As an internet powered by what are supposedly legitimate news organizations populates itself with half-truths and whole lies, one cannot help but wonder if the U.S. is entering a New Age of Mythology.
Fact checking is clearly near death in the country’s journalism. Journalists don’t want to be bothered with trying to get even the simplest of stories straight as was witnessed in Anchorage, Alaska this week.
And even when the facts are revealed, the journalistic pack continues to pursue the better story over the real story. Maybe it is time to give Janet Cooke back her Pulitzer Prize. Yes, she made up a story about an 8-year-old heroin addict back in 1981.
But it could have been true.
And “could have been” is the new journalistic standard.
Nobody actually saw a moose give birth in a Lowe’s parking lot in Anchorage. A witness says the moose first appeared there from elsewhere with its young calf. But the moose could have given birth in an Anchorage parking lot, or at least on a grassy median in the parking lot.
Such a thing is not impossible. Moose living in the urban heart of Alaska are well familiar with people, and even appear to seek them out during the calving season so as to avoid predators. Scientists studying moose in the Alaska Interior in the 1980s found moose cows in the White Mountains National Recreation Area migrating 40 to 60 miles south to Fairbanks to bear their young away from the teeth and fangs of predators.
His discovery of moose migrating toward paved areas of the park to avoid grizzly bears when calving “offers rigorous support that mammals use humans to shield against carnivores and raise the possibility that redistribution has occurred in other mammalian taxa due to human presence in ways we have yet to anticipate,” he wrote.
So it’s plausible that a moose could give birth in an Anchorage parking lot, even though the latest moose didn’t. So what could possibly be wrong with reporting that it did?
Just this one thing: Lowering the standard for “news” from what did happen to what could happen opens a Pandora’s Box of societal ooze as presumptive Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has clearly recognized.
Trump early on spotted how journalistic standards have changed, and he has exploited the change to free himself from the limitations of facts. Trump speaks what he believes. There is no doubt about that, but he often does it without much research on where the truth lies.
Sometimes the media still tries to call him out on this practice as Washington Post reporter Phillip Bump did today.
The media is so often wrong and so regularly biased these days that people increasingly believe only what they want to believe, or what they are preconditioned to believe. And every time the media plays to the normal prejudices of the latter human frailty, the situation is made worse.
A moose born in a parking lot? It’s so cute. Who doesn’t want to believe that?
Throw the rules of journalism out the door. Run the story. Ignore the obvious: If this moose actually gave birth in the parking lot, how can it be no one has produced a photograph of the birth or a video? Or at least a shot of the cow licking the amniotic membrane off the wet calf post-birth?
Again, who cares?
The truth is that the truth really just doesn’t matter anymore.
A lot of reporters, particularly those who lean left, are incensed that Trump speaks his mind without always bothering to get his facts lined up. Presumptive Democrat nominee Hilary Clinton is only slightly better in that she does a better job of lining up the facts, but then sometimes twists them around crazily to make herself look better.
But why should anyone in the media be surprised, let along outraged, about any of this?
The media created the environment in which half-truths and even whole lies flourish. The media have been steadily lowering the factual bar for a decade. The media has been increasingly willing to write down anything – no matter how factually inaccurate -that brings internet traffic.
And if they do get called out for inaccuracies, they can always defend what they did by saying, “well, she or he said it.”
That’s proof enough, right? Someone said “a moose was born in the Lowe’s parking lot.” Good to go. Don’t bother trying to check.
Sarah Palin understood this paradigm shift. Trumps only more so; he never lies.
What he says is true is true because he believes it is true. He’s not making things up because he’s saying what he believes. It is the way the system has come to work. A smart guy, and Trump is a smart guy, would be a fool not to accept the new rules. He built his fame on them.
Trump is Trump because of the new mythology fostered by the American media in one form or another. The media made Trump. He first appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1984 when being on the cover of Time meant something. He later scored big on TV with “The Apprentice” starting way back in 2004.
He’s ridden the media to where he is today. Consider this from Bulldogreporter.com:
“Trump’s influence extended to magazines of all kinds, from The New Yorker to The National Enquirer. An issue of Rolling Stone featuring Trump posted one of the highest readership scores (index of 126), and readers of that issue in the highest household income bracket ($75,000-plus annually) registered a 130.”
Trump played the game so well that Trump is now bigger than the media.
He tells a sizeable number of Americans things they want to believe. And in a society where what you want to believe increasingly takes precedence over what is factually accurate, he’s having a field day just being Trump.
In the New Age of Mythology, he’s created his own myth.
He can say almost anything he wants because he can. Hell, I’ll confess a gut reaction to sometimes thinking that what he’s saying might be more accurate than what the media is reporting. And it’s not because I think of Trump as inherently honest. I don’t. I don’t think of any politician as inherently honest.
Politicians don’t win elections by telling the truth; they win elections by saying things that will get you to like them. Given this conman aspect to politics, it’s never good to believe a politician.
But the media has become so full of reporters willing to believe anything anyone tells them as long as it aligns with their prejudices that the media has become in some ways less believable that the politicians.