In his book Orthodoxy, while describing his reasons for accepting Christianity and the Church, Chesterton writes that he does so “…because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing.” He means that the Church has not incidentally pronounced certain truths but rather that it possesses (in this case by divine authority) a perennial instutional credibility which mankind ought to trust whenever it speaks within its proper capacity. This notion of institutional credibility is significant; no one man can know everything with certainty and he therefore, consciously or not, allows much of his world to be socially constructed by others who are seen as possessing a credibility such that their claims ought to be treated with presumed deference rather than suspicion.
Today, while men laugh at the idea of religious authority being treated in this way, they uncritically cite the pronouncements of journalists, academics, lawyers, politicians, and scientists constantly and apparently without realizing that in this very moment we are enduring a near unprecedented collapse of the institutional credibility propped up by these same professions. Like everything else Donald Trump says, the simplicity of a slogan like ‘fake news,’ (a term he took from his enemies, by the way) invites middling critics to sneer at it for its dumb superficiality all while they ignore the indisputable truth lying beneath the surface. At this point, however, it can no longer be ignored.
When relations of power are obscured, people unwittingly lose perspective regarding what is most or least relevant to their lives, and it is almost the sole focus of corporate media to obscure relations of power, especially their own. One of the difficulties in regaining a proper perspective is to acquire a time horizon much longer than the average news cycle, which, incidentally, suggests that the news cycle itself is another method used by the media to guard their credibility. Because of the collapse occuring right now, however, this has never been easier. Rather than taking years to be caught in inescapable and damning contradictions, the news either flatly contradicts itself within weeks or even days, and stories that are still treated as accepted fact come undone in real time as your twitter feed refreshes.
This has dramatically weakened the ability of corporate media to control people’s perspectives. The same media figures telling you that Alex Jones is a dangerous conspiracy theorist who denied the legitimacy of the Sandy Hook incident will see no problem amplifying the voices of David Frum or William Kristol, two men whose propaganda indisputably helped cause the deaths of thousands of americans and even more foreigners. These latter two men exerted real power in influencing government officials and in providing pretext for war using almost entirely fabricated claims, yet we are expected to accept them as respectable voices and panic at the thought of someone like Alex Jones appearing on a popular podcast. This same unjustifiable lack of perspective used to prevent holding those in power accountable for their decisions while generating hysteria over comparatively irrelevant enemies is employed endlessly in order to shift attention away from the collective enormities of news corporations who are themselves unquestionably more responsible for inciting violence and endangering lives than anyone they have coordinated to defame.
Without even having to dispute official narratives regarding events like terrorist attacks, hate crimes, or school shootings, the media still fails to escape an hypocrisy so glaring and yet often unspoken that it should by itself be enough to permanently dispel accepting their concern for “fake news” or “conspiracy theories” as anything other than a contrived effect meant to mask hegemonic power. Those who hold conspiracy theories are often accused of motivated reasoning, of seeing only what they want to see, which implies a disregard for plain fact out of some ulterior moral or political motive. This is, however, only half the story. The other half is that many of these alternative explanations are themselves offered in reaction to the media clearly instrumentalizing news for political purposes, which is exactly what they accuse others of doing. How popular would alternative theories regarding certain mass shootings be if they weren’t obviously being used to advance gun control? What would alternative theories for the attacks of September 11th, 2001 look like if they weren’t used by the media and the state as material justification for grand projects of remaking entire parts of the world by invading and permanently occupying foreign countries with only the slightest pretense of ensuring domestic safety?
Media hypocrisy even ironically conditions the very “radicalization” process in which journalists claim to be interested, often tediously so. When they write hysterical pieces on racism or white supremacy in america, what gets left out is more critical than what’s written: many of their subjects began to distrust broader media narratives regarding domestic race relations only after being exposed to a seemingly never ending litany of inflammatory race hoaxes that are intentionally amplified in order to acheive political ends. The violence that now ensues from these events is not incidental to the process, either. The media, therefore, is itself the cause of radicalization, or more accurately the collapse of their institutional credibility has made them more strident in an effort to maintain a power that, once gone, will not return.
If all these moments constitute a serious decline occurring over the last several decades, the emergence of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and subsequent administration are unmistakably the death throes. In just a four year period, we have witnessed two presidential elections where both times corporate media reported that a candidate simply could not win against his opponent (he won the first and is contesting the second as I write this), a president accused of being a literal Russian asset for years on end without any basis whatsoever, the largest mass shooting in American history reported as occurring with no discernible motive, an exorbitantly wealthy financier operating a private island visited by some of the richest and most powerful people in the world where underaged girls were sex trafficked mysteriously dying while in government custody, and a global pandemic that was initially said to be a conspiracy concocted by anti-Chinese racists but then became so severe that it justified the state telling people to never leave their own homes for months on end but in its midst encouraging mass protests and riots over yet another race hoax. Just one of these ought to be enough to convince people that corporate media cannot be trusted in any reasonable capacity, but all of them together, through either outright commission or through negligence, constitute such a startling collapse in institutional credibility that the only real arrow left in their quiver is to somehow convince you that people who deviate from their dangerously radicalizing narratives somehow constitute a greater threat than they themselves do. This is, of course, laughable.
Many of these stories have been about Trump himself, and this bears a special significance. Initially through social media but eventually through the newsroom itself, journalists have revealed that this man’s mere presence drives them into a madness usually fitting only for a demoniac. The same people who will emphatically deride your suspicion of their ability to even temporarily feign disinterestedness regarding Donald Trump are the same ones who have developed benzo addictions to cope with his political tenure. This isn’t just hilariously embarrassing, it has irreversibly made explicit what was formerly only ascertainable to the more critical observer: journalism is inseparable from the power it serves and the political ends for which it exists. Even now, these same people are attempting to orchestrate an unbelievably surreal spectacle wherein the media and its collective impression of the 2020 election has somehow superseded the election itself. Their attempt to matter of factly pronounce the winner, who unsurprisingly turns out not to be Trump, is catastrophically belied by their previous four years of anguished delirium, which millions of Americans have either witnessed or in which they have participated. For them to now retreat into some abstraction of factual impartiality is almost funnier than reading about how often they find themselves uncontrollably sobbing on the floors of their one bedroom apartments. What isn’t funny is how many people have still failed to realize that the escalating tensions and increasing political polarization are not the fault of Trump but rather due to this process of rapidly disintegrating institutional credibility. None of this is meant to advocate for a totalizing relativism, which is often an accusation levelled against media critics and people skeptical of the proliferation of “fact-checking,” but rather for a problematizing of the presumed facticity found within journalism or history that properly distinguishes the truths found in these fields from truths discerned by, for instance, mathematics or physics (and even here the kind of facticity presumed is often severely oversimplified, and sometimes also for political ends). But this is a digression, this kind of needed perspective adjustment is never going to occur.
The natural result of the failure of a largely unified media apparatus is the breakdown of shared assumptions, perspectives, and understandings. A king who dies with many heirs may expect his kingdom to be split up between them. He may cling to life for as long as he can in order to maintain a slowly dissolving unity, but die he must. And in this case, the king is a tyrant who treats his subjects as thralls to be cynically manipulated for the sake of his own power, so good riddance. It is time for the pundit to be treated as a propagandist, the scientist to be treated as a quack, and the politician to be treated as a traitor. The mask has slipped, the conspiracy has been uncovered, the news is fake.