2020 ended with more than one elephant in the room. It was difficult to count the elephants, however, which seems odd since they’re elephants.
One gargantuan white heap became the dominant elephant because all it did all year was obscure our view of all the other elephants. And it was good at it. It was so good that two neighbours could greet each other in the morning with entirely different versions of what’s happening in the world. One man was certain of one thing while the second man was equally convinced of an opposite view. We know there is no middle ground because each moved on muttering “moron” under his breath. Both men’s views could not be right. Of course, both could be wrong.
Big media is the elephant that obfuscated the facts, leaving the reader/viewer confused and unsatisfied until suddenly, as if in an instant, we began wondering who is running the news. And that’s when we realized that big media, as we must now include social media giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, are not concerned with the pursuit of the truth and they are certainly not organs of public opinion, if only one opinion will do. Of course, there are individuals nobly dedicated to an ideal. But the news business has been ignobly run for decades by the very rich dedicated to themselves. Almost 100 years ago G.K. Chesterton noted that big newspapers “are hobbies of a few rich men.” Now the news business is run by a few rich ideologues who control the Internet. Even Twitter has become an editor and worse, an arbiter of the facts and the judge of ideas.
I will present one specific example because for every other example I can think of, I suspect that more than one reader will mutter “moron” under his or her breath. This is precisely because of the big media elephant blocking our view.
Prior to the U.S. election the New York Post reported an explosive story, based on easily accessed facts, that a presidential candidate looked an awful lot like he was selling access to a previous president. The facts begged for serious questions and answers from the candidate. Instead, Twitter shut down the New York Post’s Twitter account. Facebook cancelled references to the story and the traditional news media giants, including in Canada, played along by ignoring the story altogether. Then almost immediately after the election, the news arbiters dropped their guard and a few eye-widening stories escaped. So, I am not mentioning a story no one has heard and I cannot be accused of visiting blogs run by neurotic basement dwellers.
This story reveals how political news is frequently played today. Stories that go one way are drowned. Stories that go another are ramped up, made up, crafted from partial truths, based on misquoting, exaggerating or big, fat lies. The stories often start with a premise that are never actually proven. The sources are political enemies and possibly an unnamed high level source, an insider, who sometimes tell us they have a report. In it we are told the subject did this, that and the other.
Here’s the rub. The source can be just about anyone. The report is loose with the facts, if it even exists, and the reporter feels vindicated of bias by writing eight paragraphs into the story, “If true, then. . . ” This means, of course, that the entire story might not be true. And since we don’t get to see the primary source document or don’t see the entirety of the dialogue and are exposed to selected facts, if any, we shouldn’t believe any of it. And we don’t. Surveys show that we don’t trust the news media. Fake news, right? But we do believe it. We hear accusations hell-bent to destroy someone we oppose and we fall right into it, simply too eager to pile on the enemy, even though critical analysis (who in network news practices that anymore?) and sober thought tell us this is activism, not journalism. The news business is broken.
A prominent daily Canadian newspaper that has presented opinion as serious political reporting ended the year with the headline: “Good riddance to 2020.” If only we could say good riddance to big media as a news sources. Except, in Canada, we can’t. Traditional big media – and not just the CBC – is now being funded by the federal government. So, as it turns out, the elephant in the room has a big brother.
Patrick Meagher is editor of Farmers Forum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org