My god, I thought, he’s finally done it, he’s dropped the big one.
Such was my initial reaction to this picture. I momentarily assumed Trump was looking at a mushroom cloud.
Nope … just looking at the solar eclipse.
I love the news.
Remember Fox News at the start of the millennium? They had called the 2000 election early (and first), led the sales pitch for war in Iraq, and elevated characters like Bill O’Reilly into prominence. They were, for many, something of a joke. I recall the conversation being opened as to whether Fox News should be forced to remove “news” from their name.
Not that the rest of the mainstream media was much better — by 2005, the United States was ranked firmly in the 40s in Reporters Without Borders yearly Freedom of Press Index. But Fox News at the time was something unique, something almost revolutionary. They were the proprietors of the extreme echo chamber, of the intentionally inflammatory.
Many at the time thought Fox News was an aberration, that the integrity and standards of the American journalism establishment would either pull Fox News to respectability, or make it irrelevant.
Except, the opposite happened.
Rather than elevate or eliminate, mainstream media as a whole descended down into the mud, adopting the extremist strategies of Fox News.
The result is the current ‘fake news’ era.
This week, the main story, the main topic for discussion, was Donald Trump staring into the sun during the solar eclipse.
I admit, the shot of Trump squinting and pointing skyward, which led every news broadcast and article, made me laugh; though personally I preferred the picture of Donald and Melania staring at the sky after finally being given the eclipse goggles; but this mostly because I like to note real-life actualizations of popular dystopian stereotypes — like helicopters flying above a city, or surveillance cameras on every street corner.
‘President and First Lady stand in awe at descent of new alien overlords,’ is probably what I would have gone with.
Really though, that the mainstream media would focus on and debate such a gratuitous issue while some are suggesting North Korea is offering to give up its nuclear weapons program, is no surprise. Neither is the mainstream media’s propensity to scream ‘nazi!’ from within an overarching narrative which supports corporate fascism.
It is no surprise because, like Fox News in the early 2000s, the mainstream media is something of a joke.
The thing is, like many people took for granted that American journalism as a whole would autocorrect Fox News, it feels as though many people are now taking for granted that ‘independent’ media will pull mainstream media to a higher standard, or, more likely, make it irrelevant.
I was randomly listening to a talk radio program this week on a small station which must have been out of upstate New York. It was a panel discussion — the host and three ‘experts’ — discussing Donald Trump. Traditional media bias would have dictated that the three guests be three critics of Trump, but perhaps made up of an embarrassed conservative, a Democrat screaming ‘nazi,’ and a progressive deconstructing the issues.
Instead, all three guests were ideologically uniform, and the segment devolved into a Fox style echo chamber where the host introduced a subject and the guests agreed and elaborated, seemingly competing to see who could use the most flowery, the most inflammatory, language.
At one point, one of the guests said, “It is impossible to deny that Trump is openly promoting white supremacy from the White House.”
The audacity that it takes to think it is impossible for anyone to deny your opinion is immense, but perhaps less so when you are in a room, a chamber if you will, where everyone is in thorough agreement.
Had there been someone with even a marginally different viewpoint involved in the conversation, they might have pointed out that many Trump supporters would deny the theory, invalidating the impossibility of the option, while others might have taken issue with the term openly.
But ignore some random radio program, and take a look at some of the so-called pillars of independent media.
On a day earlier this week, the top stories by The Young Turks:
Ok, maybe it was a slow day. What about the day before?
Hmmm, ok. What about over on the other side at Breitbart?
Yowza. Ok, what about over at Mother Jones.
You get the point.
It is the inflammatory, the superfluous, the surface level repeated ad-nauseum through a self-congratulatory echo chamber.
People used to be able to say with pride, ‘I’m informed. I read the newspaper and watch the news.’ Now, these sources are mostly irrelevant in a quest to be informed. What must be guarded against is replacing one form of back-patting with another — ‘I’m informed. I watch and read independent media.’
Just as there is nothing inherently virtuous in liberal media, or conservative for that matter, there is nothing inherently virtuous about independent media. And source after source appears to be succumbing to the temptation of mainstream media-style fake news.
It is, quite simply, up to those who seek understanding to demand high-quality information from their news sources, or to make them irrelevant.