Public access to information is being controlled by those who seek to profit from our collective ignorance.
It is reasonable to ask how Americans have permitted their nation’s march to self-proclaimed greatness to be so retarded by its present collective march to self-induced ignorance. With ignorance oozing from so many pores, it is hard to know where to start. I am going to start with the media. As hard as it is to believe now, there was a time when Americans were informed about the events of the day by well-respected professionals actually reporting the news and delivering it to an audience seeking hard news from which that audience could reach its own conclusions.
Today’s media model has virtually nothing to do with reporting the news and everything to do with participating in the news. And today’s audience has become so anesthetized to the endless patter that the distinction between fact, opinion and nonsense is hopelessly blurred. Much of the population seems to have tuned out completely, relying for their world view on reality TV and Twitter.
Control over the flow of information is a very powerful element in any societal mix. Today in America, where public priorities have been overwhelmed by private greed, leaving control of the flow of information in corporate hands has done much to poison the well of credibility. The media itself has done the rest. Tonight’s evening news, and the rest of the news, is owned by corporate giants (e.g. NBC/Comcast Corporation, CNN/Time Warner, Inc.) and seamlessly sponsored by other corporate giants.
No sooner have we been told by an erstwhile news anchor that information just reported comes from “unnamed sources close to the investigation,” than our attention is drawn to strong medicines being prescribed by golfers and sports figures and financial institutions being pimped by actors and actresses. In this context, information about serious endeavors is trivialized at all levels by those who control the flow of that information.
We have created a corporate culture in America, like in no other country, in which advertising has been allowed to succeed by using patently misleading information for private gain at the expense of the common good. Now, our politics has been reduced to a corporate-financed advertising campaign where truth and facts have no more relevance than they do in product advertising.
This is where an unbiased and professional media is supposed to come in to report facts and carefully separate facts from opinion and nonsense. But, watch any television news broadcast and compare the level of reporting and the rampant role of unsupported opinion to the drug ads, lawsuit ads, car ads and the like that finance the news programs. They are the same. Each is intended to sell a point of view with little regard for fact-driven presentation.
The print media isn’t much better. Undisclosed sources pollute even the most banal “news” stories. It doesn’t matter much when the subject is coverage of the local police pig pull; it becomes really important when the subject is the latest police shooting.
When you see the words “who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press” in front page coverage of critical current events, you should immediately wonder why no one is authorized to speak to the press and why that isn’t a big part of the story itself. If we cannot be permitted to know who is providing the information, we have no means of testing the validity of that information.
The other day, I heard Andrea Mitchell (MSNBC), an aging but respected television journalist, say the following while reporting and opining about political developments: “Even campaign officials privately acknowledge that…” Which campaign officials? If campaign officials are privately undermining their own candidate, then that is the real news, and she should tell her audience who they are.
In the same vein, watch Wolf Blitzer (CNN), an aging and often-scorned egomaniac, routinely turn to one of his minion of young, blond reporters and say the following: “What are your sources telling you?” The response, “Wolf, my sources tell me…” is never challenged? We never get to find out if the “source” is someone trustworthy or simply another reporter at another barstool in the same bar.
In short, the media has become little more than a glossy Twitter-verse, with the few good reporters buried beneath an avalanche of unsourced “news” commingled with analysis and opinion. Conflict is the currency of the day, and creating and nurturing that conflict absorbs the energy of today’s reporters and analysts.
Profiting From Ignorance
That being said, there is one conflict that almost no one in the media wants to talk about: conflict of interest. There is virtually no disclosure in either the broadcast media or the print media about who is paying for what at any given moment, how much they are paying and to whom.
A Washington Post “national political reporter” writes one day what is supposed to be a news piece under his byline and then appears on TV in no time flat as an analyst apparently having sold himself to MSNBC. The next day he is back on the political beat for The Washington Post supposedly providing “unbiased” coverage of events about which he has already given his opinion for pay.
Think about this when you think about collective ignorance. Our information is packaged by corporate America for private gain and sold by professionals seemingly unconcerned about the conflicts of interest that engulf their credibility. The doctor who tells you to try Xarelto to thin your blood got his information from a paid drug company sales hack, you got your information about the drug from a paid pro golfer, and off you go to thin your blood. If you don’t drop dead from thin blood, you can watch today’s “news” where the same corporate America that thinned your blood has now bought the analyst that tells you what to think and tomorrow will report the “facts” that support what he thinks.
Now for BREAKING NEWS: The blurred lines between fact, opinion and fiction are not an accident. My sources tell me that public access to information is being controlled by those who seek to profit from our collective ignorance.
*[A version of this article was also featured on Larry Beck’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.