First Hundred Days
The media is about to gush with assessments of The First Hundred Days. You'll hear all kinds of aphorisms designed to tell you what you already know but shock you to tell your social media world that they said it in the particular way they did.
But the Trump administration's billionaires aren't the only ones facing a crisis of message management and public perception. The Dems are contemplating a Newt Gingrich-style government shutdown. And Big Media is desperate for anything that shifts the dialog away from the assertions they've been emphatically making for months without any evidence to substantiate them. Of course, that must, as always, conform to The Narrative, in its latest iteration. Which must protect the corporatocracy, no matter what.
Thus, we have a simultaneous arrival of management crises.
George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin
The challenge for any organization is to put the smart people in charge of the policy, but not the agenda or the message. Those who understand the public mood and perceptions get that job. The articulate people need to be the arbiters of the message before it goes out the door.
Corporations get that. Just look at all those Big Pharma ads for prescription drugs that you can't live without, even if there's nothing wrong with you.
The Trump administration is awfully slow to get that. Perhaps it's all because the new boss is so wrapped up in his own image that his ego is that yuge wall he keeps talking about. Trump is George Steinbrenner. The Billy Martin du jour is whatever member of his administration is left holding a suddenly abandoned game plan.
The media's Möbius loop
Except it's all the game plan. Maybe not Trump's, but certainly mainstream media's game plan. It becomes the basis of obfuscation and distraction that keeps cable TV fully engaged in the Möbius loop of its own narrative. A Möbius loop — a strip of paper twisted and reconnected, so the inside loops to the outside and back again. And again. With no discernable place where that actually happens.
Since it's the ultimate convolution, you need them to explain, to make sense that satisfies your tribal values. So Fox has its Trump-is-right Möbius loop and MSNBC has its Trump-is-a-nutjob loop. In both cases, it all gets meticulously measured and marked as precisely as a yardstick marked to thirty-seconds of an inch. That keeps it looking like a precise measuring device, citing this poll and that poll, even though it's all a neverending Möbius loop.
It's endless in its non-orientable solution for the need not to get anywhere. Anywhere that's off the track or outside the narrative. It's the perfect foil to reporting any real substance about anything happening that doesn't loop back to The Narrative. Which, rather inconveniently, is most of what's happening in the world that matters. But it's perfect for cable TV's hour-by-hour cult of personality wink-and-a-nod adventures in smarminess to co-opt your sensibilities into its trips around The Narrative. Around and around the neverending loop. Where the hamster can be on the inside and the outside of the wheel all at the same time.
The new normal
Step right up, folks, see the bearded lady and the elephant man and the hamster run both sides of the wheel. The insubstantial gets breathlessly sensationalized. The crowd goes wild. Ratings soar. Constant obsession becomes its own evidence for importance. No evidence of the missing airliner so keep speculating. Aliens did it. There's an undersea Area 51.
Both those bits of lunacy were indeed put forth on CNN. Just like how Bernie delegates tried to kill Hillary delegates at the Nevada State Dem Convention by throwing chairs at them. Because Rachel Maddow said so, for an entire hour, narrating her flight of nasty fantasy with a video loop of a professional wrestling match — wherein folding chairs were thrown into the ring — so it was the perfect conflation for Maddow's smarmy, cutesy indulgences. It never happened in Nevada, but it happened on MSNBC. Just another hour of The Narrative going 'round and 'round the Möbius loop.
Aliens. Flying chairs. WMDs in Iraq. Russian hackers instead of a terrible candidate. No need for evidence as long as they say they don't need any. And Big Media can't understand why they lost the public trust. Though they remain as intransigently unwilling to subject themselves to the mea culpa moment as the losing Dems are. Stay on the loop. Keep parroting The Narrative.
It's self-inflicted and relentlessly thrust upon the public. Russia did it. Syria did it. The Mexicans did it. "We've got the proof so you don't need to see it. No need for an autopsy on all the reasons the Democrats lost because we know why."
They told Indiana Jones when they made the Lost Ark disappear, "We have people working on it. Top people."
Yeah. "Trust us, we'll fix it. The owie will be all better. You're with us, so you're not with the terrorists." Or worse yet, with the wrong tribe.
Howard Beale could be as crazy as he wanted until the ratings dropped and the ad revenues fell, then they had to kill him like Caesar. Et tu, O'Reilly.
It's the new normal. And nobody is saying, " It's the reporting, stupid."
As long as it keeps the campaign cash or the advertising revenue pouring in. There's only a problem if the money stops. Which is why Bill O'Reilly had to go. Never mind the naked man behind the hotel room drapes. Howard Beale could be as crazy as he wanted until the ratings dropped and the ad revenues fell, then they had to kill him like Caesar. Et tu, O'Reilly.
Normalizing The Narrative
The outrageous is normalized in many ways. It can happen through doublespeak. It can be done using a compliant media or, that failing, by using a soft launch of a media campaign. Media campaigns don't just buy ads anymore. They deploy a phalanx of expert guests who usually turn out to be ex-congressmen or retired generals or ex-Pentagon officials. Most likely, those cable news expert guests are on the gravy train payroll as on-call consultants.
Maybe they now sit on the corporate board of a defense contractor. Or the board of a tech company sucking-up all the electricity and groundwater to cool its overheated data center supercomputers that spy on everybody. (Big Tech is now the world's biggest contributor to greenhouse gases because of all the electricity they use.) Or maybe they sit on the corporate board of a chemical company that makes pesticides, poisons food and what's left of the water, and kills all the bees. Because ex-government big shots ain't just doin' the taking head consultant gig.
Most likely, they now work for, or even own, a lobbying firm. Because lobbyists don't just hand-out fact sheets and take legislators skiing and slip them bottles of 1927 champagne anymore. They can't dole-out the gifts since their big charade of "reform" and changing the anticorruption laws. (Citizens United and McCutcheon undid the reforms that really mattered, anyway.) And the fact sheets aren't effective unless they're reeeeally simple sound bytes for the short-attention-span public.
Which is groomed by The Narrative to stay on the short-attention-span Möbius loop.
So, being an adaptable lot, the corporacratic agents stealthily disseminate misinformation through the media itself, instead of to congressmen. Now they get paid twice to do it, and wait for the cable-watching home folks to call their congressman. And the activists do, parroting the very same convolutions and untruths or cherry-picked truthiness the campaign disseminated to precisely establish the desired image. Forget about the moral arc bending toward justice. The Narrative has its orbit changed by the gravitational pull of money.
It doesn't even cost much to do that these days. Because they don't need massive buys of expensive TV ads. Social media trolls are cheap. Even free, if they drank the Koolade and righteously parrot The Narrative for you. Social media is an evidence-free zone where detractors who grouse about pesky facts get summarily unfriended. Just call for a lemminglike unfriending stampede. It's easier than the ancient Greeks ostracism or the time it took the Egyptians to chisel your name off the monuments.
Just get inside the desired echo chamber that surrounds the audience you're targeting and be agreeable. Tell them what The Narrative already told them to believe. Then the key is repetition of the message. No hammered repetition, because that ham-handed stuff doesn't work on the remnant cadres of thinking people. Use subtle repetition in myriad forms. Wink-and-a-nod faux cleverness so they feel special, reinforcing that they're the smart people who are in on it, and all.
Combine that with a de facto embargo of the actual facts. The cyber world will "protect" you by filtering search results and banning "fake news" from your social media feeds. That is, what their corporate mainstream media-oriented interests deem as "fake news." Which might just be anything that goes against The Narrative.
If you're in Berkeley, you can ban any speaker who might say something disagreeable. Pre-empt their defense by accusing them of being the book-burners, the oppressors whose words cannot be heard because they're oppressive. You become the protectors. The protectors of public safety. By denying the rights of those who threaten public safety by saying something you disagree with.
"Whadaya mean it's the death of liberal thought and tolerance because awareness outside the bubble is dangerous? Next thing you'll go on a rant about the First Amendment again. That's preposterous, and it offends my sense of righteous indignation because I'm the one who was protecting YOU from hearing anything dangerous. That's the same reason why RT needs to be banned! We can't have any propaganda here!"
Oppression works best when the righteously outraged do it for you.
Stacking the deck
Everywhere else, just do a stacked-deck presentation that trivializes some of the facts and ridicules anyone who seeks to bring forward all the disagreeably challenging facts. Because the goal is to discredit anything that might become troublesome. Just attack all the scary "thems" and balance the negative by giving tacit acceptance to those who are looking out for you. Who hate the same things you hate. Because all of you know better. The narrative says so.
Along the way, the smug talking heads of cable "news" get co-opted, and it increases their cachet among their cult-of-personality viewers. Where nothing is left to chance. Because demographic market research told their overconsolidated megagiant corporate employer what orientation to impart. What story to run to the exclusion of all the others. What embellishment would be required to achieve peak ratings from a maximized loyal viewership who tune-in to get their tribal identity validated, their certainties verified.
Which is usually based on what impression of what product or enterprise needs a positive image because the same megagiant corporation makes it or has, at the very least, an indirect financial interest in it. Like GE making jet engines for military aircraft. And military aircraft are the way we avoid putting boots on the ground but they still let us remind the world we are the biggest badass on the block. The block that is now reduced to rubble from incessant aerial bombing.
But The Narrative only allows for certain rubble. Terrorist rubble. So it was blown-up by somebody else. And The Narrative is adjusted to make you hate them. Whether or not they're the correct target. Collateral damage goes with the territory.
Thus, "news" must go in quotes to distinguish it from what the word used to mean. Note that's not saying "from what it's supposed to mean," because ever since news outlets became corporate "news divisions" they have been subjected to the same standards of profitability as entertainment divisions or jet engine factories. They are doing what they are supposed to do, as determined by their corporate masters. So they present "news," not news.
Once you understand that, things begin to make sense. Like why "fake news" doesn't mean inventing dumb crap and emphatically lying about it. And it certainly isn't what corporate mainstream media does with such fluency, imparting spin to create a particular impression that has no resemblance to un-contextualized objective truth. Because it's much more useful to use the term like a bludgeon and spin-up the fear factor over all that pesky and intrusive alternative media that wasn't invited to the party. The party paid for by the lobbyists for overconsolidated corporations working on their next megamerger.
Even with control of everything gravitating to fewer hands, there are aspects of chaos before they reign them in. The Guardian, the UK newspaper read worldwide on the web, has pulled out of Facebook. National Geographic and other sources with established brands have reduced their presence on the social media giant. Perhaps they're all feeling the old adage of being judged by the company you keep. Or perhaps it's the disastrously ineffective policy of Facebook to decide what is and isn't fake news and filter it out so Facebook users can't see it.
It's all in flux. Whatever seems profitably possible will drive continuous reinvention of whatever can be nominally presented as "news." Because pursuit of profit, without regard for veracity, societal damage, or destruction of the planet are a continuing certainty. Because it's easier to collect the revenues and spend part of them on a media campaign to create a pleasant image. Especially when you own the biggest social media machine in the world. We shouldn't expect more of them. After all, anything that deems messages from friends as "Your News Feed" has cynically abandoned any notion of actual news.
This week's video
We strongly recommend this episode of the Emmy-nominated "On Contact with Chris Hedges" which aired April 18, 2017.
It's titled, "The Uncivil War on Syria with Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton."
Chris Hedges is a Truthdig columnist, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, New York Times bestselling author, professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. His books include "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning," a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle," "Death of the Liberal Class," "Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt," the New York Times best seller written with cartoonist Joe Sacco, and his most recent work, "Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt."
Max Blumenthal is an author and senior editor of AlterNet’s Grayzone Project, and Ben Norton is a reporter for Alternet.
Why this video? Following the American missile attacks on a Syrian airbase in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack, they discuss the full scope of the U.S. role in the Syrian conflict. Which you won't get from US corporate mainstream media.
See you next week. Meantime, don't get tangled in the narrative.