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The Journalism Problem, Part Two
Life in a Potemkin information village
Yesterday, I tested the claims made by journalists that the loss of Disneyworld’s special district status in Florida would be devastating to local taxpayers and leave the counties that are home to the giant theme park “staring at financial ruin.” In response, some commenters talked about the matters of principle that I hadn’t examined, like the inherent correctness or abusiveness of the power to tax. All of that is just fine, and is ultimately a worthwhile discussion, but here’s what I mean to say:
We live in such a degraded information environment that we can’t get to discussions of principle.
Over and over again, journalism doesn’t begin to accurately describe; consuming it, we don’t get to the starting line of a functioning political discourse, which is just knowing what’s happening, more or less. We’re buried in fakery, in representations of reality that have no connection to reality. A highly respected British intelligence professional with deep connections to Russian sources has revealed the existence of a videotape showing that Donald Trump traveled to Moscow to pay prostitutes to have a golden shower party in Barack Obama’s hotel room bed, news at 11:00. Trust us, man, this totally happened.
It’s like trying to open a discussion about which trail to take when you don’t know where you are: I have no idea which way is north, but I think we should go north. How do you arrive at an exquisite Keynes vs. Hayek rap battle when your starting point is that you have close to no information at all — when you live in a Potemkin media environment in which the most ordinary form of factual truth is relentlessly buried or distorted? (About which, see this new post from bad cattitude about Covid data that “is going or is about to go wonky.”) Here’s tonight’s news: If Florida taxpayers are burdened with a giant theme park that generates tax revenues from massive hordes of tourists, they’ll be ruined.
I wrote last week about the disappearance of basic information on the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County, where I live. We have an ongoing debate over our Woke DA’s policy choices — but the more I look at the debate, the more I’m sure it’s a debate about nothing, because the slogans used to represent the DA’s policy choices really don’t seem to begin to reflect the reality of the DA’s actual policy choices. The slogans look from here like cover words, chaff fired as a rhetorical countermeasure to cloud the air. I’ve been trying to get clear information from people in Los Angeles County government, which has been….interesting, so stay tuned on that question. But what are we debating if we’re exchanging our thoughts on the empty fakery the DA is deploying to prevent us from noticing what he’s doing?
Back in 2016, the vapid mayor of a tiny city in Los Angeles County boldly announced that she had banned Donald Trump from her community, ordering city staff to burn the witch. Journalists reported it straight: TRUMP BANNED FROM LOCAL CITY.
It was left to lawyers with a media presence to seriously examine all of the problems with the remarkable claim that a part-time small-town mayor owns a personal fiefdom and can ban people from it. A not-especially-gifted politician with ambitions for higher office made up some nonsense to get herself in the news, and it worked. But the news was about nothing, because she had no authority to do the thing she announced in the press release.
This is more than half of the news: Noise with nothing it, a press release from an idiot typed up by idiots. What debate over questions of principle can proceed on the foundation of an informational void? (“I’m for empty hole!” “Oh yeah, well I’m against empty hole!”)
We’re beginning to solve some big pieces of that problem with alternative media, which is why you’re hearing so much complaining about misinformation. “Our democracy,” that hilarious phrase that doesn’t mean what it says, relies on the screen of fakery. Nothing happens until we punch enough holes in that screen.
To be continued.