Watching Morning Joe, I had a Great Thought. I came to the blog to write it down but first had to log in. I missed a key stroke and by the time I got logged in I’d forgotten what it was…. the Great Thought, I mean.
It was triggered by something I heard on Morning Joe and I know it dealt with the way people conceptualize some feature of the Trump presidency. My sense is that it dealt with Trump’s transactional manner of meeting a problem. Just as world leaders can get Trump to do and say what they want by flattering him, he thinks other people respond the same way. He also believes others get as flustered as he does when criticized or offended.
May 6, 2018 Yesterday was the first no-T.V. day. At first my wife wanted to cancel our cable contract but it turns out our grandson wants to watch T.V. with us and we’ll need something besides the local channels. That’s good for me b/c I’d like to watch Morning Joe and A.M. Joy at least when my wife is gone and my grandson is in school, usually mornings. But the idea of getting off seven to eight hours of watching MSNBC has been floating around here a long time. We’ll see.
Thomas Jefferson allegedly wrote, “He who reads nothing at all is better educated then he who reads nothing but newspapers.” Eight years ago, I felt that TV could well be added to that list. Today, I would also add Facebook. It’s to the point where everything is false until proven true. If that makes me a “low-info voter,” OK by me.
There is no doubt such beliefs are deeply concerning to me and others. From what you are saying, there can be no consensus among Americans because there is no reliable source of information. I realize you did not include books in your list, but you easily could have, as in, “No book gets published without passing the censorship of the [fill in the blank….. East coast elites, Conservative owners of publishing houses, radical book reviewers….]. So where do you go for information? When I suggest there are newspapers, journals, t.v. and radio broadcasters who engage in a rigorous process of vetting the information they put out, I am met with guffaws. Are you guffawing? Or is it that the news reported is what disgusts you? Those of us who fall into the liberal camp [and I know you are one of those people who believe that all such labels are worse than misleading but I do believe my thinking is different from my neighbor’s who is my age but did not graduate from high school] are disgusted with Trump. Before that, a large segment of the population was disgusted b/c a Black man occupied the W.H. And yet the majority of Americans are willing to give the occupant of the W.H. a chance. But with your comment, I am left with the question I asked: how do we find common ground?
Right now I am reading Max Boot’s Invisible Armies on guerrilla warfare as he describes the disintegration of societies. Are you then saying we will disintegrate like all societies because there is no reliable if flawed source of information?
I believe that it is usually possible to be somewhat confident of the truth, but as the dishonesty of politicians and journalists increases (which IS clearly happening), it gets that much more difficult to do so. Add the increasing tendency of so many people to believe and pass on the lies, …. I have even had people defend passing on a falsehood after (apparently) acknowledging the evidence that it was false. And/or denouncing me as liberal or conservative depending on which side was supported by the falsehood I was exposing.
These tendencies _appear_ to be more pronounced on the right, but that’s probably because I hear from that side more. It is quite clear to me that it is also happening on the left.
As for Jefferson, I’ve seen newspapers from 150 years ago. They didn’t even pretend to be objective! And as for books, the falsehood problem is indeed less, but as technology makes it easier to publish, quality will go down. More than ten years ago in a library, I found a print book at least ten years old about Pearl Harbor. The first page made it obvious that the author(s) AND editor(s) did not know that the attack happened on a Sunday!
I suspect that there ARE journalists that check sources. But they will soon (if not already)be outnumbered by those who will readily sacrifice truth for “the cause” and even more who will do it for ratings.
You present a conundrum, Wes. Politicians, journalists, plumbers, and fire inspectors have always lied. What would disabuse you of the notion that somehow this is increasing is to subscribe to a book review (NYT, Times Literary Supplement, NY Review of Books, etc.) where over time you would read reviews of many books and amidst all that you would read about people lying all over the place over the last ten thousand years.
What you may be referring to, and I used the word “somehow” above, is institutional lying, i.e. when lying becomes the modus operandi of an organization, a party, a movement, an institution, etc. I doubt you would say that lying in the media at this time exceeds Stalin’s lies or the lies of the Soviet Communist Party. How about Fidel Castro’s lies about the Cuban economy?
So what you may be talking about and what we may have to fear is the creeping corruption of lying seeping into our political process, our media, etc. The example I use so often is of Megan Kelly saying Quentin Tarantino was speaking at an “anti-cop rally” when we had just heard the tape where he said he was against police who broke the law.
Let’s take another example, since I brought up this Black Lives Matter rally, the courtrooms of the American South in the 1930s. How much lying do you think went on there just around the issue of racially tinged crimes? How many people lost their land, homes, farms, etc. because someone lied on the witness stand or the judge lied? Was that institutional? I would say, yes, because the institution of racism permitted such lying with a good conscience so that a good man could lie on the stand against a Black person because he was upholding the noble cause of White supremacy but might have qualms about a similar lie against a White person.
Here’s a book for you: The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coons. It is a lot about marriage but other things as well showing the distortions of how we ‘used to be’, the good old days when marriages stayed together and children did their homework without complaint, when father resolved all domestic problems and mother held the home life together.
I’ve addressed this issue a million times on my blog and on those listservs. Let’s discuss a real problem: the acceptance of lying by the President by about one third of the American people.
Yes, dishonesty was worse in other places and other times. And newspapers in Jefferson’s time didn’t even pretend to be objective. But in most of America fifty years ago, politicians and journalists, if not honest, at least seemed to have a fear of getting caught lying. Now we have a president who can in front of cameras deny that he said what the cameras caught him saying the day before. And get away with it.
And on the other side, journalists who try to trick him into saying something, and if they don’t succeed, go ahead and print that he said it. And they get away with it.
And while the more sensible people may (I don’t know) still be the majority, many of us that haven’t surrendered to apathy have been intimidated into silence by the screamers at both extremes. If I dare to say Trump might have a sliver of good in him, a screamer calls me one of those evil “repugnicans,” but if I dare to say he hasn’t walked on water yet, another screamer dubs me a “demoncrat.” How much of that will I take before I fade into the silent majority that makes the screamers appear to be the majority?
The issue of the sources of our information is many times more complex than in the past. Priests were given talking points to pass on to their parishioners and in the era of mass education, teachers were given curriculum. I just today looked at my high school world history textbook to see how it treated colonialism (I’m reading Chris Hayes’ Colony in a Nation). The treatment wouldn’t meet today’s standards but the authors did not ignore matters either, referring to serious problems in South Africa due to the way the “natives” were treated in what was a modern society. This book was written in 1953 or so.
So if I read Frantz Fanon in the 1960s, my question to those who reject him and other third world writers for being Marxist is, just where was I to get the information about the rising tide of independence movements? Besides Fanon and others I could read research in college about the third world.
But now we are slicing off a good deal of the electorate when we refer them to academic works. So we rely on journalism to clue us in to the hot spots and the burgeoning movements in the world. We have a choice of biases – just selecting which stories to cover injects bias in and of itself – but if the journalists are professionals, and that is what an institution like The Media is about, then we can slip and slide around and hope to find even ground upon which to stand.
The problem with broad brushes is they leave out all the individual efforts that make up an institution. While we know that in the Soviet era, publishing was restricted, but clever authors could get books published in peripheral houses out in the boonies, away from Moscow, which escaped the censor’s pen. Murdock controls Fox News but lots of things slip through, not everyone at Fox has drunk the Kool-Aid. MSNBC routinely brings on conservatives, Trump supporters, libertarians, as well as those in the center and left of center. Rachel may argue with them but they get a chance to make their points.
It is up to you to sift through it all, but that is better than restrictions on your sources. If you want, you can buy The Christian Century or books on Natural Law or Marxist magazines or whatever. You just have to choose and maybe I’ll do an entry on how you choose.