Once upon time and not so long ago, in the days well before the rise of social media, the truth was the endgame of journalism. Getting your facts right, checking and rechecking sources until absolutely sure was the norm and not the exception. Back then, the truth mattered! Integrity was the name of the game. — Back Then!
Orated or written, the truth based on factual evidence was valued as holy doctrines and coveted as such by the public. Even unintentional minor slip ups would cast shame and calls of unprofessionalism. Reporters and journalists alike were held to the highest standards when it came to reporting the news. In fact, their very reputations depended on it!
Wild unsubstantiated news not backed by hard evidence was disregarded and relegated as cheap entertainment. Left to the confines of trash magazines such as ‘The Enquirer’ found near the cash register at your local grocery store.
Back then, very few made public claims based on falsehoods, or intentional misleading statements for fears of being exposed. Journalists went to great lengths sometimes even posing undercover to get stories as such. These stories were the big rating boosters of the media back in the day. Catching someone of high significance in a public lie was very big news indeed!
Not so long ago, it was popular to discredit those spewing misinformation and to praise with respect those dealing in facts. The harder the truth to hear, the more respect we had for those telling it. Hard to believe that once upon a time this was the norm and that journalists and reporters alike, were the watchdogs of truth.
HOW FAR WE HAVE FALLEN
Today, we have news networks dropping all pretense as to their political affiliation, nationalizing the news with opinionated bias in favor of one party over the other. Shouts of Fake News ringing out in the halls of the White House and texted in tweets from the president himself.
No longer is the news held to standards of factual accuracy and neutrality. This once mandated code of conduct slowing disappearing and all but ignored entirely today. The truth may still be out there, but finding it today, is no easy task. The line between fact and fiction all but blurred into obscurity.
So why the big change?
Many reasons I suppose. Social media most definitely plays a significant role with its instant and world wide accessibility. The fact that it runs basically unfiltered, lies and misinformation treated equally as the truth. Sensationalism and conspiracy now more likely to get reads than news of facts and the line between truth and fiction blurring progressively, because of it.
Add the increasing use of undermining and propaganda and the rift between fact and fiction grows that much larger. And intentionally so! We see these strategies increasingly in politics today to the extent that its commonality has made it all but invisible to the public eye. So now with the advantage of hiding in plain sight, propaganda is free to wield its chaos of uncertainty and indeed many do fall prey as human nature demands it.
So what happened to our watchdogs of truth? The journalists and reporters telling it like it is? The media print and news networks upholding the code of integrity above all else? Coveting their reputations as truth seekers and searching to discredit those who are not.
Most likely, they changed in like for reasons as simple as survival. For ratings, which equal viewership, money, and sustainability. The truth is no longer the media’s draw it once was, today sensationalism is what brings in the viewers. Integrity in journalism it seems, has gone the way of the Dodo. It’s been shoved aside for ratings and the all mighty dollar.
Its not that every news network covets this change. There are, pockets of resistance. You can still find news primarily based on fact and without political or biased opinionated interference. Only, it’s getting harder and harder to find! Even when real factual journalism does take place, because of the excess of non-neutrality, one starts wondering how factual ANY news is?
THE USE OF UNCERTAINTY
Perhaps the most notable change today, is the increasing use of propaganda in order to cast doubt and uncertainty! The tactic of instilling doubt to raise uncertainty is an old and well used ploy. Used often by defense attorneys, its purpose to place even just a small amount of uncertainty in the minds of the jurors. After all, conviction by law demands resolution — beyond all reasonable doubt!
The Tabacco industry is famous for their decades use of inducing uncertainty. This, while fighting ever-rising claims that their product causes cancer. So they used their own scientists (bought and payed for) to refute the science brought forward by health experts. Thus muddying the waters just enough to fend off years of litigation. Adding at least another decade of product popularity and millions upon millions to their coffers before eventually succumbing.
The success of that strategy was not lost in history and is still used today as a weapon of choice. Like a defense attorney’s strategic ploy of instilling doubt among the jurors, so too is this ploy used against the public. Today it seems, inducing public doubt has become the weapon of choice. And propaganda, the means of deployment.
Propaganda has always been used to manipulate the masses. Whether just more obvious today or actually on the rise is hard to say. But it is being used for the same purpose. To benefit those seeking personal agendas.
As in, political foes and opposing parties publicly undermining each other in attempts to discredit or lay blame. Science and scientists brought into doubt with misleading lies and misrepresentation. Conspiracy theories given credit to those who would gain from their falsehoods and the calls of fake news when the news isn’t to one’s liking.
Whether it be for monetary gain, higher ratings, political agenda or the safeguard of corporate improprieties today’s strategy is clear. Bash any and all opposition over the head repeatedly with hearty doses of propaganda. Muddy the waters enough with uncertainty, and your lies too can become the truth!
What is alarming, is how widespread the blurring of fact from fiction has become. And how easily successful! To the extent that today, almost ‘anything’ is now challengeable. All can be turned into doubt by those wishing it for their own personal gain. And today, with the advent of social media, this strategy has never been easier to deploy! Propaganda now reaches the public on mass — and in a matter of seconds.
“Today a lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.” ― Terry Pratchett (the Truth)
2020 has been a year most challenging. A pandemic, racial tensions leading to civic unrest and a U.S. president like no other. The mass addiction of social media, with it’s dark side no-longer hidden and the first calls of Fake News, used as a rebuttal. Perhaps most concerning, is the turning away from facts, evidence and science, in favor of conspiracy, opinion and misrepresentation.
Propaganda has reared its ugly head and spat upon the truth, poisoning conviction and casting doubt where no doubt lived before.
Social media, once a playground for social recreation, now the messenger, the harbinger of propaganda. The news, the newspapers and websites, overflowing with self-opinion and personal criticism. And social media, spouting all kinds of conspiracy theories, not worth the time of day.
A turning is upon us. It’s noticeable, concerning, even frightening in its pace of progression. A flirting point, as we near crossing the line separating reality, reasoning and common sense. What lies beyond is chaos, fueled by the unchecked spewing’s of propaganda. The question is, if we do cross that line? Is there no coming back?
“How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and [how] hard it is to undo that work again!” ― Mark Twain
We have always lived with propaganda. And history shows how successful it can be taking advantage of our human nature in this way. Yet still, with all that history behind us, you’d think lessons would have been learned by now.
You’d think by now, today in the 21st century, we’d be more aware, more attuned to its appearance. More than capable of recognizing propaganda when it rears its ugly head.
You’d think so wouldn’t you?
But You’d be Wrong!
“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” ― Garry Kasparov
“The truth is whatever people will believe” — Roger Ales (former producer of Fox News)