Saturday, July 24, 2021

Demands Are Not News!

The News isn't something that just happens, it is often something that is created.

I started writing this blog entry weeks ago, but couldn't figure out the angle I was looking for.  A helpful reader filled in the blanks for me with a link to this article about "pseudo-events."  It sort of filled in the blanks for me.  The "news" doesn't just happen, it is manufactured.

We watch the "news" on television or on our phone or read the paper (really?) and think that what is being reported is what is newsworthy - the events of the day.  But over time, you start to realize that what is considered "news" is really crap. As I noted before, with financial "news" the sudden movement of a stock, up or down, is considered "news" and thus people read about ACME stock shooting up, and think, "I should buy ACME stock, it's going places!" - and it is, into the dumpster.  Once a stock shoots up, and once the press notices, it is likely too late to get on the train.

Similarly, if ACME stock tanks, that is "news" and people panic-sell because it is going down.  Again, a bad move, as it may recover over time.  Buy high, sell low - the path to bankruptcy.  And I know this as when I started out investing in stocks, I did these dumb things.  Today, I put money into mutual funds and then pretty much leave it alone.  Investing based on the "news" is a flawed idea, as what is "news" is often specious, and even when accurate, a bad way to buy and sell stocks.

The "news" doesn't report slow-moving trends, in general, or if they do, it is a story buried deep in the paper or hardly noticed.  AJAX stock has slowly increased in value over the last two decades, and the company makes a good product at a reasonable price and has a good reputation.  Better still, it pays a regular dividend.  BORING!  No one wants to read about that!  So you never hear about stocks or companies like that, because there is no "event" for the news to report.  And without an "event" it isn't, by definition, "news."

Marketing people and public relations people, on the other hand, can create an event when there is none, as the link above notes.  Starved for attention?  Want to hype the stock price a bit?  Issue a press release.  Send it out and the news media will pick it up and print it verbatim.  Worse yet, you can actually pay the news to print it.  AP, for example, routinely runs articles that are little more than paid ads - and they admit to being paid to run them.

But you needn't pay much, if anything, because the news business is staffed and understaffed by lazy people, who will print or show anything with a catchy title and some eye-candy graphicsThree-wheeled car?  Rotating skyscraper?  Air-powered car?  Whatever scam you are running, the news media is your friend, which is how Bitcoin got started.

Recently, I have noticed a new form of "news by press release" in the form of "demands".  Republicans, now out of power, have trouble making headlines.  You want to keep your name in the paper, get name recognition, and stay in power (or get into power).  Let's face it, most voters will pull the lever for the candidate with the greatest name recognition - which is why in some primary and local races, it has been reported that candidates with names confusingly similar to another candidate have literally been hired to run, to siphon off votes from low-information voters.

But - conundrum!  How can you stay in the news as the minority party, when nothing you do (other than being obstructionist, which is your only lever of power - and both parties do it, when out of power) makes news?  Simple.  Issue a press release "demanding" that someone in the opposing party do something, or apologize, or whatever.   The next day, it makes headlines.  "Republicans DEMAND that President Biden apologize for calling Trump a doo-doo head!"  The shit just writes itself.

To me, however, these are nonsense headlines.  Demands are something you can only make if you are holding hostages.  "We have your daughter, and if you want her released, you must meet our demands!" reads the note made from letters cut from a magazine.  Say, what will kidnappers do in the future once print publications disappear?  Kind of hard to cut-and-paste from articles on your smart phone.  Just wondering.

Without leverage, demands are meaningless and in fact, are not demands.  In fact, they mean nothing.  In fact, it is just bullshit.  It isn't news, it is just crap - designed to get you to click.  And if you are Republican, you click to see what "your team" is doing and cheer them on.  "Way to go, Turtle-boy!  Telling those Demmy-crats what for!"  Or, if you are a Democrat, you click on it to see what latest outrage those heartless Republicans are up to now - probably cutting school lunches for starving overweight children again.

Or... you could just not click on this crap, or just not read the news in general.  I find that the "news" is like a Skinner box these days.  You click on a news app, and you find less and less of real interest to read.  It seems most of the "stories" are designed to trigger obsessive-compulsive people with made-up "controversies" that they hope will outrage you.  Yes, there are real events and tragedies, such as the collapse of the condo building in Surfside last month.  But like anything else, it takes weeks, if not months or years before you understand what really happened there.  In the meantime, all they present is click-bait stories designed to get you to read or watch.  And it goes without saying that no one reported the slow decay of the rebar over the last 20 years - that's not a story.

Maybe the "news" isn't all that necessary to daily living.  Yet so many people obsess about it - we all do.  My Dad used to come home from work every evening, and the six-o-clock news would come on with Walter Cronkite.   Funny thing, back then, people didn't work until eight or nine at night like they do today.  You went home at five, and were there in time to catch the news.   Of course, later on, my Dad would "work late" with his mistress - he found something more interesting than the "news" it seems.

But as a kid, you were "shushed" if you talked during the "news" and God forbid you should make noises during "60 Minutes" which as we know, is the paragon of honest news reporting.  60 Minutes would always have these "investigative reports" going after some small-time hustler working out of a storefront in Miami, who would put his hand over the camera lens and say "No comment!  Now leave my office!"  Then they would cut to a commercial for burial insurance or a car lease deal or rent-to-own furniture.  Good thing 60 Minutes is going after the bad guys!  And bad guys always are small-time hustlers, not major corporations that advertise on TeeVee, right?  Normative cues, again.

Of course, 60 Minutes was the show where they "exposed" George Bush's war record by using an obviously manufactured letter, supposedly printed on an IBM Selectric typewriter, but clearly using the kerned fonts of Microsoft WORD 2000.  I mean, any idiot could have spotted that from a mile away.  Apparently not Dan Rather.  I mean, not that Bush wasn't a draft-dodger who used big-money influence to get a cushy National Guard assignment.  Beats "bone spurs" though.  But I digress.

The point is, and I think I had one, is that people obsess about "the news" when in fact it adds nothing to their lives, other than to increase their stress levels, manipulate them into believing nonsense, and not informing them of much of anything.  Why is it so important for a retiree to know what is going on in the world?  Yet, on our retirement island, we have older people (mostly men) obsessively watching Fox News for hours at a time, every day.  They become more and more outraged (by design) as the news stories are designed to get you outraged, with clever word choices and slanting of stories.  And I am not picking on Fox news - they all do it, Fox is just "better" at it than most.

And like any good Skinner box, the more you dive into it, the smaller and smaller the rewards are. Pretty soon, you find yourself watching hours of "news" trying to get that dopamine rush from a juicy story, only to discover that they keep repeating the same old stories in a 22-minute format.  The news "apps" are no better - you find yourself obsessively checking the "news" every hour to see if anything interesting is happening.  It isn't. I mean, not for lack of trying - they try to make the Olympics seem interesting, but the only thing people click on (mea culpa!) are the controversies and the corruption and the scandals.  We all love a good scandal, don't we?    Put a "-gate" suffix on that!

What is interesting is that when camping in the forests of New Hampshire or whatever, we are often out of cell service range for days at a time (this is becoming less and less frequent, as the cell companies put towers everywhere - apparently they get paid to keep us connected to the Matrix).   An entire "story" can go from one end of the "news cycle" to the other, and you don't even notice it.   Maybe months or years later, you read about that story, but not likely, as it turns out it wasn't much of a story to begin with.

For example, the "latest outrage!" (TM) is that Nancy Pelosi (Boo! Hiss! - if you are a Republican) isn't going to let Qanonsense Republicans onto the January 6th Committee, because, of course, they would simply disrupt it with Pizzagate conspiracy theories or UFOs or whatever.  This is an outrage!  Keeping Republicans off the investigation after they voted not to have an investigation!

No, it is a tempest in a teapot, and will quickly be forgotten.  The investigation committee will simply re-hash what we already know from the court cases, but it will keep the whole event in the news for months to come, with one startling "revelation" after another - which is the point of the investigation. Which is the point of the Republicans trying to thwart the investigation, or failing that, discredit it as partisan.   That's the point of this "news" snippet - it is another "We Demand!" story designed to change how you think.  This isn't news, it is just political posturing.

If you are off-the-grid for a week, you would never know the story even happened, because, in the greater scheme of things, it isn't that important.  But... if you are connected to the grid 24/7 and obsessively watch "the news" then your outrage meter is pegged, regardless of what your political affiliation is.  It just keeps your brain programmed right or left, depending on which channel you watch, and thinking the other guy is "evil" and "your side" is holy and righteous.

The reality is, it is just more political posturing - sound and fury signifying nothing, a tale told by an idiot.  Nothing to write home about.

It is manufactured news, "pseudo-events" as a helpful reader provided.  It isn't informative or helpful and in fact is harmful to your psyche.  The people who got sucked into Qanonsense or Antifartism aren't evil (necessarily) - it is just they got sucked into these websites and channels that promote strange ideas and they obsessively visit them.  The Qanonsense thing was, in fact, genius in the way it was presented. If they published all the Qanonsense as a book, people would scoff at it.  But presenting it as a series of clues and puzzles and letting people suss it out for themselves, well, that made it Skinner-box compulsive.

It is like Scientology.  The Scientology folks tried to keep their texts "secret" because if you told a new recruit the Level-5 crap - that we are all space aliens or clams or whatever - people would scoff at it, and then not hand over their money.  But if you tease it out through level after level, taking a little (or a lot) of money at each step, well,  you can tell whatever grand story you want to, as they will swallow it in little bites at a time.  Try to force-feed them the whole meal at once, they will throw up.

Indoctrination, it is called.  And today, the news channels and apps and "papers" (which are websites) are all in this business.  Why?  To convince us of a particular political point of view?  I think not so much.  I think rather that once you get someone addicted to MSN or FOX or whatever, you can get them to compulsively watch.  You get your click-rate up, your Nielsen numbers up, and that means your ad revenue goes through the roof.  And when that happens, you get paid - a lot.  So the news anchors and the producers and whatnot get salaries in the millions.  That is their motivation, not politics - money!

So what does this mean?  Are we doomed to devolve into warring factions, egged-on by a news media that is more interested in profits than our nation?  Well, as recent events illustrate, there are limits to this model of money-making.  Most major media channels pulled back after January 6th and have taken pains to point out that the allegations of election fraud are fantasies.   Even with that, however, a large number of people still "believe" and in no small part due to dog-whistling from certain media outlets.

That and the anti-vaxxer crap has been shown the door on many media sites (including Reddit, which at one time was one the biggest cheerleaders for that and Pizzagate and bitherism).  Of course, some on the right cry "censorship!" which again, is another pseudo-event or "Demand" news article.   How ironic that after the GOP fought long and hard to get rid of the "fair time" provisions of the FCC regulations, that they now want a similar provision reinstated for online news.  But of course, the first Amendment - if you bother to actually read it - only proscribes government censorship.  And while I think they would like to be considered governments, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are not quite at that level of power just yet.

It is funny, though, how the loudest voices in these debates are the ones decrying "censorship" and claiming that their voices are not being heard.  Kinda ironic, too.

I don't know what the overall answer is, but on a personal level, I am trying to unplug more and more.  It doesn't help me, personally, to read "the news" every day and to worry about it or obsess about it.  It only serves to raise my blood pressure, which, now that I have backed away from the news, has dropped back into the "good" zone.  Funny how that works!