The Credulous Press
I know, I’ve Been Quiet for a While…
It has been several months since I last wrote anything in this blog. There have been many occasions that excited my desire to comment, I have always discovered a reason to be doing something “more important” instead. Part of that is for the very legitimate reason that I have been fully engaged in the business of survival, but part of it has been a curious kind of shyness. I’m in business, and good businessmen keep their convictions very close to their chests. As one of my former colleagues once remarked in the middle of a barroom debate on politics: “Nobody gives a damn what you think, and neither should you. You’re in business.”
The theory is that if you’re engaged in the business of selling things, you should chary of airing your own opinions, lest you alienate someone who might otherwise be inclined to buy from you. To paraphrase the Grand Inquisitor from the old fantasy adventure game, a good business man should “Shun politics. Shun the appearance of politics. Shun everything, and then shun shunning!”
But I can’t. In truth, I have been doing plenty of writing lately. Over the past few months, I have written a novel’s worth of the most arid content imaginable: proposals, business analyses, software documentation, grant applications, and even (God forgive me), PowerPoint presentations crammed with neat little diagrams. I have firmly suppressed the impulse to indulge the devices and desires of my own heart, and it’s making me miserable. I must write, or burst.
For example: here’s something that really grinds my gears:
The Death of the Press?
The press throughout the western world is preoccupied of late – engaged in an existential convulsion that threatens to cast down the foundations of some of its greatest and most august institutions. They’re losing money, and they’re firmly convinced that it must be because of some new technological advance that is irresistibly and irrevocably changing human behaviour: it’s the Internet; it’s blogs; it’s Twitter; it’s tablets and smart phones.
The great institutions of the press have convinced themselves that the only way to save themselves is to re-invent the way they deliver the news. They think that perhaps if they write shorter stories and deliver them with trendy appliances, people will be more eager to read them.
Hogwash. One might as well blame the failure of the press on the invention of coloured ink or radio. Maybe, just maybe, people are less convinced of the value of organised journalism because organised journalism is failing to provide value. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the majority of people employed in the business of journalism are desperately, almost religiously committed to a particular world view, and that they will go to tremendous effort to avoid seeing, hearing or speaking anything that contradicts the little narrative that they have built for themselves. The insipid, willful credulity of the press is quickly approaching the level of parody.
“Nothing to See Here… Move Along”
A few weeks ago, when the American ambassador to Libya was murdered in an attack on what was in theory a secret CIA safe house in Benghazi, the press obediently reported the glib and somewhat bizarre explanation offered by the US State Department that somehow this was the result of a spontaneous outpouring of righteous anger in response to an unwatchable amateur video, (in English, no less), on YouTube that only a few thousand people had even seen.
When I first saw this reported, I was thunderstruck. I could instantly see that it was a lie. Surely at least one of the reporters at the press conference would ask the obvious questions that would inevitably occur to a child of the meanest intelligence! If this was a protest, why did it happen at a secret location far removed from the American embassy? If only a few people had seen this video, how could it provoke a firestorm of protest half a world away? Libya is a French Arabic country, and hardly anyone there speaks English, so how did they even know what was in the video? Wasn’t it a funny coincidence that this “just happened” on the 11th anniversary of 911?
Not only did no one question the transparent silliness of this cover story – the press committed themselves fully to the deception, and pontificated dutifully for days about hate speech and “Islamophobia”.
Inevitably, elements of the truth emerged, but not through the press. Instead, the story was taken up by bloggers, and by talk radio. The facts that did come out ought to have made this one of the biggest news stories of the decade – it certainly had all of the elements of a blockbuster movie: The US State department secretly dealing in restricted weapons with Al-Qaeda operatives; an 11th-hour recantation by a disillusioned diplomat; the flight to a safe house; a betrayal by a friendly power; gunfire in the night, and a last desperate battle on the rooftops, with an ineffectual President unable or unwilling to act while hopelessly outnumbered Navy Seals beg repeatedly for help that is held just out of reach. The shame, the tragedy, and the final horror of this affair were like something that Shakespeare might have concocted in one of his darker moods.
To date, I have yet to see a single significant story about the Benghazi affair by a major news organization. The press held back their hand, because telling this story would unmake the narrative they had so carefully crafted. They inhabited a bright and brittle universe which held at its center the absolute imperative that Barrack Obama should be re-elected as the American president.
What happened yesterday is equally disgusting. General Petraeus, a man with a brilliant and storied career – and the former director of the CIA, was charged with “throwing the president under the bus”, when he revealed certain facts about the Benghazi affair that contradicted the State Department’s cover story. He had acted in an honourable and straightforward manner, but by telling the truth, he had embarrassed the president. A mere three days after President Obama’s re-election, he was forced out of office.
What a Remarkable Coincidence!
Surely, this is a story that merits attention, and yet the response of the press is contemptible. According to a New York Times story, General Petraeus resigned after it was revealed – apparently by an accidental and unrelated FBI enquiry – that he had been having an extramarital affair with his biographer.
The explanation in this story as to why the FBI should be investigating his personal email, and why the revelation of marital inconstancy should have any damn thing to do with his appointment as director of the CIA is convoluted and tenuous to the point of lunacy. This makes no sense, and I call shenanigans.
What’s disgusting to me is the fact that the New York Times seems to be perfectly satisfied. They might as well have announced that there’s “nothing to see here”. Move along.
Here’s what it looks like to me: the director of the CIA refused to accept the blame for the perfidy of a lame duck president. Within three days of the president’s re-election, he was forced to resign. It also appears that the president has used the FBI as an instrument to investigate and undermine the director of the CIA. Should this be the case, the constitutional implications are enormous.
The press ought to be screaming bloody murder. They ought to be affronted at the insult that has been offered them with this glib, tenuous, convoluted, and incoherent explanation for what looks like a gross abuse of power. They are either very, very stupid and credulous, or else they are complicit in this abuse.
Dear journalists, this is why you are losing the faith of your readers. It’s not the Internet that’s killing your profession. It’s you.