Looking Behind The Media Mirror

The recent intense debate about 'fake news' is misleading.

The dominant source of information - the so-called mainstream media - is making self-interested claims about its own reliability in order to try to destroy confidence in the even less reliable and complicated eco-system of the political blogosphere. The mainstream media, in whom large corporations have invested immense sums of money, are in the uncomfortable position of themselves being tested and found wanting in terms of their own truth-telling. They feel existentially threatened, even cornered.

It is not that the mainstream tell out-and-out lies - they rarely do - but they speak in half-truths, with little analysis provided of how they receive their information and whether their sources are reliable. They are often too obviously creatures of third party-administered campaigns to grab some 'moral' or political high ground. All that the alternative media have done is to chip away at our belief in the mainstream media by pointing out these half truths and failures of analysis. The alternative media are dodgy but they can also be truthful in pointing out the dodginess of their rival.

In other words, we have a massive crisis of confidence in all sources of information. The general population is becoming sceptical of any data presented to them as true or they choose the data that meets their partisan prejudices or, and this is progress of sorts, they use the new availability of multiple sources to square the data, see through the special interests engaged in campaigning and come to their own conclusions on world events. On balance, partisan believers now seem to be out-numbered by sceptics and independent-minded cynics and that strikes us as healthy.

Each week we are faced by a new 'story', actually a campaign, that appears to be the truth until one starts to look outside the usual suspects and read other sources. At the moment the two 'biggies' are the globally co-ordinated claim by the liberal internationalist establishment that every political reverse is somehow the fault of the crooked Russians and the black-and-white narrative presented by Western mainstreamers about the horrors of Aleppo. Only a few decades ago both narratives would simply have been accepted at face value, even taken as read for patriotic reasons.

The opportunity to test narratives against multiple sources chips away at claims that are either not yet evidenced (as in the Russian case) or only partially evidenced (as in the Syrian case). Many people accept both narratives at face value but equally many do not and, in not doing so, start to take the mainstream system at less face value. They even start to get a little angry at being taken for a fool - and become fearful that the agenda of the system is to deprive them of some hard-won right or victory. This certainly applies to the fringe paranoia of Trumpers and Brexiters.

A closer analysis shows us that the narratives in question have to be seen contextually. The 'it's the Russians' claim is not seriously about turning the Electoral College against Trump but is the attempt of a system that will be out of power, short of the proverbial lone gunman, in one month's time to establish as much political high ground as possible for a later come-back. The Syrian narrative is about those placed on the back-foot by the Iraq disaster trying to invent a story that will restore their fortunes. One should always look behind the mirror in international affairs.