I always found this review in Skeptic magazine of the Disinformation Company a bit peculiar. I wrote an article for Skeptic magazine about objectivity in journalism way back in 1998, and Disinfo published my first two media criticism books in 2005, and neither book was different from the article; so I have dealt with both of these outlets professionally. The review included a mention of Don't Believe It! (as part of a list), but I always suspected that the author of the review did not actually read my book, but just threw it in thinking that it was of the same ilk as the others, never actually doing the requisite homework because of the narrative that Disinfo was Skeptic's "evil twin". It was a gambit, and it revealed itself as such because by the time my first book was accepted for publication, Disinformation was heading in a different direction (which had been noted by others), making the author's assessment dated by then.
The entire review had claimed my book and the others were determined to "blow the lid off reality itself." As someone whose complaint is that journalism has never had the means nor the inclination to examine reality directly, I found the phrase amusing.
Disinfo was a controversial publisher back in the day, and its subject matter was not for those who used the mainstream middle class as their reference point, which suited my needs perfectly. The biggest problem I had with finding a publisher was that none of them thought my growing list of fake news found in mainstream publications was a problem. Those were one-off errors, I was told time and again.
Stephen Glass was a serial fabricator. So was Jayson Blair. From the Weapons of Mass Destruction to the babies and incubator hoax to the Hitler Diaries to Enron to WorldComm, my manuscript showed case after case of lies, hoaxes, and propaganda, spanning from the 1800s to the present day. From fake heroes to fake tycoons to fake victims, I had hundreds of cases of where mainstream and national media outlets got it wrong. These were not one-off problems: this was a systemic deficiency that was polluting the information stream, and destroying the industry.
I did my research and thoroughly. I had tracked down original broadcasts and articles, which wasn't always an easy thing to do. There was "Hunting for Bambi", for instance. There was a US soldier who went AWOL, and then posed as an amnesiac teenager to avoid detection, and the press bought it.
It wasn't just big stories. It was those little "feel good" ones, too -- the ones that are supposed to restore faith in the competency and benevolence of the Establishment. From fake overnight sensations to fake FBI agents, there was no shortage of fake news presented as real news. You had culture jammers who deliberately went out of their way to fool the press to make a point. You had journalists flat-out lie in their stories.
You even had children who fooled the press.
Even the subtext of #MeToo is that the entire glamorous narrative of the Hollywood segment of the American Dream was a bald-face lie. Those smiles on the red carpet hid the ugly nightmare actresses in the business endured, knowing they were going to be blacklisted if they revealed the horrific abusive conditions of their workplace, and journalism never shone a light on it until Ronan Farrow started to nose around Harvey Weinstein's Vault of Sins.
So, no, it was not a little problem. It wasn't a one-off. It was a full-blown crisis.
In fact, what we call "fake news" in 2018 is merely a subset spin-off of the lies and hoaxes that are also still present in mainstream outlets. We still have fake news in traditional outlets, but now you also have those who just bypass the middleman because the old guard lost so much credibility that fake news is less likely to be believed in legacy outlets; so they are presented as alternative publications as well.
And my book wasn't an attempt to blow the lid off reality, but to expose the actual reality of journalism.
But I had publishers who were afraid of confronting that monster, and then I found the publisher that allowed me to confront it the way I needed to expose it. There was no meddling whatsoever.
There have been many other hoaxes and propaganda that happened since the publication of my book in 2005. From Balloon Boy to the Hijab Hoax to the Gardasil Scare. The New York Times has presented more than a couple of grifters as genuine businessmen. I have chronicled numerous hoaxes and propaganda pieces on this website, even though that is not my primary focus for the simple reason there are just far too many out there, and then journalists get miffed when they are accused of being fake news.
The central problem for journalism has always been the blinders of narrative that absolutely prevent the profession from seeing reality. The notion that we cannot see reality because of our faulty filters is rubbish. We can make allowances and bypass our filters if we delve into our own perceptions and challenge them.
Take hearing, for instance. Do you assume what you hear is reality? It isn't: it is filtered reality made for your own convenience. Your mind deceives you by excluding as much irrelevant noise as it can and groups chords of sound together.
You do not have to believe me, but if you want to hear it for yourself, you can use earplugs and not take them off for a few days.
Then remove them and have a listen.
You will suddenly hear your voice bounce off walls when you speak. You will hear echoes and all sorts of other noises for a few moments, and then suddenly, your "normal" hearing pulls everything together as your mind remembers what it is it I supposed to do.
This was the backbone of my undergraduate thesis in psychoacoustics that was inspired by two separate events in my teenage years when I stumbled upon this phenomenon, and then got inspired to study how else our baseline perceptions worked.
That should have been journalism's specialty: finding the atoms of reality, and then boldly testing and exploring them.
But journalists has always had an absolute revulsion to having to deal with reality. They ignore it, and replace it with narrative.
And that's why we have no understanding of what is journalism.
We have those proclaiming to be pioneers in snake oil known as "immersive journalism" using virtual reality just so they can run away from actual reality.
Virtual, by definition, is almost real...but not real.
In other words, a lie.
Virtual is doublespeak for deception. It is a genuine imitation reality.
Virtual reality = not reality. Immersive journalism = propaganda.
So "immersive journalism" is cult indoctrination and propaganda. It can be nothing else. If you are using computer simulation as a facsimile of reality, you are not dealing with reality, but your narrative interpretation of it.
And if you have not explored reality, you know nothing about it.
You cannot immerse in reality. You can only immerse in lies. Immersion requires a suspension of belief the way you do when you read or watch fiction. You are trying to drown out your every instinct and grain of knowledge to be able to enjoy a story. That is the reason you have to immerse.
Reality is not about immersing. It is about riding wavelengths to learn. It is about action. Looking through VR is passive, and you cannot understand reality through passivity. You have to move and interact with reality constantly.
Journalism is about facts and confronting them. Narrative is about letting go and immersing, as you spin and look for ways to employ sophistry to justify a point of view.
Cults function on immersion techniques, from chanting, rote repetition, removal of free will, and regressing to emotional illiteracy, including, but not limited to being in an unnatural and altered state -- isolating people from actual reality to form unnatural habits by first immersing -- and then drowning in an unnatural world. Appeal to authority, the confirmation bias, and cognitive dissonance takes care of the rest.
Journalism failed to study reality. There is no such thing as a virtual reality. The Matrix this is not.
But immersive journalism is cult indoctrination made to seem deep and future-forward. The digital is not the future. It is the present.
Journalism has always been obsessed with façades. They look at the medium (i.e., the delivery system) first. Then they look at the narrative content. The end.
They aren't looking at the factual content. They are looking at the structure of the product they are disseminating.
Because if they did, it wouldn't matter what media they used -- the focus on facts and structure would withstand any technological shift.
The Internet proved to be the undoing of journalism because the structure and methods of the profession were always deficient. The Internet merely allowed more of reality get exposed to a global audience who provided its own feedback. That's it.
You compared the reality journalism presented in traditional outlets to the one the Internet provided -- and there was no comparison -- every narrative was proven to be wrong. Facts that had been suppressed were exposed, nullifying countless news stories. That 's what happened.
And journalism is fighting tooth and nail to try to shove that genie back in the bottle. They are trying to get a great re-set button so they can go back to the days when they could meddle and tell people tall tales that suited their own worldview, not reality.
If we learned to deal with reality, we would have full control of our lives. We would understand the reality out there, and how to deal with it, as well as know how well our methods were working, and what still needed to be done -- and there is always something needed to be done. Things evolve, bringing in new factors to consider.
Don't Believe It wasn't about blowing the lid off of reality, but blowing the lid off of lies. There is a universe of difference between the two. You cannot have a virtual reality. You can have reality and see it as it is, or you can superimpose a lie not based in reality, meaning you will always be off in your calculations, and your solutions will never work because they do not deal with reality. You will always miss the obvious as well as the subtle.
People want to shove their own narratives into your mind because deep down, they know what they are shilling is a lie, and then think if everyone believes the same lie, it will become a truth rigged in the control freak's favour. It never works.
Wars and unrest happen because a rigged lie turns into a nuclear bomb ready to explode.
Immersive journalism is pseudo-science, and it was that kind of unscientific thinking that took down journalism.
But the profession is always looking for the easy quick-fix that gives them back the power they never earned, and this destined to be obsolete technology is not going to save their dead profession, either.