It’s clear that Putin’s Russia, and possibly others outside the U.S., attempted to fuck with the American public in the 2016 election. You have probably read more than me on this problem. I just scan the headlines now. Waiting for a smoking gun doesn’t mean you have to become obsessed.
The methodology for fucking with us has been called Fake News. The term, of course, has been co-opted by Donald Trump, but the original definition of “Fake News” was connected to the fact that people or groups were creating websites that seemed like they were legitimate sites like ABCNews or CNN or what have you then they’d post made up crap about the discovery of female viagra that guarantees vaginal orgasms for all; or maybe some fake study about a special pill that gives men control of their boners for 24-hours at a time and allows them to have multiple orgasms.
Fake news was an expansion to the Internet of spam like those letters you get about your boobs or your penis (or both). The idea expanded from falsey Internet sites to fake tweets, fake posts to Facebook and what not. It was only a matter of time for folks to figure out you didn’t just have to lie about growing naughty bits.
The game has so much more value for politics. It was only natural, because while spammy internet sites were going crazy with distortions in virtual space, we had TV, websites, and specious, amateur news organizations (you know the ones) specializing in hyperbole, conspiracy theories, and other attention getting communication methodologies, figuring out they could just go over the edge and simply make shit up when necessary.
And since we’re a global community now, it’s really awesome that eastern Europeans and the Russians have gotten into the game. It’s just sad that so many Americans are gullible and uninformed. It’s a game folks. They’re fucking with you in order to make money.
None of this lying and distortion is new. What is the news anyway, even when it’s all true, but a sophisticated and ordered form of gossip.
Gossip is a funny thing. It may well be the reason human beings taught themselves to speak in the first place. The whole idea of coming of age and being mature is learning how to manipulate others through the act of telling stories for your own gain. We all do it regularly. We do it to ourselves, too.
Some people are better at fucking with the truth than others (my ex-wife was a genius at that kind of thing). Some people know better (my current wife is as guileless and trustworthy as anyone I’ve ever had sex with). It doesn’t matter. We love gossip more than dessert and probably even more than pornography.
Lying and twisting up truth has been a basic professional activity at least since the early days of pulp news in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Yellow journalism was a basic force in America beginning with media barons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitizer. The idea of ethical reporting took a back seat for both of them as their papers freely used hyperbole, exaggeration, quotes from disreputable sources, and stilted points of view.
Somewhere back in the middle of the last century supermarket tabloids like National Enquirer and The Globe, and Weekly World News became a standard point-of-sale prop in grocery and drug stores. While waiting to buy laundry detergent and cat food, we’ve all been privy to Elvis sitings, alien abductions, and the latest Hollywood divorce secrets.
Then there’s the whole world of the shock jock and conservative radio talk shows that gained popularity in the 1980s and have simply become a driving force in shaping the precious minds of non-critical thinkers in America for several generations. Rush Limbaugh and Morton Downey, Jr. were the main movers and shakers in that world (Howard Stern, too). Now there are literally dozens of fringe conservative mouthpieces throughout the country — on the radio, on TV, and tucked into little rat holes on the Internet everywhere. And we all know about Fox News these days. It’s the logical extension of yellow journalism and shock radio.
Here’s the thing, though. While overt distortion of reality is obvious and unethical, most media coverage these days utilizes elements of fake news as a matter of course. Journalists talk about surveys and opinion polls and talk about how groups feel. There are two problems with that thinking: 1. Groups are theoretical constructs, they don’t feel anything — only real people do; 2. Surveys and polls usually are all about percentages, so if 56% of respondents said they prefer hamburgers over hot dogs on the 4th of July, that doesn’t mean that America is a hamburger nation.
Then there’s the standard news item that has become all too common where reporters go out on the street and talk to people to get their opinions of the topic of the day. Quoting eight random people on their views of abortion or legalizing marijuana is about as meaningful as just making up eight separate characters for a news story. People who make things up lose their jobs. People who pretend that talking to people on the street is news sometimes get paid six-figure salaries.
There’s also the fabulous interview technique, prominent in high-end media like NPR and 60 Minutes, of putting words in people’s mouthes. “It sounds like it was one of the most amazing experiences you ever had.” “Yeah, it was. It was an amazing experience.” “The most amazing ever.” “Right. The most amazing experience I ever had.”
I kind of think of this as journalism peeing on the rug in the living room. I feel bad for reporters. I’m embarrassed that they think it’s okay. Do they have a fetish? Do they think it’s sexy?
There’s nothing to be done once they let loose. It’s going to stink for a couple weeks. There might even be a stain. I also know they’re going to keep on doing it, which makes me feel even worse for them, and embarrassed further, etc. etc.
“Is it so hard to hold it,” I want to ask. “Can’t you just go in the proper place like the rest of us? Using the toilet isn’t just the proper thing to do, it’s how you honor truth and stay in the real world.”
Rising Above It All
I’ve read the newspaper every morning for the last 21 years. I watch the nightly news at 6:30 ET while drinking at the end of every day. And I listen to NPR too pretty much two to three times a day. But in the last three months I’ve started tuning out. It’s funny. I scan headlines now but rarely read an article. I watch the news and can’t remember a thing they say, except the ads. The ads I love. There are three or four TV commercial actresses I’m in love with. I can’t get enough of them. My wife laughs at me about that. I haven’t told her that sometimes I fantasize about several NPR radio women when I masturbate in the shower. There is nothing sexier than the disembodied voice of a firmly intelligent woman speaking the blues of life in America, trying as hard as she can to fight the foolishness of fake news, gossip, and distortion.
Until recently, too, I used to mindlessly call up my email in one tabbed window and Facebook in another every morning. I’m supposed to be a writer, but all I could do is go online and look for some weird payoff of communication beings sent my way. That’s changing now though too. I go into a trance when I’m looking through my email. And I sometimes fall asleep while I’m looking at Facebook. The whole game of information payoff seems to be coming to an end for me. Nothing’s interesting any more. And I don’t know what’s true or real anymore.
That’s the thing, and that may be the way we all get saved in the end: we only pay attention to shit when we think it’s real. It used to be there was enough truth out there you never really had to doubt anything unless you wanted to. Now, with so much bullshit and lies being told brazenly by so many people in power, you have no honest choice except to assume what you’re looking at or what you’re listening to is bullshit. And there’s no payoff in that. It’s the reverse, actually, because you know if you believe what you’re confronted with, you’re pretty much a stupid person and the joke’s on you.
That’s where we’re headed. There will always be fools who want to believe stuff. There’s millions of men who think they’re giving their girl friends and wives orgasms in under two minutes. But for most of us, we know life takes work — lots of patience, good vibrations, and a little tongue.
Think I need to cancel my news subscription? If I didn’t love sports so much I’d cancel my cable too. Sports may be the only place that reality still runs wild and free in this country. That in itself is a reason to stand for the national anthem at all baseball, football, and basketball games everywhere.
There’s still a great ice cream cone in the sky. Trust me. We’re just incredibly confused right now.