Monday, 28 November 2016

The Limits Of Journalism.

Powerless Punditry: Hillary Clinton should be blasted - not only because she lost - but also because in losing she exposed the vacuity of contemporary journalism and the powerlessness of the mainstream media.
DAMN AND BLAST HILLARY CLINTON! Not just because she lost – exposing in the process the appalling political judgement of the Democratic Party. And not just because her failure has saddled the world with President Trump for at least four years. Those sins, on their own, more than merit political damnation. But there is another sin for which I would like to see Clinton blasted. The sin of exposing the vacuity of contemporary journalism and the powerlessness of the mainstream media. Because, to be perfectly honest, Clinton’s failure is my failure too.

The story has its beginnings in the Watergate Scandal. I was just 18 when Nixon was driven from the White House by what everybody said was the investigative journalism of, among others, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and The Washington Post. For one brief shining moment journalists were hailed as heroes and journalism was portrayed as a force so powerful that not even the office of the President of the United States could prevail against it.

Forty years on, however, it is clear that Nixon’s fall owed as much to the deliberate and secretive manipulation of the news media as it did to the efforts of the courageous journalists, Woodward and Bernstein. After all, the latters’ key informant, the infamous “Deep Throat”, turned out to be no less a buttress of the American “Deep State” than Mark Felt, the Associate Director of the FBI.
Deep Throat - or Deep State? The famous parking garage scene from All The President's Men.
In the movie, All the President’s Men, Deep Throat is portrayed as a reluctant but principled whistleblower from the dark heart of the Washington bureaucracy. A more probable explanation, however, is that Felt represented a Deep State faction determined to drive the mentally unstable Nixon out of the Oval Office. In 2016, it is equally probable that a highly-motivated Deep State faction, this time based in the FBI’s New York Field Office, used the news media to prevent Hillary Clinton from re-entering the White House as President.
That the news media can be so easily manipulated by forces it only vaguely perceives and understands is a bitter pill to swallow. But it is far from being the most unpalatable of the home truths which Trump’s election served up.
Since Watergate, the journalistic profession has gradually taken upon itself the role of pontificator-in-chief. Rather than allow the facts to speak for themselves, journalists have felt it necessary to explain to their readers, in great detail, what the facts mean and how they should respond to them. Never was this journalistic pontification and “guidance” more in evidence than in the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential Election. In the eyes of America’s leading journalists, the Republican Party candidate, Donald Trump, represented nothing less than an existential threat to the core values of America. A vote for Trump was, therefore, a vote against the United States.
Did the American people listen? Nope. Nearly half of them were so moved by the journalists’ apocalyptic warnings about the republic that they stayed at home. And in just enough of the “battleground” states, more Americans voted for Trump than against him. The serried ranks of media pontificators notwithstanding, the people made up their own minds.
What the news media was able to do (and, arguably, all it should ever attempt to do) was display both Clinton and Trump to the American electorate. Reports of their speeches, coverage of their rallies, the live broadcast of three independently organised candidates’ debates: the American people read, listened and watched; and, interpreting the information according to their own needs and beliefs, reached their own decisions.
In doing so – and in a way utterly at odds with the instructions imparted to them by the pontificators-in-chief – the American people delivered an important lesson about both the purposes and the limits of journalism.
When the eighteenth century parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, gestured towards the journalists observing the House of Commons from the reporters gallery and described them as “ a fourth estate, more important far than they all”, he was not being complimentary. He was merely recognising in the printing press – and in those who fed it – a power to make visible to multitudes what had hitherto been witnessed by only a tiny minority of the population. It is in making the whole nation witnesses to the actions of their rulers that journalists become heroes.
It is not the business of journalists to tell their readers, listeners and viewers what to think; but to place before them any and every matter that a free people might reasonably be expected to have an interest in thinking about.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 21 November 2016.


Robert said...

Little truth is told in the NZ Media these days. In many advanced nations during the later 20C the newspaper and TV channels saw themselves as the real opposition. If the Government said something was black the media said it was white. The NZ media never saw it that way and took a very traditional old fashioned role except possibly in the last days of Muldoon who had become a drunken out of touch tyrant maintaining power by intimidation and the appointment of untalented cronies who depended on him and patronage. But generally the NZ media sees it role as to support the Government and police to an extent which would be seen as excessive in most nations. The other institutions of independent concience have also been brought and compromised in NZ, nb the Universities- academic freedom was destroyed the day the Universities and Law schools signed deals of mutual support and collaboration with MFAT which purpose is to destroy historical truth, is relentlessly left wing and anti american and anti israeli and believes in pure positioning to max trade opportunies, through the creation, of an entirely fictional view, of NZ past and present as some sort of liberal advanced state.

Charles Pigden said...

'It is not the business of journalists to tell their readers, listeners and viewers what to think; but to place before them any and every matter that a free people might reasonably be expected to have an interest in thinking about.' Except of course in the opinion pieces such as, well, .. er .. this one.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well, the FBI seem to be quite open about trying to destroy Hillary's chances – at least a faction of it. But I'm not sure what the responsibility of the press was, apart from giving Trump billions of dollars worth of free publicity, chasing him around the place and reporting his every stupid remark. Without on the whole fact checking them. There should have been big headlines everywhere saying "Trump Lies!" When they did bother to fact check it usually got lost in the general hoopla. FFS they reckon he lied about every two minutes or so. And the press did nothing. Mind you, the press do tend to be a little bit holier than thou about their societal role, considering their main role is to make money. And they must've made a fair bit off of Trump.

Nick J said...

Very insightful Chris: there is a real issue here and it is called how to sell papers.
Used to be that the stories propped up advertising and associated revenues, whilst there was no other real way to read news from near and far. Now we have internet companies taking the advertising revenue (Trademe) and instant real time access to multiple newspapers online sites.

For journalists to remain valuable to their employers they need to have loyal followings. The story is insufficient, they must have views pontificated to their choir of acolytes. So what we end up with is written versions of Paul Henry in the form of Fran OSullivan, or those execrable ultra liberals in the Guardian.

I have taken this a step further in alignment with the new breed of investigative truth seeking scribes, and those independent opinions. These people are in effect crowd funded, there are systems such as Patreon whereby a journalist can be funded by readers who value their contributions. This costs me around the same as I paid for newspapers per month spread over 5 writers / sites. To put the effect in perspective if I donate $5 a month to an independent journalist he/she needs 1000 people like me to earn $60K per annum. Not sure that the model fits NZ jornos but with other engagements it may be viable. In a masse market it is very viable. Alternatively you can watch Youtube where the people who get large numbers of hits attract banner advertising.

Does it work? For me Stuff and Granny are where you read pulp and Kardashians, the editorials are somewhere Right of Genghis Khan, opinion pieces written by talk back hosts are just as vapid. Yes, get rid of the mainstream media. It no longer has any place for anybody who values free thought and accurate observation. For the record I assiduously listened to a few independents who were on the ground in the mid-West who explained why and declared months ago Trump would win. Howzat?

Matthew Hooton said...

The problem with this theory is that wouldn't the deep state have preferred Clinton?

Jack Scrivano said...

Well said, Sir. But in this era of clickbate journalism, can we really expect the uninterpreted truth to be laid out in front of us?

David Stone said...

Hi Chris

I don't believe the MSM is duped by the deep state or the political establishment : I believe it is their willing tool and accomplice. And its function is to legitimise whatever actions serve their interests ; It is no longer a source of information so much as a distributer of propaganda .

I agree that Trump's victory was the MSM's failure , but it wasn't for lack of trying. The result was due to it's audience no longer swallowing what it serves up and defying the narrative in spite of eschewing the only alternative.

Cheers David J S

Guerilla Surgeon said...

See, here is a story about a typical press reaction to Trump bullshittery:

Ripper said...

The real power in journalism is in the board rooms of the TV companies and newspapers etc

Boards set editorial direction not the uneducated kids that 'write' the stories or 'report' it to a camera.

Andrew Nichols said...

In the eyes of America’s leading journalists, the Republican Party candidate, Donald Trump, represented nothing less than an existential threat to the core values of America. A vote for Trump was, therefore, a vote against the United States.

We it's true. The Republican and Democrat Establishment are ubited in that he is inimical to the core US value of regime change and socking it to Russia. Had he toed the Establishment line, his own party would have been happy as Larry with his letent racism and misogyny neither of which are genuinely repugnant to them.

He is truly loathesome but at least he has stalled WW3 which the terrifying Clinton either consciously or more likely in Imperial arrogant blindness was inevitably leading us all to with her incandescent hatred for Russia and determination to impose a Syria No Fly zone for her Jihadi Clinton Foundation supporters.

greywarbler said...

This is just in case everybody hasn't already heard this satirical advice from some years ago, guidance for new pollies in NZ parliament when talking to the media. Could be utilised by any aspiring public-oriented mouths. From Radionz archives of NZ and other treasures.

Steven Price, NZ media lawyer and barrister plus lots more. Very
interesting work background.

Jack Scrivano said...

Sorry to pollute your site with typos, Chris. I meant 'clickbait' not 'clickbate'. I made the mistake of trying to answer the phone while posting. It seems that I am getting too old to multi-task.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jesus – not very often I agree with Hooton, but I think he might have a point here. But it's still interesting that the FBI were happy to release statements about Hillary's emails. Perhaps they are not part of the deep state :).

David Stone said...


I know this doesn't fit with Chris's view of things , but I think the FBI might have already looked after Hillary way beyond the call of duty .And the new information coming in was likely to expose them for extreme dereliction of duty and send the bosses to jail if they let it go further, allowing her to become president and then have to impeach her.

Cheers D J S

greywarbler said...

@Andrew Nichols
So electing Trump takes the USA back from one brink. Watch this space for the next exciting instalment as double jeopardy plays out. What else can we do? Unwitting and unwilling spectators while dark foreboding music plays in the background.

Victor said...

Matthew Hooten and GS

The deep state presumably has its factions. In the US, it would be a near certainty that the FBI would be in one camp and the CIA in another.

A remaining mystery is why the identity and nature of the 650 thousand emails was not cleared up in a single afternoon.

Unaided, technologically challenged, elderly, lacking sophisticated software and plagued with OOS,I nevertheless managed recently to review approximately a thousand emails in less than three hours.

If, which I doubt, the Bureau really didn't have the ability to complete this task in no time flat, Obama should have ordered it to solicit help from the Agency. And, if that wasn't enough, there was always the Marine Corps.

Instead, the matter was allowed to hang around in public for more than a week before being not quite laid to rest.

Victor said...

Chris, old chap, I really think you need to pull yourself together and stop this "mea culpa" nonsense.

The media has a job to do as a source and vehicle for informed and responsibly edited comment, as well as of hard news.

If that was not so, you would presumably need to take down this site and cease commenting in the Press, Timaru Herald et al, other than on the most trivial of matters.

Personally, I would regret this greatly, despite the propensity of Kremlin dupes (hi guys!) to ventilate on this and other threads.

David Stone said...

Hi Vic

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"I know this doesn't fit with Chris's view of things , but I think the FBI might have already looked after Hillary way beyond the call of duty."

Dunno. Wasn't the guy who did the damage quite late in the campaign a Bush appointee? Stuff I've read – in the MSM – suggest that he was part of an anti-Clinton faction in the FBI. Who knows? American government and bureaucracy is so convoluted. And they essentially enabled someone who had promised to put Hillary in jail.

Victor said...

Hi David

It must be truly comforting to think that, as the world careers along one of the most perilous paths I can recall in my far from short lifetime, we've nevertheless avoided a far worse fate.

I wish I could share this perception. It might make me happier, at least for the moment.

In any event, we're all in the same boat now.

Good luck! We're all going to need it.

David Stone said...

Hi Victor

Starting to abuse Chris's space now being way off topic, but I doubt that we see things as differently as it may seem. If you are saying that we in NZ have as good a governance system as has been established anywhere at any time, and that our generation in particular have lived the most fortunate existence of any people anywhere ever I agree. That doesn't mean we should take it for granted or fail to defend it, or assume that it can't be lost.
I certainly don't think Russia has a better system of government, or had under what was called communism , but I do strongly believe they are on the right side of the disaster in Syria. And the US and Europe is on the wrong side.
America has identified a satisfactory arrangement for Americans (some Americans) but rather than share that style with the rest of the world they are interfering with the efforts of other countries to advance their level of civilisation in order to exploit everyone else's natural wealth in order to maintain and enhance their own. ( perhaps I shouldn't claim too much agreement).
Anyway Good luck to you too and certainly no hard feelings

E.A.Blair said...

So your upset that the media got exposed as not a force for change or that it is not a force for change like you thought?

Victor said...

Hi David

Certainly no hard feelings.

And I think you've correctly identified the areas where we agree and disagree, the atrocious situation in Syria exemplifying the latter.

As I've stated on this web on numerous occasions, I think that the US and the West in general have totally stuffed-up their relationship with post-Soviet Russia. Above all, they failed to take the depth and intensity of the collective Russian memory into account and turned a potential good friend into an enemy.

But, as someone who had more than a passing acquaintance with the then Soviet sphere of influence in eastern Europe, I'm also conscious of some continuities in the way the Kremlin operates, particularly since Putin (to his considerable credit) brought the chaos of the 1990s to a close.

And it does seem to me that a massive disinformation campaign, similar to those of Soviet times, is now under way and that (as in the past) it has found naively willing adherents in the West.

That's not to say that western governments, parties and businesses are not also recurrent and systematic merchants of lies and half truths or that they don't find constantly willing collaborators in the mainstream media. It's just that the Russians are rather better at these activities (just as they're better at producing great concert pianists, ballerinas, chess masters and vodka).

jh said...

Economist is openly talking about "internationalists". Who will tell us that the journalists ((NZ) are the "internationalists"?

jh said...

But some are beginning to disassociate themselves from the "alt-right" tag, which they see as being hijacked in a bid to discredit Trump supporters, following a video of white nationalist Richard Spencer *encouraging followers to cheer his victory with Nazi salutes*.

Really Herald? Post truth.