Consider Wikipedia. When it was first introduced, (and even now), it wasn’t considered a valid source of information. This is because it’s not written by one person who we can be sure is an expert on the topic. Instead, it’s a collection of facts and explanations inputted by various supposed experts, edited over and over until it’s exactly what we need to know. Anyone who uses Wikipedia knows that in fact, it’s one of the most valid sources on the internet. It’s everyone’s knowledge together and naturally unbiased because for every person that tries to input their opinion, there’s another to remove it.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about truth in media. People have been becoming less and less trusting towards large media corporations for a long time. What would happen if those corporations didn’t exist anymore? What if news was put into the hands of the public? Could there ever be such a system? When Ashton Kutcher beat CNN at being the first to have a million followers on Twitter, he said that it signified that we the people can have as loud a voice as major news outlets.
“In this day and age… for one person to have the ability to broadcast to as many people as a major media network I think sorta signifies the turning of tide from traditional news outlets to social news outlets, because with our video cameras on our cell phones and our picture cams and our blogging and our Twittering and our posting and our Facebooking we actually become the sources of the news, and the broadcasters of the news, and the consumers of the news.” -Ashton Kutcher in a video on youtube
Jencine Larsen has created a revolutionary kind of media with her website WorldPulse.com which features articles submitted by women around the world. It covers stories that wouldn’t be covered in traditional media and gets them to you right from the mouths (or rather fingers) of the women who are experiencing them. The stories you read on World Pulse are some of the realest out there.
Thinking about these things has brought up some questions for me, like “how can we make sure that our media sources are valid?” and “What is the nature of truth — is it one single voice or can it be a collection of voices?” The answers to these questions are huge in predicting where media is going. To try to get some answers I ventured to one end of the spectrum, WhatReallyHappened.com.
What Really Happened is an alternative news source website with the purpose of illuminating lies that the government and media has fed us. I figured that whoever was behind it, whom I found to be Michael Rivero, would have something to say about truth in media.
Extinct: What is the nature of truth in media/on the internet? Do you think that there is simply one truth or does it depend on perception?
MR: Truth is fact filtered through preconceptions and belief. I prefer to deal in facts and trust my readers to figure out what it all means. Facts are, or in theory ought to be, absolute. Everything else is advertising for some product or agenda.
Extinct: Is the mainstream media inherently corrupt?
MR: Corrupt may be too strong a word, but there is no question that corporate media is subservient to the wishes of their owners and advertisers. As just one benign example, after Disney purchased ABC, ABC never ever did a bad review of a Disney movie. On a more serious level there was a notorious case with FOX News and Synthetic Bovine Growth Hormone. Details for that story are here. There are many more such examples.
Thomas Jefferson always said that the highest duty of all citizens is to keep themselves fully informed, so that they can make good choices. To that end, the First Amendment to the Bill Of Rights guaranteed a press free from censorship by the government. However, even in Ben Franklin’s time it was recognized that Freedom of the Press really only applied if you owned one, and owners of printing presses were motivated not only a desire for more readership and and revenues, but were well aware of the power and influence they wielded, and how much more wealth they could accumulate by using it.
One of the worst abusers of the printing presses he owned was William Randolph Hearst. He saw it as his right to steer the political course of the United States into a war with Cuba, mostly because a war would sell more of his newspapers.
Because of the abuses by Hearst and others like him, laws were passed that limited how large any one newspaper company could become. The idea was that if there were several newspapers in a city, each with their own point of view, citizens could read several different versions of the same story and work out for themselves what made sense. When radio, then television came along, the laws were expanded to cover the new media as well. Thus adiversity of opinion was preserved in society.
But starting in 1990, George Bush (Sr.) started working on changing the laws. Bush knew that an objective media had been a huge factor in arousing public anger against the war in Vietnam and eventually bringing it to an end. Bush needed a media which would not question his plans for wars in the Mideast and so he made a deal with the largest media outlets. If they would go along with the “embedding” and report the war the way the White House wanted the war reported, Bush in turn would end the laws limiting how much media any one corporation could own. The media dutifully followed the government script on the wars without question (including the infamous”Incubator” hoax) and Bush rewarded them with a wide-open hunting ground full of small stations and newspapers ready to be gobbled up. This was when we started to see the huge media mega-consolidations appear such as ClearChannel. As a result of this loosening of the rules in 1990 and more recently again in 2003, all corporate media in the US is under the control of just a dozen CEOs, and they all know who they owe their wealth and power to.
Virtually every media CEO also sits on the Boards of Directors of other corporations whose financial interests are very much affected by media reporting. It is an obvious conflict of interest in light of the public trust of the airwaves, but at the moment, perfectly legal.
Extinct: How can you tell if a blogger or a website is telling the truth?
MR: You have to take that on a case by cases basis. Get the facts then decide for yourself. And remember this; a lot of fake bloggers (or floggers) are working for the government. They will be honest and truthful while building their audience, then when needed ordered to sell you a lie. Like TV and radio and newspapers, 90% of everything you will get will be truthful. It’s that 10% you have to watch out for. Your best defense is to have a healthy dose of skepticism for ALL media, corporate or alternative.
I discourage trusting anyone, even me. (I can make mistakes or get used just like anyone else).
Extinct: What sources do you personally find most trustworthy?
MR: My method of operation is to search the foreign press for a story, then look in the media of a different country for confirmation. The very first question you should ask when you read a story is whether it makes any sense at all. You have probably heard all these dire warnings that Iran is going to bomb this or that, but does it really make sense? Iran is trying to avoid a war, not start one. Then when you realize that a story does not make sense, the next question is, who benefits? Who gets what they want if this story is believed?
Anyone can be lying, or if not lying, they might be a victim of a hoax played on them. Common sense has to tell you that everyone in history who was ever used, betrayed, or double-crossed had it done to them by someone they trusted.Covert operatives, like FBI informants will work for weeks and months to win your trust, then use it when they need to trick you into doing whatever it is they need done. Look up the history of COINTELPRO some time.
Extinct: What do you think is the best way to get reliable information?
MR: Multiple sources. And I do not mean 5 websites quoting the same original report. And having enough education to spot an obvious lie really helps. You need to learn to trust your own common sense.
Back in 2003 Bush (the younger) tricked America into war with Iraq with this story about how Iraq was buying uranium ore from Niger. The story was an obvious lie because a quick check of Iraq’s industrial base confirmed that Iraq has lots of natural uranium within their own borders. They did not need to import it from Niger.
Extinct: If we were to give up believing in mainstream media, what would be the consequences?
MR: I don’t think people should allow belief to control their lives, regardless of whether we are talking about the mainstream media or something else. As children we are literally bribed to allow beliefs to control us. Believe in the Easter Bunny and you get chocolate. Believe in the Tooth Fairy and you get money. Believe in Santa and you get a bicycle, etc. Children are taken into Kindergarten and Sunday school when they are still too young to understand that the big people tell fibs and they are indoctrinated with beliefs of a benevolent and loving government. As people grow older, their personalities grow up around those core beliefs until those beliefs become the core of their identity. The proof is in the language. “I am a Republican.” “I am a Democrat.” “I am a Muslim.” The identity of the person becomes submerged and they BECOME that which is believed in.
And once you allow beliefs to control you, you become controlled by those who shape the myths that you believe in. But getting back to your question, I think we have already reached the state where most people no longer trust the corporate media, which is why we are seeing them lose their audiences and advertisers to alternative media. And I think that as people stop trusting the corporate media it will put the burden of proof back on that media and the government. If government cannot get away with lying any longer, then maybe they will decide truth is a better option.
Extinct: If CNN were to go out of business, would the next trusted news source simply turn into a replacement of the same nature?
MR: Initially, yes. But when CNN, FOX, ABC, etc. etc. etc, all go out of business, someone is going to realize that a fundamental change needs to occur for future corporate media to survive at all. The old model of a monologue by the news programs is already obsolete. New media will have to get used to the idea of an audience that can and will fact-check their stories.
Extinct: How can we as a society support valid news reporting without mainstream media?
MR: Same way we did before there was mainstream media. We talk to each other.
Extinct: How would you define the blogosphere?
MR: The ultimate expression of democracy in action at the informational level.
Extinct: Has the internet helped us to spread the truth or has the expanse of sources muddled it?
MR: Overall, the internet has brought the truth out to the public. The Internet is a brutal jungle for information where only the fittest (most truthful) survives. Prior to the blogs, a lie by the government might not become known to the general public for decades. It took thirty years to reach the point where 50% of the American public understood that there was a cover-up in John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Today the life expectancy of a government lie is measured with an egg timer!
Extinct: Is a “citizen journalist” e.g. a blogger speaking from their own experience, more or less reliable than a paid journalist?
MR: I think it is more accurate to say that we are LESS likely to be influenced by money and politics than our better-paid comrades! We are outside the system, and there in lies our freedom to remain objective.