The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘News’ in the Post-Literate Age

Posted on | February 19, 2024 | Comments Off on ‘News’ in the Post-Literate Age

Sitting here with my office TV tuned to CNN — I watch CNN, so you don’t have to — I’m struck by the arrogance of their assumption that they get to decide what is and is not newsworthy, as if their audience had no other source of information about what’s going on in the world, and no desire to know anything else except what CNN is “reporting.” They have spent most of today going on and on about the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, as well as the war in Ukraine, and they seem to imagine that no one sees through this wall-to-wall coverage in terms of its motive, i.e., to revive the “Russian collusion” hoax against Trump, and to attempt to blame Republicans in Congress for the failure of Ukraine to repel the Russian invasion. It’s about a political narrative, you see, and every other thing in the world — including events much closer to home, of far more relevance to the day-to-day lives of Americans — must be suppressed in order to focus attention on their propaganda message.

It’s exasperating to watch this, which probably has a lot to do with why CNN is permanently stuck in third place in the cable news ratings. There may be people for whom CNN is “must-see TV” — State Department bureaucrats, perhaps? — but certainly it’s not a mass-market product.

Part of what’s gone wrong with the news business is that, over the course of recent decades, the decline in our education system has produced a generation — most people under 40 — who can best be described as post-literate. Whether or not they have the ability to read, they simply do not read. They are not consumers of the written word, in the way that educated adults used to be. They do not read articles. They may click headlines, but as far as actually reading anything, they can’t be bothered. Give them a TikTok video or maybe an Instagram meme, but the written word has no appeal to them. Generally, such people lack curiosity. They don’t have the kind of “need to know” that would inspire them to consult multiple sources in search of the story that they’re not getting from mainstream media. This is how people become susceptible to paranoid conspiracy theories and weird cults — if you do not have a sufficient storehouse of facts committed to memory, you are apt to believe whatever you’re told, if the person telling the story is charismatic and possessed of a gift for narrative, and telling you something that flatters your sensibilities. One of the things about the written word is that it has a permanence that the spoken word lacks; you can learn more by reading than by listening, and having the written text available allows you to double-check your memory of what you’ve learned.

Some 40 years ago, Neil Postman brilliantly described the problems of the TV-saturated culture in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, and now we are seeing these problems destroying the news industry, as such. Headline in The New Yorker: “Is the Media Prepared for an Extinction-Level Event?”

Part of what’s put the scare into the journalism cabal is the specter of artificial intelligence software replacing them. To this threat, the inimitable Ace of Spades blithely responds:

I know one thing: AI might be able to quickly rewrite boring AP headlines but they’ll never be able to crank out gems like:

Cash App Cougar Fani Willis:
Yes, I Paid Taxpayer Funds to Hire
a Human Meat-Mallet to Pound My Snizz
Into Thin Tender Strips Like Veal Scallopini

You can’t argue with that. As in any competitive business environment, the key is to find your “value-added” advantage, and while Ace clearly has found his advantage, what about all these like-minded liberals with degrees from pricey private colleges who are all trying to reach the same niche market of people like themselves? None of them would ever think of calling Fani Willis a “cash app cougar” or otherwise mocking any Democrat, no matter how much mockery they might deserve. Most members of the vast herd of liberal journalists are disposable — without any inherent value — simply because all of them are “reporting” from the same point of view. So when we hear of the latest round of media layoffs, we shrug in indifference. Nothing of value has been lost.

If somebody pulled the plug on CNN, would anyone notice? Would their audience — smaller than the audience for Paw Patrol cartoons on Nickelodeon — be saddened by the loss of CNN? If so, why? What is the raison d’être of CNN? What do they provide their audience that these TV viewers can’t get anywhere else? Unlike Ace of Spades, who is truly unique, the clowns on CNN are more or less interchangeable, all of them with basically the same liberal worldview, and thus indistinguishable from 95% of all the other Democrat Party hacks in the media racket.

Somewhere, of course, State Department bureaucrats are watching CNN’s Alexei Navalny coverage and thinking to themselves: “Yes! Our message is getting out!” But there are more people watching Paw Patrol.

Adjust your expectations to reality. Good night.


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