Hardly anything can be covered, to begin with. Very little of importance is reported, what with the investment in time, money and skill it takes to verify facts and to situate them in a meaningful context—to (lol) “make sense” of things.
And then there is the neverending cascade of facts and events that are twisted, falsified, buried or otherwise kept out of the light. You’ve heard this before, but nobody ever seems to take it in, the thumpingly obvious fact that most news stories are the product of some specific agenda that intends not to inform, but to persuade you.
“Things of importance that we don’t know” are ordinarily discussed in terms of huge, history-making events: who killed the Kennedys or Dag Hammarskjold or the Prime Minister of Sweden. But those are just the bigger holes in the lens of media, which is busted all over, full of cracks and splotches, it is a giant busted funhouse prism.
Even so, it’s still possible to write and talk about true things that are happening. It’s worth insisting that words mean something, it’s worth seeking out the clear spaces where we can see together through the fractured prism. Honest media is as valuable as it is rare.
So much money is spent in making bad and/or irrational things look civilized, correct, reasonable. I’m ashamed to admit it now but I spent the better part of a lifetime mistakenly believing in the ultimate, eventual rationality and good intentions of power, only to learn the hard way about the staggering, venal, implacable ferocity with which power is willing to deceive the world in order to protect itself. Now the gloves are off and we’re witnessing a bare-fisted brawl of global disinformation hammering away at the the truth, worsening every day, in every country and from every angle.
Can anyone forgive us olds for having believed—for having assumed—that the survival of civilization was itself an obvious and a commonly held imperative? Now that we know, for example, that in the 1970s Exxon already had credible information indicating that fossil fuels were killing the planet? If you’d been alive back then you would not have known that—you might have suspected it, off and on, but you wouldn’t know it for sure—for another forty years or so. I was a little kid back then, and I learned these literally world-altering facts after my own kids were out of college. Why did it take so long, well, because Exxon paid an unimaginable amount of money over those forty years to conceal and/or spin the ecocidal news. Money that is still flowing, seemingly, to this very day.
It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to accept a few pieces of silver for that kind of work, even if you’ve seen Michael Clayton and Erin Brockovich a zillion times.
In any case, if Inside Climate News, which recounted the facts of Exxon’s deceit in 2015, had been lying about anything whatsoever that Exxon had said or done, you can bet your sweet bippy that Inside Climate News would have been sued for libel right down to their underdrawers—which they were not, they were Pulitzer finalists instead, so draw your own conclusions. Just last week we learned that Exxon’s 1982 predictions of carbon levels in 2019 were right on the money; the earth is now about one degree centigrade (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was then, and CO2 levels are at 415 ppm, almost exactly as those rat finks predicted. (And they say climate science is inexact. Après them le déluge!)
As Kate Brown wrote in Manual for Survival, a book about the catastrophic reporting and recordkeeping in the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the experts of media manipulation were free to refine their trade over many decades. The Chernobyl spin doctors “drew from a well-known toolbox of tactics familiar from controversies surrounding lead, tobacco, and chemical toxins… classify data, limit questions, stonewall investigations, block funding for research… cast doubt on known facts so that scientists must pursue expensive and duplicative investigations to prove what is clearly evident.”
“People who were paid to produce knowledge generated instead a lasting ignorance.”
Reckon with these facts and it seems beyond question that there must be other Chernobyls, other Exxon climate reports we’ve never yet learned about, things of like consequence, long hidden, and that is how you should approach all news: knowing that such things can and will be and are being hidden, distorted, misrepresented. If they were good at this in 1986 I think we can surmise that they’re even better at it now. Most of what you’ll hear about is paid for by someone; benefits someone. If there is information that might hurt the reputation of anyone in power—their exercise of that power, or their ability to make money—massive resources will be spent to conceal it from you, divert your attention, change the subject.
You could think of global media like a crowded party, with important secrets kept in silence while the very loudest guests command all the attention. The amount of gossip is boggling, and most of it is lies. There is horse-trading, jockeying for position. The most egregious flatterers, seated beside their lavish host, noisily air their terrible and wrong “opinions”.
Okay so how to read the news, start by assuming it is some kind of a lie. Absolute suspicion of all news is the only way to read in this our as-yet-still-somewhat free but deeply endangered society.
They are getting a pretty good grip on teaching absolute suspicion in Finland, where they have the good kind of socialism and the public education is ultrafantastico.
The exercises include examining claims found in YouTube videos and social media posts, comparing media bias in an array of different “clickbait” articles, probing how misinformation preys on readers’ emotions, and even getting students to try their hand at writing fake news stories themselves.
“What we want our students to do is … before they like or share in the social media they think twice – who has written this? Where has it been published? Can I find the same information from another source?” Kari Kivinen, director of Helsinki French-Finnish School and former secretary-general of the European Schools, told CNN.
Alex Balk, the editor of the late, lamented Awl, wrote one of the best things I ever read about the lyin’ media on the occasion of the shuttering of Gawker in August, 2016:
…the accretion of deceit contributes to a culture of cynicism and despair… Knowing you are being lied to is no help when everything around you is lies. All it does is habituate you to living with lies, so why would you bother to take anything too seriously? When words lose their meaning our very idea of what we owe each other is debased and devalued to such an extent that we become closed off and contemptuous and unable to rise above our own self-interest. We are afraid to diagnose deceit because we might be mocked for our innocence.
“Gawker was stupid, loud, bullying and ill-informed, and most days it was the only honest thing you could read,” Balk concluded. I reread this often, to remind myself not to be afraid to diagnose deceit (and to lament that this most eloquent and incisive of writers seems to have disappeared from the media stage, leaving it a darker place).
Figuring out what you are being told and why is hard, but again, worth it.
In the present instance, for example, I’m an activist for speech rights and press freedom, and I’m making my case from that perspective. I’m asking you to consider that what I’m saying may be a skosh more trustworthy than what you might read in (say) a billionaire-owned publication, because this is an ad-free, journalist-owned digital magazine, and I am a panicked journalist trying to create a place where the truth can be told freely; I can obviously be wrong, but nobody is paying me to say anything in particular, and I think that is worth considering. Could it be that I’m trying to call into question the credibility of billionaire-owned, ad-taking, corporate-dominated media outlets and promote the interests of Popula instead? Hell yes.
However, I’m also asking you to assume that I am lying, and that I have something to gain by it, and you should be wondering all the time what that might be, in a state of unwavering suspicion.
 quit Facebook!