SUMMARY: Today we take on News Corp., the most egregious example of “manufactured consent.” The fact that we let this monster from down under invade our thought space and contaminate the discourse in this nation is a crime. Rupert Murdoch’s companies have made us dumber, angrier and more susceptible to conspiracies. Of this there can be no doubt. To reveal how he accomplished this, we’ll travel through a brief history of American media, discuss the legislation at the center of the disaster that is our media, and place our polarized news landscape in its proper context. The pivot centerpoint of our feature is 1996. Max also introduces two new themes into the show and addresses listener feedback to the Fuck Milton Friedman episode during show notes. #FMF #FRM
MAXNOTE: A special note of thanks for the hundreds of listeners who reached out after our Fuck Milton Friedman episode to affirm our standing in the podasphere. We’re not leaving uncle fucknut totally behind, mind you. In fact, this episode has a pretty strong Chicago School connection as well so I doubt we’ll ever leave Milton alone.
BREAKING: JUNE 10 IS OFFICIALLY FUCK MILTON FRIEDMAN DAY.
In this spirit, it is my honor to begin today by hoisting the FMF hashtag to the rafters in celebration. We’re officially retiring this hashtag and declaring June 10th—the day our episode dropped on podcast platforms around the world—Fuck Milton Friedman day! Every year on the anniversary of this grand accomplishment, we shall fly our fuck flag high toward the heavens where we will offer a middle finger salute to the diminutive assnugget who created the perverted doctrine of the free market ideology that purposefully and without reservation ass fucked generations of working class Americans and citizens of poor nations that we subsequently plundered for cheap labor and natural resources. We celebrate and honor your legacy sir with the FMF hashtag and in our hearts. And so, Unf*ckers, one final time this year until we meet again, join me in remembering the man, the myth, the legendary asshole uncle fartnoggin as we say in unison, Fuck Milton Friedman!!!!
Manufacturing Consent: A Refresher
We live in an age of “manufactured consent,” in the truest meaning as prescribed by dear Uncle Noam Chomsky. But we also live in an age of manufactured dissent, a close relative that relies on centralized media. Again, I know Unf*ckers are far more likely to be familiar with Chomsky’s theory of consent, but it’s worth a quick refresher because the concept was groundbreaking when it was first released. The end result is essentially classic propaganda, information backed by an agenda, deliberately intended to persuade the public toward a particular stance. Chomsky’s theory, which he co-authored with Edward Herman, is concerned with the “how” - the mechanisms of propaganda in modern western society to attain these ends.
The first is probably most relevant to our story today and that’s consolidation of media ownership that is driven by a profit motive. Matt Taibbi’s recent book Hate Inc. explores this phenomenon in the Trump years and describes just how lucrative this brief, but caustic era was on both sides of the political aisle.
The second aspect of the theory is that the news, the primary product of media, is more expensive than what consumers are willing to pay. Therefore, the gap must be filled in by advertising. The news audience is the same as the advertiser audience and therefore there’s an inherent friction in what is delivered. Meaning advertisers will perhaps have a say in what is sold via news channels if it contradicts with their message.
The next two conditions to their theory involve the players themselves.
The media elite. In this, they’re not necessarily condemning the media for elitism in their perspective, rather pointing out that the relationship between power structures and media is just that - a relationship. Power holds out access as a primary engagement weapon, which fosters a cozy atmosphere at the top. It’s what drives real reporters nuts about events like the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. You want this story, do me a favor. Squash this. Cover that. Look here. Don’t look there. Truly independent media that criticizes the halls of power as we’ll explore later, is extremely rare.
The other side of this is when there’s a story or narrative that is meaningful to power. It will overwhelm journalists with extreme access and storylines that push an agenda. All you need to know about this one is the war in Iraq.
Lastly, the lynchpin to manufacturing consent is to determine a common foe. The bogeyman. In the ‘40s it was Nazis, which in fairness was kind of okay. In the ‘50s and ‘60s it was communists and socialists. In the ‘70s it was the radical left and Iran. And in the ‘80s it was communism again.
The’ 90s were weird because power was getting its way every way possible but the establishment was freaking out because they were caught off guard by the political rise of Bill Clinton, who despite being the bagman for corporate elites, Wall Street and law enforcement, was painted as a new kind of corrupt politician with loose morals who threatened to turn back decades of conservative social values.
The most infamous document of this era, I suppose, is the manifesto crafted by neoliberals like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz who were unexpectedly cast to the sidelines when H.W. Bush lost to Clinton. It’s called the Project for a New American Century. It’s a critical source document among conspiracy theorists who believe that 9/11 was an inside job because it posits a theory that the United States must proactively plunder foreign nations for natural resources if we are to maintain our dominance in the 21st Century. What lit up conspiracy theories ever since is that it suggests this will be difficult absent a single, almost horrifying and catalyzing event that unites all Americans under the banner of nationalism and clears the way for us to intervene in nations abroad.
Of course, then came 9/11 and it seemed less like a policy document and more like a self fulfilling prophecy. But within the PNAC document, you can see the work of the Chicago School and neoliberalism on full display. It’s really quite fascinating. So as much as the ‘90s were essentially aligned in terms of American interests, the 2000s would find Islam squarely in our sights.
But the ‘90s were pivotal with respect to Chomsky’s first line of thinking and that’s media consolidation.
Nothing happens overnight. The ability to coordinate, consolidate and disseminate any message to a mass audience begins with the legal authority to do so. As much as some would like to believe we live in a free communications market, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Apart from the protection of free speech, an eroding right as it is, much of what we know to be the media is licensed by the government. Radio stations, broadcast television stations, cable systems operators and, yes, every website, exists on bandwidth either created by or licensed by the government. In this way, local print media is still the most potentially free and unfettered form of expression that still exists though it’s nearly dead in all the ways that matter.
Those of us that exist in the real free speech universe such as podcasting, or the growing popularity of forums like Substack, are still rounding errors compared to the giants of broadcast media, print and digital. And given the recent trend of intervention by private companies such as Facebook and Twitter to condemn free speech, as awful as that speech might be, it calls into question the future of any such platform to fully maintain independence. That’s probably a different episode though.
Everything changed in American media in 1996. The Internet as we know it today was still in its infancy. Google was two years away from being born. But change was underway with deregulation once again playing an integral role in the shift.
In a healthy show of bipartisanship, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to, in its words, “promote competition and reduce regulation in order to secure lower prices and higher quality services for American telecommunications consumers and encourage the rapid deployment of new telecommunications technologies.”
It did this and more.
A quick callback to last week and our Chicago School episode. You might remember a Brit named Ronald Coase who argued to his colleagues that if it’s between government regulations and no regulations, the free market is preferable. This was the theory that Milton Friedman lectured in defense of for two straight hours, ultimately changing the mind of all 21 economists in attendance.
Anyway, Coase originally built what we know today as the Coase Theorem around broadcast spectrum auctions and his concept that we should cease to license them through regulated awards and allow them to be auctioned off to the highest bidder with little to no restrictions on the use of them.
Beginning in 1994, that’s the way new spectrum was sold by the government, netting it a pretty penny by the way. It was codified and extrapolated in the Telecom ‘96 Act and explains why only the wealthy conglomerates control the digital spectrum today. This wasn’t a coincidence, Unf*ckers. Coase’s theorem was literally the basis of this decision. Yet another example of how insidious the work done at the Chicago School has been.
Now, the law also lifted ownership restrictions on broadcast companies. Previously, limits were placed on the number of radio stations and television broadcast stations a company or individual could own. There were also cross platform ownership restrictions within individual markets and a cap on the number of stations a company could own in a given market. These laws existed since 1934 and contributed to the diversity of news, information and even music and entertainment that was offered to the public.
The flood of subsequent mergers and acquisitions were staggering. Within a few years of the act, mega communications companies had emerged and the grand-homogenization of news, music and entertainment was underway.
Across the digital spectrum, two other seminal changes occurred in October of 1996. American Online offered monthly dial up accounts thus bringing the public one step closer to entering the arcane world of the Internet, a magical place most people had heard of but relatively few understood.
It was also the debut of Fox News.
1996 Was a Pretty Terrible Year in Hindsight
The race was on. Telecomm ’96 allowed public companies to swallow broadcast companies whole. AOL threw open the informational floodgates to the public and Fox News began its steady ascent to the top of the cable news ratings. Today, most of the media we come in contact with – radio, television, daily newspapers – are controlled by surprisingly few multi-billion dollar corporations. The brutal irony lost on no one is that the law was purportedly an anti-monopoly piece of legislation. Hardy fucking har.
Not only has this phenomenon crushed diversity of opinion and creativity, it has created an enormous price disparity between broadcast assets and financial performance. Massive public companies with broad portfolios have inflated the value of broadcast licenses and established an artificial barrier to entry to any individual who might wish to compete in this space.
The role of the “fourth estate” is to hold government, noblemen (corporate oligarchs) and the public in check. It is a term first uttered by Edmund Burke, but echoed simultaneously across the pond by the Founding Fathers of our nation. It is a pillar of our nation’s democracy as a whole but locally as well. In fact, most citizens interact with the government at very local and mundane levels.
As Americans our fascination might be with national affairs of little import to our daily lives, but our daily relationship with government is, in reality, far more tangible–the conditions of the roads, the ease or difficulty of obtaining construction permits or the days our garbage is taken from the curb. The reduction in local newsrooms means that these agencies are left with little to no oversight save for the random concerned citizen Facebook group organized by your stupid neighbor as moderator. And with less local bullshit to focus on, it leaves us as consumers of information more tethered to the things we didn’t care about all that much in the past. “Oh shit, a liquor store was robbed 2,000 miles from my house and is being shown over and over again on the nightly news. I better arm myself like fucking John Wick.”
And while local communities suffer from a lack of insightful coverage, the national media is plagued with erroneous information passed off as gospel. Fact-checking websites have sprung up everywhere and gain a tremendous following during the arduous periods of lies known as campaign season. Yet nowadays, even their credibility is being called into question as the ranks of fact checkers are rife with partisan employees and former political campaign staffers. The deeply rooted misinformation, the real sticky stuff, is pernicious and persistent by design.
An internet whisper campaign is deafening.
What’s missing from the equation isn’t the information or our access to it. We all have access to the same information and the ability to parse it thoughtfully. It’s that we lead busy lives and rely on the simplest, fastest forms of news we can get our hands on. We live in an on-demand world, allowing us access to information specific to our interests, further compounding the issue.
Media companies know this and have begun to target specific programming based upon our demonstrated digital interests. Taibbi has a great line in Hate Inc. where he says:
“After a lifetime of following the news, most customers will lose - usually forever - the ability to understand what they’re getting into. There are no warning labels on the news. If there were, here is what they might say: THE NEWS IS A CONSUMER PRODUCT.”
Advertisers know this as well and now have the ability to establish a digital profile on any person who lives even partially in the digital world, thus allowing them to narrowly target messages to the consumer. We know this now about social media in that they are designed to double down on a steady diet of anything we signal as interesting, entertaining or meaningful. Watch a clip of Donald Trump saying something racist? Here’s ten more. Like a video questioning the outcome of the election? Here’s fifty more. Like watching Biden trip literally three times in a row going up a set of stairs…? You get the picture.
It’s Orwellian and it’s here.
Blame Buckley and Vidal
To hope the media self corrects and finds the courage to eschew the bullshit theory of balance in the name of objectivity is delusional. It’s part of the business model to offer “equal time” to liars and cheats. And why not? “He said/she said” is a fantastic business model. Arguments, no matter how absurd or pedantic, are entertaining as fuck.
The media has been encouraging and, quite frankly, banking on the politics of division since the Buckley Vidal special in 1968, now the subject of the successful documentary The Best of Enemies. I believe there is a great deal of truth to the theory that this event changed the media landscape, though like many things what followed may have been inevitable.
Watching their exchanges today will make you mourn our intellectual roots because their discussions, while mean spirited, maintained an air of intellectualism. It’s amazing how many of these now infamous debates had Buckley on one side. His impact on the media is not to be minimized, but that’s for another day. What was debated and who may or may not have come out on top matters less than the ultimate takeaway from the debate. Television consumers loved it. It was a hit.
As a fun aside, few people got under Buckley’s skin as Vidal. There’s a famous moment when Buckley utters, “now listen you queer, stop calling me a crypto-nazi.” Crypto-Nazi Queer might as well be the slogan for all media since 1968.
Hannity and Colmes, Crossfire, multiple Brady Bunch screen talking heads screaming over one another. 24/7 we’re subjected to so-called experts barfing all over us and each other and poisoning our minds. It’s what makes Jon Stewart’s admonition of Paul Begala and Fucker Carlson even more poignant today.
What’s missing from the public is common sense; the ability to spot an agenda and know when information doesn’t look, sound or feel right. Unfortunately courage in mass media no longer exists and when it’s detected it is silenced. Moreover, the public has been numbed and over stimulated by a tidal wave of social media, data and commentary that passes for news.
The media know this. Here’s Taibbi talking about the difference between a Fox viewer and an MSNBC viewer:
“The main difference between Fox and MSNBC is their audiences are choosing different personal mythologies… People who watch Fox tend to be older, white and scared. They’re tuning in to be told they’re the last holdouts in a disintegrating empire, Romans besieged by Vandals…. Fox is basically a never-ending slasher flick for the Greatest Generation… People who watch MSNBC, meanwhile, are tuning in to receive mega-doses of the world’s thinnest compliment, i.e. that they’re morally superior to Donald Trump.”
As far as the real news is concerned, information regarding corporate and governmental atrocities is available to anyone interested enough to seek it out, but the glut of reality shows, emphasis on consumerism, the drive to sell product over the need to push substance has numbed the public’s senses and quelled our appetite for harsh news. Likewise, it has stripped the mainstream media of the financial incentive to feed it to us. All of this is worsened by the institutional inequity in our economic circumstances that makes escapism more favorable than reality. Here’s Chris Hedges from one of my favorite books of his, The Death of the Liberal Class:
“The media are as plagued by the same mediocrity, corporatism, and careerism as the academy, the unions, the arts, the Democratic Party, and religious institutions. The media, like the academy, hold up the false ideals of impartiality and objectivity to mask their complicity with power. They posit the absurd idea that knowledge and understanding are attainable exclusively through vision, that we should all be mere spectators of life. This pernicious reduction of the public to the role of spectators denies the media, and the public they serve, a political role.”
Back in the Day
The public battle between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer at the turn of the 20th Century had disastrous consequences. The drive to publish sensational news items led to the coining of the phrase, “yellow journalism.” The phrase actually refers to a battle over the rights to a color comic strip called Hogan’s Alley, which featured a child in a yellow shirt, and was coveted by both publishers. Their inane dispute over the comic led both publishers to create versions of it and the expression yellow journalism stuck.
But their public fight would have far more dire consequences to the nation when the two men stoked the flames of war with Spain, both erroneously reporting an incident off the coast of Cuba in an effort to sell newspapers. Aside from plunging America into war under false pretenses, the Cuban affair gave an ambitious young politician and soldier named Theodore Roosevelt a public platform to reshape his image as a heroic “Rough Rider,” named after the battalion he led in a march up San Juan Hill. Roosevelt would not only become President, he would become the bane of Pulitzer’s existence.
The publishing wars between newspaper tycoons would ebb and flow throughout the 20th Century and media, in general, was largely controlled by the wealthy. Evidence that news organizations were largely controlled by a few men with selfish political interests and close government ties is overwhelming. Information about the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, even during the height of mass genocide, was scant.
Even the New York Times printed precious few stories about what they knew was occurring. Anti-communist witch-hunts during the ‘50s and ‘60s were largely accepted, even encouraged on the opinion pages of the nation’s largest periodicals. Even the first few years of the war in Vietnam saw little resistance from the establishment media.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that national news and the public interest began to merge. The New York Times and Washington Post began publishing the Pentagon Papers, leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg in 1971. A year later, the Watergate scandal erupted on the pages of the Post and entered into the public’s consciousness. Dissent had caught up with disenfranchisement.
There was a mutual distrust between President Nixon and the media, which only helped fuel the fire of discontent in the establishment circles. Suddenly, investigative journalists were elevated to hero status. The achievements of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were immortalized in print and in cinema with the release of All The President’s Men. Times were hard in the 1970s and that made anti-establishment journalism hip.
This turned about to be a fleeting trend. As we know from our Reagan episode and our Fuck Milton episode, the ‘80s is when the change that was brewing for decades really took root in favor of the neoliberal set. This is a point that I often make when hearing people critique the media. I honestly believe that there was one golden age. This period in the ‘70s. That’s it. Before then, it was controlled by billionaires, or the equivalent for the times, with an agenda. And since then, it’s once again controlled by billionaires who head multinational corporations thanks to our deregulatory frenzy.
Billionaires like Rupert Fucking Murdoch.
This Aussie cock knocker started the official race to the bottom in the modern era and since gaining a foothold in the United States, he has continued to lead the race with most outlets hot on his heels.
There are plenty of accounts of Murdoch’s rise, including the closest thing to an authorized biography, The Man Who Owns the News by Michael Wolff, the same lovable hack who planted himself on a couch outside the Oval Office and produced a couple of books about Trump. Again, I’ll defer to Taibbi who wrote this about Wolff’s approach to journalism: “Wolff puts halos on the people who talk to him, and savages the ones who don’t, and this is all pretty transparent, in the same way some fast food restaurants have stopped bothering to make the cheese look real—who cares, you’ll eat it anyway.”
I’m not sure I can accurately express how much I love Matt Taibbi. Anyway…
The Man Who Owns the News is a breezy read and Wolff was somehow granted access to Murdoch, which if you ever read the book, is kind of surprising. It’s not the most glamorous picture, especially in terms of Murdoch’s intellect. He paints him as a cunning and ruthless individual with little need for advice or partners, absolutely no ideology save for what makes him money (more on that in a moment) and a grumbling introvert who cannot complete a thought.
The only thing he lives for, it seems, as has been told in several accounts of him over the years, is gossip. Schadenfreude is this guy’s main pastime.
His motive in life is the subject of pure speculation. But there’s certainly an element of being an outsider, yearning for respect and authority, that he comes by quite honestly. As Aussie’s the Murdoch family are and will forever be royal adjacent. No matter how hard an Anglophile American, a Canadian or an Aussie tries to cultivate aristocratic airs, we’ll forever be second class citizens in the eyes of the Brits. That’s just how it is. So by birth, Murdoch would be on the outside looking in, despite being born into a rather upper class family.
This kangaroo fucker was born to Dame Elisabeth and Keith Murdoch in 1931. And before you go celebrating the fact that he’s now 90 years old and might hopefully be worm food soon, his mother Elisabeth lived to be 103. Figures.
So, Keith Murdoch kicks the whole thing off and begins to build the Murdoch fortune largely on his notoriety as the war correspondent that smuggled out a story that embarrassed the British during the first world war. It was under the tutelage of a former Pulitzer executive named Lord Northcliffe where Keith Murdoch learned the secret news formula that would imprint on his DNA. Contests, quick stories, beautiful girls and if it bleeds it leads.
Rupert’s father would go on to establish the first newspaper chain in Australia and add broadcast properties along the way, sending him and Dame Murdoch into the upper echelon of Australian society.
Now, in the pecking order of Australian media moguls, the Murdochs were a close third to the Fairfax and Packer families. As Wolff tells it, “the Fairfaxes are the establishment family… the Packers are the arriviste family, vulgar, bumptious… and then the Murdochs, the most disciplined and deadly,.” This was the family business that Rupert would join and over time, build into the massive empire we know today.
Rupert was sent off to a fancy boarding school to prepare him for a life of upper crustiness but his father Keith was concerned because one of Rupert’s prize possessions in school was a bust of Lenin. Can you imagine?
Given what we know of this wrinkled dingo fuckstick, it was probably some sort of fashion statement or attempt to fit in or maybe even a gesture of irony. Nevertheless, one of Keith Murdoch’s concerns was that his son would turn out to be a communist sympathizer. I’m sure he would be proud that his son turned out to be a neofascist oligarch instead.
The interesting thing about Murdoch’s rise to billionaire is how decidedly uninteresting it was. Seriously. The key thing to understand about him is that he started on third base but no one knew it. That was part asset and part liability for him. The asset was that few people saw him coming. The liability is that few people would take him seriously for quite a while.
In the UK and America, no one really gave a shit about an Australian newspaperman. Again, probably one of the things that lit this fucking guy’s candle. I mean his entrance into the U.S. market couldn’t be less impressive. He purchased a local paper in San Antonio, Texas in 1973 essentially because it was for sale and on the cheap. But it was a toehold.
There’s a whole other story to be written about his experience in the U.K. because his tabloids really wreaked havoc over there and many credit his bullshit for stripping away the sheen of the Royal Family. No one treated them with such torrid disdain prior to Murdoch. He literally invented the British tabloid and it’s not all that difficult to draw a straight line from his entrance into the UK to Brexit. Brexit was essentially the culmination of his life’s work in Britain.
Here in the U.S. Murdoch would plant his seed in San Antonio and in three different women. Sorry, that was tawdry but it is true. His first wife, the throwaway wife with whom he had one daughter, was Patricia Booker. She’s dead now. Then there was Anna. She lasted a long time and pumped out the three most notable heirs, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James. And now there’s Wendi, who just loooooves to spend money and gave him two daughters as well. This Charlie Chaplin motherfucker has three baby mamas and still can’t decide whether to include any of his kids in the family business.
Long story short, he’s a piece of shit. There, I said it.
What it reveals about his motives, in my opinion, is that Murdoch is a pure opportunist devoid of ideology but enthralled with acquiring elite status, less by earning it and more by eliminating the elite and being the last asshole standing. He’s a ruthless and tireless autocrat who moves listlessly through the waters like a shark dispassionately devouring his prey.
Wolff’s book is more fun than informative but it does give a ton of colorful insight into Murdoch’s decades long obsession with purchasing the Wall Street Journal. Of course, he eventually did and now it’s a centerpiece in his empire. According to the News Corp annual report, the Dow Jones unit that includes the journal, produced 1.5 billion in revenue on its own. A staggering sum for its parts and incredibly profitable as it pumped out 240million in EBITDA for 2020.
All told the company, which includes subscription news holdings, streaming services, papers in the UK and Australia, the journal, Barrons, MarketWatch and Harper Collins book publishing, had revenue slightly north of 9 billion in 2020 with about a billion in profit. If that actually doesn’t sound all that grand compared to other ginormous companies, recall that he sold most of his assets to Disney for 71 billion dollars just a few years ago.
Essentially, he’s holding onto these assets because they are his first love, his way of influencing public opinion to his way of thinking and meddling in the affairs of the world. For example, his view on climate change should sound familiar as it’s echoed by every mouth breathing host on his outlets. It has always existed. Not a big deal. Just don’t build houses on the beach.
I already hated Murdoch. What’s your fucking point here?
The reason I’m highlighting the rise of Murdoch is because he is the cautionary tale of Telecom ‘96 and the rush to deregulate the media business.
All you need to know about News Corp is hidden in plain sight. The arrogantly benign corporate name says it all. It’s a business. The business of news. Intended to delight or enrage. To peak your interest and boil your blood. Release those consumer endorphins or fall into lockstep with an enticing narrative that blames someone else for the problems of the world or your own miserable life.
It teaches nothing. Only shouts. Its success relies on you repressing that part of your brain that questions the ridiculous. That part that asks any questions at all. What the fuck is that called again? Right. Thinking. You sit back, we’ll tell you what to think. Brought to you by insert-sponsor-here. It’s really what they meant when they said we report, you decide.
But it’s not just a Murdoch problem. As we said, he’s just the worst example of it. The sludge in the barrel. What’s scary is there are outlets like Blaze, Breitbart and Newsmax that are trying to out Murdoch Murdoch. They don’t have the head start, the backing or the moxie to be as ubiquitous as Rupert, but they’re coming on strong. Then there are the pathetic attempts personified by MSNBC to match witlessness with Fox but from the other side. MSNBC trying to manufacture outrage in the same way conservative outlets do is like watching conservatives try their hand at comedy.
Do check out Hate Inc. if you get a chance. One of the things I admire most about Matt Taibbi, and there are a great number of them, is his propensity to look inward and criticize his own work as part of the greater media landscape. About a third of the way through the book it dawned on me that he included himself in every reference to the media. He used the royal “we” throughout the book, never once intimating that his journey was anything superior to the rest of the journalist lot. In several instances he cringed at his past characterizations of news stories and subjects. Taibbi is constantly learning, remarkably self-effacing and authentic.
It’s why I mused on a prior episode that chroniclers such as Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald inevitably wound up creating their own mediascape, because their ability to exist within any framework that doesn’t allow for the most extreme self examination has evaporated over time. What makes this such an interesting time to review the efficacy of media today, is that writers like them can actually exist in this new alternate media universe in financial terms. They, like me - and I’m not equating myself to them in any way, shape or form - have discovered there is an appetite for quality, truth and self examination. It might be on the margins, but it exists.
The finances of a show like Unf*cking the Republic or the burgeoning mini-empires being cultivated by the likes of Taibbi, Abby Martin and Greenwald, or Ben Shapiro on the right should be impossible. But there is a willingness to pay for critical thought. The fact that someone as smart but intellectually dishonest as Shapiro can not simply exist but thrive in this new reality is scary. It’s what has people freaking the fuck out about Substack. For every David Sirota seeking to do this the right way - and please, if you’re not supporting the Daily Poster consider doing so - there will be a hundred podcaster, blogger, YouTubers attempting to create a cult of disinformation built on hate, dissent and outing otherness.
The Tyson Principle and PITOTWIU
In terms of this episode, I want to introduce two new themes to the show as I mentioned up top. One is what I’m calling the Tyson Principle. The other is PITOTWIU. The former is named for my very first listener email whose last name is Tyson. For posterity I’m going to read the introduction of his email to me back when we had almost no listeners. Like, seriously. And full disclosure, we have a great email relationship and have become fast Internet friends so all’s well in Unf*cking land. Here’s what he said:
“Dude. I've listened to / read three of your "Unf*cking" eps, and I'm still waiting for anything resembling a prescription or even a suggestion of how to Unf*ck this fucked up republic. If all you're going to do is give us history lessons with lots of "fucks" in them, then all you're doing is unPACKing the story of how we got here.”
I really took this to heart, which is why I have tried to be clear about the intent of each episode. Sometimes, there’s a real actionable point. Sometimes, we’re just setting a story straight and indeed just unpacking rather than Unf*cking. But where Mr. Tyson and I landed was a mutual understanding that sometimes there are no immediate solutions to a problem exactly because it is so misunderstood and the story of how we arrived at this juncture has been lost to the noise. So sometimes I will absolutely just be unpacking and explaining to help contextualize certain policies because it’s very difficult to untie a knot if you don’t know how it was tied in the first place. Other times, we will offer specific remedies.
The second concept is something we’ve referred to enough that I need to name it and that’s PITOTWIU, short for “pissing in the ocean to warm it up.” Let’s do this one before I offer the Tyson Principle for this episode.
The PITOTWIU moment here is what we’re doing. It’s Taibbi’s blog, or Abby Martin’s podcast. Unf*cking the Republic. The Daily Poster. To a larger degree it’s the Intercept or Democracy Now! On the whole, we’re all PITOTWIU because the fuckery from the corporate class of media is so overwhelming that the truth being slinged by these smaller outlets is simply too small to make a difference.
That’s where I feel we are today. The truth is out there. Great journalism is happening today. Perhaps more than ever before. The problem is that it’s difficult to find and oftentimes really uncomfortable to read.
Point being, you have to be deliberate in your consumption of media and recognize the place it’s coming from. If Fox News or MSNBC is your source of news and not entertainment, you’re doing it wrong.
In terms of the Tyson Principle for this episode it’s one part context, or unpacking as he says, and one part lesson. Here’s the context. We think the media are fucked up today more than it ever has been because we have this fantasy in our minds of a time when the media were great, journalists like Woodward and Bernstein were badass heroes and integrity ruled. In reality, this period did exist to an extent but it was so fucking brief.
Zoom out and you have the New York Times burying stories of The Holocaust, Pulitzer and Hearst literally bringing us into a war or the Founding Fathers, many of whom were publishers themselves, hurling scurrilous lies and insults at one another. The news has always been a bit fucked and it takes an informed person to sift through the bullshit and find the truth. So don’t despair.
The lesson part of our Tyson Principle today is to continue building an understanding of the neoliberal theories created by the Chicago School, memorialized by think tanks like Mercatus or The Heritage Foundation and codified into legislation authored by corporations. This all happened as a result of deregulation, the core theory of Ronald Coase of The Chicago School who helped argue that markets are moral and regulation is evil.
Tune your ears to any talk of deregulation because the next battle is ahead of us when Congress takes a stab at putting the social media and search giant genies back into their respective bottles.
FMF is raised to the rafters. I give you FRM. Be wary of the politician selling deregulation.
Here endeth the lesson.
Ralph Nader Radio Hour- Be a Smart News Consumer
Ken Auletta- Backstory: Inside the Business of News
Noam Chomsky + Edward S. Herman- Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
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