Get ’em networked (status of forces check)

Prior to watching Bernie Sanders totally handle Wolf Blitzer in Monday’s CNN Town Hall, I had watched MSNBC for half an hour, while I listed their ad sponsors. Then I found some Pew research that showed how almost six out of ten American adults still get their news from television. For the vast majority, that means — apart from local news, where we listen for morning weather reports — at least half of us are getting the “news” from one or more of three outlets: CNN, MSNBC, or Fox. In October 2018, 2.8 million people watched Fox for news, 1.5 million watched MSNBC, and 931,000 watched CNN. This is understandable when you factor the age demographics between TV-newsers (older on average) and online-newsers (far younger on average). The Fox cohort is the Trump cohort is the older, whiter cohort. And there are substantial though not majoritarian numbers of people who mix their news media, also relying on radio (25%, a right-wing stronghold) and print papers (20%). (And we need to face it, NPR is All Neoliberalism All Day Every Day, brought to you by Lockheed-Martin.)

Local news accounts for 46% of viewers. Network news around 30%. Cable News a little higher (31%). Most viewers watch combinations. But cable is the chief outlet for so-called “in-depth” news, where they deploy squadrons of talking heads and subject-matter “experts.”

We pay closer attention to money and politics these days, in particular, campaign contributions and “independent” ad buys, because they reveal something important about candidates — who they serve. But cable channels Fox, MSNBC, and CNN are commercial outlets, dependent on ad buys, and at the same time, they are articulations of capitalist civil society — opinion-makers, ideological managers, and the stenographers of power — who survive electoral cycles, and who are still extremely influential. But their influence depends on us dismissing what we already know when we are attending to the details of the latest “story,” that is, that they represent the interests of actual people and enterprises who are pure political animals . . . and exclusively members of the ruling business class. When I watched MSNBC, they were paid for by Silicon Valley, a host of online enterprises, Wall Street, the defense industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the real estate industry, the insurance industry, Big Agri . . . on it goes. We know it, but we choose to ignore it. Americans tend to give the greatest credence to the slickest performance. We are, after all, a postmodern culture that privileges performance over substance.

Fox has become a mere tool for Trump’s cult of personality, and time is dealing with the ultraright through demographic attrition, but CNN and MSNBC are a problem for the growing social democratic movement, which some of us see as phase one of a socialist movement. They are a problem, because the left is in a precarious but hopeful situation. We cannot mount a credible electoral challenge for state power yet, except through the Democratic Party. That could change, but the momentum is with this effort for the time being, so we are fighting on two-fronts by turns. We join all Democrats to blunt the neo-fascism of the Republican Party, but we are engaged in a civil war with Democratic neoliberals and “centrists” to get on the Duopoly’s ballots.

CNN and MSNBC are instruments of neoliberalism, MSNBC being effectively just an arm of the DNC establishment, and both are hostile to the social democrats. This doesn’t just come out in the glaring hit pieces against Sanders and other social democrats; it is incorporated into the “news cycle” through selective reporting. The grotesque distortions of all the mainstream media on Venezuela and Palestine ought to tell us a great deal, but there is also a powerful narrative of neoliberal coherence designed to cultivate our trust in their own expertise — which is largely exchanging gossip about what happens in Washington, DC.

In the old days, a leftist group would start a newspaper. I used to pass them out, and few people wanted them, most who took them trashed them, and we wasted a lot of money and trees. This hasn’t worked since around 1935. So, how do we change the way people get their information about current events? Or more to the point, how do we correct the misinformation and disinformation that constitute the neoliberal narrative in a way that undermines its credibility?

In short, we have to do two things: (1) Tell a different story, and (2) put the alternative story in front of people. Donald Trump’s handlers found ways to end-run the media, but before they could do that, there were decades of preparation (right wing radio paved the way) for people (Tea Party types, gun nuts, militia-fantasists, aging middle-class men who were raised on Westerns, negrophobes, xenophobes, patriarchal revanchists, et al) who had (like the left now) been marginalized by the hegemony of the mainstream media. They told a different story from the mainstream media (which was The Story when many of them grew up, then touted by mainstream media). It’s a false story, a destructive story, and a hateful story . . . but the story is the most powerful thing.

What is our story? (Think global. My preferred story is one that combines compassion FIRST with history as a process.)

What are our media bypass tactics? (Think local.)

The comments section is open.

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Stan Goff

Author of the books “Hideous Dream,” “Full Spectrum Disorder,” “Borderline,” “Mammon’s Ecology,” and “Tough Gynes.”