Mass Hysteria! Thoughts on Mass Media’s Hand in American Political Thought
The Republican National Convention has wrapped up this week and the Democrat National Convention the week prior, and already the President, Donald J. Trump has taken to his policy platform of choice, Twitter, to express his frustration which the Democrat’s strategy. And Presidential hopeful Joe Biden has answered in kind. And staunch supporters on both sides, engaged in their usual sniping of the their candidate’s rival, either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. I was playing a game as I tend to do (I am an avid gamer) that has a very large community of players are who right of center politically. Ex-military types who are more likely to identify with the Republican party: the party that espouses virtues of honor, discipline, self-reliance, and order. One of them boldly declares “Democrats are trying to destroy this country!” To which I replied, “why pay for Fox News when you can get it for free in chat?” He responded with a question about what news outlet I subscribed to, with a suggestion that I was a CNN watcher. Of course I’m not a fan of CNN, but it isn’t unreasonable for him to assume that I was, as those who watch CNN are not fans of Trump or his voters. I read more than I watch, and I’m subscribed to media outlets across the spectrum. I learned early on in my political journey that journalistic “integrity” and “impartiality” were buzzwords generated by corporate media conglomerates to persuade you to lower that barrier of skepticism and allow them in. Once inside they’d craft their greatest work — not information, not perspective but engagement. Engagement is the number one goal of a for-profit entity, and the media conglomerates are no different from social media.
His reaction got me thinking about the role mass media plays in our daily lives, and the big three: CNN “Centrist”, MSNBC “Left”, and Fox News which is Right of center. Note how I didn’t put their political designation in quotes or qualify a different view based on whether or not one watched CNN for example. And there’s a reason for that I’ll soon get into, but as I was saying before the player got me thinking about the role the major political media platforms have on our daily lives and political lives. For most politically minded Americans, reality is shaped either partially, mostly, or fully by one of these three entities. MSNBC is supposed to represent the left, CNN the center left, and Fox News is suppose to encompass the entire right wing as well as the “alt-right” as they’re called. And when you’re speaking to someone, you can infer their political views based on whether or not they only subscribe to one or mostly subscribe to one. And when people make certain statements, especially ones like “Democrats/Demonrats are destroying the country” or “Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization” or “Democrats don’t believe in borders” you can infer right away whose table those individuals get their meals.
With the advent of the post 9/11 era, there was an appetite in the American palette for 24/7 non stop news. With so many having felt caught off guard by the terror attack, people wanted to understand how something like this could happen in the first place. The world was larger than Canada, Mexico, Europe and China. Americans wanted to know about it, and as capitalism always does, its finds a way to satisfy that hunger. The days of Walter Cronkite were over, Americans were confused, afraid, and their feelings of isolation and superiority to the rest of the “world” was shattered in a day.
Out of the proverbial rubble of America’s sense of security rose the big three — and they sought out originally to provide a filter for Americans who identified with a certain point on the political spectrum. They provided news and reporting similar to the ways of old. Overtime, as the three grew evermore popular, the need to increase profits meant that calm and measured language would no longer cut it. The American people needed to be engaged in a way they never were before and as reality tv had already proven with with shows like Big Brother and Survivor that Americans wanted to be engaged with their media. The age of passive televisions and plots had passed, Americans wanted to be a part of what they consumed on TV, and if they couldn’t be a part, imagining themselves in a situation one of the contestants on the show were currently in was enough. As the big three would learn quickly, nothing engages quite like drama and negativity. Soon the media landscape began to change, journalistic standards were lowered almost to the floor, and news outlets began to compete for more market share. The next twenty years of news is best described as a race away from the mass produced “one size fits all” type of news broadcasting commonly found even today on local news networks, and instead towards a more bespoke style of news, custom tailored for a certain type of American.
Leftist Neo-Liberals and actual Leftists flocked to MSNBC, staunch Neo-Liberals and Moderate Conservatives pitched their tents in CNN’s media scape, while staunch Conservatives and fringe right wingers found a home with Fox News. And Fox News continues to enjoy the highest ratings and the largest market share of the media space. This new found relevance for the big three spurned them to craft the news into more compelling packaging for their consumers. They identified the fissures in America’s political body, and exploited them to maximum effect. And the worst part is, the big three never had to lie. They simply had to tell the raw truth, the ugly truth about how politics worked in America to get people to tune in. They just needed to get their views to call in, text in, and engage on social media to be included in the conversation. But get people to keep coming back, the big three needed to establish a narrative. Much like the reality tv phenomenon, there needed to be heroes, villains, and stakes. The big three would not only give their viewers engagement, but they would give their viewers a plot and a role for each one of them to play in. For MSNBC, it’s Russiagate, and how the nation has been hijacked by a career criminal and conman who wants to reap its riches for himself and his family name. For CNN, it’s Trump’s war on the American press, and how his friendliness with Russia and strongmen around the world spells certain danger for American’s liberal democracy. For Fox, its a wave of blue haired Caucasian social justice warriors, militant African-Americans who wants free offerings from the government subsidized by the White Working-class voter who is utilizing SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) themselves, and the Democrats themselves leading the horde of radical Left terrorists and communists who want to indoctrinate your children, kill your god, tear down your “heritage” and make your sons gay. This is not hyperbole.
All three narratives at their outset overlapped, and it was left up to the American consumer to sift through it all. But of course there isn’t enough time in the day to do that, so most Americans just said “ahhhh” and gobbled it all up. As a result, the politically minded body of America became caricatures of informed citizens, psychologically inched further and further apart over time, who are carbon copies of one bespoke ideology, tailored by and mass produced by mass media, by a pro-corporate ideology to which all three outlets themselves subscribe to. The echo chambers have grown larger, louder, but the message is unchanging: “they” are the reason your life is miserable, and “we” are the ones that will explain why. “We” the media you can trust.
Despite the tone of this piece, I reject faux “high-minded” centrist views that many people from these groups tend to collectively fall into. They seem to think if a person can articulate points from both sides of an issue, that they are somehow above the people and the issue itself. Those who subscribe to CNN, and CNN itself, has embodied the fallacy like no one else. Impartiality doesn’t exist, its impossible, and MSNBC is the only one of the three that doesn’t try to brand its self as “fair and balanced” like the other two. But of course the American Justice system is impartial, because a statute of a goddess symbolizing justice being blind can be seen at virtually every courthouse in one form or another. But at the end of the day, its just branding, it is subtle psychological suggestion that tempts you to lower your mental barriers of skepticism and accept the narrative being given to you.
So what we have is the majority of politically minded Americans, which are a minority of the greater eligible voting population, hating each other. Literally hate each other. Hatred sells. It drives interactions on social media, it takes Twitter by storm with #[insert undesirable here]isoverparty. Trump is a Russian asset, Joe Biden is a puppet of the “deep state”, Democratic politicians engage in dubious activities at a pizza shop, Bernie Sanders is a radical leftist. The liberal media ironically pushed that narrative harder than conservative outlets did. While its impossible to map the degree of influence outlets like CNN and MSNBC had on the Democrat’s Presidential Primary, its naïve to think that they had no relevant impact at all. The power of the big three became so apparent since Trump’s ascension to the Presidency. And all three came under strong attack from not the other side, but from the direction they focused their message. Neo-Liberal friendly outlets like CNN and MSNBC was not only under attack by Fox for being “fake news”, but also came under attack from leftists who accused them of bias.
Fox News was Trump’s only friend when he ran for office, and every time he was featured on their platform, their ratings soared, as friends and enemies tuned in to hear the character that is Donald Trump. But many in the Republican establishment, the power brokers of the RNC and Congress, considered Trump to be everything the left is calling him now. He was a dangerous candidate, a liability for them, and moderates in the party attacked Fox News for failing to do their due diligence against Trump. Could Fox have sank Trump’s presidential chances? Perhaps, but the PR masters at Fox News and Newscorp knew gold when they saw it. The moderates fell in line, and Trump established a relationship with Fox News that was unlike any a President has had with a specific news outlet, leading to the resignation of some moderates at the network over the oppressive amount of influence Trump had over Fox, essentially with the goal of turning them into his very own propaganda network. Something which Fox did freely and openly on their own anyway, because Fox’s viewers became Trump supporters and what does capitalism demand? What does maneuvering the media scape require?
When it came to Joe Biden, the accusations from the progessive wing of the DCCC and the American left began to stick. The Tara Reade accusations were damning and flew in the face of rules the liberals themselves have set with the #metoo movement. A movement for justice was turned into a cudgel against Republicans, against Trump during the 2016 Presidential election and against Brett Kavanaugh during his SCOTUS hearings in 2018, but both attempts failed. However many powerful men did fall as a result, even a sitting congresswoman resigned after it came out she had an inappropriate relationship with a male staffer. But when it came Biden, the rules were broken, the liberal media in unison refused to dive into the allegations, refused to interview Tara beyond CBS’s 60 Minutes interview.
The bias was so clear however, the New York Times — the gold standard in political journalism had to eventually apologize for its deliberate failure to investigate the claims of Tara Reade, and #metoo figureheads like Alyssa Milano were proverbially flogged for their refusual — some would even say hypocrisy — to demand that Tara Reade be heard, her story taken with the utmost seriously. That she be given the same support and belief that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford received from the same media outlets and spokespeople when she accused now Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. The liberal media was humiliated from this, progressives becoming increasingly hostile towards the Neo-Liberals they felt played blind, deaf, and mute, and Fox News along with other conservative outlets coined the expression “rape is fine, as long as you’re a Democrat.”
The #metoo movement was founded by Tarana Burke, but it was taken and weaponized by the liberal establishment. She herself replaced by liberal actresses and spokeswomen approved by the Neo-Liberal braintrust, and it backfired in spectacular fashion. The claims of Trump from day one, that the liberal media was “fake news”, that Democrats and their Neo-Liberal base are “hypocrites”, that even a shadowy organization known as the “deep state” was conspiring against him seemed all the more plausible. The media started this war, fought this war, social media became their battlegrounds, and their viewers, including Joe Biden and Donald Trump were armies in this grander game. People looked not to elected officials for guidance, but to their favorite news anchors, waiting for the slightest drop of scandal, of mighty men being brought low, and in all of this noise, the suffering of real women were lost.
The media always had this power, going back to the yellow journalism of the late 19th century and early 20th Century which ignited the Spanish-American war and saw a super-flu from Kansas redubbed the “Spanish” Flu. The media always had its role in shaping the minds of society, in ways that education and religion could never hope to do. Any counter culture movement remains fringe until its recognized by the media in order to give it legitimacy. Today however, media outlets like the big three have an immense degree of power via social media and internet-of-things (IoT) devices that keep Americans plugged in 24/7/365. The biggest threat to America’s existence isn’t the external threats as daunting as they are: climate change, geopolitical rivals, instability in the Middle East, a slowdown in the global economy as a result of Covid-19, Covid itself. No the greatest threat is within: the collapsing of a national identity, the distortion of history for political convenience, the rise of fascism and mistrust in existing institutions, the endless growth and consolidation of power among the investor class — who is quickly becoming an investor caste, a lack of trust in science and a preference for fringe and unverified assertions, a spirit of rebellion that ends in children and cancer patients being spit on to protest mask wearing, a view that sees any curtailing of corporate greed as “communist” and wanting to be someone’s keeper is “beta” behavior, and a refusal by power to put #blacklivesmatter into policy rather than simple platitudes. To quote Colonel Helmut Zero from Marvel’s Civil War film: “An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again. But one which crumbles from within? That’s dead. Forever.” And the media has done more than its fair share in amplifying these narratives, both true and false that have contributed to the hyper-partisan atmosphere that exists today.
Returning to that discussion with the gentleman online, I told him that I didn’t watch any media and that I preferred to form my own opinions. In the nascence of my political life, I, like most people, started with a major 24/7 cable news network. It was CNN, then it was CNN and MSNBC after I just tuned into it and found much of the subject matter to be inline with my own political beliefs. Yes I did watch Fox, and for obvious reasons I was turned off by it. Not because it advocated for conservative policies, but I saw a whiter, older cast tell me that the problems of America were because of black and brown people, were because of “ungrateful” millennials. Obviously I that didn’t resonate with me, not because I’m a person of color myself, but because I saw the problems of America being laissez-faire Bush economics which led to the 2008 financial collapse. Perhaps if they engaged in identity politics less perhaps they would’ve won me over? But eventually even MSNBC didn’t do it for me anymore, as I learned on my own, as I read, as I looked up the sources every mainstream media article cites, and most importantly, as I listened to other people with different political views than my own, I began to form my own opinions, my own version of political reality. Because of exposure to political spaces in Discord and Twitch, I today describe myself as a Social Democrat, not as left as a Democratic Socialist, but just a smidge to the right. Bernie Sanders was my 2nd candidate of choice after all.
America is controlled by Neo-Conservatives, who are very Right, and Neo-Liberals who are center RIGHT. Yes Right. The political “left” in American politics isn’t left at all. Real leftists, like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and more moderate Leftists like Elizabeth Warren are few in number and have and will always fail to clinch the Democrat presidential nomination in every primary until the makeup of the party and its electorate changes. This leaves a great many perspectives, superior perspectives in my opinion to remain “radical leftist banter” because those perspectives are not in the interest of the corporate owned leftist media. What we understand as “left” is Neo-Liberal center-right politics. And that’s a direct result of corporate money in politics, further exacerbated by the SCOTUS’ ruling on Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) declaring corporate campaign donations as “speech” which is protected by the 1st Amendment, effectively making Amazon, Newscorp, and Disney people. The famous Mitt Romney comment, “corporations are people my friend,” was his reference to this ruling, which flew over the heads of many in the media. That said, Leftism by definition is anti-corporate and anti-capitalist. Neo-Liberals and Neo-Conservatives both work to expand corporate power, Neo-Liberals are not Leftists. The Republican party on the other hand will continue to move further Right as its base, which can be easily described as toxic with the most generous of language and fascist with the most blunt has demanded the firings of Fox’s Chris Wallace and the NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci for “making Trump look bad” even though Trump does that all by himself and without fail.
Fox has to maintain its integrity with its more moderate viewership while also tossing red meat in the form of coded racism and veneration of fascism masked in “law and order” to the Republican base in order to remain relevant. Fox has become a quasi religious institution for the American right. Dogma is what they preach, they tell you who to fear, who to hate, who not to trust, and who to stand with. And its dogmatic because most of what Fox calls “news” is carefully crafted yellow propaganda. Misrepresentation of arguments, policy positions, and data are the standard fare over at Fox. Because Conservatism isn’t popular, conservative power brokers rely on logical fallacies to sell their messages. The “silent majority” motif is a masked-man fallacy for example, the motif is just that, the “silent majority” not being silent nor the majority.
Conservativism has always been the minority voices: fire is dangerous, why use a wheel when you can just train your back, why settle a plot of land when animals constantly move, and so on and so forth. Conservative logic can be boiled down to this: people shouldn’t try something new because the last time someone tried something new, that person got hurt. Conservatism doesn’t come from an evil place, but how does the conservative get others to accept a message that that’s been rejected? By force of course, and that’s where conservatism devolves into authoritarianism and fascism. While authoritarianism can and has come from the left, see “tankie” fascism always comes from the right, because conservatism is a prerequisite to fascism, just like conservatism is a prerequisite for libertarianism. The only way to sell it in 2020 is to dress it up in artificial flavorings such as patriotism, law and order, Christianity, and being “fair and balanced”. As far as Fox News is concerned, if its viewers continue to be hyper-partisan without thinking they are partisan in the slightest, Fox News is doing its job for its shareholders and the class they represent. That said, Fox News is the only entity preventing the Republican party from becoming overrun by Nazis and other fascist elements, because the only mainstream source the right-wing in America will listen to is Fox, and Fox has no interest in the destruction of the Republican party. This too is not hyperbole.
In closing, that’s what I advise everyone who reads this to do, just learn. Consume data, consume stories, consume perspectives. I’m not saying cut fast food out of your diet, but consume less processed foods and more organic homecooked meals like pieces from Reuters or the Associated Press, even the written articles from the big three, and the multitudes of independent journalists who aren’t receiving corporate money because they don’t parse words for a corporate boardroom, are all part of a healthy diet. Websites like Medium are perfect for this, and in time you too will find the high-fat low nutrition offerings of mainstream media to be less and less palatable.