Thoughts That Hurt to Think #091 – Fake News Is Real!

Anyone who learned to read in America remembers what it was like to spot their first tabloid headline with that wonderful new ability. None of us knew that a man-crocodile existed, or that psychic powers were real, until we read the headline splashed across the front page of a less than reputable publication. Maybe you weren’t as gullible as me at five years old, but I believed just about anything you told me. Don’t laugh, or anything; but I once believed a man in a red and white suit came down the chimney once a year to bring me toys. Vampires and wolf men seemed completely plausible in my world, and it took an adult to point out to me that some news items are not to be believed.

For me, the line was never clearly drawn: as soon as I learned that I should be skeptical about one article, I figured I should probably do the same with everything I read. If one publication was willing to fabricate facts to get me to buy their latest issue, why wouldn’t all the others? A few years ago most people laughed at my skepticism, like the older kids laughed at my belief in Santa Claus; but it turns out I may have been right in taking everything I read with a grain of salt, especially if the person writing about the subject has anything at all to gain from taking a certain point of view on it.

In most cases, all you have to do is follow the money trail. The articles that quote a study are always suspect, since someone paid for that study to be done. Actually, in many instances several studies are conducted; they just throw out the results from the ones that don’t back their claims. Very few experiments begin with no expectations in place on what results it will yield. Since it’s perfectly legal to conduct a study over and over until you get the result you are looking for, and only publish that isolated set of findings, many studies say whatever the people paying for them want them to say. Maybe some studies are done with an open mind, but we all know none of them are conducted without money.

Even something as basic as a salary can be enough to get a reporter to bend the truth to keep getting that salary. Newscasters aren’t representing their actual view on things; they’re just reading words someone else has written off a teleprompter, in most cases. Journalists aren’t any more free to express their opinion, even if they are the ones doing the writing; they know what tone and texture the publication they write for is after, and that the best way to keep their job is to toe that line like everyone else. You can only have so many articles rejected or edited into something completely different before you start mimicking that style or looking for another job.

Of course, most liberal news outlets have a pretty liberal staff; and the same goes for the conservative side. This may be the worst way to present a balanced perspective on the issues at hand, but it’s a great way to keep the viewers who share your political bent coming back for more. If there’s one thing pretty much all of us like, it’s being told we are right about something. Like any form of entertainment, the news is there to give you what you want. The only reason both sides focus on tragedy instead of uplifting material is because that’s what news watchers want to see.

It’s nice to think there was a time when all news was real; but we have no evidence to back up such wild claims. Propaganda is as old as communication, and the fact that it has taken countless forms over the years doesn’t really change the function behind it. In fact, propaganda isn’t just spreading lies to push your own agenda; technically, any information you put out there to promote your cause or hurt someone else’s is propaganda. Whether it’s true or not, the reason you spread the information is what makes it fall into this category.

With the way things are going in the news world today, every item they report on can be categorized as propaganda. Newspapers are struggling to remain in circulation, shows want to stay on the air, and clickbait is just a new platform for playing the same old game. In a world where even information distribution must pay homage to the almighty dollar, every fact and lie and half-truth is forced to make it through each individual’s or organization’s unique filter. You might have a desire to know what’s going on in the world, but media outlets have a desire to make money. The ways in which these two desires interface may be interesting, but it’s highly unlikely they will match up philosophically.

Even the honest independent reporter has their own opinions, and needs to garner followers to make money at what they do. No one makes it to adulthood without a perspective that has been skewed in one direction or another, and you just can’t see what’s over here if you’ve spent your whole life standing over there. Every issue worth considering has many sides to it, and subtleties that get blown about when you start flapping a right wing or a left one. Every flying bird instinctively knows what we as humans seem to have trouble grasping: if both wings aren’t fully developed, in an organization or individual, an idea can’t properly take flight. All you get is a bunch of useless flapping, and a lot of spin.

Modern society might be better in a lot of ways, and we can all be grateful that things like physical violence per capita has decreased as our collective mind has marched forward in time. However, even the most gullible among us has to see how opinionated news has gotten over the years. Many Americans have become disgusted with the situation, and get their local news from other countries; but they have a point of view as well, which means what they report on and how they report on it is determined virtually entirely by that point of view.

We would need robot reporters to get actual objective news, and even they would have to be programmed by someone. We can’t trust a liberal to do that programming, any more than we could a conservative; and when we start considering who we might choose to do it, we come right up against the same problem we have now. Since we understand things from a certain standpoint, we tend to make things that mimic us in the way they function. Humans have our programming, and so do our electronics; so how do we get news without consuming propaganda?

The truth is, we don’t. Every person or organization who spreads news has some stake in the game, whether it’s power or money or reputation or all of the above. Psychology tells us the best way to gain power over someone is to get them to think like you do, and the best way to win folks over to your side is to present your opinions as facts. People who barely function in real life now quote scientific studies, have opinions on medical research, and talk about complicated subjects like politics. Never mind that they’ve never conducted a study or held office; instead of focusing on being better spouses or parents, many people whose lives could definitely use some serious attention spend their time forming opinions on subjects they don’t have the discipline to understand. We now have people who screw up regularly at menial jobs beginning sentences with, “I’m not a doctor, but…”

For every piece of information available to us today, there are a dozen versions of it and a dozen more ways to spin it. Most of us are left to draw conclusions based on conclusions drawn by other people, since no one can spend a lifetime learning about every subject out there. We might do well to remember that any information being spread to further someone’s agenda or hinder someone else’s qualifies as propaganda, before we go spreading it ourselves.

Take me, for example. I’m not a scientist, or a doctor, or a politician. I’m clearly not a journalist, or beholden to some organizational agenda. At the same time, I can only speak to what I have experienced. All of what I have heard or read has been viewed through a very particular lens, and I have no way of looking at it through any eyes but my own. A big part of my reason for writing is because that is how I have learned to process the world around me; but I wouldn’t post it on the internet if I didn’t want people to read it. For years I filled up journals with thoughts like these, just to get a better handle on my own point of view. Now I share, with the hope that readers will enjoy that sharing.

Some people say they like these posts because they’re funny. Others say it makes them think, or that I bring up subjects they have thought about before and wondered if they were alone in their thinking. Again, I just hope they like it. Their reasons for reading are their own, and I am always grateful to hear about those reasons; but in the end, I am trying to find new readers while also encouraging return readers.

Writing is one thing, but having people read it is quite another. A special circuit closes, between the author and the reader, and a unique kind of energy passes between them. I love that phenomenon, more than almost anything; and I’ll keep doing whatever I can do to make that connection as many times as possible. The nature of my sharing requires that I tell my own truth, to find the kind of readers I’m looking for; but I try to make it clear from time to time that I know it isn’t necessarily anyone else’s truth, or the truth.

I’m just spewing propaganda, like everyone else, telling my version of the story to better further my own agenda. Good luck getting your scientists or your politicians to admit that, even if it’s true for virtually everyone. In the process, I’m looking for those readers who like my tone or style or subject matter; I’m definitely looking for the ones who like all three. Hopefully, you are one of those people. Hopefully, you liked this week’s post and plan to come back for next week’s.

And hopefully, you keep it in mind between now and then: fake news is real, and all news is propaganda! Everyone talking or writing has some stake in the game, and very few of us will come right out and tell you what it is. Welcome to Earth, and the way we do things here.

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

J.K. Norry
The Secret Society of Deeper Meaning
Twitter: @JayNorry

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