“Buy a subscription to the Daily News today, sir? 75% off!” the earnest young man blocking my path to the supermarket entreated.
”No thank you,” I answered. “You guys roasted my play last year and killed it at the box office. Out of my way!”
But the young man wouldn’t be denied. Planting himself in front of me, he got down on his knees, clasped my hands in his and begged, “On behalf of the executives and staff of the LA Daily News, I humbly ask forgiveness for our lack of judgment in reviewing your brilliant play. I know we don’t deserve it, but it would make us so happy if you bought a subscription today.”
He got his subscription…
The above is a true story.
Or is it?
I am, after all, someone you likely don’t know and the blog you are reading right now is, technically, part of “The Media.” I could actually be making the whole thing up. (I’m not, but will you ever really know for sure?)
“Media.” The very word itself is a generality. It’s actually the plural form of “medium,” a word that once meant, among other things, “an intervening agency, means, or instrument” and was first applied to newspapers two centuries ago. As the decades went by, the word was used more as a singular (as in “The Media is bad”) as opposed to a plural (as in “The Media are represented tonight by three reporters and two photographers”) thus making the generality complete.
“The Media,” as we generally call it, has been under attack, not just lately, but for millennia.
Monarchs who received bad news in ancient times routinely put the messenger to death, whether the news was “fake” or not.
In more recent times, unpleasant books have been burned, dissident journalists imprisoned or murdered, and pesky columnists and news outlets banned, rebuffed entirely.
Is The Media, as some call it, “The Enemy of The People?”
Do journalists deserve incarceration, banishment and death?
Both my birth religion (Judaism) and my adopted religion (Scientology) have been covered badly by media. At the turn of the 20th century it was common “knowledge” in Europe that Jews drank the blood of babies and had sex with money.
Similarly, at the turn of the 21st century too many media outlets also presented viciously false versions of Scientology. Both libelous views of these religions were aided and abetted by media. We saw what happened to the Jews in Europe later on in the last century. God grant it doesn’t happen again.
So media has a deservedly tarnished reputation, and due to this perceived unreliability, public trust in mass media has declined, according to the Gallup Organization, from a 70% complete trust in 1970 (when CBS commentator Walter Cronkite was famously accoladed as “The Most Trusted Man In America”) to 54% in 2003 to 32% in 2017, with Republicans, per this poll, holding just a 14% trust. That’s a 46-86% mistrust in those who bring us our news.
Not surprisingly, then, the early 2000s has seen the rise of so-called non-mainstream media. As opposed to mainstream media (“MSM”) the non-mainstream have taken advantage of advances in technology to set up their own platforms and have gathered followings often rivaling those of the MSM.
These splinterings, whose writers and representatives call themselves the actual or truthful media, unfortunately include conspiracy theorists, ravers, exploiters and bigots who, under the guise of “frankness” and “hard-hitting journalism,” spew their own brew of fear, hate and misbegotten jingoism.
Mr. Hubbard, in his 1978 groundbreaking essay on false data, makes the point that when one has been fed false information and has accepted it as truth, the true data one later comes across is rejected as false. Why? Because it’s different from what you’ve already stored in your head as the truth. “I already know that 2+2 is 5. I’m already living my life that way. I have already set my moral standards and my attitudes toward people according to 2+2 is 5. So get out of here with your nonsense about 2+2 is 4. You people and your crazy ideas!”
A recent study at a major university backed up this phenomenon of refusing to accept the actual truth when one is already living with a lie. A group of volunteers were given false information about various religious and political groups that conformed with their own prejudices. They then were shown, with incontrovertible evidence, that the data they had been fed was false. The majority, while acknowledging they had been had, still justified the opinions they held that were validated by the false data.
All of which turns the bright light of truth on the ACTUAL main stream media.
Drum roll, please…
It. Is. Us.
You and me. WE are the actual mainstream media.
Each of us, arguably, has access to the majority of the populations of the civilized world through a simple re-tweet or click or link. Every time you share a meme or a column or a podcast or a video that you like or agree with, YOU become media, and you therefore grant colossal power to whatever source—true, false, or in-between—that you are sharing.
It’s a tremendous responsibility. We have all become journalists. We have all become media. We can make or break careers, ethnic groups, religions with the click of a mouse. If we are irked about someone or some group, we can demolish them by passing on some canard about them. If we’re having a bad day and feel like a “rant,” we can do so, but at the expense of also ruining the days of millions of people, most of whom we don’t even know.
As Mark Twain, in a slower, more articulate age, once reflected, “A lie can travel half-way round the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
And as Mrs. Olsen, my second grade English teacher, used to say, “Spreading a lie makes you a liar, too.”
So what can we, as denizens of a planet tsunami-ed by data 24/7, do to decide what is true and what is not? How can we save the world from falsehood and dismay?
Can you actually believe what you read? Do you know when to trust the facts as presented?
Here are some handy tips from Mr. Hubbard:
First, suspect any and all generalities. Mr. Hubbard says that the use of generalities is an anti-social characteristic. Beware, therefore, of articles, videos, newscasts, commentary, memes, podcasts, social network postings that seek to lump people together into groups or generalities. “The Blacks.” “The Moslems.” “The Gays.” “The Republicans.” “The Democrats.” “The Scientologists.”
Second, Mr. Hubbard cautions us against people who deal only in bad news, as, if they do, their “information” is generally twisted or made worse to suit the narrative of a frightening and dangerous environment which they are manufacturing. So when you see entirely over-the-top blame and emotion in a post or an article or from a friend expressing an opinion, take it with a huge grain of salt.
Finally, and most importantly, make your OWN news. Live your life as though it’s your sacred duty to bring more good than bad into the world, more hope than dismay, and more love than hate. (Fun fact: It actually IS your sacred duty.)
Can you actually believe what you read? Do you know when to trust the facts as presented? Well, let’s make a test, starting with this blog.
Yes—right here and right now, you, yes you, must make a choice. You are reading this article by me, a representative of the media. Using your own good judgment, your intellect and a dash of intuition, you will decide whether to believe it in whole or in part, or discard it entirely as fake news. You have your own opinions and prejudices, as do we all. Will they help or hinder you as you accept or don’t accept what I, The Media, have offered you here? And will you yourself then become The Media as you possibly pass this data on to others via cyberspace or old-fashioned word of mouth? Or not?
Oh, and, by the way, remember that anecdote I started this blog with? The one about the newspaper seller getting on his knees and begging forgiveness? It is the truth. Actually happened. No lie.