The Detritus of Journalism

Either high-level discussions aimed at relaxing international tensions are bad for the USA or such discussions run counter to the interests  of the US mass media. Our news-mongers speak with one voice in their declaration that talks between the leaders of Russia and the USA are not worthwhile. They are determined to convince the American people that Russia is their enemy. This could be a difficult mission, given the low credibility of the news media. We can’t forget that they beat war drums incessantly and universally in favor of futile and expensive conflicts with Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran, all the while defending the thuggish conduct of neighbors Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

The basis for enmity with Russia seems to be what the media call “meddling” in the 2016 presidential election. The news-mongers have bought, en masse, the preposterous idea that Putin was able to convince millions of Americans to vote for Donald Trump, when, with the backing of every newspaper editor in America, the least popular Democrat ever nominated failed to get enough votes in the rust belt to claim the White House.  How these yahoos were transformed into a lynch mob opposed to measures that might contribute to world peace is probably a less complicated story than it appears.

Suppose an editor complains to his publisher that the newspaper should devote less space to celebrity news and more explaining the consequences of privilege and inequality. From the publisher’s point of view, the mission is to attract an audience for advertisers, and discussions of inequality are less likely to gain readers than interviews with TV stars. The dissident editor, like the reporters who work for him, knows that those who make a habit of criticizing the decisions of their superiors don’t last long in journalism, and so he either quits complaining or finds another line of work. This is a problem, because editors and news reporters depend on critical thinking skills to do the work of informing news-consumers. If, in the interest of attracting an audience, news-mongers have to suppress critical thinking in themselves and their subordinates, the quality of journalism must suffer. And so it’s not that a group of clear-thinking professionals have suddenly been transformed into a mob of gullible idiots. Rather it’s that a gaggle of empty-headed, incompetent gossips have shown their true colors. With the critical thinkers suppressed or eliminated, this is what’s left.

This explains how an assembly of news reporters could cry “treason,” without ever checking to find out what treason actually is. How they could forget that the same Bill of Rights that protects them also allows people from foreign countries to express preferences in US elections. How they could present the annexation of Crimea by Russia as a threat to the USA. And how they could condemn, unanimously, a meeting of world leaders aimed at promoting peaceful coexistence between heavily armed nations.

This might not be such a dire situation if we didn’t depend on responsible, critical reporting to maintain a healthy, peaceful planet. If we were inclined to lay blame on any one institution for the sorry state of our republic, the mass media would have to top the list. We can be excused for believing that our embedded mass media crave conflict and are prepared to precipitate it if national leaders fail to engage. Anybody who has ever joined the crowd surrounding a schoolyard fight knows that conflict attracts an audience. Inasmuch as the main focus of our mass media is to peddle the food, drugs and cosmetics that sponsor them, it’s perhaps natural that they should fear concord as an impediment. We can only hope that when the missiles fly, the first ones will drop on the enemies of peace at NBC, CNN and NPR.

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