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Media. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

An Ulterior Media

Having to Ask ‘Why?’ is the Heart of the Rot

By Thomas Buckley, May 18, 2023 2:25 am

We all have an acquaintance – let’s call him Mike – that we know that whenever he says something we immediately ask ourselves “Why is he saying that?”

“The sky is blue,” says Mike and we immediately think “Well, that’s true but why is he bringing it up?  What off-putting statement is surely to come next?  Is he somehow going to work that around to asking me for something or say something that is odd, passive-aggressive, or just false?  Whatever it is, it’s going to be about him and for his benefit.”

Mike is a walking, talking ulterior motive – just like today’s media and that is a problem it may never be able to come back from because – just like the Mike in your life – you can never truly trust them – ever.

Even if – to everyone’s amazement – every main stream media (I don’t like that term – how about main servile media going forward? it has the added convenience of having the same initials at least) stopped printing blatant lies and stopped “fact checking” the truth into oblivion and asking even vaguely interesting questions, there would still be that residual question – “Why are they now doing that?”

As Matt Taibbi points out so well here, there was a long-standing media ethic that if something was true and important you printed it even if you knew the person who gave you the info had an axe to grind with the target of the story.  In fact, while many of the reasons people leak at all are noble – public service, respect of the truth, correct a lie, make people aware of a problem, etc. – one reason is usually “those people finally went to far and I’m really angry and I’m going to make their lives deservedly miserable.”

While that is not an ulterior motive – it’s actually a very exterior one – it is nonetheless still a motive.

What has happened over the past few years is the purposeful destruction of what was called the “Pentagon Papers Principle,” which made the authenticity of the information the be all and end all of deciding whether to run the story.

Now, according to Janine Zacharia and former Obama and Trump Cybersecurity Policy Director Andrew James Grotto, “authentication alone is not enough to run with something.” To read the report and for more background on its authors, see here.

In fact, these two media theorists participated in the ethically unconscionable Aspen Institute “table top exercise,” which involved numerous media figures, civil society foundation types, and government officials that was done to figure out how the media should cover a “theoretical” (nope – not buying that – the feds knew it was actually going to happen, wanted Biden to beat Trump, and wanted to pre-wash the problem) story about a Hunter Biden Ukraine-related computer “hack and dump” situation.

This event took place a few months before the 2020 election and, um, coincidentally, weeks before the Hunter Biden “laptop from hell” story was broken by the New York Post. Also, um, coincidentally, the media, the government, the “intelligence community” (speaking of the need for a new name…) followed the playbook laid out during the “exercise.”  The well-known throttling of the story played a crucial role in Biden’s victory, with even a significant number – enough to change the result of the election –  of Biden voters telling pollsters after they voted that they would not have voted for him if they were aware of the allegations involved.

All in the name of fighting “misinformation.”  From the above Taibbi report: Break the “Pentagon Papers Principle:” Focus on the why in addition to the what. Make the disinformation campaign as much a part of the story as the email or hacked information dump. Change the sense of newsworthiness to accord with the current threat.”

In other words, the new main servile media stance is that they will decide not only what is true but that they will not publish the truth if they can somehow convince themselves that it came from someone they don’t like….or serve.

Here in California – as with sooo many other awful things – we saw all of this first – we were a leader, yet again.

Residents were early adopters of the emerging news technology, the family that owned the Los Angeles Times timed their exit perfectly (financially,) and the dispersed, more mobile nature of California led to fewer emotional ties to their local newspapers sped the slide.

The numbers got smaller, the media job market got smaller, and the pre-existing biases were only amplified by people wanting to please their bosses and keep their jobs.  And as the pay went down the market had to reach out to younger and younger staffers willing to work for less, either because they were excited by the adventure ahead or they had a family with a few extra bucks.

Newspapers used to be a bit like baseball – start in single A (some tiny, three-day-a-week, middle of nowhere outfit,) move up to double AA (a bit more substantial, like a smaller city,) head to triple AAA (I used to work for the Press-Enterprise, for example, and that was a high AAA paper,) and then maybe make to the big leagues.

That process took years and really didn’t allow for a decent, middle-class existence until triple AAA.

Now, the big newspapers in the state hire kids practically straight out of “journalism” school (do not get me started on those ‘how to find an expert who will say exactly what you want them to say to advance your personal agenda’ factories) who know nothing of how the real political world works except that they should always write down what the official says and to tweet about (fill in the blank) justice issues.

Interestingly, the California media (the Globe excluded, of course) has already gone beyond the ulterior motive stage and hit its full collaborationist stride; the lies and absurdities are on full display for anyone to see already and if you think the national news groups are bad now, just wait a few years when the rot of the Golden State blooms nationally like a durian in heat.

Nationally, the servile ulteriority concept was dialed up to 11 for the 2020 election (and remains there as an attempt to literally prop up an ailing, failing, flailing Biden) but had its birth a years before that.

Much of the press has for generations tended to be a bit liberal, a bit progressive (NOT in the psychotic way it means today, though,) a bit on the side of the outsider, a bit on the side of change. That general tendency – while occasionally infuriating conservatives – did bring certain benefits: a bedrock, go to jail to defend, commitment to the principles of free speech, free thought, a burning desire to make sure the public knew the truth, and an open public square that anyone could say whatever they wanted because in the end good ideas will beat bad ones.

The truth may have been a bit shaded one way or the other but it was public, out there in the societal firmament for debate and discussion.

With the rise of Donald Trump, the main servile media – no longer gritty, one drink away from cirrhosis reporters but now professional “journalists” with all the sensitivities and self-deceptions that membership in the lower-upper middle class brings – saw itself under direct attack from an outside force.

At first, the mood was “oh, this will be funny, oh, hey it gets good ratings so we can go along with this sideshow until he inevitably explodes on a ball of orange fire and we can get back to normal.” 

A few years later the impossible happened and the main servile media felt it had played a role in the rise of this populist monster and was going to make sure it would never happen again so it started “re-thinking,” sorry, utterly gutting, the ethical standards it had abided by for generations.

It even started pre-planning the “news” with government agencies – see Aspen Institute again   – and these changes could very conveniently be tied to the boogeyman of an evil foreign power even if that justification was atrociously, purposefully false.

No longer would it speak truth to power, but it would speak lies on behalf of the powerful and psychologically justify that shift by trying to convince themselves they were doing so for the right and proper good of the nation and the world when in fact they were doing so for base and selfish reasons.

Out went even the pretense of objectivity – a relic of the past that cannot be a part of the “New Normal” because some things are just too evil  – “Everybody Knows That!”

Out went telling both sides of a story, deeming anyone or anything that did not agree with the congealed cabal that tries to pass itself off as defenders of democracy.  That became the sin of “both sidesism;” – “We don’t put flat earthers on the front page, do we?”

Out went treating people involved in the public sphere equally and if anyone noticed this they were accused of the intellectually fatuous crime of “what about…ism?” – “Really?  Just because we didn’t do a story about Hilary but we did one about Trump you have the nerve to question our integrity?”

In came “fact checking,” a process by which the main servile media could cherry pick some of the silliest things the opposition says and call them lies while simultaneously finding “context” and, of all things another government official – to say that no, what that person we serve said, well, it’s actually true.

In came the simplicity of open advocacy, only quoting “experts” they already agree with, only profiling groups they need to be more popular and powerful. Being a “journalist” is a very easy job if you always know what you’re going to write, how you’re going to write, why you’re going to write, and for whom you’re going to write it, not to mention that you can just have the PR flack/personal friend involved write it for you.

And this is the crux of the ulterior media.

The media has embraced the idea of the ulterior motive to the point that it is gospel, but when the public questions, let alone points out, the media’s own motives they are shouted down by an infuriated press as loudly and as strongly as a cleric shouts down heresy.

And heretics are abominations, can be banned from society, deemed insane, and then crushed with joyous abandon.

And if this ulterior media is allowed to stand – if the heretics do not take over the church, if there is no grand Reformation – then, somehow, Mike wins and the “Why?” no longer needs to be asked because the answer will no longer matter.

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3 thoughts on “An Ulterior Media

  1. Thanks for the thought provoking article, Mr. Buckley. Your point about freshly minted “journalists & reporters” not feeling the need to pay dues is an important one. Used to be a badge of honor in the media, to scrap for the truth even if the facts reported were not always popular & the lifestyle sometimes uncomfortable or unhealthy.
    Someone like Carl Kolchak (the Night Stalker) is needed to root out the entrenchment in California—he had unique skills dealing with shadowy figures.

  2. The 1996 Telecommunications Act allowed for consolidation of media companies across geographic boundaries and across all mediums. That legal change allowed those closest to the loan window the Federal Reserve to buy, and centrally control, every single media operation in this country (or nearly so). I am not going to pretend that changing the law back to the 1934 Federal Communications Act will fix every problem, or even the specific problems the 1996 Act caused – but we could do a lot worse by allowing the status quo to continue.

  3. The hilarity of this opinion piece appearing on a website that opens with an advertisement to purchase “Free Trump” merchandise (complete with fake mugshot photo) is topped only by the writer’s claim that California Globe is not “collaborationist”. There was a time when I considered Sea of Reeds co-founder Ken Kurson a personal friend. This was before he and his cohorts decided to toss away any pretense of moral behavior in business and politics, before they began amassing indictments, arrests, pleas deals, pardons… The gall of you all. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

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