05/07/2024 lewrockwell.com  12min 🇬🇧 #251898

The Awesome, Terrifying Power of the Press

By Eugyppius
 A Plague Chronicle

July 5, 2024

Take a moment to contemplate the awesome and terrifying power of the press.

Since 2020, the United States have had a geriatric president who suffers from serious mental deficits. The media discounted this awkward state of affairs as a conspiracy theory or as Trumpist propaganda for years, substantially blunting the political impact of Biden's dementia. Then, after the president's terrible debate performance on 27 June, the press made Biden's incapacity the centre of their coverage, finally welcoming this fact into official regime-sanctioned reality and bringing Biden's candidacy into crisis. All of this happened within just hours. As I write this, Biden has no more than even odds of securing his party's nomination, and the press are working overtime to rehabilitate Kamala Harris. Journalists who spent years quietly mocking the vice president for her abrasive personality and her bizarre speaking gaffes are now making the latter a cornerstone of her candidacy.  Are you coconutpilled, dear reader?

The Biden Affair is nothing new. So overwhelming is the influence of the press over our politics, that many have described liberal democracies as media-steered regimes, wherein politicians adopt positions and enact policies calculated above all to secure favourable coverage from journalists. Much recent German history appears to support this theory, from the nuclear phase-out of 2011 to the self-imposed migration crisis of 2015 to the lockdown and mass vaccination hysteria of 2020-21.

This is an enticing theory, but I think it actually understates the role of the media. The press do not drive politics so much as they collaborate in the formulation and implementation of policy. Many media stories are themselves political events. They serve to coordinate and direct the distributed actors of our managerial systems, and they construct an adjusted reality designed not only to confine debate, but also to limit the range of conceivable actions to those which our rulers already favour.

So totalising is the influence of the press that it is very hard to escape their illusions and contemplate their reporting objectively. Among the most obtrusive features of modern-day journalism - and a great source of its power - is its unrelenting coordination. Because we've grown up with a journalist class that is always on-message, we take this behaviour for granted.

We shouldn't. It's actually very weird when you think about it.

Imagine, for a moment, that you wanted to found your own periodical. Maybe you hope to run a weekly magazine or a daily newspaper, maybe you have ambitions of amassing an enormous audience of millions, or maybe you're content to collect primarily regional readers. Whatever the details, you want to cover national politics in some way. The most rational approach - before you even rent office space or begin to hire staff - would be to study what existing publications are saying and what they're reporting on, and plan to offer something different. Unless you provide content that your readers can't get anywhere else, after all, you'll have trouble convincing anyone to read you.

You'd think, therefore, that the media landscape would be a richly differentiated thing - especially when it comes to big, national stories. Variation like this is present everywhere else in the consumer economy. There are a near-infinite variety of headphones, energy drinks, shoes and coffee makers. Newspapers should be just as varied in their coverage, focus and analysis as all of these other things.

But of course, it is the opposite. Western media resembles much more the consumer landscape of the Soviet bloc. We find the same product on offer everywhere in all leading publications. As in the communist East, variety is confined to a kind of black market - that is to say an array of blogs, social media accounts and alternative (mostly online) publications that you're not supposed to read and that the official discourse wholly ignores. This anomaly is easy enough to see if you spend multiple hours every day reading news stories. The average consumer of political reporting, however, has a much more casual and sporadic relationship to press discourse, and he's apt to think that the convergence is entirely natural. The New York Times, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and Le Monde report the very same things in the very same way at the very same time, often under extremely similar headlines, because they're just reporting on the way the world is.

In hard authoritarian regimes, like National Socialist Germany, regime propaganda was an open, blunt instrument. Everybody who read the Völkischer Beobachter knew very well that the paper propagated the official Nazi Party line. The soft authoritarianism of the liberal West, in contrast, manages the information and opinions available to the public in a much more effective manner, namely by pretending not to. Millions of people open their newspapers every day in the belief that they contain accurate accounts of the goings-on in the world, and they form their beliefs and political preferences within this highly convincing illusion.

The distributed propaganda network maintained by our establishment press is very expensive. Especially the opportunity costs are very high. In a healthy, uncoordinated media environment, it would be impossible for somebody like me to make a living blogging about the insanity of German politics. I'd have very stiff competition from a multitude of professional, well-funded journalists who would be fighting at every moment to take my readers away from me by writing the kinds of things I do, only more effectively, more frequently and with fewer typographical errors. Of course I am a very small player in the broader ecosystem of alternative media; the audience for this content is hundreds of millions strong. It consists of all those people who have been written off by the establishment press, as the necessary price of exercising narrative control.

Among the forces that conspire to keep legacy media on-message is their aforementioned collaboration with the political establishment. This collaboration includes a tacit understanding that leading politicians and bureaucrats will only provide interviews and information to regime-adjacent journalists, granting them an effective monopoly on political news.

A small controversy in German media recently laid bare the rigidity of these arrangements. Last week, the liberal German Finance Minister, Christian Lindner,  granted an interview to Julian Reichelt's alternative 'populist' 'right-wing' platform NiUS. Establishment journalists lost their minds, but Lindner defended his decision, insisting that "𝕏 the plurality of the media landscape is a valuable asset" and adding that he had also granted an interview to that cut-rate leftist Guardian-wannabe known as taz. This only made our regime journalists angrier. "This was a serious, blatant, sinister and deliberate mistake," 𝕏 Spiegel𝕏 columnist Christian Stöcker screamed. "Taz does journalism. 'Nius' does disinformation for right-wing extremists. But you already knew that."

taz, for their part, were so angry at being cast as the left-wing equivalent of NiUS that their editors-in-chief, Barbara Junge und Ulrike Winkelmann,  fired off an open protest letter to the Finance Minister:

Dear Mr Lindner,

it was with a mixture of irritation and bewilderment that we noticed how you cited taz... to justify your interview with the online mud-slinger Nius: You described a "media landscape" in which you implied taz and Nius occupy opposite but comparable positions.

NiUS is an unsavoury, right-wing website... The head of Nius... uses the platform to spread resentment and spite against your cabinet colleagues.. It is painful for us... to watch you justify the interview by invoking "plurality," that is, the freedom of the press, which so essentially distinguishes our democracy from autocracies and dictatorships...

How you came to mention taz in this context is completely beyond us. We would like to politely point out that the taz - in contrast to Nius - is a journalistic medium that observes the principles of ethical journalism.

With best regards from Friedrichstraße,

Barbara Junge and Ulrike Winkelmann,

Now taz are neither a serious nor an ethical publication, and I mean this objectively. As their online critics have pointed out, they've foisted upon the German public such monstrosities as " Why I Like Stealing... An ode to the five-finger discount." Its author says he enjoys shoplifting "because it gives me a sense of balance" and because "it's exciting, it calms me down and, above all... it's fair." Or there's  this piece, by some crazy woman named Lou Zucker, which argues that "Heterosex is not natural," because "Semen and vaginal flora have completely different pH values" and because of sexually transmitted diseases and other reasons too. Zucker demands that we "redistribute the medical costs that women incur as a result of heterosexuality" by imposing a "sex tax" upon straight men. I'm not the biggest fan of NiUS, but they've never published anything remotely as idiotic as this garbage, and they have a much larger readership than the 240,000-odd dessicated flea-ridden leftoids who still pay to read the drivel that taz churns out. What Junge and Winkelmann mean to say, but what they can't bring themselves to state explicitly, is that taz is part of the official, collaborationist regime press. They've sacrificed profit opportunities and no little credibility in return for a seat at the political table, and being snubbed by a sitting cabinet minister is outrageous to them.

We should study the information-management strategies of our press much more closely. Rarely do they lie outright, and rarely do they suppress unfavourable stories totally. Their approach is both softer and more insidious. When this video emerged of the American president confused and wandering off at the G7, for example...

... the Deutsche-Presse Agentur responded with a range of wholly typical tactics to minimise it:

... Yes, the President doesn't look particularly vigorous... But for anyone who regularly observes the oldest US president of all time, a moment like this is commonplace. On the fringes of the G7 summit, however, the shaky way in which the most powerful man in the world presents himself on the international stage has become a talking point.

... With Biden is in the middle of his election campaign for a second term, the campaign machinery of his challenger Donald Trump... is pouncing on scenes like this. "Biden's cognitive decline is clearly visible at the G7 summit," Trump's team [said]. "Biden was seen staring into the distance and wandering around like a brain-dead zombie."...

Campaigners from the Republican Party are dissecting every statement and every move made by the incumbent in order to portray him as a senile old man on the verge of collapse who is unable to utter a straight sentence - let alone lead the country. Even during Biden's first stop in Europe, during his visit to France, Trump's campaign team distributed various video clips to make Biden look particularly old - but all of them were distorted, shortened and edited so as to deprive them of context and distort reality.

It's also true, though, that Biden - a grandfather of seven - slips up every day and doesn't come across as particularly agile. His gait is stiff... [He] moves only slowly, tackling steps with caution. He has a gaffe almost every time he makes an appearance, doesn't finish sentences or stumbles over complicated words - and not just because he grew up with a stammering problem.

The office of US President is considered one of the toughest jobs in the world. Biden is doing it at an age when others have already been retired for many years. The election campaign has now been added to the mix. Around the G7 summit, Biden is jetting back and forth between the USA and Europe twice in a fortnight.... Even people half Biden's age can get exhausted....

The dpa, remember, are a straight news agency that pretends to objectivity, and yet we can see in their reporting on Biden's G7 gaffe a range of tactics to blunt and shape the inconvenient story. First is the effort to deny that this video clip is disclosing anything that insiders don't already know; incidents like that in the video are "commonplace" to "anyone who regularly observes the president." This would seem to redound to Joe Biden's disadvantage, but the argument is aimed at alternative discourses on social media, where this video was widely shared before the dpa ever reported on it. The suggestion is that only uninformed outsiders would even find this interesting.

Otherwise, note how the whole problem is subtly reframed: Biden is an ageing president who lacks "agility," he is not physically "vigorous," and he may be tired from traveling a lot. Speculation about his mental acuity, however - the only thing anybody cares about - is ascribed wholly to Donald Trump and "Campaigners from the Republican Party." The press present themselves as wholly objective; to the degree their portrayals are at odds with alternative media, this is because the latter have an agenda. In this way our journalists aim to construct a subtly adjusted simulacrum of the world - one that incorporates also adverse facts and events, while defanging and adjusting them as necessary.

The press change direction and revise their narratives all the time, mostly without acknowledgment. The short-term focus of the news cycle is a great aid to them here. Their reversal on the subject of Biden's mental capacity, however, is too sudden even for those with the memory of a goldfish, and so they've constructed a new narrative to explain it all.  As this  New York Times article explains, Biden's mental decline is primarily a phenomenon of the past "weeks and months": "... [B]y many accounts, as evidenced by video footage, observation and interviews, Mr. Biden is not the same today as he was... when he took office 3½ years ago." These are imperfections in their diorama that they will eagerly patch back together,  building in the process a carefully revised simulacrum of their own past reporting.