Editor's Note: The fight over "fake news" as been brewing for some time, even before the Edward Snowden revelations of NSA spying in 2013. Newspapers, television and radio, internet, and telecommunications and cable have been undergoing swaps and mergers since the late 1990s. On the one hand, it's good news because subscription rates appear more consistent. On the other hand, as consolidations have accelerated, concerns over censorship, redundancy in syndicated news content, unmitigated bias, and distilled Defense Department press releases have been growing.
The current critical concern is whether there were attempts to influence the presidential campaigns, aside from the undue influence that unlimited super PAC donations bought in election talk-a-thons? While many left-wing voters were alienated by the CNN (dubbed the Clinton News Network), libertarian/right-wing voters chafe under allegations that they were unduly influenced by "Russian" propaganda.
Now both major parties must attempt to ameliorate their differences. But it's interesting to note that even former Democratic Party Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders has made some remarks "On Media Ownership and Telecommunications." The former candidate, who still believes in democratic socialism (why not, after all, he is a founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus), also supports the grassroots, which is why FeeltheBern.org is reaching out to the grassroots. Bernie Sanders also recently published a book (which I haven't got around to reading yet).
In the meantime, it's already clear that President-elect Trump has nominated what looks to many to be a cabinet filled with retired generals, wealthy reactionaries, and legislative rookies. If we thought Senator Obama was somewhat a neophyte, what will we expect under Trump's first 100 days in office?
Today's news and newsmakers inundates us with stars. Beautiful people, we are told, fly in fabulous jet planes, spend horrendous amounts of money (whether public or private). They live lavish, exotic lives and naturally associate with blue-blooded. They can't return calls or have much to do with commoners unless we have something important to offer.
Brainwashed by fantasies, subjected to the travails of economic reality, most families today are fragmented and even divided by haves versus have-nots. The haves naturally got there because they were intelligent, virtuous, good-looking, worked hard, and are talented; deservedly their associations are limited to those of their caliber. They cannot be bothered with born-losers.
Except for occasional human-interest stories, most of mass media has become a celebration of newsmakers and the ghost-writers who militate global events or orchestrate national events either as a positive echo or negative jamming effect to manipulate public opinion and rally support.
In recent weeks much has been made over listings of fake news sites. Such lists, while well-meaning, play into the hands of fascists who want to undermine the dominant political perspective of popular alternative news websites.
"Legitimate, but politically-bent media could suffer major traffic and credibility blows" argues The Daily Caller over Professor Zimdars' fake news recommendations; certainly there may be categories of journalistic quality, but who, aside from mainstream experts (also biased), should make these kinds legitimacy condemnations for purposes of censoring?
Authentic public debate is reliant on the exposure which alternative news has offered. For exposure on the persistent privatization of public goods; the loss of internet privacy; the redaction of individual or organizational civil rights; the onslaught of corporate personhood, etc.; we have the Internet to thank. While it is undoubtedly true that alternative news sites do not always offer clear evidence (due to the time it takes to obtain information through the Freedom of Information Act), even well-researched articles often contain unstated biases.
During the run-up to the November election, the big media syndicates' bias towards rich candidates was so obvious it was natural for citizens to turn to alternative news sources. Yet this was not without it's unchallenging moments. If one really delves into the matter of presentation, quality, and public conception, too often, established alternative news sites mirror mainstream media. The only difference might be the degree of relief on the opposite side of the coin.
In fact, it's no secret that quite a few of the most popular news sites are ridden with conspiracy news stories. The only way to attract wide-readership and discussion forums without resorting to click-bait advertising is often to engage in speculative news stories, with fetishizing of the media stars, and with what ultimately presents itself as a small scale replication of the larger.
Televised alternative media is an illusory public sphere at best. Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge in "The Public Sphere as the Organization of Collective Experience" write (68):
Although anarchistic commodity production is motivated by private interest, in other words by the opposite of the collective will of society, it develops universally binding patterns. These patterns are mistaken for and interpreted as products of the collective will, as if the actual relationships, which have only been acquired retroactively, were based upon this will.
Foreign state-sponsored public is programming often aimed at promoting that state's interests. How it does so is not the subject for open public discourse. We cannot ask questions such as why or how certain alternative media journalists have become de-facto public spokespersons. We have no idea why or how they are selected, to what degree they are required to conform to the views of the foreign state's agenda, the arcane negotiations taking place between the producers and other public or private agencies, or whether they inherited positions from nepotism.
The irony is that while the public is deluded into thinking that they are participating in asking more questions, the questions being asked are merely ones framed into an acceptable designed alternative dialectical framework replete with the dominant hegemony's counterparts in hosts and panelists. Popular alternative mass media mimics the global media hegemony so well that it is also lacking the balance, diversity, and personalities one associates with or we have increasingly come to expect in bourgeois media---we are alienated by the sexualization of anchorwomen, the exclusion of minority female panelists, and the obvious alternative news-gatekeeping.
One has to inquire whether or not the viewer is equally subject to unbalanced programming, the same as in bourgeois American news media, or even more so, because the criticisms aimed at domestic and foreign policies are generally a one-way stream. In fact most likely American programming containing foreign-state whistle-blowing exposes and vilifications on foreign politicians and their domestic policies would be censored if produced for broadcast there.
Whether mainstream or alternative mainstream news, the issue is how the American viewer is made to feel impotent or disqualified. The blocking of political experience in the proletarian context of living is analogous to the description of what Negt and Kluge describe as the "Blocking of Social Experience in the Proletarian Context of Living."
We come to expect the newsbytes and infotainment we are subject to on television either because it is all we have come to expect out of it or because our daily exertions take a toll on our faculties.
All these experiences are summed up in the "lifelong principle." By means of the firm expectation, which has become "second nature," that the position of dependency in the work process and narrowness of the context of living can never be changed, a block directed against the interest in experience as such becomes consolidated. (97)
The "lifelong principle" is the constrictive boundaries and compartmentalization which industrial capitalists forces upon society via the media, production and factory work, social organization, and other institutions. Not only are we forced to compartmentalize our existence, but we must accept the gradual abnegation of our identities by industrial civilization. Our identities are reduced to market categories largely only useful for the promulgation of a new generational cycle of materialism and pauperization.
The exception to this is explained in how industrial civilization finds beneficial for new spheres of public production new forms of valorization of consciousness. However, here there is a parsing among potential producers into a few select rising stars who will best support the mantra of the middle-class success story, so important to immigrants and minorities. According to German philosopher Karl Marx:
The proletarian context of living is thus split into two halves. One is reabsorbed into the new public spheres of production and participates in the process of industrialization; the other is disqualified in relation to the framework established by systems of production and the public sphere of production that determine society...Genuine experience is torn into two parts that are, in class terms, opposed to one another.(81-82)
Commenting on the how global chains of national and international oligarchy are swallowing up while deterritorializing, making ambivalent while transforming into universal news, and confusing personal narratives with consumer consciousness, Miriam Hansen writes(15):
In the measure that televisual dramaturgies of global synthesis and transparency are being perfected, the context of living of large populations in the United States, not to mention the rest of the world, appears increasingly disjointed, fragmented, irrelevant. It is not that mass unemployment, pauperization, brutalization of social relations, pollution, the collapse of urban infrastructures, health care, and education systems are simply ignored or suppressed. But to the extent that these realities do come into the purview of mainstream publicity, they are represented in such a way that they appear separate and unrelated...
Negt and Kluge do go into detail about the disjunction and distortions in "news anarchy":
The news commodities are not consumed because they are brought into any concrete relationship to the viewer but simply because they were "there" in the first place. The commentaries simultaneously set the limits of a discussion of these news items by establishing rules acording to which they can be interpreted and also the structure whereby the news anarchy is ordered for the viewer. (242)
Because alternative news has on its agenda a critique of real news, it has indeed become a nomad's land of anything from half-baked superficial investigations to half-truths or poorly cited stories to bona-fide conspiracy theory or "fake" news. The fake-news business spans all corners in the political spectrum, and it includes social media as well.
While vetted newsfeeds available at educational institutions offer official news, other legitimate newsfeeds are indexed by alternative news collectives. The former may contain adaptations from government prepared political or military press releases (with bias or Orwellian newspeak) while the latter contains the poorly edited ravings from Dead President's Blog, for instance.
In between might be a scattering of creative nonfiction, investigative close-up, or poems and songs of a former peace-activist. The editorial staff being made up of volunteers, the editor may blitz your computer screen with pop-up windows asking for membership or donation; while his feminista editor, a cranky underpaid adjunct professor, relishes playing a version of Stepford Wives II on article submissions by female journalists.
There is hardly any uniformity left short of lock-step conformity with the syndicates. This is why the fake news battles and surveillance by government agencies is not entirely out of line and in the brew. Discussions following news postings have become a rarity because there are millions of trolls who join the discussion merely to drop a line that stirs up hateful sentiment, redirects or subtracts from the stated purposes of the article, or casts aspersions upon the entire organization.
In fact, if alternative media is to survive as part of freedom of speech, the best way is to grow it from the ground up (as opposed to top-down which is the way of the bourgeois) with more authentic support for genuine grassroots media and allowing them to increase marketing power beyond the wearisome alternative-media gatekeepers so that there are more decently paid liberatory journalists and authors.
Because while the keys to global oligarchy are being fought over by the 1% amongst themselves (the Trump Camp versus the Clinton Camp), the alternative media, with its mirror dominant hegemony, continues to perversely allow only favored Cult Personalities to infiltrate its gates. These even include former paedephiles, misogynists, anti-semitics, racists, and fake greens.
Growing the alternative media is integral to the vital functioning of political public spheres. This is why despite communications academics declaiming the media giant mergers over the past decades, most optimistically support the Information Age. Hansen writes (15):
On the other hand, the flow of commodities, technologies, and populations, of information, images, and narratives, of life-styles, means of expression, and modes of representation has also enriched the arsenal of alternative public spheres that continue to emerge and organize on the local level
Most importantly, regardless of who is a well-placed minority gatekeeper, minorities owe it to themselves to allow their diverse imbricated viewpoints to be heard because as Hansen admits, no one else understands their true potential as willingly (23):
Indeed the book helped to bring into view kinds of experience that it itself had left unanalyzed, differences that eluded its heterosexual and ethnocentric lens. Suffice it here to evoke the experience of Turks or other diasporic groups who lack even the public status in the narrow sense that comes with citizenship, and who are forced daily to negotiate multiple and conflicting horizons---kinship ties and values, industrial work discipline, the promises of life-style and consumer culture and, not least, the context of discrimination and violence of an increasingly xenophobic society.
We have dissected enough from the Foreword and Chapter One of Public Sphere and Experience to provide perspective and context on the rifeness of fake newspeak whether as promulgated by the mainstream media or it's twin, the dominant alternative mainstream media.
Studying the fake news debate and analyzing recent communications theory in context of Public Sphere and Experienceand socialist theory is critical given that many of the American public's basic economic and human rights are eroding. Considerable time and attention will never be proffered at any alternative/mainstream outlets, controlled and manipulated as they are by the oligarchies. However, since we still have the wherewithal to instigate change, there is no better way to start to do so than by reviving and honoring proletarian-intelligentsia thought and collectives.
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