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Feeding Frenzy in the Echo Chamber

Courtesy of The Automatic Earth.



Willem de Kooning Police Gazette 1955

The best comment on the June 13 Jeff Sessions Senate testimony, and I’m sorry I forgot who made it, was that it looked like an episode of Seinfeld. A show about nothing. Still, an awful lot of voices tried to make it look like it was something life- and game-changing. It was not. Not anymore than Comey’s testimony was, at least not in the sense that those eager to have these testimonies take place would have liked it to be.

Comey shone more of an awkward light on himself rather than on Donald Trump, by admitting that he had leaked info on a private conversation with the president he served at the time. Not quite nothing, but very little to satisfy the anti-Trump crowd. It’s just that there’s so many in that crowd, and most in denial, that you wouldn’t know it unless you paid attention.

To cut to the chase of the issue, it’s no longer possible -or at least increasingly difficult- to find coverage in the US -and European- press of anything related to either Trump or Russia that doesn’t come solidly baked in a partisan opinionated sauce.

For instance, I have a Google News page, somewhat personalized, and I haven’t been able to open it for quite some time without the top news articles focusing on Trump and/or Russia, and all the ones at the very top are invariably from the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, The Hill, Politico et al.

But I am not interested in those articles. These ‘news’ outlets -and you really must ask whether using the word ‘news’ is appropriate here- dislike anything Trump and Putin so much, for some reason, that all they do is write ‘stuff’ in a 24/7 staccato beat based on innuendo and allegations, quoted from anonymous sources that may or may not actually exist.

In the case of Russia, this attitude is many years old; in the case of Trump, it dates back to him announcing his candidacy. And that’s funny, because when you think back to who else was a GOP candidate, how can you not wonder if Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush would really have been better presidents than Trump? The Trump presidency is not an indictment of the man himself, but of the entire US political system.

You only need to think back of the Republican hopefuls who got beaten in the primaries, or the Democratic candidates on the other side of the isle. There are 320 million Americans, and that was the cream of the crop? What does that say about the state of the union? That’s very much true about Trump as well: is that the best you can do?

It’s the story behind the multiple veils, the -political- policy choices of the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post, that is perhaps the most interesting part of this. Their anti-Trump stories are certainly not. They’re utterly boring repetitive propaganda material. Still, there are also reasons behind this that have little to do with politics.

With the advent of the interwebs, the MSM were always going to have a challenging time. As time passed, it became clear they were going to have to compete with 100 million other voices. And while the established media have clear advantages, it was never going to be an easy task. For one thing because unlike most of these 100 million voices, the traditional media have a lot of overhead, fixed costs etc.

They can establish their own web presence, but not much about that is obvious. Some have moved behind a paywall to manage costs, others focus on ads. But none of that really works well. Ad revenue is not enough to keep the vast machinery going, and a paywall limits readership.

Ergo, the MSM has to focus on both 1) what makes it strong, and on 2) what sets it apart from the ‘new competition’. That does seem evident, and it’s therefore surprising that they have elected to do the opposite. A choice that will inevitably hasten their demise.

I’ve long thought that the only way the MSM can survive in the age of the interwebs, for as long as they can indeed survive, is to be uncompromisingly objective, perhaps even to stay away from opinionating, period. Because all other areas, everything that is subjective, will be taken over, and often already is, by the millions who write and post their own opinions on social media.

And no-one will be able to make up their mind any longer about what’s real or not if they can’t figure out from reading between all these lines what is true or not. That is a battle the media establishment cannot win. So it’s more than a bit surprising that it is exactly that which they have elected to pin their futures on.

Media organizations like the New York Times and the Washington Post have over a long time built the contacts, the revenue (for now) and the resources to do what newer media can not: that is for instance, to assign a team of good and smart researchers and/or writers to difficult topics that may take months to cover satisfactorily. It just so happens that is what their entire business model was always based on.

But they’ve thrown it away. They’ve chosen to compete with the entire world, who can all write and all have opinions, in the shadowy realm of fake news, anonymity and mud-slinging. But the opinion of a Washington Post writer, or even its editorial staff, is just another opinion. That’s not where they can stand out. That they can only do in truth-finding. And then they choose not to.

Mainstream media are not short on content, but they ARE short on news. What they do is opinion, propaganda, and that’s not what they’re there for. Both they themselves and their readers should be very worried about that. Because news gathering and dissemination is a vital function in any democratic nation. Taking it away leaves a big hole.

And they’re pouring out so much of the same stuff that even if inside the echo chamber the audience just can’t get enough of it, those on the outside get pushed ever further away. The distance between these groups of people keeps growing, and that’s not what media should be doing, let alone aim for.

There comes a point when people will say: we get it, you don’t like Trump, but we don’t need to see that repeated 100 times a day, and certainly not if you don’t provide facts to base your preferences on. Outside the echo chamber that has already happened. I haven’t read anything in the New York Times or Washington Post forever. If I can’t trust them to write facts on Trump, I can’t trust them, period.

They already have so much going against them. Sales of paper copies are under relentless pressure, because they’re a day old when they’re published, and nobody needs to wait for their news that long anymore. Another kind of pressure comes from the fact that a huge part of their subscribers are older, and the younger stay away from print.

The Hill, a smaller member of the MSM, ran a story over the weekend which said CNN, one of its “brethren in crime”, is clamping down on stories about Russia. All stories have to go through the senior editors now. CNN the next day fired 3 people over one of the many stories. How about the rest? Did they all meet those ‘rigorous editorial standards?

With that Hill piece, you think: someone’s trying to save face… But The Hill would have to come clean about its own coverage of the topic to regain any credibility. As for CNN, have you watched those guys on TV lately? They’re like a firing-squad. Henchmen don’t ask questions either.

Before I forget: Does anyone think there would have been a Special Counsel appointed if the anti-Trump echo chamber press had not incessantly came up, and still does, with new narratives about President Trump, his campaign, his advisers, his staff, and all of the above’s links to Russia? For which to this day no proof has been revealed?!

I find it hard to fathom. I even think it is possible that the feeding frenzy will cost Trump his presidency, not because of evidence but because of neverending innuendo. The frenzy has shown no signs of letting up, and it can continue because it feeds on itself.

While it’s strange that the MSM should risk their own credibility and even survival to be competing, as I said, with a 100 million other ‘sources’, a fight that it can never win, in the short term they have established a loyal echo chamber following that has even ‘miraculously’ increased their subscription numbers.

The flipside of that is they have lost half of their potential readers, but they got so many more from inside the chamber in return that the bottom line looked good. But at some point you will have to prove something, if you want to live. And very little of the ‘material’ on both Trump and Russia has turned out to actually be wearing clothes.

Then again, once you’re inside the chamber, it’s hard to leave. Which is a disgrace for America in all its facets, but there’s not easy way back out. There’s only one, and it’s more out of reach than perhaps ever before: that of the truth, which only the MSM have the resources to provide on a consistent and wide-ranging basis. But they’ve rejected the truth.

They will find out soon enough that the echo chambers are all booked full, with nutjobs and snake oil salesmen. Why they would want to be thrown in with that crowd, who knows? Sure, a quick profit can work miracles. But then you die.

The entire drama has caused an enormous impoverishment of the American media landscape. And it never had much, if anything, to do with news.

The best way to illustrate what’s really going on is probably in these graphs. The negative ‘reporting’ about Trump is off the scale (don’t miss German TV network ARD’s 98% score):

But when it comes to bombing the Middle East, all the ducks get in line. As ducks do. As behooves ducks. Even when it comes to Trump, they can’t hide their true nature.

We’re done here.



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