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6.3.17

How Yellow Is Your Journalism

To many people, especially those who have not studied media history, the phenomenon of "Fake News" may seem like a new issue.  The idea of massive media empires controlling the political discourse and publishing questionable stories has a long and sullied history, notably in the United States, but certainly not limited to that flamboyantly exceptional nation.

In fact, Fake News used to be known as "Yellow Journalism" and was inextricably linked to Democrats and Progressives well over 100 years ago by a mythical character names William Randolph Hearst.  His media empire still exists, though certainly not as influential as is once was with over 30 newspapers and dozens of magazines and periodicals.  For one thing, no one reads anymore.

The term "Yellow Journalism" originated during the war between Hearst and Pulitzer in the mid-1890s, when the two media moguls dueled with glaringly bold headlines, sensational topics and lurid front-page images - much like most media today.  Hearst is frequently credited with the dubious honor of having single-handedly starting the Spanish-American War by using his media outlet to drum up public support and pressure on politicians.

Yellow journalism is characterized by hear-say, anonymous sources, little actual research, manufactured facts, and a fairly colloquial style of writing that appealed to large numbers of working-class readers.  The "yellow" part comes from the color of the cheap paper used for the publications to maximize profits.  Cheap ink and shoddy printing practices also caused significant "rub off", or blackened fingers, adding to the 'dirty' reputation of yellow journalism.

Orson Welles' brilliant first film, Citizen Kane, was a fictionalized tale of a Hearst-like character.  AT one point, the jaded Kane and his wife are sitting at the breakfast table reading competing newspapers.  The wife complains and Kan's antics will cause people to think...and he finishes he thought with, "What I tell them to think."

The scene and the dialog perfectly encapsulates not only the Hearst (and Pulitzer) philosophy of journalism, but neatly summarizes what much of the mass media have become over the last century and a half.  On any given Tuesday, one can hear "unnamed sources" or "tweets" taken as quotes without even modest follow-up.shows how pervasive yellow journalism has become.  In addition, the reverence and deference shown to Obama and Clinton, versus the vitriol given to Trump belie the still inherent Progressive bent of the mass media.

This is not to apologize for the modern media - they are slimy, vile dogs fighting over scraps at the city dump.  Instead, the point is to understand that fake news did not appear overnight, is not unique to the current culture, and in fact is part of a long tradition in American media, which has spread its error to the world at large.

Granted, the dry reporting of facts and figures can send even the most ardent insomniac into deep slumber, but the boundaries between facts, opinions and outright lies has long had a 100-pixel Gaussian blur applied to them.

The current Fake News scandal does have its advantages.  It serves to make us aware that accepting anything from the mass media at face value is at least anti-intellectual, if not actually dangerous.  To be fair, it is very difficult to write on any topic without the writer's opinions sneaking into the narrative; however, the best writers clearly separate fact from interpretation.

For all its own fantastical yellow journalism, the Bible does rightly point out that there is nothing new under the Sun. Fake News is far from being new and really not even that scandalous anymore.  The recent awareness of it should, however, cause us all to pause and ask whether what we are reading and hearing actual facts, or interpretations with often severe ideological slants  Consider the recent uproar a freshman-level class in mass media and a wake-up call to prevent ourselves from being led by those with somewhat obscured agendas who use their privileged platforms to create news, rather than report it.

Folks would do well to watch Citizen Kane, in many cases fo the first time.  Not only is it a masterful film with an engaging story, but its observations on the Media Beast are well made and apropos.

It would also help to click the link above and read up on "Yellow Journalism".  It may surprise some to realize just how little has changed in 150 years.  It will not only greatly reduce the credibility of the talking puffballs on your 4K Plasma Home Theater, but it would also be helpful to know that the effort to bamboozle large numbers of people into believing things that aren't true has a long and sordid history.

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