Fifty Shades of Yellow? Post-Truth Then and Now
by Peter Dorman (originally published at Econospeak)
Fifty Shades of Yellow? Post-Truth Then and Now
Simon Wren-Lewis can’t take it anymore. I’ve just read his fulminations on the blatant dishonesty of right wing media outlets in the US and the UK, untethered to any residual professional attachment to standards of evidence and nakedly in the service of political ideologues. He’ll get no argument from me about that.
But I think his distinction between post-truth outlets and the other kind (pre-truth?) is much too clean. We won’t understand the new frontier of news/fiction unless we see what connects it to the rest of the media world.
A first hint appears in his discussion of the difference between UK and German media on the issue of immigration. The nativist tabloids in the UK bombarded its readership with several stories per day that dehumanized immigrants and presented them as threats to jobs, services and civil order, while their counterparts in Germany (e.g. Bild) had heartwarming portrayals of immigrants overcoming great odds to save themselves and their families. This is true; I saw it myself when I was in Germany during the runup to Merkel’s adoption of a Welcome Culture policy.
But this was also the period during which Greece, led by Syriza, faced off against Schäuble and his EU Wall of Nein. Here the ruling interests in Germany showed their other side, and the popular press was filled with made-up atrocities about the lazy, dishonest crew in Greece whose main purpose in life was to fleece the German taxpayer. (I posted here at the time about the false news, widely reported in Germany, that Syriza, financed by EU funds, had made rail travel free as a ploy to buy votes.) Obviously the probity of German journalism was selective.
And similar post-truth spasms have characterized media outlets in the English-speaking world ever since the advent of the printing press. These were in the service of fomenting war fever (the Spanish-American War, World War I, Vietnam, and Iraq, to mention examples from US history), demonizing labor organizers and civil rights activists or whatever cause needed a bit of extra buttressing.
If there is anything new, I think it might be on one of these fronts: (1) The doctrine that deceit and manipulation are virtuous in the service of the Cause, an element of fascism and Leninism alike, has now found a home in somewhat more mainstream ideologies on the right. A self-conscious defense of making stuff up increases its effectiveness, because embarrassment at being caught out is no longer a risk. (2) Post-truth is being deployed, to some extent, against the interests of the capitalist class, particularly as it attacks globalization. It is “out of control”, the figurative loose cannon on the deck of the battleship, rolling around and capable of firing in any direction. It needs to be domesticated again.
The reality is that the elevated devotion to truth has always had moments—particular issues or political exigencies—during which it was expected to look the other way. We won’t understand what’s new and different about today’s propaganda unless we recognize the continuities as well.
I would add this Times interview of Donald Trump transcript on truth
Understanding journalism is complicated by the fact that most people get their history of journalism from journalists. Self-serving myths are the necessary consequence. It is further complicated by the fact that the non-journalists allowed into the discussion are public intellectuals grown fat on the symbiotic relationship between the academy and the media who need experts who return their calls.
The single biggest problem with American media is that to be respectable you have to put “truth” first and readers second. Imagine if legal ethics put “justice” before the client or medical ethics put public health before the “patient”?
Serving an abstract concept isn’t a restraint. It’s a license. Such a lawyer could deliberately send an innocent client to the electric chair and such a doctor could be working ethically at Auschwitz.
An model of serving readers faithfully and ethically word take away the license used, e.g. the NYT to destroy HRC (and Al Gore) because it’s not serving readers of the NYT.
I don’t know how this plays out internationally. Are ethics the same in Germany and U.K.?
“Fake, but accurate”?
The “left” — and the Democratic Party is the only feasible institution in the political sphere with the slightest capability of representing any part of the “left” — needs to get it through their thick heads that the mainstream media will do nothing to counter the lies of the right wing. They will report them as Republicans’ version of the truth — even when they contain blatant falsehoods like “death panels” in the ACA — and at most will say, “But Democrats say….” Sometimes they won’t even say that.
The Republicans have their propaganda arms posing as legitimate news organizations. Those propaganda institutions are very effective at setting the agenda for the rest of the media, which refuses to expose the constant dishonesty of Fox News and other right wing outlets. (Hey, I might need a job there someday!) The Democratic Party needs to accept the fact that only it can get out the truth.
last guy to trust
before 20 Mules
before Desert One
now the left says
to influence election
Putin get in the way
of Saudi pay for play?
I am center-left, but this is wrong when discussing illegal immigration of various flavors. For example, there is the often repeated trope that the foreign born population commits fewer crimes than the native born. But anyone who looks at SCAAP (i.e., the Federal government compensation to state and local jurisdictions for incarcerating illegal immigrants in prison for non-immigration related offenses) and has basic command of algebra knows that not only is that not true, the relative proportions are very, very different.
The Congressional delegation of my home state of California had the effrontery to write a letter to the Dep’t of Justice to ask for more funding for SCAAP while at the same time many California jurisdictions declare themselves to be sanctuaries. That goes beyond having one’s cake and eating it – in this case, they want the Fed to continue paying for both sets of cake.
You don’t have to like Federal immigration policy. But it serves the left badly to use outright lies as the other side so often does/did. After all, the numbers are out there to anyone who cares to look.
Example: A GAO report Combine those figures with estimates of the illegal population, and incarceration rates for citizens, and the numbers look very, very different from what everyone keeps stating.
glad someone else has noticed the era of the bold faced lie.
i first noticed it with Bush II and the people all saying “I love it when you lie to me like that.”
but i think you mistake the “anti capitalist” lies. they are clever… a way to incite the people to think “the government” is selling them out and they need to vote for the Republicans who will save them from these terrible deals. remember NAFTA was a Clinton cause.
and yes, the people can believe completely contradictory things at the same time. politics depends on it.
Johnson invented the credibility gap. Dick Cheney invented the in your face lie: “You know I am lying. And you love it, because you know ‘they’ know it too but they can’t do anything about it.”
all politics is lies. you can’t do it any other way because the people only want to hear what they already believe. presumably some lies are more benign than others. you be the judge… but you still can’t do anything about it.