Doug Casey on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Today’s Journalism

Posted on 14. Sep, 2012 by in Education, Politics

Louis: Hola Doug. What’s on your mind this week?

Doug: The color yellow. As in “yellow journalism” – which seems almost the only kind we have these days. Of course, to be fair, inflammatory, shamelessly dishonest “man bites dog” journalism has always been the dominant kind, simply because it sells papers. But we’ll see more than the usual amount in the next couple of months, simply because elections lend themselves to it; politics seems to stimulate the reptilian part of the brain, the most primitive part. Both politics and the reptilian brain relate well to the yellow press.

Anyway, like many people, I watched snippets of the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Maybe, since I’m engaging in punditry, I should have watched the whole damn thing. But I simply couldn’t force myself to watch even all the parts that were broadcast, because it was just too boring and degrading. I can’t imagine how the people who were there for the whole four days were able to remain awake for the whole thing. Perhaps this is proof that zombies really do exist. What kind of people could take such a charade seriously? It was all canned speeches and scripted events that were basically dishonest. Politics has always been dishonest, of course, but at least it used to be unscripted and mildly entertaining…

L: Wait a minute – what about the now much-discussed Eastwood incident? By all accounts, that was unscripted and perhaps even unwelcome among the convention organizers.

Doug: I did watch Clint and enjoyed his speech, which appeared to be unscripted. He’s a skilled actor and entertainer, so I’ve got to believe it was really off the cuff. I’ve read in the papers – which means I don’t really know anything except some reporter’s guess – but I’ve read that Clint was only supposed to give a five-minute, canned speech. Romney and the convention organizers were caught off guard when Eastwood asked for a chair to be brought on stage; it was thought he wanted to use it to sit down. But he then proceeded to have a very funny conversation with an invisible Obama. One reason I liked it is that he treated Obama with the respect he deserved. It’s about time people stopped treating presidents as if they were Roman emperors.

L: I’ve watched that segment on YouTube and noticed that he used the word “libertarian,” which I doubt the RNC would have approved in advance. So I can believe that “Dirty Harry” was shooting from the hip, as it were.

Doug: I agree – I’m sure they would not have approved of that. I expect the Republicans will do everything they can to discount, denigrate, and destroy the Libertarian Party candidacy of Gary Johnson for president. They know Johnson is likely to draw more votes from them than from the Democrats. And of course, Ron Paul was made a veritable nonperson. The only mention he got at the convention didn’t include any acknowledgment of some of his most important propositions, like ending the drug war, ending foreign interventions and wars, and abolishing the Fed. These people are dishonest and manipulative through and through.

The other thing Clint did, as I recall, was only to mention Romney twice, and not in way that was a particularly strong endorsement. It took courage on Clint’s part in that forum.

L: I noticed that too; his focus was on the people, not the candidate. The biggest cheer he got was when he spoke of the people and said, “We own this country… politicians are employees of ours.”

Doug: Yes. I’m sure that also rankled the suits running the show. But the fact that Clint’s sincere, unscripted comments are so exceptional tells us a lot about the rest of the drivel at such events. It’s like he came up with the idea shortly before he went on stage and was truly speaking extemporaneously. It wasn’t approved by the Politburo, like absolutely everything else emanating from the convention was.

The press coverage of the incident is a good example of the sort of thing that makes me despise reporters. In a way, it’s a litmus test of the psychology of the average journalist, how they reacted to that thing… It says more about them than it does about Eastwood, how they reported on it and what they said about it. So many of them focused on how he hesitated, fumbled, repeated himself, and so forth, scoffing at his remarks as being just an old man’s rant. The snide comments of Michael Moore, the Evil Party’s answer to Jabba the Hutt, are fairly typical.

It was clear to me that Clint spoke from the heart, mistakes and all. I believe that 300 million Americans out there are starving for straight talk from the heart of someone they like – and everyone loves Clint. My guess is that most everybody who isn’t an ideologue of either the Stupid Party or the Evil Party really resonated with his sentiments. The only downside is they’ll wind up helping the feckless Romney.

It was night-and-day different from the slick speeches by the horrible politicians. They all sounded like they’d rehearsed their speeches dozens of times. Every one of them sounded phony – which they are. I preferred the old days when you never knew what the outcome of the convention would be, and the speeches could actually tell you something about the men giving them – or at least have entertainment value. When did all this change? My guess is in the ’50s, with broadcast TV and the invention of the teleprompter. The whole convention was a flavorless, odorless, sanitized bore – except for Clint.

L: I was struck by those criticisms of Eastwood’s delivery as well. Clint Eastwood was born in 1930 – give the guy a break! These critics will be lucky to be half as eloquent when they are in their 80s. But even that’s beside the point; what should matter most is what he said, not how he said it. These same media hacks would never speak so disrespectfully of a venerable statesman they agreed with.

Doug: I have nothing but contempt for these blow-dried airheads on TV news shows. They pontificate and tell you what you’re supposed to think – but they’re really not journalists. They just read the establishment press releases, thereby helping to prop it up. Instead of being the Fourth Estate – a private-sector watchdog and counterbalance to state power – they just make themselves lapdogs of politicians.

If you watch something like The Daily Show, Jon Stewart will often show clips of different so-called journalists in juxtaposition to each other – he did this regarding the Republican Convention – and you can see that the reporters all use the same words. It’s like they are all reading the same script or keying off each other – it’s a herd mentality. This is one reason print journalism has gone downhill, as well. In the era before the TV, a journalist had to witness things in person and draw an independent conclusion. It wasn’t technically feasible to know what everybody else was groupthinking in real time. The noble, lone journalist in the mold of H. L. Mencken is completely gone from the scene today.

L: I know what you mean, but a TV news anchor isn’t really a reporter. He or she is an attractive actor hired to read the news others research, because their faces increase ratings. Is it fair to criticize such people for not being investigative journalists?

Doug: No, I guess it’s not. They are hired to look sincere and look good. I believe it’s well established that people in general are prone to like and believe people they find attractive – that’s the basis for hiring TV news anchors – that and having completely unremarkable, predictable, “mainstream” views. But it’s still not a good thing. To have a system that relies on attractive but ignorant or misinformed people regurgitating reporting written by others is dangerous. The so-called Fourth Estate is dying.

You know, that very term – Fourth Estate – is being used more now, at the very time that the institution itself is changing its essence. The idea of a Fourth Estate arose with the Industrial Revolution and the inception of capitalism – the first three basically being the church, the “nobles,” and everyone else – the 99%. The Fourth Estate has historically been a bit outside all that, but certainly outside the church and the state. Their purpose was to tell it like it is, keep things in balance, and be impartial truth-tellers. Major cities each had dozens of papers. But now the Fourth Estate has truly been captured by the ruling classes.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that we have the Internet. The stuff people report there may not always be anymore accurate than the mass media, but at least it’s independent – it’s not a mouthpiece for the Establishment. As far as I’m concerned, the Fourth Estate has betrayed its basic raison d’être, and no longer serves much of a useful purpose.

L: Which brings us back to the people who write the stories or compose the video coverage – the kind of investigators who are supposed to make a show like 60 Minutes deliver hidden truth to a population that needs to know…

Doug: Unfortunately, they seem to be cut from pretty much the same cloth as the reporters who write for outfits like the New York Times or, God forbid, USA Today – something I feel sheepish about reading in public. They all went to the same universities, where they were taught the same ideas and values by the same teachers – who are all statists of one stripe or another. They are all so deeply inculcated in this worldview, they don’t even know they are in it.

It’s one reason why I found the ideas of the speakers at our recent Summit so refreshing. They see things from a perspective that’s sorely lacking in politics and mainstream American reporting.

L: Which is why journalists who don’t work for right-wing rags never admit that there is such a thing as “liberal media bias.” Their colored glasses have been on for so long, they don’t even realize they wear them.

Doug: Exactly. The 60 Minutes guys fell flat on their faces when they didn’t call Ben Bernanke out for contradicting himself on their show, first saying the Fed was printing money, then saying it wasn’t. If these guys are the toughest watchdogs we have, we’re in big trouble. The best sources of news on TV are probably The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. As comedians, they serve the role of the court jester and can say things to the king that nobody else dares to. It’s a sad testimony.

L: But there are exceptions, like John Stossel.

Doug: Of course, but again, it’s the exception that tests the rule; the fact that Stossel is so extraordinary tells us a lot about what is ordinary. You can see this clearly when you get a bunch of reporters together on an impromptu talk show, like Meet the Press or whatever; what you see is a bunch of opinionated people, some somewhat to the left, some somewhat to the right of center, yelling at each other.

It’s never an intelligent discussion of ideas and principles at all. For instance, there’s never a discussion of whether Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid are correct areas for government involvement – that’s completely accepted and a given. Even with Obamacare or Romneycare the discussion is only one of whether it’s affordable or efficient, not whether it’s ethically defensible. It’s just glib one-liners and catch phrases.

L: Whoever has the best sound bite wins.

Doug: Just so. Political talk shows are frustrating and embarrassing to watch. I just want to wash my hands of the whole mess, but I guess I’ll have to watch at least a little of the Democrat’s Convention, just to see what kind of charade they put on. I expect it will be more enthusiastic than that of the Republicans, because at least the Democrats actually have some principles… even if they’re completely bent, destructive, and statist principles. It should be some show, maybe like the Nuremburg rally.

L: Morbid curiosity?

Doug: Yes, and very unappealing. It’s literally like watching something die. The capacity of the masses to sit on their sofas and watch endless hours of canned drivel on TV is increasingly convincing me that libertarians and other free-thinkers are actually genetic mutants. We can mate with Boobus americanus intellectually about as well as a human can mate physically with a chimpanzee.

L: Mutants… or at least an uncommon personality type.

Doug: Either way, we are so few – it’s hard to have any hope of reason ever winning the day. My friend Jeff Berwick was caught in a spate of optimism the other day, which started with him guessing that maybe 10,000 new people become libertarians every day – a great-sounding number. Then he took out his calculator and realized that even if the population of earth was stable that, even at that rate, it would take something like 2,000 years before everyone stopped thinking like a criminal.

Communication is critical, of course. But while that’s become easier, in some ways, like the Internet, it may be increasingly difficult in others. The masses are addled by the mind-numbing rays from their TVs, and there are scores of millions more addled by psychiatric drugs, and hundreds of millions more by generations of government miseducation.

On the bright side – you know I like to always look on the bright side – the Internet could be bigger than all those things. The big media corporations no longer have a stranglehold on the news. These days, anyone with a phone has audio- and video-recording capability and can be a reporter. With the Internet, any of these people can get word of what they see out to the entire world.

L: A new, 21st century version of the Fourth Estate?

Doug: Yes; the truth is out there. But as with everything else, it’s subject to Pareto’s Law. So, 80% of what’s out there is crap, and 80% of what’s left is merely okay. But that remaining 4% of quality, uncensored, free information flow is extremely valuable. More good news: because people increasingly realize that 80% of everything is crap, they’re becoming evermore discriminating – which is a very good thing. People used to slavishly believe everything in the newspapers just because it was written; now they’re necessarily more skeptical, which means they’re forced to be more thoughtful.

But as great as this is, it’s like Jesus of Nazareth said: “He who has ears, let him hear.” For the distributed and free reporting we now have via the Internet to do much good, people need to question what they’re told and look for the truth – that’s not going to happen if they only use the ‘Net for social media and porn. After generations of government schooling, where critical thinking is the last thing they want to teach, people willing to do this are few and far between.

L: You’re an atheist quoting the Bible?

Doug: Why not? I can read. Everyone should read the Bible, along with Richard Dawkins, of course.

L: Indeed. Investment implications?

Doug: Nothing I haven’t said before, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The terminal corruption of the major news corporations and the lack of interest in seeking the truth among the general population augurs very poorly for the prospects of the US and the current world order. This creates speculative opportunities, which we work hard on uncovering in our publications, emails, and events, but prospects for mainstream investments are not good. Western civilization is truly in decline and far down the slippery slope.

L: You wrote an article some years ago on how to profit from the coming collapse of Western civilization…

Doug: Yes – which brings me back to the color yellow, but in a positive context this time: the yellow metal. Now the collapse is beginning, my advice is the same: accumulate gold – not as an investment, but for safety. For profit, speculate on the various bubbles and other trends government interventions in response to the unfolding crisis bring about. Rational investment is not an option in this context (remembering that investment is deploying capital to create more capital). Hopefully, investment will again be a viable option after the ongoing crisis bottoms; it depends in good degree how most people view the role of government. We all have to be speculators now, if we want to make money, and we have to be “gold bugs” if we want to come through the storm with minimal loss of wealth.

No doubt about it: journalism can have an enormous impact on the political process. And in today’s highly politicized economy, shrewd investors know to look for “the story behind the story” in order to stay on top of trends.

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