Perhaps real journalism, the idealized objective presentation of relevant facts in a manner sufficiently complete to avoid rendering them misleading, a service essential to functional broad scale participatory governance (i.e., democracy but democracy in its strictest sense, majoritarian government), no longer exists anywhere. Perhaps it never has. But then again, it’s probable that our idealized sense of democracy has never really existed either. Still, perhaps what today passes for journalism in the mainstream media, especially in the United States, is as far from journalistic ideals as it is possible to get, a mere fusion of self-serving elitist propaganda (in the pejorative sense of the term “elite”) merged with trashy entertainment and even then, limited in choice through a hegemonic process of consolidation.
Today, the closest semblance of idealized journalism seems to occur, by chance and only from time to time, on social media and in alternative information sources where interested, civic minded individuals glean through meager offerings and unofficial sources to try and share meaningful perspectives. Unfortunately, that avenue too is being closed off through an unholy alliance of the corrupt comprised of politicians from both major political parties, major internet entrepreneurs newly enrolled in the billionaire class, and of course, the threatened mainstream media itself. The threat is direct, through censorship (ironically, the purveyors of “fake news” claiming to be crusaders against it), and indirect, through a dilution of truth available through social media sources by purveyors of really false information. The latter category is divisible in two: sources generated by well-meaning people whose information is inaccurate and sources generated by people disseminating information they know to be inaccurate for either political purposes or financial self-fulfillment. The result is chaotic but some order within such chaos is possible if readers participate in some form of meaningful verification. It thus becomes possible to develop a personalized listing of sources one believes worthy of confidence. Unfortunately, that presupposes that readers are looking for accuracy rather than confirmation of preconceived notions and that presupposition may be as idealized as that of objective journalism or real democracy. A sad state of affairs.
One partial solution for those few interested in finding truth and psychologically capable of accepting it is to analyze the preconceptions of the source, whether mainstream, alternative or social, and attempting to distill facts capable of being isolated, then comparing other reports from sources with divergent perspectives to try and hone in on some aspect of truth, although, of course, the danger lies in the probability of merely collecting a compendium of diverging falsehoods. As Scottish author Sir Walter Scott noted in Marmion; A Tale of Flodden Field published in 1808 with respect to the prelude to the Battle of Flodden in 1513, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive!” Still, that is the best we can do and, in fact, it has always been the best we can do; something I always pointed out to my students when I warned them not to have too much respect for the authors we teach since their value lies chiefly in comparing among them and, after reflecting on our own experiences, arriving at our own conclusions.
A recent article in The Guardian by Emma Brookes (“Susan Sarandon: ‘I thought Hillary was very dangerous. If she’d won, we’d be at war’”) concerning actress and longtime civic activist Susan Sarandon provides an illustration. Ms. Brookes is decent enough to permit the reader to identify her as among the coterie of Hillary Clinton at-all-costs supporters (who, in this author’s opinion, pervert every decent cause available for purposes of reacquiring political power), while interviewing someone to whom I have been personally and politically attracted for many decades, starting with Ms. Sarandon’s soap opera days on All my Children on ABC through her performance in the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show and her subsequent serious artistic and civic endeavors (I thereby share my own preconceptions).
The article is in the form of a report on an interview with Susan Sarandon, an honest progressive women seriously addressing serious issues in an unfriendly forum. While criticizing Ms. Sarandon subtly as well as directly, Ms. Brookes has the journalistic integrity presenting Ms. Sarandon’s positions of fairly well, although she is all too prone to the fallacy that Clinton – Obama Democrats represent the left rather than merely abusing “liberal” sounding causes to advance personal ambitions and the neoconservative – neoliberal agenda that does so much harm to anything progressive (… pardon my rant, … please). In the article, notwithstanding the author’s criticism and condescension, Susan Sarandon shines as an antithesis to Hillary Clinton and her “pussy-hatted” cohorts and that is a healthy thing, especially today as the Puritans seem to be making a new counterattack on all things sexual (which is not to imply that this author believes any kind of illegal assault, including sexual conduct, merits any kind of toleration, a necessary caveat in today’s distortionist straw man environment).
Unfortunately, most mainstream media content lacks Ms. Brookes’ willingness to provide even lip service to facts that a reader can use to arrive at his or her own conclusions. That would be anathema to current mainstream media dogma whose goal is to shape elections rather than inform electors.
So, being left to our own devices, assuming truth is relevant and important, one ought to work on compiling lists of sources we ourselves trust but never fully relying on them, realizing that we are ultimately responsible for our own education. Among the sources I most trust are Noam Chomsky, Robert Parry, Chris Hedges, Caitlin Johnstone, Seymour Hersh, Robert Scheer, Jeffrey St. Clair, Joshua Frank and, oddly, Alexander Mercouris, but the list is and should be variable, as should yours.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.