Thursday, January 10, 2019

Fake News

I first became interested in the issue of fake news, though I didn't call it that at the time, back in 1976. I was 22 . I had developed some libertarian views by that time, having recently read Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. One might even say that I had been radicalized.

It was during my first and only year in the Chemical Engineering Technology program at Mohawk College. One mandatory course was called, "Communication Skills." The class had to assemble in a large lecture hall because it contained four separate classes of 1st year Common Technology students, probably in the neighborhood of 150 students.

The teacher was sort of a hippy-dippy dude for the time. He wore blue jeans and a denim vest to class, and I think, a white turtle-neck sweater, and unless my memory is embellishing things, and he had a gold chain or something around his neck.

Early in the program, he decided to have the students select the topic for the day, come to the lecturn, and MC the whole shebang. When he asked for a volunteer, no one ventured forth, so he resorted to a threat. If no one would volunteer, he would choose someone from the audience.

The first person he chose bravely raised the subject of LGBTQ rights, correct gender pronoun use, and micro-aggressions.

I'm kidding. How the fuck would I remember what topic anyone chose to beak off about back in 1976?

Oh! I do remember one topic. It was about Playboy magazine or something. The only reason I remember that topic is because one guy told the class that he liked to read Playboy because it had some good articles in it.

I was terrified that I would get picked. I remember wishing, as the teacher scanned the audience, (I will call it an "audience" rather than a "class" henceforth) for his next victim, that I could hide behind the person sitting in front of me, but with my luck, that person was always too short.

Finally, on the third or fourth day of this torture, I said to myself, "Fuck this. I might as well get it over with" and I walked up to the lecturn.

The first thing I learned was that that cartoon about the guy with his knees knocking together wasn't so far from the truth.

I proceeded to blurt out the following announcement,

"Canada is not a free country."

Oh boy, did that get a response? Judging from the protests and groans from the audience, my worst fears had been realized. Everyone thought I was an idiot.

As the debate gathered steam, I got less nervous. And I started to notice something. I actually had some support from the audience. Not actually being able to see where my support was coming from I was nevertheless able to detect it in a cloudy way from where the sounds were coming from. Some groans over here. Some shrill screams and cries of "racist" over there. And a little pocket of cheers coming from somewhere else. I wondered, "is this what they call 'Audience Dynamics?'"

Another thing I remember thinking at the time was that this must have been something Adolf Hitler came to understand during his beer hall rants and was thus able to fine-tune to his political advantage.

In retrospect, it was quite the learning experience. I had learned something valuable about "Communications Skills." Duh! Who'd 've thunk?

After that I found myself engaged in a few private debates with the teacher. During one such debate, I happened to opine that the media were biased. He disagreed and challenged me to scan a few newspapers and bring him one or two examples of biased reporting. I accepted his challenge and scanned one or two papers, one was the Hamilton Spectator.

Damn it if I could find any overt bias. I noticed that most of the reports were qualified by "he said/she said" or "studies show."

Sheepishly, I reported back to the teacher that I could find nothing other than factual reporting. He said/she said. Studies show.

Having been defeated, I had reason to try to understand where and why I had gone wrong. I mean, I knew the media were shoveling a pile of shit. I just didn't understand how.

What I was not sophisticated enough at the time to know is that news bias isn't entirely dependent on the factual accuracy of what is being reported.

It depended upon *what* is reported, day in, and day out, over and over again, ad nauseam, ad delirium, like "Global Warming" or "the Dangers of Second Hand Smoke," usually in the form of "he said/she said" or "studies show."

It was then that I finally understood the trick. It's well and good to report the facts, so long as you report those facts that support your ideological agenda. In most cases, these facts cry out for more taxes, more welfare, more third world immigration, smoking bans, fewer cars, less sugar, and less meat. And less enjoyment of a middle-class lifestyle. Oh, and did I say, more taxes?

A new term evolved which I think perfectly describes the process. - Controlling the narrative. -

Media analysis is the tool I have long used to predict the future, with, I think, relative success. That's why I am rarely surprised by new developments.

The dinosaur media has (had) ENORMOUS power to determine the political trajectory of a nation or a civilization. It's not always about the questions they ask. It's also about the questions they never ask.

Not so much anymore, thanks to the internet.

But what is this I hear? The internet is being censored? Trudeau is giving the legacy media millions in government financial support? Ad hoc definitions of "hate speech" are cropping up like dandelions resulting in the scything of oodles of libertarian and conservative media outlets?

Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle!

I used to think that despite the chipping away at human rights that has been going on over the course of my lifetime, the freedom of speech would be one of the last dominoes to fall.

That one caught me off-guard. It's not that I didn't expect it. I just didn't expect it would happen so fast.

1 comment:

  1. Good points - I think that debates (or discussions) may have had more leniency with quoting studies without specificity is because there was greater pride and accountability in days of yore. Profs like you have referenced picked up that scholars quoted studies and abbreviated it to "studies prove..."
    What we didn't realize that those lazy profs were paving the way to the great millennial minds of today who loosely mis-quote George Clooney and Oprah as legitimate sources of knowledge and insight.


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