The End of the MSM?

There’s a new story sweeping the internet. It looks like it started at Climate Audit, but it got picked up by Watts Up With That, and  Bishop Hill, and now the Devil’s Kitchen is onto it too. The essence of the story is that the tree ring record on which the hockey stick graph of global warming was partly based used a highly selective set of trees to produce the apparent sharp uptick of global temperatures in the 20th century. If the entire record of tree rings is used, the warming almost completely vanishes. It’s an almost open-and-shut case of scientific fraud.

But in the comments on WUWT, Cassandra King (22:17:39) writes:

This scandal will never be shown to the public at large in any form, the Mann ‘creation’ will be allowed to fade away silently untill the Mk 3 version can be invented.
The MSM(main stream media) has been largely bought off, can you imagine the BBC/CNN/ABC allowing this to air? Editors are already being leaned to peddle a whole raft of bogus/rehashed reports in time for the Copenhagen festival of lies’N’denial.
The conference is dedicated to one goal, the actual truth doesnt enter into the equation, the political classes have bought themselves a consensus and that is what they will see, nothing will be allowed to tarnish and undermine the political show.
And she’s quite right. The upcoming Copenhagen Climate Conference will be accompanied by a flood of media prophecies of global warming, floods, plagues, famines. It’ll be business as usual for the MSM.
Meanwhile, over on Velvet Glove Iron Fist, Christopher Snowdon reports:
The Sunday Times is showing no signs of backing down from last week’s voodoo science regarding the English heart attack miracle. Quite the reverse, in fact, as the paper has now provided a forum for Prof. John Britton (Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies) to perpetuate the smoking ban/heart attack myth.
Once again, business as usual for the MSM.

A rather odd situation has developed whereby if you want to really know what’s going on, you look on the internet. If you want to know what’s officially supposed to be going on, you consult the MSM. And increasingly, the reality of the MSM is quite different from the reality of the internet. It’s not the first time this had happened. Back in 2003, while the MSM were faithfully carrying the story of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, the internet opinion was hardening into the conviction that those WMDs simply didn’t exist. It took another 2 or 3 years before the MSM came round to this opinion too. If the MSM is going to lag 3 years behind the internet, then we can maybe expect the BBC to become sceptical about global warming in about 3 years time, and sceptical about passive smoking in about 5 years time. In the mean time, there will continue to be two separate realities – one in which global warming and passive smoking are real threats, and one in which they aren’t. They’ll be the official reality and the unofficial reality.

In many ways, these two realities only came into existence over the past 10 or 15 years. Before that there was only the official reality. And because there was only one reality, there was no disjuncture. But now that the internet has arrived, we might wonder whether there is always going to be this official-unofficial divide.

The principal feature of the MSM is that it is almost entirely one way. The MSM is broadcast media. The information flows from the broadcaster to the viewer or listener or reader. The MSM has only a residual information flow in the other direction, in the form of letters to the editor. The MSM news is manufactured by professionals who are not much interested in what anyone else thinks. By contrast the internet is a web of little cottage industries, almost entirely unpaid, and all talking to each other conversationally.

The MSM provides a good way of getting information quickly to a lot of people. The same information diffuses slowly across the internet. But the MSM provides little in the way of discussion of the news. Newspapers may carry op-eds, and radio and TV may have discussion programmes, but these tend to be relatively brief, and to lack any real substance. For in-depth discussion of anything, the internet is the only place to go. And that’s why the internet ends up being a powerful opinion former. Opinions are shaped in discussions which run on for months or years. 

The megaphone MSM is also an excellent propaganda medium. The MSM can create a reality, or a perception of reality, by simply repeating it over and over again. That’s what’s been happening with smoking and with global warming, and with plenty of other things as well. The internet isn’t so good at doing this. The internet is inherently diverse, with lots of different opinions. The MSM can – and does – march in lockstep, telling just one story. In the past, it wasn’t clear to people that they were often listening to propaganda. Now that they have second opinons available to them on the internet, they are becoming aware that they are being propagandized.

Speaking for myself, I’m getting tired of being propagandized. I stopped buying newspapers a few years ago because they seemed to be full of propaganda. I’ve now stopped watching TV for the same reason. I’ve become propaganda-averse. In the past, I didn’t know I was being propagandized. But now I do. I get more and more of my news from the internet. More and more frequently, I’m getting my MSM news secondhand, as reported on one blog or other. The internet has become a buffer between me and an increasingly strident MSM.

And perhaps that’s part of the reason why the MSM is in trouble. Newspaper sales are dwindling, TV viewing figures are dwindling too. We may be living in a period which marks the end of the MSM, and the end of a totalitarian propaganda era in history. It doesn’t seem entirely implausible to imagine the demise of all newspapers, and of many TV and radio channels, and their replacement by a network of blogs, in which the blogosphere is itself the news network, with its millions of members as its unpaid army of reporters. There would no longer be the Times Baghdad reporter, but instead the Baghdad Blogger and his friends. And there’d be Bombay Bloggers, and Bucharest bloggers. There would be a lot more news, but it would be unsieved and unsorted. And there would cease to be something that was The News in quite the way there was in the MSM era. It’ll more likely be The Global Gossip.

In the mean time, it looks like there will continue to be two separate realities, the official MSM propaganda reality, and the unofficial internet  gossip reality, with the latter gradually overtaking the former. 

About Frank Davis

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7 Responses to The End of the MSM?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Mac the Knife
    Every time they do this, half-reporting, not reporting, burying or distorting news; someone else wakes up and gets wise.
    ‘Climate change’ and passive smoking were the two areas that irrevocably blew the BBC’s credibility with me, and their ‘coverage’ of the EU put the cherry on a particularly fœtid bun.
    I’m not alone, and I talk to others. Word will spread, slowly but surely, and at some point someone will blow their house down.

  2. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Mac the Knife
    For me, global warming scaremongering blew the credibility of the entire MSM. Newspapers, TV, radio, the lot.
    But in respect of passive smoking, I’ve been angry for the opposite reason: that it’s never discussed at all.

  3. Anonymous says:

    You’ve struck a chord with me Frank. Several years ago I noticed that on my morning train I would never see a Muslim reading a national newspaper. At the time I found it rather disturbing; the fact that a significant minority was cutting itself from mainstream society, and I probably dismissed them as sad conspiracy theorists. It was only when the ban was passed and I started to investigate passive smoking, that I began to empathise with them. Incredible as it may seem, the Sunday Times appears to have become a propaganda mouthpiece for anti-tobacco activists. The latest column, by Prof Britton, detailed by Chris Snowdon contains several pure lies. What makes it worse than the usual ASH-type propaganda is that he is a professor at a highly regarded university and most readers will believe him. Why not? I would have done five years ago. I can only suggest that those in possession of the facts take pains to email people such as Prof Britton, pointing out their errors: not in a rude or aggressive way, but in a matter of fact way. It would also be helpful to email the editor of the newspaper in question. They are probably not aware of what is going on.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Banging on about the smoking ban
    Too bad. It’s too late now, you voted for Cap&Trade. And now you’re stuck with it. It will never be repealed no matter what scientific evidence is. Even in 20 years, long after the threat of climate change has been defeated and the planet is “saved”, Cap&Trade will remain. It has never been about the science, that was a red herring sucker. It has always been about the money from Cap&Trade. That’s what the fight is over in the US Senate. They don’t want to repeat your mistake. Nice work.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Blogs and MSM
    On the other hand, the BBC News website, as well as the websites of the newspapers, are some of the most visited sites on the internet.
    All this reminds me a little of the debate over proprietary vs open source software. Blogs are like open source. BBC News is like Microsoft. Personally I think they will continue to survive alongside each other.

  6. tayles_100 says:

    I know what you mean about the MSM and the way that the internet often deals with reality rather than the party line. That said, the internet is also full of absolute nonsense and madcap theories. If you put too much faith in either there’s a tendency to cherry pick which stories appeal to your existing opinions, which is hardly the same thing as establishing the truth.
    There’s another side to any debate, however, that doesn’t rely on empirical evidence. Even if the official science on global warming and passive smoking was correct, it doesn’t follow that we have to respond to it in the way we are told we should. With global warming, we might say that progress is more important than pointless restraint. With passive smoking, an outright ban was not the only way forward.
    There is plenty of healthy debate and interesting information on the internet, but finding the truth remains as difficult as ever. The fact that we cannot rely on the mainstream media to act as our truth bearers is a shame, but I suppose it ever was.

  7. Frank Davis says:

    Well, of course the internet is full of lots of nonsense. It’s nothing new. To me it’s like a huge bookshop which is mostly full of interesting fictions (e.g. conspiracy theories), pornography, political pamphlets, official minutes, papal bulls, etc, but with a small section devoted to science and philosophy – which is where I usually gravitate to when I’m inside bookshops.

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