Blast From The Past: Mike Cernovich’s “Epistemological” Problems With 60 Minutes

This is from 2008, from the now defunct “Mencius Moldbug” blog:

In 1933, public opinion could still be positively impressed by group calisthenics displaying the face of the Leader, eagles shooting lightning bolts, etc, etc. By today’s standards, the public of 1933 (both German and American) was a seven-year-old boy. Today’s public is more of a thirteen-year-old girl (a smart, plucky, well-meaning girl), and guiding it demands a very different tone.

You are not a thirteen-year-old girl. So how did you fall for this bizarre circus? How can any mature, intelligent, and educated person put their faith in this gigantic festival of phoniness?

Think about it. You read the New York Times, or similar, on a regular basis. It tells you this, it tells you that, it reports that “scientists say” X or Y or Z. And there is always a name at the top of the article. It might be “Michael Luo” or “Celia Dugger” or “Heather Timmons” or “Marc Lacey” or… the list, is, of course, endless.

Do you know Michael or Celia or Heather or Marc? Are they your personal friends? How do you know that they aren’t pulling your chain? How do you know that the impression you get from reading their stories is the same impression that you would have if you, personally, saw everything that Michael or Celia or Heather or Marc saw? Why in God’s green earth do you see their “stories” as anything but an attempt to “manipulate procedural outcomes” by guiding you, dear citizen, to interpret the world in a certain way and deliver your vote accordingly?

The answer is that you do not trust them, personally. Bylines are not there for you. They are there for the journalists themselves. If the Times, like the Economist, lost its bylines and attributed all its stories to “a New York Times reporter,” your faith would not change one iota. You trust Michael and Celia and Heather and Marc, in other words, because they are speaking (quite literally) ex cathedra.

So you trust the institution, not the people. Very well. Let’s repeat the question: what is it about the New York Times that you find trustworthy? The old blackletter logo? The motto? Suppose that instead of being “reporters” of “the New York Times,” Michael and Celia and Heather and Marc were “cardinals” of “the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?” Would this render them more credible, less credible, or about as credible? Suppose, instead, they were “professors” at “Stanford University?” Would this increase or decrease your trust?

For a hardened denialist such as myself, who has completely lost his faith in all these institutions, attempting to understand the world through the reports and analysis produced by the Cathedral is like trying to watch a circus through the camera on a cell phone duct-taped to the elephant’s trunk. It can be done, but it helps to have plenty of external perspective.

And for anyone starting from a position of absolute faith in the Cathedral, there is simply no other source of information against which to test it. You are certainly not going to discredit the Times or Stanford by reading the Times or going to Stanford, any more than you will learn about the historical Jesus by attending a Latin Mass.

Secret Secrets Are No Fun

Why are media people, including owners, allowed to have (and acknowledge) non-public conversations? Whose interests are served by that practice?

SULZBERGER: If I could interject, we had a good conversation there, you and I, and it was off the record, but there was nothing secret, just wanted to make sure. The idea of looking forward was one of the themes that you were saying. That we need to now get past the election, right?

I mean what bullshit! If there was nothing secret, why was it off the record?

How “Rigged” Is The Major Media?

By way of the Articles of Style blog comes an anecdote on more media rigging, this time of a commercial nature:

The thing about magazines is that they are full of paid advertisements. Not just the pages and pages of “ads”, I mean the articles and editorials themselves. I have a colleague who works for a major magazine (both of which will remain nameless) who was in LA about a month ago for a celebrity interview in Hollywood. As we usually do, we had a long dinner and drinking session where we shared our thoughts and practices on all things regarding the business of editorial and publishing.

Over some fire grilled fish tacos he basically tells me that (at the major menswear magazine) they don’t begin a story until they have a paid sponsor. “We have a list of high-level editorial ideas, lined with fitting potential sponsors, and the sales team hits the phones to see who’s willing to pay the most for the product placement or mention. Once the money is there and we the product from the brand is confirmed…then we hire the stylist, model, writer, etc. to bring the story to life”.

This reminds me of a similar anecdote shared with me by a friend in the financial industry. He was explaining to me the relationship between PR firms and the financial news media. He explained that much of the “news” we consume in publications like the WSJ, NYT, etc., are actually drafted by PR firms who do the research and assemble the voices in the articles, most or all of whom are their paid clients. When the media need coverage of some event or recent development, they turn to the PR firms for ready-made stories complete with expert testimony strewn throughout. The media company will edit the article where necessary and then slap its journalist’s by-line on the article. Oftentimes, they don’t even edit the stories and publish them as provided.

The media outlets like this because they’re trying to reduce their costs and keep up with the 24-hour news cycle. The PR firms serve special, niche interests (their paid customers) and so can “be everywhere” news is happening, whereas it isn’t economically scalable to have paid journalists complete with intelligent source-networks all around the world where news might be happening. Meanwhile, the PR firms like this because it gets their clients exposure as an “expert” in a major public forum. Not only does it add credibility to a resume and generate search interest in the client mentioned, it could also subtly sway the agenda on the topic du jour which might be desirable for the client to have readers thinking a certain way.

If it really works the way it’s mentioned in the AoS blog post, and as my friend related to me (and I think it does), it puts the “news” in new light and certainly complicates the gatekeeper role of the media and the idea of an informed electorate. At least, it complicates it for statists who believe in this fantasy system and the way it supposedly functions. It doesn’t complicate anything for me.