Goodbye, Mainstream Media!
November 17, 2016 | by Sergio Alberich
“Nothing is more imbecile and more ‘imbecilizing’ than political passion. It is the only passion that is deprived of greatness, the only one capable of dumbing man down.” – Nelson Rodrigues
I have naturally been reluctant to write about the American presidential elections, a subject of interest to many, but mostly a spark of hate and passion. In years marked by the thought that the possession of a strong and loud option on a subject is deemed more important than having any information on it, we find Americans treating the political theater in the same way South Americans and Europeans relate to Soccer. Emotions are expressed without judgement and, even worse, the acknowledgement that some thought should precede the way people react to the things they see is often ignored.
People consume politics as entertainment, cheer irrationally as partisan fans and behave as hooligans against the aficionados of the stupid party or of the evil party, depending on which side they identify with. They yield to their most primitive feelings, behave as Bobbus Americanus not as Homo Sapiens, and unsurprisingly, brutality arises as the offspring of so much unchecked sentimentality.
Plurality of ideas and contrarian views are simply not tolerated. It is everything or nothing. Either one follows 100% of the words preached by the prophets of his team or he is out, he is the enemy, he is beyond redemption. Inevitably, no room is left for civilized debates based on logic and facts; personal attacks, bad language and hate become the norm.
The best of man is corrupted and no one is better than the most ordinary person when the entirety of our actions is reduced to the expression of feelings. A homogeneous blob of stupidity, of caving to instincts and not thinking is considered the only accepted behavior by the opinion-molders of politics, academia and media. Everything becomes a political topic. No one is responsible for their own actions. Everyone is held accountable for everyone else’s feelings.
Inevitably, and sadly, personal responsibility is neglected and liberty is hurt.
Today, more than a week after the Donald was elected the next Commander in Chief, I see that the vehemence with which opinions have been expressed have not diminished, it has gone through the roof. It is out of control! Perhaps, I should have held my initial position and avoided writing about it for a bit longer, but the free fall of mainstream media during the election cycle has been fascinating to watch and of great entrepreneurial and social interest (and far more important than the outcome of the election per se).
For a little over two decades we have been hearing about the changes media has been going through. Since the early days of the internet it has been easy to see that paper would not reign absolute anymore and that digital platforms would take a preeminent share of the market. The rise of independent bloggers has been discussed at length, and reports about the bankruptcy of some of the bastions of the old press have been plenty and frequent. Yet, one quick look around and titans of media like CNN, NYT, The Economist, Time, The New Yorker, FOXNews, MSNBC, WSJ, WaPo and many others are still around and going strong (at least on the surface). They are deemed the most influential voices, have adapted to digital formats, incorporated blogs and expanded their customer bases. Reputation and big paychecks are still at large for those running TV shows or writing regular columns for them.
So far, or at least until this last election, it has been much more about a technological shift than a change in the structure of the industry. Turning an industry upside-down does not happen overnight, and the 1994-2016 period seems to have been the prelude of the actual revolution. Though the internet, the catalyst of the transformation, the driving force behind the Peer-to-Peer communication, was already in place in the mid-90s, much had to happen before we could witness the current meltdown.
Producers and consumers needed to learn how to deal with this new reality. Both had been completely rooted in the old model, and so had their parents and kids. It was not easy to break century old habits, particularly when the new options offered at the time were quite rudimentary. People were indeed excited about the digital platforms, but it was more about the enjoyment of promising gadgets and channels than the quality of the services. Internet was slow and crashed all the time, computer screens were deplorable, WiFi was far away from pervasiveness, most houses had one computer attached to a desk that did not allow reading the news while in bed or over breakfast, cell phones had no access to the world-wide-web and it still took many years before smart phones came around. Even after the iPhone launch in 2007 connections were still unreliable, thousands of apps had not yet been developed and consumers were not eager enough to regularly access media outside of their TVs, magazines and newspapers.
Yet, even when all the technology was available at decent prices and quality, producers were not that comfortable with leaving the safety of the old industry. Some business models that defied industry mantras were already technologically feasible, but had not yet been tried out. It demanded courageous entrepreneurs to venture into unknown territory, to figure out how to combine new and old factors of production, to endure criticism and to persevere. Many failed miserably, others hit the goal post and a few succeeded.
Anyways, the point is that a big change in the Media industry has not been fostered by an exogenous technology that appeared out of nowhere (as the upside-down reality of most economic models), it was brought about by real people who consume and produce, who try out new things, who fail and succeed. It has been a long process that began many years ago, and that is finally reaching its tipping point.
Well, back to the horror show of the American presidential elections. Thank God, it is finally over! I mean, it is technically over, not actually over. The votes have been cast, but the political talk will endure much longer. The establishment media is completely lost and resembles a boxer who is still standing after been punched in the chin. It is defenseless, unaware of its weakness and hoping that by throwing a useless jab it will escape its fate… a knockout!
After a disastrous performance where the mainstream media got everything wrong, it finds itself in a territory once occupied by the fringe internet-based journalism of the 90s. That is, lack of credibility, advertisers and profit. Public skepticism of traditional media is at an all-time high. Yet, all they try to do now is to push us to trust them by telling us all the things that will unquestionably happen as the result of all the things they endlessly repeated that would not happen.
Their situation is shoddier, though. Credibility lost is much worse than credibility not yet achieved. Second, the economics of the industry, the marketing strategies, the new ways to produce and to reach consumers are working against these dinosaurs of communications.
In short, mainstream media is going belly-up. No matter what they do, their cost base, their capital and personnel rigidity, and their close ties to the state continue to undermine their profitability. Young talent is looking at new business models, viewers are tired of their “3-by-5 card of allowable opinion” and technology keeps improving in favor of small, innovative and dispersed media producers.
An era is coming to an end before our eyes. Newspapers dominated print media for almost 200 years and FCC-regulated and protected radio and TV networks ruled the past half-a-century. Somehow, these same players managed to grow with the help of the internet. Today, however, outlet by outlet, they are being crushed. The new technologies are decentralizing production and consumption. They are very cheap. They are flexible. They give consumers a much-needed diversity of journalistic opinion. They allow people to easily take control of their reading choices. They cannot be reversed.
Perhaps most importantly, these new technologies have made evident the symbiotic relationship between intellectualoids and government. Even though the statist bias of the mainstream print, digital and TV media has been well-known for a long time, numerous people (on all sides of the political spectrum) were surprised by how close many channels coordinated their coverage with the political establishment during this electoral cycle. Also, as always, no dissidence from the status-quo was tolerated and any proposed substantial shift in national or foreign policy were mocked and labeled as craziness. While the meaningless discussion over whether taxes should be 39% or 40% indeed happened in the media, anything that laid outside the narrow scope of the conventional wisdom of the intelligentsia was down played as the silly words of a radical.
First, in the primaries, it was the pro-state left and right media fighting the “outsiders” Bernie and Trump. National Review and Fox News led the #NeverTrump movement and the NYT and CNN were so much in favor of the establishment Clinton that parts of left finally started to see them for what they really are, strongly biased partisan outlets that ignore ethics in order to support the establishment.
When it came down to Hillary versus the Donald, things were not much different, except the pundits and experts both on the left and on the right favored Clinton. What bothered people was not the loud support she was getting from the journalistic class, it was how actively CNN, CNBC, the NYT, WaPo and other outlets colluded with the Clinton campaign. Wikileaks made it public, but things got so out of hand, that anyone paying the slightest attention could see it clearly. Drafts of stories were sent to the Clinton team for approval, debate questions were given in advance to Hillary, and reporters consulted with her campaign staff before interviewing Trump (not to mention the pathetic episode of Bill Weld and the neocon establishment, the globalist George Soros, Twitter and Facebook censorship…).
Despite this shameless complicity, people chose against the establishment rhetoric, and more importantly, the cozy relationship between the insiders of politics and the media became more evident than ever. So, suddenly, the biggest strength of mainstream media turned into its biggest weakness.
In view of such poor coverage, many people started to look for different sources of news. They wanted to hear diverse opinions, they got tired of vicious ad hominem attacks and they wanted a press with the courage to defy the deep-state. They found and switched to new outlets. Reader by reader, traditional media started to lose customers. After all, new viewers were (and are) not abandoning a favorite independent blog in order to add them.
In short, the outcome of this election represents the failure and the loss of credibility of the media, their experts, their polls and just about all the pseudo-intellectuals that thrive because of the close ties between the media and government.
That is not to say that mainstream media, nor its symbiotic relationship with the state will vanish tomorrow. They will persist much longer. The decentralization of production in general, and of media in particular, is irreversible and the biggest threat to the encroachment of the democratic state in our lives. It is a liberating force! Yet, totalitarian desires will not leave the earth, people will need time to fully adapt to the Peer-to-Peer revolution and politicians will forever need the intellectuals and the media to give them legitimacy, while intellectuals and the media will forever need the state to give them resources and influence. Still, the pay-to-play version of political journalism that marks mainstream media today has been forever exposed.
All of that reaches beyond entrepreneurial opportunities, which by themselves are relevant enough. It helps liberty by weakening the powers of the smug, statist opinion-molding class, and most importantly, it might spare us from their ad nauseam sentimental narrative.
Hopefully, with the greater diversity of journalistic opinions offered by media startups, the harmful notion that the human experience should be in permanent accordance to politically corrected values, and therefore that every social, economic and customary arrangement that frustrates the universal achievement of this end should be removed by the use of force, will fade away.
Hopefully, the dogma of the day, the idea that government is the redemptive force that will spare humanity of sins and sorrows, will be repeated less often. At least, I hope some people will take control of their media choices, of what blogs and news outlets they consume; then, the fanatics of this “secular religion” will be heard by fewer people.
I know, there is some comfort in sentimentality. By being slaves to our instincts, hostages of the environment, and followers of the heard, we are naturally freed from the burden of responsibility. But being human, being a good father, a good friend, a good sister, a good son, a good neighbor, a good person implies controlling our instincts and actions. Yes, responsibility requires judgement, which involves thought, which demands energy and everyone is dog-tired. But when we give up thinking and choosing for ourselves, we give away our freedom and our lives.
PS. Below I list a series of articles and books, recent and not so recent ones, that I deem very good and related to the topics discussed above. I have developed on some of their ideas, used some of their insights and, in some cases, have gone a step further by using whole sentences to help me mold my paragraphs…
https://mises.org/blog/intelligentsia-takes-hit – by Peter Klein, written right after the election outcome was announced. Great, short and fun reading.
https://www.lewrockwell.com/2011/05/gary-north/the-new-york-times-is-dying/ – by Gary North, on the fall of mainstream media… back in 2011.
https://fee.org/articles/youre-afraid-of-power-not-trump/ – by Jason Stapleton, direct to the point! In the same line of thought, I loved Naomi Brockwell’s tweet right after the election “don’t like who was voted in? If people didn’t give the govt so much power, it wouldn’t be a big deal”.
https://fee.org/articles/no-we-are-not-screwed/ – by T.K. Coleman, written well before the elections were concluded, warming us that, despite the terrible options (Despicable Trump and Evil Clinton – my words, not his), life would not end after the inevitable election of one of them.
https://www.juandemariana.org/ijm-actualidad/analisis-diario/no-son-las-elecciones-de-nuestra-vida – by Adolfo Lozano, in a similar line of thought as TK’s article. Basically, he argues that this were not the decisive elections of our lifetime.
https://www.lewrockwell.com/2016/09/paul-craig-roberts/western-media-credibility/ – Paul Craig Roberts, on the lost of credibility of Western Media.
http://www.salon.com/2016/03/24/camille_paglia_this_is_why_trumps_winning_and_why_i_wont_vote_for_hillary/ – by Camille Paglia, a leftist critique of Trump, the GOP and Hillary.
http://www.internationalman.com/articles/doug-casey-on-why-trump-came-out-on-top – by Doug Casey, it is always fun to read Doug’s outspoken tone and well thought analysis.
http://www.internationalman.com/articles/the-scenic-route-to-hell – by Jeff Thomas, on what to expect from the US Government under Trump.
https://www.juandemariana.org/ijm-actualidad/articulos-en-prensa/clinton-y-la-utopia-liberal – by Juan Ramon Rallo, about Clinton and the Liberal Utopia.
https://www.juandemariana.org/ijm-actualidad/articulos-en-prensa/trump-y-el-riesgo-del-poder-absoluto – by Juan Ramon Rallo, on Trump and the risk brought by absolute power.
https://www.amazon.com/Real-Dissent-Libertarian-Allowable-Opinion-ebook/dp/B00N71YJQU – by Thomas Woods, fast reading book on the “allowable opinion” of political, journalistic and intellectual circles – “the 3-by-5 card of allowable opinion” I mention in the text.
About Sentimentality and Personal Responsibility, I recommend the vast writings of Theodore Dalrymple, particularly “Life at the Bottom” and “Spoilt Rotten – the toxic cult of sentimentality”, and Roger Scruton’s “Fools, Frauds and Firebrands – Thinkers of the New Left”.