Saturday, October 5, 2019

All The World's A Stage

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players
As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7

In order to understand the serial hysterias of the past few years, one must dispense with the notion that the news is actually the news. As I opined in my last posting, what we get from the legacy media is not "news", but merely "infotainment", scripted dramatics calibrated to titillate, enrage, possibly entertain, definitely distract, but never ever inform the public.

Armed with this understanding, the seemingly insane actions of government officials and politicians becomes immediately sane and rational.  Since the media is only interested in providing entertainment, everyone is merely playing out their assigned role. Much like the manufactured dramatics that are the stock in trade of "reality" television, the poses and phony outrage of Democrat and Republican alike are merely the latest scripted pseudo-controversy. 

The proof? Consider this latest breathless reveal, courtesy of Breitbart, that the so-called "whistleblower" within the US Intelligence Community amazingly failed to disclose to the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson his interactions with Adam Schiff's staffers on the House Intelligence Committee. Not only is this a rather amazing failure to follow the established process, it is also either an amazing lack of due diligence by the ICIG in failing to ask the rather obvious question "To whom have you spoken about this matter?", or an amazing bit of deceit by the whistleblower, who would have had to have lied in response to that question. In order to accept either of these narrative arcs one must have a willing (and even naive) suspension of disbelief.

For the record, I am not willing to suspend disbelief and I do not consider myself naive.

Further, we have The Washington Post somewhat sanctimoniously assigning Adam Schiff "four Pinocchios" for his proven lies regarding said whistleblower. Schiff even went so far as to read into the Congressional Record a "parody" of Donald Trump's telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky--perhaps instead of four Pinocchios Schiff should be nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance in a Phony Political Drama.

Yet not all the theatrics come from Democrats. In his never-ending quest for headlines and presumably some relevance, alleged Republican Mitt Romney lashed out against Donald Trump for suggesting China investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, calling it "wrong and appalling", suggesting the push for investigations were motivated solely by politics. Romney's theatrical chops were on full display, as he managed to gloss over the very obvious and very real potentials for significant conflicts of interest that exist in Hunter Biden's foreign business dealings. Are we seriously supposed to believe that a former venture capital financier such as Mitt Romney has never dealt with the legal realities of conflict of interest, or the standard that even the appearance of a conflict of interest is to be avoided?

Again, I am not naive and I am not willing to suspend my disbelief.

However, if this is all a charade, a media drama concocted to entertain the mass audience, and Messrs Atkinson, Schiff, and Romney are merely furthering the narrative arc along, then these poses, these postures, these outrageous and scarcely credible lies, all start to make sense. If, instead of being serious participants in serious political and legal process, they are merely bad actors reading from a worse script, we can see that they are merely poor players gamely attempting to hold the audience' attention. 

Impeachment? Just another story hook.

Collusion and conspiracy with the Ukraine? Also just another story hook.

Scandal erupting over House Biden's nepotism and insider trading? Still just another story hook.

Investigations? Farces all, with each and every committee hearing just another spontaneous example of theater of the absurd.

As veteran newsman Ted Koppel pointed out in a media symposium this time last year, "CNN’s ratings would be in the toilet without Donald Trump". Ultimately, the legacy media has adopted a clickbait strategy to eke out a few more years before their business model collapses completely. When the Mueller Report failed to produce the hoped-for incriminations and indictments leading to President Trump's impeachment, CNN and MSNBC experienced precipitous ratings drops--once the show ended, the audience left and went in search of new diversions and amusements. 

Is it any wonder that we are now being presented with a fresh "scandal" modeled on the same narrative premise, that of Donald Trump seeking and perhaps receiving undue foreign influences on America's electoral politics? Is it any wonder that we are being treated to "Russia 2.0"?

Give credit where credit is due. The clickbait business strategy appears to be working. Donald Trump is the single most popular political figure in the news media, and has been since he announced his candidacy for President. Pick any time period, and Donald Trump dwarfs the entirety of the Democratic field in search interest, as this sample of Google Trends for 4 September through 11 September shows. Donald Trump is not merely "very, very good for baseball," as Ted Koppel put it; Donald Trump is the entire game.

Give Donald Trump credit as well. His one definitive insight into American politics has been to realize that the legacy media has reduced political news coverage to an ongoing reality television show that bears more than a passing similarity to Donald Trump's own TV show "The Apprentice." His great tactical masterstroke has been to embrace this, to be a true "reality television" President, and to make that work as a means for advancing his policy agenda

But give criticism where criticism is due. The clickbait strategy ignores news items that are less dramatic, less emotionally charged, but arguably even more relevant than whether Donald Trump did or did not misbehave on a phone call with the Ukrainian President.

While the legacy media drives attention to the tweets and antics of Donald Trump, the Federal Reserve is quietly restarting quantitative easing, even as Jay Powell proclaims the economy to be "in a good place." One would think that the possibility of looming recession and economic distress might be of interest to more than just a few people.

While the American public is being distracted with the latest tales of Trump, the people of Hong Kong are still braving the displeasure of the police and their erstwhile political masters in Beijing, demanding that their democracy, liberty, and freedom be preserved and respected. One would think that the struggle for freedom and independence would be inherently of interest to Americans.

Give Donald Trump his earned criticisms as well. His tweets incite more than they inform, and much more than they inspire. He is a willing player in the ongoing reality show the legacy media presents as politics in America--if the media is shirking its traditional role of informing the public, Donald Trump is surely guilty of encouraging this lassitude. Rather than rising above the theatrics, Donald Trump is as guilty of creating them as the legacy media.

Between the credit and the criticism lies an important truth: being aware and informed is the responsibility of the individual. Our world is defined not by narrative but by facts, and though the media may be vested in promoting narrative, it is incumbent upon each of us to ferret out the facts. Only when we know the facts can we make reasoned and informed choices about the world in which we live, and the world in which we want to live.

Read broadly. Read critically. Read skeptically. Read always with one question in mind: "What are the facts?"

And it just may be that, if we emphasize the pursuit of facts over the consumption of narrative, we may yet inspire the media--be it the legacy media seeking to survive or the alternative media seeking to prove its worth--to prioritize facts over narrative. 

All the world may be a stage, but ultimately we are never merely just players. We are also the playwrights. We should at least strive to write a worthy play.

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