the absence of guns; the truth is that native Fijians were brutal and warlike -- even though they didn't have guns -- until Christian missionaries came to their island many years ago.
The media demonize "racial profiling" but never place it in perspective by mentioning how it is no different from sex profiling, which is when authorities view men more suspiciously than women. They will report any allegation of Republican voter fraud -- no matter how specious -- while ignoring stories about where it is rampant, Democratic strongholds in the inner cities.
They perpetuate the Malthusian myth that the world faces inexorable population increases, when the truth is that man is poised to experience a "demographic winter," a population implosion. The media inundated us with stories about the relatively minor Abu Ghraib affair, which hurt our nation's image, while ignoring the huge oil-for-food scandal, in which foreign nations were complicit. They publicize fabrications about transgressions against Islam -- such as the story about the Koran being flushed down a toilet -- while suppressing news about Moslem atrocities. They gleefully impugned Pope Pius XII by promoting the "Hitler's Pope" myth, when the truth is, as Rabbi David Dalin says, that Pius saved more than 800,000 Jews from the Holocaust and, consequently, was hailed as a "righteous gentile" by prominent WWII-era Jews such as Golda Meir, Albert Einstein and Moshe Sharett.
The above is a set of truly disparate examples with a very definite pattern -- one of deception. The hard, cold, sad truth is that the mainstream media distort virtually every important issue of the day.
This is tragic because the media have a sacred trust. It's a cliché, but it's said that knowledge is power, and the media are the relaters of knowledge. In fact, we rely on them for even fairly basic information about current events and the world. After all, virtually none of us will ever meet our prominent politicians or travel to war zones; thus, how many would even know of these leaders' existence (as it is, most Americans can name precious few office holders) or much about the war in Afghanistan were it not for reportage? Sure, there is word of mouth, but it only goes so far and relates so much, and the grapevine tends to distort matters even more than Moveon.org on a million-dollar George Soros bender. Without a vibrant media, we cannot have a vigilant populace. This is why freedom of the press is enshrined in the Constitution.
Unfortunately, also powerful is misinformation, as it engenders a misshapen world view. For how can people make correct decisions regarding what policies and politicians to support if they aren't given correct information? Why would they defend the good if they were lead to believe it was bad and fight the bad if they were lead to believe it was good?
It's much like a computer. If the data input is incorrect, so will the output be (the same is true if the data is incomplete, yet we still encourage people with insufficient data to vote). If, for instance, stories about how guns are used to commit crime are showcased but those about how they're used to thwart it are suppressed, people will be more likely to conclude that firearm ownership should be prohibited. If the electorate is made to believe that climate change is the handiwork of man, their very logical conclusion will be that man can and should do something about it. If you convince people that the symptoms are something they're not, they will make the wrong diagnosis and prescribe a drug that doesn't treat what truly ails us but often has some very nasty side effects.
If I've been a bit verbose, perhaps it's because I'm trying to describe something for which words are insufficient. It's much like when the Morpheus character in the movie The Matrix said that no one could be told what the Matrix is, that you have to see it for yourself. Our matrix media (along with academia and the popular culture) has constructed an all-encompassing faux reality that cannot truly be understood unless you step outside of it. For the average person this means, first, being willing to question all his basic suppositions about political and social reality, as these have been shaped by the matrix media. The second requirement is to embark upon a Reality 101 course on the Internet, where the wheat can at least be found amidst the chaff. You see, unlike the movie, our virtual world is in a way more real than the "real" world.
If this sounds dark and conspiratorial, know that it is the former but not the latter. In truth, what is so dangerous about the matrix media isn't so much that they're akin to a cabal of calculating sentient programs but that they cannot think outside the box themselves. They are like an insane man who knows nothing of the world beyond his insane asylum and thus can relate only insanity. You might say they have become one with their mistaken notions. Call it, The Zen of Being Wrong.
Yet, where does the real blame lie? Some may say that since the media deny us the information necessary to render good decisions, it's not fair to claim that people get the government they deserve. But it must be remembered that people get the media they deserve, too. After all, there is a reason why a celebrity gossip piece might get ten times the readership of incisive social commentary. If people want sweet lies and stories about Paris Hilton, bread and circuses, there will always be "journalists" willing to provide them. It's just as with politicians, only here people vote for demagogues by clicking a mouse, pressing the remote or buying a paper.
So journalism isn't dead -- not any more than the readership, anyway. It's just that those practicing the authentic variety are seldom elected to high office.