Regaining what has been lost.
Earlier this week, Facebook, Apple, Google and Spotify moved to permanently ban InfoWars’ Alex Jones from their platforms. His Facebook pages, which had millions of followers, have been deleted. His podcasts are no longer available on the Apple Store and on Spotify. And his YouTube Channel, which had over 2 million subscribers, has been deleted.
The move against Jones was a significant and unprecedented strike by some of Silicon Valley’s most powerful tech companies to silence the popular right-wing conspiracy theorist. It’s been decried, mostly by free speech absolutists and conservatives — including many who do not even like Jones — as a dark moment in American history and a major, major setback for free speech.
Earlier this week, I wrote here on this site that the move against Jones is but the first of many to come against right-wing and “alternative” media.
Whatever reasons these tech giants’ PR departments cobbled together to validate their blatant assaults on the free flow of information and speech, the true reason they came after Jones was because he ultimately represented something these left-wing companies and their political allies in the news media could not accept: an alternative source of information.
I’m not saying Jones is a reliable source of information who only deals in the truth, but if Alex Jones was truly just a raving lunatic with zero credibility, the big companies would’ve left him alone. You don’t see anyone trying to censor the guy out on the street with a “THE END IS NEAR” sandwich board — people just ignore that guy. But these big tech companies’ move against Jones made it pretty clear they view him, and other alternative sources of news and commentary like him, as serious threats.
Again, it’s not just Jones himself who is a threat to the left, but rather Alex Jones and every other alternative source of information. Alex Jones is just the first of many, as left-wing authoritarian Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) stated.
And so to properly understand why the left is now pushing to purge right-wing voices from social media, it is important to gain an understanding of the current state of the American news media.
To do this, we must first understand how we got here. We must place this moment in the broader context of the history of American news media.
Early days: The bombing of Pearl Harbor was the first “BREAKING NEWS” event in US history, however very few American families actually owned televisions to see NBC’s televised coverage — most Americans heard the news on the radio. By the end of the 1940s, CBS was running nightly 15-minute newscasts with an anchor (Lowell Thomas) and competed with NBC’s nightly TV newscasts, which were simply news film with an offscreen narrator explaining what had happened that day. ABC joined in on the evening newscasts in 1953. This was the dawn of national TV evening news.
1960s: By this time CBS, NBC and ABC all ran competing nightly national TV newscasts. This was enabled by the fact that television ownership in America had exploded during the 1950s — at the start of the decade, only 10% of American families owned a TV, but by 1960, nearly 90% did. The 1960s was the decade where television really took root as the dominant source of news and information in America. This began the era of the “Big Three,” whereby CBS, NBC and ABC dominated the American TV news scene. Walter Cronkite, CBS’s anchor, was considered the “most trusted man in America,” and was so influential that his negative remarks about the Vietnam War after the 1967 Tet Offensive may well have turned the American public against the war — at least President Lyndon Johnson believed so. After watching Cronkite criticize his handling of the war, President Johnson famously remarked, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
TV news was extremely influential by the end of the 1960s, and just three channels had a stranglehold on the market. This meant a small number of people controlled the flow of news and information to the masses. For the left, this is the ideal state of affairs it will always be seeking to return to: oligopolistic, gatekeeper-level control of the market and little to no competition from the right.
1980: CNN launches as the first full-time news channel. Unlike the “Big Three,” which only provide news programming in the evenings, CNN is exclusively news. However, CNN will not seriously compete with the major evening news channels for quite some time.
1991: CNN vaults to prominence for being the first news network to provide coverage from inside Iraq during the Gulf War. This elevated CNN to “Major Player” status alongside the long-standing Big Three. CNN becomes a trusted source of news and is largely taken seriously. The rise of CNN is proof that cable news is a viable TV business model that can thrive even with the Big Three dominating the evening news scene.
1996: The birth of Fox News exposes the decades-old myth that the news truly was “the news,” rather than one-sided political propaganda. Merely by existing, Fox News has proven CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC to be Democratic Propagandists. Why? Because Fox offers the news from a different perspective, thereby demonstrating that there is another side to the story not being told by the existing news media channels.
In the late 1990s, television technology is rapidly improving. Digital cable and satellite were introduced to the market. Now, instead of just a few channels, there were hundreds. Picture quality improved significantly with the advent of HDTV, screens get flatter and wider, and more emphasis is placed on being visually appealing and stimulating. Stations begin airing content round the clock and the 24/7 news cycle was born.
With Fox, MSNBC and CNN joining the TV news market in force by the end of the 1990s, there are now six major news networks instead of the traditional big three. The increased variety means that gone are the days of a single newsman like Walter Cronkite being the “most trusted man in America” and being the sole source of news for most of the country. It’s simply impossible for one newsman to accumulate that much influence anymore. He’s got too much competition today.
Another major change brought about by Fox and MSNBC in particular was adding — well, more like embracing — the partisan element to the news. Of course, the evening news had always been biased to the left, it’s just that the partisanship was better and more easily disguised, and of course never admitted. Walter Cronkite was practically a Democratic activist, yet most Americans were fairly naive about his partisan leanings and intent, and so they let their guard down when he came on TV. They largely trusted Cronkite to report the news as it was, with no spin or ulterior agenda.
The original formula for slanting the news coverage was simple: you’d just inject your perspective into the covering of a story. If we go back to the example of Walter Cronkite and the Tet Offensive, Cronkite characterized the battle as a major military setback for America, yet in reality, after the initial surge by the Viet Cong forces, it actually turned into a romping victory for us:
Although the initial attacks stunned both the U.S. and South Vietnamese armies, causing them to temporarily lose control of several cities, they quickly regrouped, beat back the attacks, and inflicted heavy casualties on North Vietnamese forces.
Over the first few days of the offensive, the Viet Cong lost over 10,000 men compared to the American side losing just 249. By the end of the battle, the Viet Cong had lost nearly 30,000 men while the American side had 543 killed and around 2,500 wounded. It was still the most casualties the American side had ever suffered during the Vietnam war, however, and this was what the American news media focused on.
As Harvard historian Louis Menand put it in a 2010 essay, “In the end, Tet was a military disaster for the North, but it was a political victory for them in the West.” The reality is that the American side had won Tet, but the perception back home was that it had been a disaster for us. This was the work of Cronkite and the TV news media.
The point here is to illustrate that “Just The Facts” reporting has always been a myth. News anchors and reporters only tell the public that which confirms and bolsters the news outlet’s political agenda. Back in the 1960s, it was much easier to disguise biased advocacy as “Just The Facts” news reporting. The public was just more trusting of, and less cynical towards, the news media.
Nowadays, in the world of Fox, CNN and MSNBC, there’s debate panels and shouting matches between designated and clearly identified partisan talking heads. Reporters and anchors still pretend to be unbiased, but the public knows better now.
When Fox and MSNBC came around in 1996, they made little effort to hide their partisan leanings. Fox featured Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, two guys who never pretended to be unbiased news reporters — there has always been an open acknowledgement of political advocacy at Fox. MSNBC as well. CNN has only recently begun to openly embrace its partisan biases, but for a long time CNN portrayed itself as the unbiased, non-partisan Just The News channel. Now CNN is even more to the left than MSNBC and everyone knows it. CBS, ABC and NBC, meanwhile, have tried to maintain their reputations as nonpartisan, but the facts show otherwise:
NBC and CBS are just as partisan as CNN. The funny thing is, Fox is the only news outlet that comes away here looking balanced. Everyone else is so overwhelmingly to the left it’s laughable.
And so the cat is finally out of the bag. Americans know the news is biased and (except for Fox) doing everything it can to aid the Democrats.
It seems only the media itself believes the media is unbiased:
Sure, Chris. Whatever you say.
This gradual awakening of Americans to the pervasive bias of the media has taken place over the past two decades. Conservatives really began to take notice during George W. Bush’s presidency. The media was constantly attacking Bush, usually unfairly. Here are a few choice examples:
Bush was branded a racist over the perceived lack of response for Hurricane Katrina; he and his aides were called war criminals over the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib; he was being blamed for the housing crisis that contributed to the 2007–2008 economic collapse; he was criticized for his “feeble” response to Russia and mocked for having once claimed to have seen Vladimir Putin’s soul.
We also can’t forget to mention the fact that the media was all gung-ho for the Iraq War in 2003, but quickly turned against it and labeled it a “quagmire” and hung it around Bush’s presidency like an albatross.
The most prominent example of media bias during the Bush presidency was Dan Rather’s despicable attempt to abuse his reputation as a trustworthy newsman to spread lies about George W. Bush’s military service record in the last few months of the 2004 election campaign. “Rathergate” as it has come to be known was a blatant, shameless attempt by the purportedly non-partisan longtime CBS News anchor to swing a presidential election:
“Rathergate” is the derisive term applied to a set of four documents allegedly written by the former commanding officer of President George W. Bush in the early 1970s, and broadcast on the CBS program 60 Minutes Wednesday, September 8, 2004. The resultant exposure of these documents as forgeries, coupled with a lack of proper news investigating techniques, led to the ouster of four senior producers at CBS several months later, as well as the departure of long-time anchorman Dan Rather, for whom the scandal was named.
So in the 1960s and 1970s, CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite was known as the “most trusted man in America.”
By 2004, CBS News Anchor Dan Rather was fired in disgrace for lying in an attempt to meddle in a presidential election.
What happened between the 1960s heyday and now is that the news media has been exposed as a partisan operation.
Today, Dan Rather has fashioned himself into a regular #Resistance Queen, regularly unleashing lengthy angry diatribes against President Trump on Twitter, apparently forgetting he spent 25 years playing the role of the honest, unbiased, Just The Facts lead news anchor at CBS:
Did Dan Rather only become political recently, at the young age of 86, or has Dan Rather always been a hardcore partisan Democrat, but just tried to make it less obvious during his tenure at CBS?
Obviously Rather has always been a partisan hack. He just doesn’t try to hide it anymore. Why would he? There’s way too much publicity, glory, image rehabilitation and book sales to be had in becoming a #Resistance Queen these days. The #Resistance will revere and cling to literally any prominent figure who relentlessly attacks Trump, even people they previously despised mightily — see: Comey, James; Bush, George Walker; Kristol, William; Scarborough, Joe; etc.
But the fact that Dan Rather is now today openly embracing his role as a partisan in the great political battle, instead of pretending to be above the fray and apolitical, shows just how much the TV news media has been exposed. It’s symbolic of just how far things have come since the Cronkite “most trusted man in America” heyday of the 1960s.
We can even visualize the American public’s gradual loss of trust in the TV news media. Just have a look at this chart, which shows the incredible decline in the audience for the evening news:
Keep in mind the US population increased by nearly 100 million people over that 30 year period, which spells out even more trouble for the evening news. This indicates that the evening news’ audience is dying off given that it’s not even keeping pace with population growth.
And, of course, that chart only goes to 2010. Between ABC’s David Muir, NBC’s Lester Holt and CBS’s Jeff Glor, they managed to draw in 20.6 million viewers combined over the July 2nd weekend. (There are about 246 million adults in the US.)
All told, evening news has seen a more than 50% decline in its audience size since 1980. This means seriously diminished influence. This has in the present meant major negative consequences for the political left.
But despite being gradually exposed in the 21st century as partisan operators, the TV news media was still able to have one last hurrah.
2008: After 2008, the media thought it could play God in our elections and will the Democrats to victory. After all, the media was largely behind the Obama mythmaking — you know, portraying Obama as the smartest man to ever run for President; portraying Obama as the “Chosen One” to save the country. Making him out to be MLK, Abe Lincoln and JFK all rolled into one, etc. After propelling Obama to the White House, the media probably believed it had the tremendous power to decide Presidential elections.
The 2008 election was all media. “Great recession” the headlines blared. “Worst economy since the 1930s!” Images of the stock market collapsing, homes being foreclosed, Wall Street banks imploding. Meanwhile, the Iraq War was a disaster. Global warming was going to kill us all. Only Barack Obama could save us. The media waged the greatest PR campaign in history for a guy whose only qualification for the Presidency had been that he gave a hell of a speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Almost every shot of Obama was made to portray him as Jesus:
2012 was more of a slog than 2008, but the media still probably came away believing it had made the difference for Obama defeating Mitt Romney. It was not pretty, but they did what had to be done — from Candy Crowley straight up lying to protect Obama during a debate to the totally fake outrage over Romney’s “binders of women” comment, as well as George Stephanopolous randomly and baselessly accusing Romney during a primary debate of wanting to outlaw birth control in order to help the left manufacture a fake hysteria over a Republican “WAR ON WOMEN!!!” The media went to great lengths to help the Obama campaign portray Mitt Romney as a greedy, ruthless Gordon Gekko-style businessman who would ravage the poor and working class for the benefit of the 1%.
Though Twitter and Facebook were very much in wide use in 2012, they did not represent the nexus of the American political debate then the way they do today. They were not where the bulk of the discussion was taking place and, more importantly, beginning. The TV news media was still the epicenter of American politics, where the conversation began and took place.
Additionally, YouTube in 2012 was mainly a place to watch silly videos, not to get informed and consume political content. Guys like Paul Joseph Watson and Ben Shapiro did not have millions of YouTube subscribers back in 2012. Today, YouTube is loaded with political content — most of it if from the right — and is a legitimate alternative source of political news and commentary. This was not the case back in 2012. YouTube did not rival the major television news networks then.
And so after 2008 and 2012, the TV news media probably felt pretty damn confident about its ability to deliver a Hillary Clinton victory in 2016. Sure, the unlikable, baggage-laden, criminal and robotic Hillary Clinton would be a tougher sell than the younger, charismatic Barack Obama and his quest to “make history” as the first black president, but the media would certainly be able to get it done.
2016: The main takeaway of 2016 is that the rise of social media allowed the right to circumvent the traditional TV news media almost entirely.
What struck me in 2016 was all the new faces in the political sphere. In 2012, the main voices in the political sphere were the big-name opinion writers for the New York Times, Washington Post, National Review and various other traditional publications from the left and right. It was your George Wills, David Brooks, Maureen Dowds, Paul Krugmans all duking it out on the main news channels. In 2016, it felt like most of the political debate was driven by Twitter and social media personalities like Ben Shapiro, Charlie Kirk, Tomi Lahren, Steven Crowder etc. This is reflective of the increase in the influence and relevancy of social media that occurred between 2012 and 2016.
The legacy media launched a full-scale assault and character assassination on a Presidential candidate unparalleled in US history. We have never before in seen an election in which the media were so transparently pulling for one candidate and so vehemently and viciously opposed to the other. For instance, despite having it for nearly a decade and thus since the start of the 2016 election cycle, NBC waited until October, right before a debate, to drop the Trump “Grab them by the pussy” tape in hopes of causing maximum damage to Trump. In 2016, it was revealed that journalists favored Hillary Clinton for political donations over Trump 96% to 4%.
And none of it worked. Trump overcame everything.
After 2016 the media realized how powerless it was. It could not carry Hillary to the White House. In fact, voters had resoundingly rejected the media in voting for Trump. You cannot view the election of 2016 in proper context unless you realize how central Trump made bashing the media to his overall message. It’s still a centerpiece of his message to this day.
Part of Trump’s relentless counter-punching of the media is his refusal to let any criticism go unanswered (which is a smart move in politics, as you cannot let your enemies define you), but it’s also his recognition of the Republican base’s deep antipathy towards the media, which had grown steadily stronger since the Bush years. If Republicans were made aware of the media’s liberal bias during the Bush years, watching the media collectively go gaga over Barack Obama settled the question beyond any doubt whatsoever: the media was the propaganda arm of the Democrats.
See, by 2016, the Republican base had gotten wise to the media’s game. We were never going to get a fair shake from the media, so why even participate in the TV news media game outside of Fox News? The GOP rallied behind Trump, who constantly called out the media for its unfair coverage, and Trump wound up basically running against both Hillary and the media.
More importantly, Republicans along with most Americans flocked to social media instead of the TV news media. The conversation took place on Facebook and Twitter, not in TV studios. YouTube videos and tweets went viral, and memes became a popular method of political expression. People still watched the news for coverage of the campaign, but nobody really cared what the people on the news were saying about the campaign. The real conversation was taking place online.
In 2016, the media thought its endless barrage of negativity would destroy Trump. In reality, the media was preaching to the choir the whole time. The only people watching the TV news were those who already hated Trump. The media was not turning undecided voters against Trump; it was actually energizing Trump supporters through its unfair treatment of their candidate while simultaneously convincing Hillary supporters Trump had no shot because of how “Everyone Agreed” he was repulsive and unacceptable.
By the end of the election, the media’s credibility was almost completely eroded. Only 14% of Republicans and, more importantly, 32% of independents, trusted the mass media:
2016 was game over for the media. The Republicans had found a way to beat the media at its own game.
As Fox News provided an alternative to the liberal news channels, the rise of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube did the same: they provided alternatives to the traditional news sources. The liberal media is no longer able to act as the gatekeeper and the narrative-spinner. They don’t get to frame the news and shape our understanding of politics and political figures anymore. We now have many different ways to get around them.
2012 may have marked the high watermark for the TV news industry — and perhaps the cable television industry in general:
Cord-cutting and the shift to internet and streaming content has already done serious damage to the television industry.
Virtually every technological advancement of the past 20 years or so in both television and internet has been bad for the legacy TV news media. They first lost ground to the “alternative sources” of news with the advent of Fox News in 1996, and lost considerably more ground with the growth of the internet and social media in the ensuing two decades.
This chart really puts that into perspective:
The landscape has shifted dramatically for cable companies and networks overall, but no one has lost more influence than TV news over the past decade. It’s been absolutely brutal for them. They have been rendered essentially impotent; they cannot move public opinion anymore.
2018: Now we arrive in the present day. What is happening is the legacy media has decided that right-wingers must be kicked off of social media in order for the media to regain its monopoly on information and influence.
People must not be allowed to turn to “alternative” sources of news and political content.
CNN clearly, obviously and desperately wants to purge the internet:
They’re trying to pressure Apple and Google into taking more action to limit the reach of InfoWars. This is not because CNN is concerned with the spread of “fake news” and “hate speech” but because InfoWars is a competitor.
Vox, which NBC owns about 20% of, is wasting no time at all trying to get basically every major right-wing YouTuber banned:
And the left certainly has not given up its fight against Fox News these days:
This is NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio saying America would be better off without the lone conservative news outlet on television.
These people do not want debate. They do not want a marketplace of ideas. They do not want intellectual diversity.
They want total control. They want all dissidents crushed or gagged.
They are vehemently opposed to the free flow of information.
Bill de Blasio’s ideal America would only feature left-wing news outlets like CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC. That’s it.
No one in America must be allowed to hear Fox’s side of the story.
This is how disturbingly authoritarian the left has become today.
As I wrote above, the mere existence of Fox News cannot be tolerated by the left because it exposes the left as trying to pull one over on the American public by disguising their political propaganda as “the news.” People think they’re simply being given a factual and non-biased account of What Happened, when really they’re being fed the left’s political agenda.
The only way people can realize they’re being fed a one-sided political agenda is if someone out there is telling the other side of the story. And until Fox News came around in 1996, no one on television actually was.
So this is why Fox News, and all the conservative outlets and voices that have sprung up in the social media era, must be destroyed.
It’s all about restricting the sources of information and eliminating the challengers and alternatives to the traditional liberal sources.
It’s about restoring the left to its old place: in near-total control of the news and information in this country.
Since the 1990s, every innovation and advance in media — from the founding of Fox News to the rise of social media — has disproportionately benefitted the right and worked to further level the playing field, which had historically been tilted dramatically towards the left.
Silicon Valley, under pressure by the traditional news media, is now trying to undo all of that and put the genie back in the bottle.