Trashing journalists and the media has been a mainstay of Western intellectual life at least as far back as Nietzsche, who implored his readers to “live in ignorance of what seems most important to your age!” Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Aaron Haspel, thinkers I’ve profited from immensely, are similarly hard on the media. Taleb’s contempt for journalists is legendary. In the revised 2016 edition of The Bed of Procrustes he says that he takes “a ritual bath after any contact, or correspondence (even emails), with . . . journalists, and those in similarly depraved pursuits”—whilst Haspel quips in Everything (2015): “News is noise.” I was once quite partial to this view. But far less so lately.
If the citizenry buys into the idea that journalism is little more than propaganda, and journalists are little more than paid trolls, who benefits from this, if not paid trolls and bullshit artists like Sean Hannity, who can now afford to hide in plain sight, with get-out-of-jail-free cards in their wallets which read: “Everybody’s Doing It Why Can’t We?” Same is true of those who denigrate science: they’re usually doing so because serious science is a threat to their particular brand of bullshit.
“Media isn’t about truth, it is about power.” Seriously, Brent? Is that actually what you believe? Is media often about power? Absolutely. Too often? Probably. But are you really ready to say, with a straight face, that there’s no difference between The New York Times and the propaganda machines that masquerade as media outlets in totalitarian states like North Korea and the former Soviet Union? Are you really ready to say that there’s no difference between Peter Jennings and Alex Jones? Because claims of this stamp are patently and demonstrably false. Regardless, I read Adbusters religiously in my early twenties, and I was a bible-thumping Pentecostal in my teens, so I know full well why folks on the far left and the far right are in love with this false equivalency. They love it because it levels the playing field. After all, if news is nothing but propaganda, and it’s all just about power, then we can spew out our own bullshit with impunity, and we can do it with a clean conscience.
Removing a well established institution from your society is like getting a seemingly superfluous part of your body—like your appendix or your tonsils—surgically removed. We too often discover the usefulness of things like the tonsils after they’ve been irretrievably removed. So, before you entrust the body politic to the radical’s knife, it’s good to ask: Is this institution performing an important function? And, if it is, who’s going to perform it after it’s gone?
Trashing the mainstream media without a viable alternative in mind is like invading Iraq without an exit strategy and toppling Saddam Hussein. The monsters that slither out of the chaos to fill the power vacuum are sure to be much, much worse. Be careful what you wish for, friends, be careful what you wish for. Order is fragile.
—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)