If there is nothing in this year to cause your brain to explode here's a try: The Oxford Dictionaries has chosen "post-truth" as the word of the year. Post-truth is when objective facts are less influential than emotion or personal belief in a person's choice.
This coronation in the hall of lexicon happens as western society and the American media in particular suffer through an inquisition of "fake news," its purveyors, sources and impact. Twitter and Facebook lead all social media in being scrutinized.
Joshua Benton, director of Nieman Journalism Lab wrote after the election;
"Facebook has become a sewer of misinformation. Some of it is driven by ideology, but a lot of it is driven purely by the economic incentive structure FaceBook has created: The fake stuff, when it connects with a Facebook user's preconceived notions for sense of identity, spreads like wildfire. (And it's a lot cheaper to make than real news.)"
Consider for a moment how much time millions of Americans spend on Facebook and other social media. It is where many get their news, only a lot of it is not news. It's fabrication, political spin on steroids and even fantasy. And even when confronted with facts people still continue to believe lies-President Obama was born in Kenya, climate change is not real, there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we never landed on the moon, etc.
After each election the nation's media does a serious navel gaze. This year they should look into their combined fourth estate soul.
In our lifetimes the media could be counted on. CBS Anchor Walter Cronkite was known as "America's most trusted man." When there were four major networks, a couple of international wire services and a handful of newspapers with strong Washington and international bureaus in a very competitive arena, getting it and getting it right was the currency that built a readership and viewership. Consumers were the arbiter.
As it was intended, the airwaves were public space and to have a right to do business there one needed to pledge to provide hours of informational and public service programming.
Media deregulation brought a model that favored advertising and making money while shrinking the obligation to provide quality information and news. Then management decided news needed to be a profit center and ratings replaced the mission to inform as the priority and raison d'être.
24 hour news channels further "commercialized" news making it more of a "product." Social media with millions of blogs, postings, social chats, pages, and a blizzard of exchange further diffused and fractured the nature of information.
I have a petulant disregard for Roger Ailes and his news virus. He is the troll responsible for overtly politicizing news coverage and the father of the bastard "news with a flavor." Some will say Fox News came as an answer to the liberal media. That is malarky and those who believe it give proof to the propagandizing value of spinning news your way. It is a mind control when beliefs and emotions count more than facts. Ailes first postulated the idea of a political control of network news back when he worked for Richard Nixon.
In this "Post-truth, post-election" era consider the facts. The losing candidate had 2-4 million more votes. So unless the electoral college makes history, we will have a minority president, who either is a liar on occasion or indeed can own all sides of every issue or simply doesn't know what his position is. Whichever, it is a sure prescription for a lot of "news."
We should watch for news organization to assert a legitimacy by dealing with truth, facts and being adversarial. That adversarial relationship is historic and has proven to benefit all parties, the White House, the electorate and most importantly the effectiveness of government. As much as ever, the media should play its role as a watchdog.
Do we think the media is up to it? Good question. I expect little improvement in social media, it will continue to be the lowest common denominator. Another divide in this split nation is the fault line between those who consume diverse information wisely and those who hang around the sewer and/or listen only to that flavor they approve.
I saw CNN's Jeff Zucker mealymouth an answer about needing to do a better job. Ya, think so? They spent much of the summer showing an empty podium with a clock counting down until the candidate who was shouting insults to races, religions and sexes took center stage.
It's time for the media to grow up and realize it's not about them and their addiction to hype, it's about reality, history in the making. A place to start is to look at their own archives and history, a kind of "back to the future." Election coverage was once sober, intelligent, issue focused. The last few cycles have been more about the horse race and personality and look at what our choices were.
Users, even some of you gentle readers, get out of the echo chamber! Watch, listen to, read and consume a wider and even conflicting stream of information. The little visual at the top of the post is simply to suggest that beyond television and radio there are an infinite number of places once can find information. The internet is home to many real news sites, as well as those that are fake or fronts. There are many magazines and journals, research reports from think tanks and universities, and a multitude of newspapers and newsletters and pod casts. If you are paying attention to only one or two sources you are under informed. If you watch only a network that represents your take, you are not informed.
There is no "post-truth." If it is not true, it is a deception!
See you down the trail.