Fake news on fake news: Don't pin it on your ideological enemies. There is plenty of blame to go around.

Fox News Channel has this agitprop on their menu:

“Black Eye: Dan Rather and the Birth of Fake News”

That title is fake news itself.

Fake news has been going on long before 1968, too, Politico.

For as long as there has been communications, there has been propaganda.

That is not a “left” or “right” invention.

It is a people invention…

The Chaser Solution: Chapter Two: This is a Picture Book, not it doesn't belong to the devil, but the Alchemist.

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That newsletter is significant for many reasons.

I tracked it down when I was a university student. 60 Minutes tried, and couldn’t, but I managed to get it after speaking with the editor Joseph de Courcy, and I bet most of you have no idea about him or his family’s amazing history. I had the honour of talking to him, and in all that rotten business during the Civil War in Yugoslavia, that conversation was a welcome high point that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I still have that newsletter. I learned there were publications — small quiet ones, with a tiny, but critical audience, that brokered in real information. As in, stuff spies, diplomats, and other powerful and intrepid people read.

That was one of the countless sources that I used in my last book. A source used by the likes of the CIA and MI6.

And I could track it down before veteran reporters. It wasn’t a lucky break or a case of beginner’s luck.

When this venture relaunches, I am saying right now for the record, this is not going to be fake news or propaganda for sheeple.

It will be simple and elegant and balance opposites: it will have the latent flourishes of Art Nouveau, but with a Minimalist sensibility.

This isn’t going to be telling you about good news or happy news.

It will give you facts. Turn those cards around to navigate through the world. Take something bad and, like the alchemist, turn it into something golden.

Chaser will be a picture book of sorts, but not the Devil’s Picture Book. You will get your reading of the cards, but divination here is not divine. It is reality. It is truth.

It is…

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A system with a thousand things wrong with it: journalists shouldn't be fact-checkers for Facebook. Facebook shouldn't be in the fact-checking business, either.

The Guardian has an oblivious article about how journalists who “fact-check” their own by working for Facebook are upset with Facebook.

First of all, Facebook is a Middle Class, amateur vanity press release site. They have no business being any sort of “fact-checkers”. They know zero about news. They are not structured for it. Facebook fact-checking news is like Victoria’s Secret fact-checking news.

Or Harley Davidson.

Or Walmart.

Or Wheel of Fortune.

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So right off the bat, the entire idea is ludicrous.

Facebook should have just put a disclaimer. We see it in broadcasting when they tell you the following is paid advertising or for “entertainment purposes only.”

That was the answer: to let the Middle Class people know that the pink spongey mass inside their motherfucking skull has a purpose, and they should use it themselves. Fuck the hell off. Facebook gave the stay-at-mall moms a platform to post pictures of their brats in tutus and superhero costumes, what the fuck more do they want?

For all Facebook knows, that’s not even their kid.

But Facebook wants to be an authority; so they gave in and hastily cobbled together “fact-checkers.”

Journalists should not have been the fact-checkers because that is a conflict-of-interest, and if you are going to do things differently, then you have to be more scientific about it, and not drink from a poisoned well.

Get fresh eyes and expertise, not the same old guard who cannot be trusted to get quotes in the proper context. The end.

And now journalists are griping that Facebook isn’t being responsive to them.

Why would they? They are not a news outlet. That is not their mandate. They just stuck your ass in that chair to appease the jittery classes who have a Zero Risk Mindset. You messed up your own profession, let Facebook mess up their own. They do not need your worthless input.

They needed to tell the little people that Facebook is like chewing gum: it’s a sweet distraction you can favour as you chew, but don’t swallow it…

If 60 Minutes was always a toxic place to work, then how credible was it?

60 Minutes is getting rapped on the knuckles for what that little clique tolerated and fostered over the decades.

After how many decades?

It was a Good Old Boys club, and its original leader Don Hewitt had abused a female underling, ruining her career, and the network has had to pay her millions.

Who watched these watchmen?

No one, apparently.

It does not surprise me. I recall Spy magazine making mention of it, but as usual, no one else picked it up.

I am not surprised by this report one bit. The press is quick to praise itself and paint themselves as martyr knights, but don’t buy the hype…

Deutsche Welle's bigoted interview with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.

In all the years of me watching Serbian political players get interviewed by North American and Western European journalists, I have yet to see one reporter treat a Serb with a modicum of respect or decorum.

Deutche Welle (DW)’s Conflict Zone kept up the horrific tradition by interviewing Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic with the usual contempt.

You do not see this kind of bad attitude when journalists interview other world leaders. Compare this interview with 60 Minutes’ recent interview with Donald Trump.

Brnabic held her own, of course, as Serbs have had to do for decades. You do not have to behave like an ill-mannered swine: ask your questions in a respectful tone, and give the person a chance to answer.

Do not cheerlead. Do not malign. Interview and don’t look down on those who have agreed to sit on that hot seat…

Starting over in a Post-Journalism World, Part Fifty.

When civil war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, naive Alexandra Kitty was an ingenue who did not know that you can buy positive press coverage for yourself and bad press coverage for your enemies.

I also had no idea that people are paid to attend “red carpet” events, either.

Eventually, I got savvy. I stopped looking at the wrapping, and started peeling away the layers.

I learned that the communications industries — both journalism and entertainment — really used the same tricks and techniques as a magician’s stage show, and as a magic aficionado, I could easily deduce certain things, and then do the legwork knowing where to look and what not to take at face value.

The US suddenly has a well-organized push for socialism, which isn’t some grassroots drive: this is some very wealthy entity who is footing the bill, making its supporters mere stones in a game of Go. I never bought it.

I also never bought Hollywood’s lockstep anti-Trump campaign, either. These are actors who do not get out of bed unless they are paid to attend events, and have other people churn out their tweets and write their speeches.

So when you have legacy Establishment actors such as Alec Baldwin, advocating sedition, I immediately wonder who is behind it.

Because why would anyone in the US overthrow the government? The majority of Americans in 2016 voted Republican: in the state races, the Senate, and the House. While the president did not win by a majority, he now has his popularity higher than what he had when he was first elected.

So what we have is an ideological minority wanting to stomp over the will of the majority.

That is not democracy.

So when I see actors and singers shilling Democrats, I wonder which PR firms are at play, who is footing the bill, and why is it so important to deflect Americans’ attention away from their real enemies by having them slap fight each other on Twitter and Facebook.

It is no different than what happened in the former Yugoslavia. Foreign vested interests hijacked the country and then took the spoils of their propagandistic manipulation for themselves. Germany certainly did well for decades after meddling — and now that their economy is lagging once again, they are starting to meddle.

In the US, this artificial divide goes beyond mere political differences, but we do not have an actual news media to unearth it because they are too busy memorizing those press releases as they spew it as if it were their own idea.

60 Minutes certainly dropped the ball when Lesley Stahl interviewed Donald Trump who had no trouble using the newsmagazine to get free advertising for the mid-terms. Stahl was no match for Trump. He kept on message and she veered horribly off.

And 60 Minutes is the top tiered news outlet in the US.

We have a peculiar mess in communications: a profound lack of transparency. We have preening and bragging, but very little in terms of actual quality or, more importantly, provenance.

We have no way of determining which PR firms are involved as no entertainment or news outlet is required to disclose it. We see primal attacks on people, but from the shadows, and when they have a chance to confront a target, they flail.

What we have is some peculiar attempt from a small vested interest to use traditional outlets to cause discontent. The Left have their usual bigoted fear-mongering against Russia (ironic as the system the Left are now in love with comes from that region of the world), and yet no one is questioning who is controlling their message and narratives with scripts and real cash money.

The alternative to journalism is transparent. There is provenance. There are specific questions to be answered first: who is behind the push. Are the people we see posing at an event — whether it is protesters or the beautiful people — there on their own volition — or are mere paid mouthpieces? Who wrote the speech? Who wrote the tweet? What PR firms are micromanaging the optics?

Those are the preliminary questions to answer.

After determining what is genuine and what is choreographed, then we look at the event, person, or issue. The questions are focussed. They are not partisan or loaded.

Do not waste time on spectacle. That is misdirection. It is reality we care about.

Like the alchemist who tortures metals until its purest form emerges, the chronicler puts facts in a tumbler: what comes out after the rigours is the reality that brings us the truth.

Truth is what counts. It is the only thing that counts in the intellectual realm. That we have settled for filler is an indictment of the uncivilized nature of Western society — Left and Right.

Once we find the atoms of facts, we are then ready to discover what needs to be done and how…

Be careful how you parse your denials: how people in journalism still do not get this whole technology thing.

Jeff Fager tried to downplay his ouster:

The company…terminated my contract early because I sent a text message to one of our own CBS reporters demanding that she be fair in covering the story. My language was harsh and, despite the fact that journalists receive harsh demands for fairness all the time, CBS did not like it. One such note should not result in termination after 36 years, but it did.

Well, CBS News has released the content of the text he sent:

[Fager] sent a text message to CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan with a warning over the network's coverage of the sexual harassment accusations against him. 

On Sunday, Duncan reached out to Fager for his response to allegations in The New Yorker that he had groped or touched CBS employees at company parties.

"If you repeat these false accusations without any of your own reporting to back them up you will be held responsible for harming me," Fager replied. "Be careful. There are people who lost their jobs trying to harm me and if you pass on these damaging claims without your own reporting to back them up that will become a serious problem."

Wow, there were people who lost their jobs trying to harm him.

That is a very serious threat to make to a coworker who is doing a story on you. Not just “harsh,” but life-altering.

I have heard similar threats when I worked on stories. This is the way people try to shut down the truth from coming out.

CBS was painted as tyrants for kicking him out over some silly little text, and they merely put out that very text.

See? Technology. It gives tangible evidence. I still have all the voice mails 60 Minutes left on my answering machine in late 1993 and 1994.

The move is worse now because we now have a credibility problem: that denials will not be believed, and that a network could allow that kind of behaviour go on unchallenged.

And 60 Minutes is hit the worst of all: for all those decades they were the moral ones who stood up to people who made those kind of threats…and they were playing the same games all along...

60 Minutes' Chief Jeff Fager is out...

If Les Moonves was ousted, Jeff Fager was not far behind.

I had dealings with Mr. Fager way back in 1994 when he was still a producer for 60 Minutes, and I have recounted our exchanges elsewhere, but suffice to say, I was not pleased with the interaction, and being called “curt” for not saying “thank you” to him enthusiastically enough.

His version of his ouster was this:

The company…terminated my contract early because I sent a text message to one of our own CBS reporters demanding that she be fair in covering the story. My language was harsh and, despite the fact that journalists receive harsh demands for fairness all the time, CBS did not like it. One such note should not result in termination after 36 years, but it did.

CBS is not quite confirming that account that they fired him for being curt:

This action today is not directly related to the allegations surfaced in press reports, which continue to be investigated independently. However, he violated company policy and it is our commitment to uphold those policies at every level.

Meaning he is not actually absolved of the other allegations, but given that at this stage of the investigation there would already be things confirmed and uncovered, it was enough to rid themselves of him. I doubt the text on its own would have resulted in an ouster under normal circumstances. It would be enough if something else is emerging.

This is a huge blow for 60 Minutes. When your brass is being removed for bad behaviour, your tut-tutting sounds false.

This turn doesn’t surprise me. Broadcast journalism is a toxic beast, and this ouster is not the end of the story — it is only after the investigation is completed that a fuller picture will emerge…

Sure, he is a creep, but he's OUR creep: justifying rot, journalism and entertainment-style.

When #MeToo struck, it hit mostly entertainment and journalism, two very sexist industries, and they are no less sexist today as they were prior to the movement.

Nothing has changed, except a lot of creepy old relics got kicked to the curb so that younger and cheaper employees could fill their slots.

Journalists in particular have been seething over #MeToo as it is an industry that never admits to being at fault, wrong, flawed, or deficient in any way.

And here is something that has been going on for almost a year. 

We are seeing a shift in how bad boys are being portrayed in the press.

James Gunn's old tweets revealing his creepy side hit the fan boys particularly hard because he was directing Marvel movies for Disney, and that's a cushy job to have.

But superhero movies are soulless, by the numbers, and CGI intense. They are predictable with the same kind of music, special effects, and plots. 

There is no actual talent to them. They are run by committee. Looking at a single superhero movie's credits, you feel as if they just took an old telephone book, ripped out all the pages, and just filmed that because no one would notice who was who (considering I used to know who was who, I know it can be done).

So, we have people who are fired from jobs every day. James Gunn puked sick junk on Twitter a decade ago, Disney didn't need the headache, cut him loose, and could keep the machine running with a cheaper replacement because these are disposable movies with franchise and merchandising outgrowth.

Just tell the little people what they want to hear, have some happy music, nifty special effects, some funny lines, a predictable story where the good guys win, and prime those consumerist brats to want all of the action figures when the film is done.

Gunn was expendable because Disney is not art, but a factory where they churn out epic junk. Star Wars, Marvel, Princesses, even pirates, they are established and inoffensive. They are essentially action figures dancing on the screen. Who moves the action figures around is unimportant.

But Gunn's firing is not sitting well with journalists. The have made this story sound as if Gunn was a changed man and a victim, which he wasn't.

People get fired from flipping hamburgers for all sorts of stupid reasons, and we don't see stories where reporters are getting worked up over that. It is Disney's dime and property, and they can hire and fire whoever they wish. That's their chess board, and they don't make money from me.

But it is not as obnoxiously biased as this story in Hollywood Reporter about the fortunes of one CBS News honcho whose leadership is said to have spawned a "toxic" work environment.

The angle of the story from those who work under that regime is that things have improved, but were never "that bad."

I find that angle very interesting because the core of the story is about 60 Minutes.

The newsmagazine that never gave people they did not like second chances, understanding, or wonder if someone changed. 

They dug up dirt from decades ago, and confronted various people.

And now that it is hitting their own newsrooms, suddenly, there are all sorts of excuses.

It doesn't matter if the bad behaviour was a long time ago. A long time ago there were people who were harmed and their lives were forever derailed, and they have the right to have those responsible for that sabotage be held accountable.

And why are things better? Is it because these people are now minding themselves because someone above them is finally paying attention to their actions? And should that overlord ignore it again, will it lapse back to the old ways?

This is a manipulative way of trying to salvage a bad situation by making excuses and to exploit the passage of time to soften the blow of unacceptable behaviour. These people had no trouble to create a hostile work environment. They had no trouble letting bad behaviour dictate the tone of the workplace.

People downplay and make excuses because the idea of (a) being held accountable for their own feral behaviour, (b) their image at Winning At Life is proven to be yet another lie they told, or (c) having to be inconvenienced by defending their actions and enabling doesn't please them.

But mostly because 60 Minutes is about the last news product that has any prestige left, and this blow shows they are no better or sincere in their coverage. 

And now, this mess. A mess CBS is in heavy denial over.

Disney can dump Gunn and move on. CBS News is not in the same position. There is damage control and consequences.

Except now journalism's fall from grace has plummeted so low, that people are not outraged -- not because they don't find it obnoxious, but because journalism is not a thing anymore...

Flash-rage: Mass anger today; tomorrow, huh?

In an Age of Propaganda, there usually a fixed target and all fear, anger, and hatred is thrown at the target.

The Left have chosen Donald Trump, and they keep hoping something will stick. People get angry one cue, but it is a shallow rage: the preachers of the Left pick a target, an angry flash mob plasters some shoddy quality propaganda posters on the Facebook as they rant on the Twitter...and then poof.

The momentum is lost.

It is hard to believe Facebook was a pariah this year. Everyone vowed to cancel their accounts because It Was Very Scary, and then they didn't save for a few goobers who reactivated their accounts, and then it all went back.

Remember Stormy Daniels and her attention-starved lawyer? The whole 60 Minutes interview? Somehow, it's not such a big thing, anymore.

#TimesUp? #NeverAgain?

So thirty seconds ago.

And now we are waving fists in the air over separated families. Outrage!

Flash-rage. Fleeting rage. Shallow rage.

Usually rage without focus is a dangerous thing, but this is a rage that is mechanical in nature. Slacktivist rage that is fast to come on, but the memories are short.

And then the next thing comes, and while the issue is nowhere near resolved, it is quickly forgotten.

Teflon rage. The anger that never sticks.

Because people are still holding out for They to clean up the mess. They should tell us what is fake news. It is as if public rage is seen as enough to let They know what mess to clean up, and that is good enough. People registered their disapproved, and hollered for their invisible servants to make the inconvenience to go away.

People remembered that once upon a time, journalists would shame someone, and then the government or police got involved and assured them that something was being done.

That collective habit never went away when social media came on the scene. The stimulus-response dynamic is still there, except with more gossip and stories that require a knee-jerk reaction, the potency of such behaviour has dwindled down. Ride out the storm because another incident will grab attention soon enough.

Without the emotional and intellectual investment progress needs to push forward, flash-rage overtakes the real kind, and people explode for a moment, only to forget why they were angry in the first place...

This is how journalism died: It chose narrative over reality. It chose lies over truth.

Watching two hours of 60 Minutes tonight reminds me how far journalism declined: it is a news program that is nothing but pure advertorial for various interests. Slopping an academic study or two as a visual is no substitute for actual research. They no longer can question anything in a STEM-based field. They never question academic institutions. They defer to authority. They always position their own nation as morally superior to anyone else's.

There is no difference between 60 Minutes and a late-night informercial. Vince Offer might as well be a correspondent.

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Which brings us to the travails of the Denver Post and the misleading article about their woes in Politico.

I covered the newspaper industry over a decade ago. The game hasn't changed. The ignorance of those in the industry hasn't changed.

Newspaper circulation has been going down for decades. The article ignores this -- and the fact that ad revenues have been also in a free fall. If fewer people are reading and fewer advertisers are using newspapers to sell their products -- then the newspaper isn't profitable.

Unless you squeeze the assets of the newspaper -- which is what is happening.

The Politico piece completely ignores how modern-day newspaper owners are making money -- not with the actual product -- but by dismantling it piece by piece. It is a smash and grab method -- and there is not much more room left.

So what does it mean to squeeze assets?

You may notice how many newspapers have moved from their once large and prime locations to smaller venues -- selling the building and the land is an example of asset squeezing. In Canada, the Globe and Mail once had a large and prime sprawling building -- which no longer exists -- the condo market is far more lucrative, and the parent company made a profit -- not with the newspaper, but by squeezing an asset.

The problem is now there isn't much more assets left. Once you hit the physical building, it is the end of the road.

Newspapers are profitable only by squeezing assets -- so the Politico piece paints a very deceptive picture. It makes it seem as if there was life or hope left in the product -- but it is the opposite: if assets weren't being squeezed, there would be no profits. That's why vulture companies buy several newspapers, squeeze assets, and then sell them to the lower-tiered vulture company.

But the article is a perfect example of why journalism got destroyed: it chose narratives over reality. All you have to do is look at the bottom line of how companies are actually making a profit, and the reality is asset squeezing has been the method for as long as I have been studying journalism -- and longer.

But narratives are a form of dishonesty, meaning people are being given lies over truth.

Had journalism dealt with reality and truth, they wouldn't be throwing self-righteous temper tantrums.

They wouldn't be cheerleaders for businesses. They wouldn't be demonizing their owners because they would understand why their property was acquired in the first place.

The narrative did the profession in -- and it was a demise so richly earned...

The sheltered relics of 60 Minutes: Fear-mongering, free PR for the Ivy League, and general non-newsiness.

60 Minutes really is a shadow of its once towering self. Watching tonight's offerings reminded me just how away from news that newsmagazine has gotten. The first segment "The Data Miner" was just cheap no-brainer pot shots at Facebook, with the standard journalistic fear-mongering. Lesley Stahl came off as some helmet-haired church lady in it, practically putting words in interviewee's mouths with all sorts of admonishments usually reserved for your grandparents finding out your new squeeze came to the family picnic with alcohol on his breath.

The worst of the segment was pretending that the lack of privacy was unknown: if you use any app on Facebook, it usually asks permission to access your friends' list, for instance. If developers and advertisers know it going in, and the app's connecting splash page asks, I am not sure where the secret part comes in.

And as one of those people who does scan the terms of service, this isn't shocking.

Someone should have given Stahl the memo that the term "Big Data" comes from the mining of mass information and then selling it to various third parties. No babes in the woods, folks.

But apparently journalists were too busy drooling over Kardashians and coming up with cutesy portmanteau's for celebrity couples to know what was happening in reality.

In any case, the propaganda here was kind of rickety.

The second piece from Scott Pelley is pure advertorial for MIT's "media lab", that is really out of touch. First, the awing over the touchscreen computer screens in the 1980s isn't really all that impressive -- Disney World had them back in the day and I should know considering I used to use them to make dinner reservations at the Magic Kingdom.

But the true hilarity is the drooling over computer uses in academia, while completely forgetting that Facebook began at an Ivy League university. If you are going to make a case for people to be impressed with the goings on in Ivory Towers, then don't bring up Facebook, and if you are going to make the case that Facebook is sinister, then don't go cheerleading at the same kind of environment that fostered it in the first place. Make up your mind.

In any case, 60 Minutes proves that journalists truly do not understand this whole Internet thing.

The Pelley segment was truly obnoxious -- absolutely no critical questions or wondering about the ethics of any of it: it was just a bunch of goll-ee! remarks while giving a free platform to MIT. Science and technology reporting is notoriously just a giant ad for the industry, and 60 Minutes may very well be the worst offenders.

The third segment was the only one with any value, and that it was done by a doctor who has an understanding of empirical methods explains it. Watching the decade-long decline of a woman with Alzheimer's Disease was truly a heart-wrenching, but informative human interest piece of the consequences of a husband who eventually could no longer look after his wife. The traumas are real and permanent.

The only segment that had worth was the one that neither tried to put a sunny spin on things, nor tried to fear-monger, but one out of three is a very poor average...

 

Puritanical titillations: Why the press can't keep it up.

Stormy Daniels does 60 Minutes, and 22 million people watched, hoping for some sexy stuff from a porn drudge. She failed to deliver the kind of gossip the puritanicals drool over. 60 Minutes got the best ratings they had in a decade, which was very sad, not just because of the collapse of journalism, there was no pointers for bored couples looking to spice up their dreary sex lives. (Although there wasn't much to the interview, the National Post felt compelled to tell the little people who to process it as it whipped it up to more than it actually was.) James Comey fared even worse than he should have, with less than half of those ratings. 9.7 million people, which in a nation of over 300 million, means bad news for journalists hitching their ride on Trump's alleged frolics. 

Comey tried to plant seeds with the narrative of those loosy goosey Russian hookers and their golden showers. He appealed to the puritanicals, trying to strike back at Trump. 

Note that Comey never confirmed the rumours. He just rehashed old gossip, making the value of the interview nonexistent, and those bored and unimaginative middle class people in loveless marriages couldn't make use of the old dirt.

No 50 Shades of Grey, kids!

But the drop spells disaster for the press. The ratings should have been stronger. Bill Clinton's antics brought strong ratings and had staying power. The Comey interview came right on the heels of the Daniels interview -- the drop means the hook is a dud.

Super stories have been a trusty staple for the press, but while this one has all the elements of a tent pole movie, it's not saving the press from an apathetic audience who isn't game for the freak show as they once were...

More on 60 Minutes and their advertorial-style reportage...

The third piece is not what journalism should ever be -- the love letter to the Harvard Lampoon is all fuzzy bunny and Harvard should use it for their promos. It is hard to imagine this is 60 Minutes. Aren't rich, white people hilarious is an odd choice to go after the one segment that had value.

The Oprah Winfrey segment on the memorial of victims of lynching was interesting. The US has a history of turning people into monsters who absolutely must be destroyed. African-Americans were lynched mainly in the South. Women were labelled witches and burned alive in New England. The national narrative is one where there always has to be a villainous group to defeat.

It is not a trait that is unique to the US. Much of Europe had their own dalliance with fascism, but their attempts with their own memorials did not always get new generations to understand the deeper message.

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But I do agree that the consequences of slavery and lynching is still prevalent in modern culture -- and not just the fact the African-Americans are over-represented in the prison system. You have an unchallenged structure of thought that still permeates in a collective discourse.

Journalists back in the day never challenged the morality of those lynchings, just as they don't seem to challenge any authoritative-sounding narrative that tells them to demonize a group of Them.

It is either shameless fawning -- or a hateful smear job with no in-between...

I remember when 60 Minutes wasn't a government lapdog...

The Russia-scare continues, but the narrative has more than one very childish logical inconsistency going for it -- the narrative has now told the American people that they have the absolute most bumbling, incompetent, and oblivious government that ever existed. The excuse that this cyberattack wasn't noticed was that journalists were too obsessed with Trump's infamous sexist recording. Bravo, media!

The story makes it clear that the US has a loser press, and a loser government -- this is an extreme hard sell, all in the hopes to get people to give up their Internet freedoms, but really, if you have sleepwalking news media and a sleepwalking government, then you are safer taking your chances with the Internet than either group.

Why pay taxes? Why use journalism?

What have Russians proved? That they could have destroyed the US with a single click -- but then didn't? Why go through all that trouble when it is far more effective to empty bank accounts and shut down utilities? A high school prank doesn't make a whole lot of sense when they would have the means to make far greater damage -- they could top it off by leaking classified information and nuclear codes.

The story is pure propaganda, but very messy propaganda -- it is unfocussed and sounds like a rumour high school kids spread.

Once upon a time, 60 Minutes was a real newsmagazine -- it stood up to politicians, not run after them, being their faithful lapdogs. But in an Age of Propaganda, we can expect nothing less...

 

Are the eyes the mirror of one's soul? 60 Minutes' narrative gets co-opted.

The Drudge Report has prominent play that 60 Minutes had the highest ratings in a decade for last night's Freak of the Week interview -- as well as Right-wing Gateway Pundit's piece about the pupil dilation of Stormy Daniels. It was the Twitter chatter, of course. All the make-up and lighting couldn't keep the eyes from scrutiny. The call was "drug use", and that's the kind of gossip that alters a narrative  that gets away from those are trying to compose a story of a Bad Guy and a Victim. While the news media is trying to play up the "goon factor", the "doped up vixen" narrative is overshadowing it -- and of course, it implies a stoned accuser may be having hallucinations about the whole thing.

Her attorney is trying to play games, of course, ominously hinting they have more "evidence." It is a gambit and a dodgy one. Monica Lewinsky kept that infamous blue dress and in the end, it meant nothing. Her character was torn to shreds and her past was nothing like Daniels's.

Most people who enter the wasp's nest have no idea what is in store for him. Daniels may think her past will prepare her, but it won't. She seems put together and direct, but it was ignored and her eyes -- the one thing she couldn't hide, ended up being the focus of viewers' minds immediately.

You cannot be Batman-prepared for these things, when you have people who are Sherlock Holmes-ready to take your narrative apart.

The interview did nothing to illuminate the subject or change anyone's mind one way or another -- it did give some quick Monday-morning gossip as it made people feel like they discovered something 60 Minutes seemed oblivious to in their interview...

When a sex scandal bores: 60 Minutes interviews Stormy Daniels, but why don't they ask who is footing the bills?

This is by-the-numbers. Porn drudge has a fling with a rich white guy. A non-disclosure agreement is signed as is usual for all the hired help. Enemies of rich white guy hope to see an opening, and jump on it. Porn drudge will get used by both sides of the war, and then discarded because women are disposable. Stormy Daniels admitted to being dishonest during the critical timeline, making her lawyer's assertion that she is credible very questionable. Who is footing her bills is also left out.

Once upon a time, a politician who had an affair would have been devastating. 60 Minutes mentions John Edwards, but Gary Hart is a better example.

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Trump's philandering is nothing new. Wife #2 Marla Maples was once his mistress. No one actually cares. People are going to be angry at Daniels in this entire mess. This interview will not sink Trump, but it will not go well for Daniels, even though it shouldn't.

Who is footing her legal bills? It would be interesting to know the logistics behind this story. This won't touch Trump or make supporters turn on a man they knew going in was self-indulgent, and even his foot soldiers have little to fret about.

In Canada, we had a comparable, if sex-free scandal with the Stephen Harper government: Nigel Wright has been embroiled in a scandal involving Senator Mike Duffy, and all three men got off without too much fuss. It is naive to think that scandals have the same currency these days as they did in the past.

Here is a story that is supposed to, in theory, have it all: a made-up blonde who knows her way around a bedroom, a rich white married guy in power who falls madly in lust with her, some sketchy deals are made, soon goons menace somebody, and then it all comes out to take him down.

Well, this is 2018, and this is a re-run, and it gets harder to take a puritanical view in the world of Ashley Madison television ads.

This is war going on right now, and the outrage is contrived: the end game is to grab power away from someone else as you hoard your own. It is one thing to be wronged, and quite another exploiting those who were wronged, and we are living in a landscape where victims make the perfect pigeons who those in power to manipulate their suffering for personal gain.

It is the reason so much is ringing hollow these days: we have bad acting and faux anger littering the information stream. 60 Minutes was not earth-shattering by any stretch. It was filled with conjecture, gossip, and that worldly blonde whose claim to fame is denying, then admitting to a meaningless fling with a married man who would go on to be president.

BBC has just put on a "breaking news" alert on it, playing up the goon aspect, and despite all of the hype, this is a sex scandal that bores to the point it would be a rejected reality show...

Journalism as advertorial: From tech news to hard news, it has all become advertising.

A couple of articles touching on the same theme in different ways. The Intercept has a solid article about 60 Minutes' softball interview with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman with the author of the piece asking the hard question:

Launched on CBS in 1968, “60 Minutes” has been described as “one of the most esteemed news magazines on American television” and has won more Emmy awards than any other primetime U.S. TV show. It claims to offer “hard-hitting investigative reports, interviews, feature segments and profiles of people in the news.”

Got that? Award-winning. “Esteemed.” “Hard-hitting.”

So why did the segment on MBS resemble more of an infomercial for the Saudi regime than a serious or hard-hitting interview?

Because it was an infomercial -- or more accurately, an advertorial. It was a fuzzy bunny that added no real and hard facts. 60 Minutes has not been a hard-hitting program for a very long time. It may go after easy targets, but should the newsmaker be media savvy, it is a different ballgame.

But at least The Intercept was perceptive enough to see it, but not all outlets proclaiming to do journalism can. TechGenix was on the other side of the spectrum, with an article getting all huffy because people believe tech news is fake news:

The only way that I can think of to debunk this one is to talk about the way that tech journalism really works. Some of the major tech sites and publications do employ staff writers, but the vast majority of the tech journalists that I have met over the years are freelancers like myself. Although there are exceptions, freelancers are usually given a great deal of autonomy regarding the things that they write about. For example, nobody told me to write an article about fake tech news. I have a certain number of articles that I write each month, and the topics and content are up to me.

This isn’t to say that topics are never assigned. Sometimes they are. For example, I recently had someone ask me to write an article about Azure Active Directory. Once again though, the substance and the tone of the article was left up to me. No one told me to say that Azure Active Directory was the greatest thing ever to come out of Redmond, nor did anyone ask me to write a hit piece. It was up to me to decide what went into the article.

That isn't quite true. There are junkets. There is graft. You have a form of fake news in most tech stories -- but the form it takes is advertorial writing. It has always been too deferential to the industry.

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It rarely asks hard questions -- usually after a scandal explodes, and one that should have been seen by journalists years ago.

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That is the reason more people are now dismissing tech news as fake news -- they can sense the sunny spin and the positive coverage isn't journalism.

And they are right.

But it is easier to take the path of least resistance and be perky and positive than ask hard questions. Confrontation is tough. It is easy to do it on social media where your outrage is buried amid others as there is always safety in numbers. But when it comes to being the lone skeptic who sees it first, it is not the happiest of situations.

It is no excuse, however. It is not a profession to get a pat on the head and a lollipop. It is about finding truths in reality.

And that takes courage, something the profession has lacked to its own destruction.

A bad interview, and a worse column. Journalism's melodramatic leaps of logic can get really stupid most of the time.

I watched Sunday night's 60 Minutes program with Lesley Stahl verbally pounding away at Betsy DeVos, the fabulously wealthy woman who became Education Secretary, and then really, really, really did not do well being interviewed. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-wUdetAAlY?rel=0]

It really was not a good interview. DeVos clearly is not someone who interviews well at all, and I have known many bad interviewees that aren't incompetent in their jobs. It is the same reason I put zero stock in campaign debates -- at most, it shows who is the best debater, not the most qualified candidate.

When I used to teach public speaking to college students, I trained them how to handle crisis-level questions in front of an audience as asked by me who was a professional journalist when they had no time to prepare ahead. Most of them learned how to handle it. Many learned because they watched their classmates, took notes, and then discussed strategies with each other between classes and breaks, which was the actual, if covert, point of the exercise.

I also had many of those students for my Communications course -- and that required a different skill set, in this case, writing reports, letters, memos, and other forms of business communications. I can tell you right now some students were better written communicators, while others could do impromptu speeches without blinking.

Some could do both with ease, and others struggled with both forms of communications.

So that a seasoned national journalist such as Lesley Stahl could make mince meat of DeVos is not actually impressive. She could have just as easily lobbed less hostile questions instead of taking an unnecessary aggressive stance, and gotten a better result. If she were a truly adept journalist, she could have revealed much more about DeVos without the theatrics.

DeVos could easily get crisis media training, and learn how to keep calm under brutal interview conditions. It's a dirty little secret: people who handle hostile interviews well do so because they paid former journalists and PR firms to show them what to expect, and how to react.

A person who doesn't buckle during an intense interview could merely have been trained to do it -- and your impressions are not actually accurate.

My j-school graduate thesis was on how to use crisis communications to control the message. I wanted to know precisely how PR could take a bad situation, and then regain control of the narrative to bring their clients' a decisive victory. I interviewed veteran PR specialists for it. I read their manuals, and my advisor owned her own PR firm. By the time I was through, I had created a map of how people in the field eke out victories within devastating defeats.

So DeVos had an abnormally hostile interview. She was unprepared -- but it doesn't mean she didn't know the answers of questions asked during the interview. Some people freeze, have poor memories under abnormal circumstances (and getting interview for a national television show is a highly unnatural experience, in both the style of communications, and the reasons for submitting to such an unnatural style). What it means is she had a bad interview, and as a journalist, that's not what you actually want to make a point: you want a fair interview where people can come to their own conclusions because you gave enough space for someone to reveal themselves on their own free will.

You would need to find other confirming or refuting evidence to see if she is that uncertain of information, and it is here that Stahl's report completely crumbles itself.

You cannot rely on a single hack of being the bogeyman interviewer and then strutting around intimidating a newsmaker -- you need to have your researchers find proof that this person has a lack of knowledge in a very specific area, and then show it during the segment.

So, for example, if I were to interview someone who was accused of a crime he denies committing, and I ask him to tell me what he did that entire day, and he had a gap or two during the interview, I could go on that information alone, showing how the intrepid and aggressive journalist "uncovered" the truth with the interview alone.

But that would be very dishonest. I would also have to go back, and interview people who could tell me whether this person has a bad memory, is a private person, actually has an alibi, but may have kept quiet to protect a person, or was ashamed of something and clammed up.

If during the course of my research, I found out the person did have an alibi, but just froze out of fear, the interview becomes a lie.

But if I find out that the person doesn't have an alibi because he committed the crime -- I can now easily run the interview clip -- and then enhance that part by showing what else I found to confirm the significance of that segment of the conversation.

This was one of those showy interviews that had a far less going for it than meets the eye.

This is not to say that's what happened to DeVos in that interview -- but interviews with hard anchors at critical points make for news.

As a journalist, I can tell you that I have come across seemingly gotcha parts. Each time, I had to see how much I actually "got". Sometimes, there was something significant, but other times, the person just didn't have media training and fumbled.

There is even a term for it: L'esprit de l'escalier. It simply means of thinking of the right comeback or answer after it is too late. As a journalist, I always had to factor in that possibility when working on a story because if someone came back and provided evidence that they were in the right, then my credibility was in question. Sometimes that is exactly what you are dealing with, and other times, it isn't. You cannot tell until you have confirmed or refuted that contentious segment.

Why is that important?

Because journalism is about facts. An interview is just one source of information, even if the story is about that newsmaker. People not schooled in the profession don't always see what's the big deal, but it is a crucial factor. I have interviewed people for potential stories, and then when I tried to verify information from more than one source, things didn't add up. There was no story; just someone who wanted media attention and gave a stunningly perfect interview.

Which is another problem: often, the people who give the best interviews that are smooth, charismatic, and seemingly logical are, in fact, rubbish. It's a bunch of lies strung together and then packaged to be media friendly. Bon mots can be like that: they are the witty rent-a-quotes who know exactly what to say, how to say it, and when, but their timing and confidence masks the fact the interview is a hoax.

Or, some of the interview holds up -- the parts meant to reassure me that the person is on the level -- but the important stuff -- the reason for the interview -- is just hogwash.

The DeVos interview was a classic Bambi-versus-Godzilla interview, and the problem is that they are pure entertainment. It plays to the partisan, but when you look at it empirically, it is just as flawed as the interview itself. It was like being impressed that a heavyweight boxer punched the lights out of a five year old who is already scared of him.

So I wasn't not exactly impressed with the quality of the actual story because all the feints and ruses could not deflect my attention away from the problematic omissions of the story; in this case, the succinct and elegant facts that could have made a better case then verbally slapping around someone who honestly doesn't have to be working for a government when she has that much money and purpose. DeVos is a generous philanthropist. She doesn't have to do any of it, and I am sure, on some level, she cannot understand the vitriol hurled at her.

There is far more to the story than the fact that lefties hate everyone who doesn't walk lockstep with their demands, just as righties hate everyone who doesn't walk lockstep with theirs. That is not news. That's life.

What is news is more textured: who is Betsy DeVos and why is she pushing through all that abuse when she doesn't have to do any of it? What's the motive? What drives her?

That is the first and most important part of the story: setting the framework of this highly unusual woman. You do not have to like her or hate her, but you do need to understand what drives her. Is it the paper crown? Is it her part of her core beliefs? If so, what are those beliefs?

What brings this person to this spot?

You then have multiple ways you can take the facts: what has she done? How is it working out so far? How does her machine operate? Some people are factualists and can recite every piece of data off the top of their heads. Other people are fuzzy thinkers, and they are broad in their approach.

The problem with the Stahl interview is we don't actually know if DeVos is a fuzzy thinker, a person who doesn't interview well, or not fit for the job. People who hate her will go to option #3 without bothering with hard evidence.

But an outsider will wonder more about evidence. If you are a true journalist, you have to bring facts that refute alternative explanations.

If you are a partisan hatchet queen, you just attack. Stahl just attacked. This will not sway DeVos' defenders. It will not push outsiders to draw the same conclusion. Do not preach to a converted flock. Show, don't tell.

So what viewers were left with is a hot mess: a person who obviously doesn't interview well up against someone who is all show, and a lot less substance than what she ought to be.

Stahl discussed how certain test scores for students were going up, and not down, and I found that argument interesting, but not exactly damning.

If you have test scores going up -- or down, then you have to account for the quality of the test -- is it reliable, valid, useful? Are the questions relevant to gaining mastery for eventually employment? Is there cheating? How are these tests administered? Is it across the board? Have the tests been diluted?

Very often, tests are dumbed down to reach certain quotas. If you are making the case that test scores prove that schools are functioning fine the way they are, then you have to prove it. You do not appeal to authority, and tests are a form of authority.

If the point of the story is to say that unequivocally, that this person is making horrific damage and there is empirical proof, you have to make an iron-clad argument. The haters will be satisfied with just a meme poster.

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The problem with 60 Minutes is that they do an awful lot of authority deferring, and tests aren't always as definitive as they first appear. There are many tests to detect psychological disorders, but some of those tests count everyone has having a form of a disorder, regardless if they score zero or the maximum, and many of those tests cannot differentiate one disorder from another.

Math tests may not have those issues, but they can have other issues. Are students training to pass that test at the expense of learning more than what's on a test?

So, if you are going to make the hypothesis that DeVos is going to make things worse, you then have to spend the bulk of your research establishing the current educational landscape first. You can't just take one set of tests score then think that's all there is to it. It's a confirmation bias.

Even for the brevity of a television news segment, you can still do this kind of research. You build a structure as a reference point, and then find several facts that decisively confirm your hypothesis -- but should you find any that refute it, you still have to give it credence to give an accurate account of reality. So someone may be mediocre at one part of the job, but their strength is somewhere else, and then the news consumer can balance it out for themselves.

If that were the only faults, I doubt I would have even mentioned the report at all because almost all 60 Minutes' follow the same formula, but then the Washington Post stuck its nose in it, and then got all stupid about it in this silly opinion piece.

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To say the piece is a ridiculously unwarranted leap in logic would be an understatement. Betsy DeVos gave one really bad interview where it was an uneven bar fight, and now the commentator decrees that is the reason rich people should never meddle in civic affairs.

That is prejudicial thinking to say the least. What if a raging sexist decided that no woman should be in positions of power based on that one interview as well? It is the same primitive thinking.

The sophistry spewed in the piece is melodramatic, but doesn't actually make her case. You have people who try to contribute something more, and then they don't do it right because they don't have the same experience in navigating through it. That doesn't speak poorly of those willing to try, sometimes with hundreds of millions of their own dollars -- it speaks very poorly that we have a system that is rigged against novel ideas from atypical people who are willing to get pummelled on a national news program because they truly believe in what they are doing when they could be doing things that are not stressful or potentially humiliating to them.

Western thinking is highly bigoted in that regard. It is xenophobia that keeps alternative ideas from being added to systems, making fairly logical theories turn out to be disastrous because we have people sabotaging the person at every turn, distracting them so that they do fail. We have come to the point that we want those people to fail just for the selfish purpose that they may be right, and then we cannot get the glory from it. It's the selfie mindset.

We don't have ways to experiment and test new methods, making it hard for us to take advantage of changing landscapes because our rote models of doing things try to ignore reality. You cannot shut out the wealthy from civic life just because you are a petty little soul who is jealous of their money.

Just as I believe you have to look after the whole of the society. We don't have the terminally ill in charge of a healthcare portfolio. We don't recruit the poor when it comes to elevating their financial precariousness.

We have lost nuances of thinking and have become binary machines.

So both 60 Minutes and the Post offered nothing of value to the public discourse. The worst of it was that there were several more sensible and useful ways to make a stronger case, but when people are too in love with themselves and pay no mind to the reality swirling around them, it becomes an empty theatre where nothing is truly learned, and we are no better off before the show than after.

And just in case you thought perhaps US journalists ask the obvious questions...

60 Minutes dispels that theory with a report on the Club Fed-style prisons in Germany. In all the questions asked about the doting on offenders, the journalist never asked the one question...How much money is the German government spending on the victims of those crimes?

There is PTSD. There are medical bills. There is loss of income and a slew of other problems, from legal bills to having your career derailed.

What about those people? Are you paying for their yoga?

And if not, why not?