I’ve always loved newspapers. When I was a kid, I had a paper route. I always had a couple of extra newspapers in the bundle, just to make sure that I had enough, if one got messed up, and every afternoon, I’d take one of the spares, and read it, pretty much cover to cover. Back then, reading a paper was a great way to learn about the world, the nation, and your own area. Newspapers used to have a couple of really important rules: 1) Don’t allow advertisers to influence your news coverage, and 2) Maintain a wall between hard news and opinion. Section A of the paper was always hard news – stories that provided the facts of the subject, in what we in Journalism class called the “Inverted Pyramid.” The idea was to provide all the salient details up-front, with more and more details further in. In a way, this is the opposite of how you’d write a story – in fiction, you want to create a hook at the beginning, to grab the reader and draw them deeper into the story. Well into the tale, you deliver the details and critical information to the story.
In order to keep everything clear and separate fact from opinion, newspapers began publishing two pages, face-to-face: The “opinion” or “editorial” page, and the “op-ed” (opposing editorials) page. The Editorial page provided a way for the paper’s editors to write about important topics, endorse candidates, and explain their take on current events. The OpEd page gave other voices – generally columnists and readers who wrote into the paper – a place to express their views, even if they ran contrary to those expressed on the Editorial page.
While those pages still exist, they exist in name only. Oh, sure, newspapers still use the Editorial page to endorse candidates, express views, and tell readers what they think. But there’s little difference between them and the content on page one of the paper. The “Chinese Wall” between news and opinion has been vaporized, and no longer exists in any real or significant way. This sad fact is the case with print journalism and broadcast news, as well. Reporters regularly express opinion in the way they write stories – they’ll call the words of a President they adore “historic,” “majestic,” and “inpirational,” where a President they abhor will have their speech characterized as “divisive,” “partisan,” and even “fraudulent.” Rarely do we see the mainstream media report on anything in an unbiased manner. Everything seems to include words that slant the news, instead of present it free of spin.
One of the phenomenons of the 21st Century has been the rise of social media, and the role it plays in our everyday lives, especially as it relates to news. More young adults get their news from watching YouTube, Instagram, and comedy bits than they do by reading the Times or watching the evening news. Older adults get a good bit of their news from Facebook, either reading what friends post/repost, or by clicking on videos/stories posted by commercial operations.
In the old days, journalists were held to a higher, ethical standard. Editors required confirmation of claims in a story, even when the source was confidential, before they’d run it. There were consequences for papers if they ran a story that was false, both legal (lawsuits claiming Libel) and moral (Reputations harmed). But today, the media has somehow come to the conclusion that the details don’t matter, and as long as they circle the wagons and defend each other, nothing else matters.
In social media, their somewhat novel approach has been to simply silence dissent. Dredging up the specters of Tiananmen Square, 1984, and the McCarthy Era, social media has been merrily erasing opinions that run contrary to their own. Shadow banning (simply not allowing posts to spread to all those following a writer) was the start. Then came the temporarily blocking of a writer’s ability to post. Finally the social media death penalty: a permanent ban, became the ultimate tool in the bag for the social media oligarchs. And then, of course, is the rise of “fact checkers,” an incestuous arrangement between third parties hired to check posts for factual content, and the social media sites. Unfortunately, so-called fact checkers have been proven, time and time again, to be less interested in facts and far more enamored of their own worldview. Even worse, it turns out that a significant percentage of the big players in the fact checker industry (we can call them Big Fibs) are owned by the very companies they purport to fact check. (Hmmm…let’s see…FB doesn’t like this post we’re supposed to fact check, so let’s call it ‘fake news’ and everybody goes home happy, especially our accounts receivable department.)
Many argue that these social media giants are private companies, and are beholden only to their shareholders. I’ve a big problem with that position. Between Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter and Microsoft, they OWN virtually the entire landscape of social media. Remember Parler? They were that little upstart company that challenged Twitter as a “Conservative” alternative. Twitter found it difficult to effectively ban anybody (including President Trump) when they could simply move their account over to Parler and continue business as usual. So what happened to them? Big Social(ist) got together and deplatformed them. What is deplatforming? In the analog world, it would be where they evict you from your office, turn off your phone and Internet, refuse to allow you to accept credit cards, and remove your ability to forward your snail mail. Corporately speaking, you become an un-company. Shades of George Orwell. And that’s what they did to Parler. Parler is back – sort of. But not only are they a mere shadow of their former selves, they’ve been forced to buy into the whole Speech is Free for Me, but Not for Thee idea, hiring fact checking companies (see above) to insure that nothing gets said on their plaform that will ruffle the feathers of the Oligarchs.
I actually came up with an easy solution for all this. But it’s one I doubt will ever see the light of day. Instead of “fake news” alerts, shadow banning, and such, all they’d need to do is to create a sticker to label posts “Op-Ed.” Hey – they’re saying then that this post is in opposition to their own, editorial position. What could be wrong with that? Well, to do so, forces them to acknowledge that there is more than one legitimate opinion out there, and that their position is an opinion…NOT a ‘fact.’ I don’t see them EVER willing to do this, because they’ve built their glass houses of lies, predicated on the idea that there is but ONE right answer to everything – theirs. I love the idea of a return to “Op-Eds.” But to do so would expose the intellectual dishonesty of the Left, and as far as they are concerned, that must never, ever happen.