The echo chamber of corporate news has completely displaced reality for my parents.
My mother has always been patriotic. When I was a child, she wanted to prove America's superiority to Europe to me, so she showed me pictures of European children my own age who were missing limbs because their mothers had taken Thalidomide while pregnant. "We didn't have birth defects like that in America," she boasted, "because the FDA refused to approve that drug."
But after decades of listening to Fox News, she is now convinced that government regulation of the marketplace is the root of all evil.
My father has always been capitalistic. He used to say that climate change was a hoax made up by people jealous of the money raked in by the oil industry.
But after listening to Rush Limbaugh for years, he now argues that climate change is probably for the best because huge swaths of Canada will soon be comfy and warm.
My parents are hardly unique. There are millions of Americans just like them--mostly in their retirement years, mostly nostalgic for the America of their youth (the 1950s), and mostly responsive to Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.
But the problem of a worldview warped by disingenuous reporting isn't limited to people like my parents. It includes plenty of people my own age (and younger) who believe that corporate media only distorts the perspective of older people who lean right.
We want to pretend that corporate media doesn't have a toxic effect on younger people who lean left (or at least left enough to think that there shouldn't even be a discussion about restricting abortion rights or LGBTQ rights or any of the other issues that the Democratic Party attempts to conflate with progressive values).
But how many people under 50 remember (or even acknowledge) the critical role that The New York Times played in securing the re-election of George W. Bush by postponing the publication of James Risen's story about warrantless wiretapping?
How many people under 50 object to the fact that our media spends more time covering Ryan Lochte than the flooding of Louisiana? How many of us grasp that corporate news outlets are choosing to focus on Ugly Americanism abroad so as to distract us from how ugly we are to our fellow citizens at home? After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, our professional reporters began calling the American citizens displaced by flooding "refugees." One reason these same media voices have such a hard time talking about the Louisianans displaced by flooding in 2016 is that "refugees" is now being applied to Syrians. The Syria problem stresses our vocabulary because we are temporarily out of words that can refer to poor (and mostly black) Americans without quite acknowledging their American-ness.
And how many people under 50 understand how bizarre it is that here in the U.S., our two major presidential candidates either deny that climate change exists (Trump) or pretend that it's under contol (Clinton)?
Trump and Clinton don't represent alternative solutions to the problem of pollution; they are simply two different brands of the same response.
How does that happen? Is it really all because of Fox News? Or is it that one so-called journalist after another (in print, on radio, and on television) finds something other than the carbon-poisoning of the atmosphere to talk about?
It's not hard to understand how it happens once we recognize that Americans value advertising over education.
What we learn in school is less important than whatever agenda our advertisers promote via the airwaves. I learned all about the greenhouse effect of carbon emissions as an eighth-grader in public school (even in a state as backwards and oil-dependent as Texas!). But understanding the chemistry behind the problem is irrelevant in a nation in which no one ever talks about it. And we won't talk about it as long as almost every journalist gets a paycheck from an organization that is receiving hush money from the fossil fuel industry.
This is why I think that UK professor Ryan Thomas has no idea what he's talking about in a diatribe he released earlier today.
Thomas thinks MSM-bashing is dangerous because citizen-journalists lack the training/discrimination/critical thinking skills necessary to replace the journalism done by the mainstream media: "I’m unconvinced that rubbishing the BBC and The Guardian and getting your news from some bloke who makes graphs on Twitter is a wise move."
If Thomas confined his anti-MSM-bashing to his own side of the pond, then his article wouldn't be so irritating to me because the BBC isn't nearly as brain-deadening and tunnel vision-inducing as network TV in the US.
But the purpose of Thomas' piece is to stress the importance of entrusting journalism to the professionals--a notion that, if applied in the US, means leaving journalism in the hands of the very people who are being paid to subvert it.
Should I trust some "bloke who makes graphs on Twitter" more than Wolf Blitzer, Chris Wallace, Rachel Maddow, and whatever corporate shill NPR has hired to lecture me for an hour about how the threat of terrorism requires the US to bomb more people who might become terrorists?
The answer obviously depends on the bloke in question because I can't know in advance whether the graph on Twitter might actually be designed to inform me. But I do know in advance that whatever the newscasters are telling me has been designed to deceive and distract me.
I don't mean to suggest that professional journalism is entirely dead. Lee Fang of The Intercept is just one clear example of print journalism being alive and well. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! routinely conduct eye-opening interviews with experts from around the world concerning topics that might otherwise receive zero attention. The idea that we must choose between network propagandists and blokes on Twitter is obviously a false dichotomy.
But when people outside the US pontificate about the dangers of bashing the MSM, I have to assume it's because they don't really understand the extent to which our MSM frames the discussion of everything in this country.
We're never allowed to examine the fact that Hillary Clinton sold influence to foreign governments in her time as Secretary of State because our MSM reporters are always eager to talk about something else--whether it be the latest preseason NFL football game, the "racist" overtones of a picture tweeted by Ellen DeGeneres, or the schadenfreude we can all experience when discussing Ryan Lochte.
Americans are going bankrupt every day because of skyrocketing healthcare expenses, but the lobbyists of our big pharmaceutical companies bribe our politicians to convince us that the only solution is to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership so that our medications can become even more expensive.
Jimmy Dore is the bloke on Twitter who exposes that faulty logic by asking, "How can Americans possibly afford cheaper medications?"
If I understand Thomas correctly, I should tune Dore out to listen to all the network and newspaper reporters who want to talk about anything and everything in the world that doesn't matter at all so that the exploitative status quo can chug along unimpeded.
On my side of the pond, we almost never use the word "bloke," so I'll leave it to Thomas to determine whether I've used it correctly in this blog post. He can also be the judge of whether I'm correctly employing another idiom I associate with the UK as I say "Bugger off" to him and anyone else who imagines that corporate media in the US is anything less than a sustained and coordinated propaganda campaign by corporate interests that have already transformed the US into a market rather than a society and are intent on doing the same throughout the world.
Go ahead, Professor Thomas. Take your potshots at citizen journalism. Prop up the powers that be. And when the BBC and The Guardian become as manipulable by corporate interests as ABC and The New York Times currently are, you can choose between elected officials who refuse to acknowledge or address any of the issues that matter most to your fellow citizens. Enjoy.