In Brief— A well-informed person is advised to read as broadly as possible and to be skeptical of what s/he reads. Be aware that the mainstream press regularly misleads its readers, so a healthy degree of skepticism is always in order.
Scylla or Charybdis: Uninformed or Misinformed?—
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” –Mark Twain
An oft quoted line is ”Believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see.” I say, ”Don’t believe anything you read and very little of what you see.” I’ll explain this as I proceed. For now, I would go with Mark Twain whose quote is above.
While I advocate reading what is acknowledged as a ”good” newspaper such as The New York Times or The Guardian in England, I advise you to read what the press writes with a healthy degree of skepticism. The Washington Post is thought by some to still be a good source for news, but it has faded since the days when it published ”The Pentagon Papers” and remains an unknown quantity until the new owner, Jeff Bezos, puts his mark on the paper. The Wall Street Journal has deteriorated noticeably since being bought by Rupert Murdoch. It’s fair to say that it is becoming the Fox News of the financial press, an arm of the Republican Party. All are controlled by powerful oligarchs.
The print press is undergoing enormous changes as it struggles to survive reduced advertising revenues and the incursion of purely online insurgents such as Truthout, the Southport Reporter in England and New Jersey’s Atlantic Highlands Herald (I have not read the last two). Evidence of the change is that the major print media are instituting their own online versions of their print papers. The online The New York Times is an example.
Don’t Believe What You Read—
Part of the reason I say you should read the news with a healthy degree of skepticism is that all the major print press newspapers are owned by powerful oligarchic multi-millionaires or corporations that have a stake in maintaining the status quo. That bears repeating: The mainstream press has a stake in maintaining the status quo. Translated that means mindless corporate-dominated Wall Street continues to be in the driver’s seat. Stories are designed to attract eyeballs and thus are written for the sake of drama. ”If it bleeds, it leads” is the way it is often put.
This leads one to ask, ”What is the Times (and most other corporate-owned papers throughout the country) not addressing that cries out for attention? Occupy Wall Street’s legitimate complaints, for example? We read about Occupy’s disturbances and participants’ physical appearance but little or nothing about their legitimate complaints. Why?
Have you ever wondered why reformers like Ralph Nader, Howard Zinn, Martin Luther King, Michael Harrington and Edward Snowden are not heeded, are spied upon, threatened and marginalized? Could the mainstream press be part of the answer? The populace is being herded like sheep, given superficial news and information deemed beneficial for those who sit in the seats of power…like those who publish the papers we read.
It is a poorly-kept secret that the reporters in the mainstream press are admonished by the publishers to suppress their personal feelings in favor of ”balance.” That means, for example, that the extreme positions of the Tea Party members in congress are reported with the same weight as those of non-Tea Party members even though the Tea Party’s positions are often bizarre and inimical to democracy. It means that Representative Paul Ryan’s smoke and mirrors budgets are treated as a serious economic solution even though he refuses to provide examples of his policy recommendations.
By contrast, the best reporting in the purely online press such as Truthout calls a questionable position what it is: questionable. Thus, when you read the mainstream press—even the online version of the mainstream press—the article should be read with a healthy degree of skepticism. Based on this, I recommend that you read, for example, Truthout if you read The New York Times. Truthout will give you some perspective. Generally, the mainstream press’s hidden bias does not hold true in their editorial columns. There, the positions of the editorial journalists are relatively clear on the issue being discussed although the publishers make every effort to conceal the status quo agendum.
No better example of the misinformation of the mainstream press can be found than the reportage of Venezuelan unrest. The independent non-partisan organization Just Foreign Policy assails The New York Times for falsely reporting that the spokespersons for the protestors are banned from television when they have appeared on at least two major stations with their message on several occasions. The same applies to the Times’ economic assessments. The Times appears to have published the American government’s line as fact even though it is demonstrably false. America’s propaganda is alive and well and the mainstream press is pushing the government’s misinformation.
Further distortion of the facts was pointed out in The New York Times on March 2, 2014, by Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist in his column titled ” The Inflation Obsession.” Even as Lehman Brothers was imploding in 2008, the transcripts of the Federal Reserve for 2008 mentioned inflation as a problem nearly five hundred times, but unemployment a mere forty-four times. What’s worse, they stuck with the inflation threat until recently. All this was duly reported in the mainstream press in spite of evidence to the contrary. Inflation was low then and has remained low while unemployment has remained an open wound in America.
Chilling evidence of the mainstream press’s aversion to obvious facts, can be found in Wikipedia’s article on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. In 2003, Hedges delivered the commencement address at Rockford College in Illinois. His subject was the Iraqi War. The New York Times reprimanded him for his lack of impartiality. This is the ”balance” issue I mentioned earlier. Shortly thereafter, Hedges left the paper.
Suffice it to say that the purely online press has its fair share of unreliable and even dishonest news sources. I refuse to name them here because doing so might tempt readers to check them out resulting in their moving toward the top of Google by virtue of the ”hits” they receive. That would be a disservice to my readers.
The media includes television and radio, and they do more than their fair share of misleading. I’m talking to you Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. But that’s a subject for later. This one is about the print press and its online progeny. In a forthcoming piece on the electronic media, I will show how the otherwise respected CBS television network actively misled millions of Americans on the Affordable Care Act, aka ”Obamacare.”
The Computer as Receptacle for Trash—
Then there is the stuff that sometimes fills your email In-Box from partisan individuals. The Internet is noted for containing tons of junk. Couple that with the human tendency to accept the written word as gospel and you have a veritable witch’s brew of gross misinformation being circulated. Undiscriminating or just plain gullible people too often have such a partisan bias that you are advised to either do your research (it’s easy on Snopes or Google) or, better yet, trash the material rather than waste your valuable time. Though it may look credible at first glance, it probably isn’t.
Be Very Skeptical of What You See—
Since the advent of Photoshop, many of the fantastic photographs you see have been enhanced or modified—”Photoshopped” is the term—to make the photo more appealing than it was when it was taken. This is as true of advertisements as it is of the non-commercial photos you see every day, whether in the newspaper or magazine or on your computer screen. This is not a recent phenomenon, but it is much easier these days thanks to advances in technology. It can even take place in the camera, not just through the mediation of a computer, since our cameras now are mini-computers. Even your mobile phone has an impressive camera in it, and the cameras are improving with every upgrade. Like the news, that photo may not be all it seems.
The moral to this story is that you are well-advised to maintain a high degree of skepticism when reading the news, any news. These people are selling a product and we are the target. We are expected to know that an advertiser is stretching the truth to get us to buy a product. However, be aware that the press—particularly the mainstream press—is just as devious in presenting the news. The only difference is that the press is presumably selling information. I’m not saying they are lying—although that does happen—but they are not presenting the unalloyed truth. Be on your guard. Read between the lines and cultivate a healthy degree of skepticism. The crediblility you save may be your own.