Political Infotainment: News, Stop Pretending You’re Honestly the News

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Liar news text on a silver platter

Dream up any current hot-button issue you like, and then Google it. Most of us know well that the telling of any given story is going to be colored by the teller, be it PBS NewshourThe O’Reilly FactorNewsmax, or The Huffington Post. Now dial yourself back a bit: what exactly wasthe pressing issue you Googled? What had your brain coughed up when tasked with the above? Fox News viewers might have spat search terms like “Obama Muslim terrorist” onto their keyboards, while “Koch brothers fascist swine” might have occurred more readily to, say, fans of Real Time with Bill Maher. We prefer to think of ourselves as autonomous, freely thinking things. We might be overestimating ourselves. The innumerable heads of the media today put the old Greek hydra to shame. And no matter which ones we let coo in our ear, there’s a great chance it’s commandeering our thoughts, our conversations, our opinions—and it’s not so concerned about journalistic integrity.

Such is the First Amendment as bankrolled by multinational conglomerates. We’ll begin, of course, with any media watchdog’s go-to punching bag: the aforementioned Fox News. Because frankly, we’ve got to—there is no more egregious a bastardization of the term “news” than this. Journalism students the nation over typically have this drilled into their heads: keep an objective distance and remain utterly impartialThose who watch Fox, be they enthusiasts or merely masochists, might have a much different impression. Behold this clip of “venture capitalist” Nick Hanauer appearing on Fox Business to explain his position—shared by Warren Buffet and similarly smart, duly afraid billionaires—that taxes for his fortunate ilk must be raised, just as much for his sake as the rest of ours.

Listen to it, really—listen to what host Neil Cavuto bleats. He poses combative, ill-informed questions, and when threatened with an articulate answer, simply shouts down his guest until time constraints warrant the segment ends. Ask yourself: what sort of journalism school worth its salt would encourage this naked, anti-information ploy? And moreover, what kind of network would accept nothing other?

Hanauer’s learnt and impassioned case eventually saw the light of day despite this and other factors. It was filmed for a TED talk in Seattle, Washington on March 1st, 2012. For whatever reason, the good folks at TED—a hugely erudite and progressive organization—saw fit to keep Nick’s talk tied down until August 12th of 2014 (as it happens, some time after a presidential election). According to the clip’s TED-Ed landing page, “Nick Hanauer’s TED Talk was originally not supposed to be published on YouTube due to its controversial nature.” One must wonder who it was, exactly, that found it controversial.

Do you know yet who your doublespeaking Big Brother is? In the case of Fox News, it’s clear—that operation and sinful sums more are owned by all 11.8 billion of Rupert Murdoch’s dollars; he’s described in the cited Forbe’s link above as “self-made,” though it might be more accurate to describe him as an Australian prince born gagging on too many silver spoons. He bought out the same 20th Century Fox on which the endlessly relevant wit of Matt Groening’s The Simpsons stands, and from there, the daily Wall Street Mein Kampf that is the Dow Jones. He’s also a criminal, overstepping legal boundaries in ways Nixon never had the reach to.

Yes, Murdoch is a son-of-a-gun. But an ostensibly worthwhile endeavor like TED kowtowing to corporate interests? Read beyond their rosy phrasing and believe it—this patron of TED’s speaks at once of said establishment as “one of the most beloved brands around. Their ethos of radical openness, collaboration, and co-creation allows them to produce content that is at once interesting, relevant, and of the highest quality.” That is, co-creative credit for a company that “provides an online community platform connecting companies with customers to foster relationships that unlock new value for both sides.” Positive human interests too, it would seem, are subject to whatever highest bidder might fund such endeavors—or not. Or as TED might have said to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963: screw you. Until you get your Nike sponsorship, your ideas aren’t worth spreading.

All this, then, would not appear to be a matter of Red States or Blue, but rather, the green of an American dollar’s influence. Wantonly liberal news bastions like NBC (and their far less abashedly vitriolic sister, MSNBC) claim less-than-equal-parts ownership by Comcast and General Electric. Comcast, of course, is a legendary cheater of their customers’ money, whereas GE has only ever poisoned us with radiation. They’ll routinely throw establishment Democrats a bone, while willfully underreporting on “outsider” candidates like Senator Bernie Sanders. Your political stripe, reader, is beside the point, the same way a shark in your waters doesn’t care if you’re lathered in country gravy or simply stinking of orange Dorito dust. Swimming in that jeopardy will get you consumed, no two ways about it.

News announcer

But do our news-junky habits, or the simple surveying of the American tenor they beget, really matter? Yes, a thousand times and more, yes. We’ll arrive again at the emperor of all media demons, Fox News (and yes, it’s again due; in said field, Rupert’s goons have learned quite a lot from Joseph Goebbels). According to a very recent survey, Fox News viewers are the least informed of all our countrymen—astonishingly, less so than those who profess to rarely (or never) watch the news. They don’t know that the Egyptian people themselves overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak, or that Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad remains in power. 30% of them support the bombing of Agrabah, which was a fictional city in Disney’s Aladdin. Most importantly, these ignorati have got a pathologically favorable opinion of Donald Trump. Have you not yet heard all of the nightmarishly appropriate historical comparisons to Adolf Hitler? God bless you, you beautiful, simple, unchallenged thing, you pox upon both your country and the human endeavor—there’s no expecting you to know better.

MSNBC viewers didn’t fare so much better (but comparatively, still much, much better). Having your own biases parroted back to you does not an informed person make, as it turns out.

TV’s beloved Dr. Phil is a shyster, a charlatan parading out the most freakishly cartoonish cases his producers can muster. He knows it, or at least his legal team must; at the end of every episode, his cantankerous pseudo-psychological claims are followed by this disclaimer:

“Opinions expressed during the show are educational and informational in nature and are directed only at the individual show guests based on their specific and unique circumstances. The material provides general educational information only to the viewing audience. For advice appropriate to your specific situation, please consult a local health care professional.”

One would hope that demagogic platforms like The Rachel Maddow Show or The Rush Limbaugh Show might someday include something similar—that it’s all entertainment at best. One reason, obviously, is that too few people appreciate that this is not news, it is not genuinely enlightening or even relevant, and it is hardly enough inform your vote—that ballot being your one say in how you and your family will be governed. And another point here might never be made well enough: before you base your whole being around the talking heads on television, please, for God’s sake, seek psychiatric help.

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