• The Medium is the Message: “Created News” in the Age of Trump

    December 11, 2017

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

    About a week ago most major media outlets announced, again, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was about to be replaced. He is still in office. Was the story a non-story? Time will tell, but no matter what happens to Tillerson, we are in the era of created news, stories based on no facts, written to dominate the news cycle, not inform.

    Take Billy Bush and that infamous Access Hollywood tape. The New York Times recently reported a source (“a person familiar with the conversation,” so at least second hand) claimed Trump privately questioned the authenticity of the pussy grabbing tape. Nearly all established media outlets quickly jumped on the report, giving it greater validity simply by repeating it across the web until it could not be ignored. Sheer volume sent the story trending on social media.

    Amplification also carried a neat twist: the source for the secondary tranche of articles became in most cases a credible “New York Times reports…,” not the second-hand somebody from the original report. But unless you bothered to chase the tale around the web links, you’d never know how little the whole thing was based on.

    The next cycle were stories claiming Trump didn’t deny (the modern equivalent of the “Are you still beating your wife?” question) the anonymous-sourced original story. No one questioned the logic of having to deny something that may never have happened in the first place. Those non-denial stories were followed by commentary from second-tier media who proceeded as if the initial story was true, seasoned with the anxiety and outrage their readers demand as salve to their own anxiety and outrage. The third wave of articles were more sober, such as Op-Eds back in the New York Times, full circle, proclaiming Trump’s non-denial of what may not have ever happened as evidence of his instability. Or something.

    The point is no longer to inform — remember, journalism — it is just to keep the ball in the air, in this case to score political body blows against an easy, unpopular target. And for those who are fans of the surreal, the one person who truly seemed to benefit from all this was former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush himself. Bush, fired in 2016 for essentially being too much of a bro’ with Trump back in 2005, made late night rounds auditioning for redemption by sanctimoniously confirming the authenticity of a 12 year old tape no one was seriously questioning.

    This is all damaging enough when the subject is a puff of air like the Access Hollywood tape. The tape is from 2005, and its importance to voters was adjudicated by the last election. The game turns darker when the same strategy is applied to people.


    Welcome to Rex Tillerson’s world. Last week’s stories of his impending firing/resignation (and in other weeks past and future, those for Sessions, Mueller, Mattis, Kelly, Kushner, Ivanka, et al.) were crafted whole by the media out of anonymous sources. They have circulated almost since his first day in office. They have alternated between announcing UN Ambassador Nikki Haley as Tillerson’s replacement and proclaiming CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement. Each story was based on the usual anon-sources, themselves a mystery even in anonymity — were the no-names actually Chief of Staff John Kelly with a trial balloon, or a White House intern passing on a bit of cafeteria gossip? We don’t know and the reporters do not seem to care to differentiate. What did matter is that each story published was blown bigger as multiple media outlets re-gifted one another’s pieces, a house of cards with no real base to stand on that grew taller and taller as new outlets grew not much of nothing into breaking news.

    The stories themselves eventually reached a critical media self-generated mass such that the administration was forced to again formally deny something that may not have even happened. The media in turn took the denials from Tillerson, Trump, and the White House spokesperson, and simply dismissed them — of course they are lying! It was the White House against the word of an anonymous source! Anything short of a full declarative denial was relabeled “did not actually deny,” something in 2017-speak that counts as a sort-of “yes.”

    Of course Rex Tillerson will leave office at some point, and you can expect the media to claim his skin when he does, much like a weather forecaster announcing rain every day, taking credit for being correct on the wet days and saying on sunny ones “Just you wait, I’ll be proved right in the end!”
    The disturbing arrival of created news on the media table is mirrored by other unpleasant trends. While much of this has deeper roots, the mass nervous breakdown that afflicted America on November 8, 2016 seems as a good an official start date as any other. Tricks that used to be the stock and trade of rags like the National Enquirer and its ilk, things like clickbait headlines at odds with body of the story, are now part of CNN and the Washington Post’s vocabulary. Opinion and commentary blend together with “reporting.” Where once journalists took pains to separate their personal political beliefs from their reporting, follow modern journalists on Twitter to see their pride in being hyper-partisan in their unedited, personal comments. There are other new normals: it is perfectly acceptable to call out the president with schoolyard-taunts, or make a crack about the orange man-child, or toss out homophobic jokes about Putin and bromance. Writers build whole columns out of lists (“ignorant… churlish… tacky”) of personal insults.

    Donald Trump’s victory was loathsome to the majority of journalists, whose cultural and partisan blindness lead to them misreport the election. Their reaction is this “new journalism.” Though it is unlikely to fade during Trump’s tenure, despite continuing issues with falling public trust in the media, the real question is what will happen after that. Will the hyper-partisan new journalism shift to Target Pence? Will it follow a Democrat into the White House? Is it possible for journalism to snap back?


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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Recent Comments

    • John Poole said...


      Good encapsulation PVB of the lunacy and infantile stasis in “journalism” today. Billy Bush- radio and television host? He might have a second act- why not a third and fourth? Maybe Kato Kaelin and OJ can do a shared podcast! Tens of millions would tune in.
      PS. Norm MacDonald’s “roast” of Matt Lauer’s journalistic creds years back has now become a classic.

      12/11/17 9:53 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      Media= journalism= social media= …. Gossip

      Bunch of opinionated BS. Complete with an Agenda.


      12/11/17 11:24 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      And…. Too make my point…..


      Diet Coke anyone ???? And these asshats shape public opinion????…. WTH???!!!????


      12/11/17 12:12 PM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...


      For me, the saddest thing about this development is that we did it to ourselves – no blaming “the Russians” for this one. (Though it wouldn’t surprise me if someone tried to go down that road at this point.) Our Fourth Estate has largely flushed its credibility down the toilet in search of more mouse clicks, higher ratings and greater ad revenue – no wonder public trust in the media is about half of what it once was. The average citizen must now act like an intelligence analyst while reading the news, trying to suss out how reliable sources actually are, whether the story in question is actually just circular reporting etc. – all things that responsible journalists used to do. As to the question “Is it possible for journalism to snap back?” what incentive is there to do so at this point? The First Amendment (quite correctly, IMO) allows the media to be largely self-policing in this country, so until the public grows tired of “created news,” nothing is going to change. Which is very bad news indeed.

      12/11/17 1:37 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Rock On!!!!! Three points for the win.


      12/11/17 2:24 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      12/11/17 2:28 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Joe: An informed public? The public only wanted all along to be entertained and amused and damned if the ruling elite didn’t figure that out just in time to maintain the plutocratic status quo. Enquiring and critically thinking minds are always threats to empire. Our “eyeballs” don’t count.

      12/11/17 3:03 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Fake news is OLD news: “we are in the era of created news, stories based on no facts, written to dominate the news cycle, not inform.”

      Judy Miller and the rest of the war whores are the second oldest profession.

      12/12/17 8:23 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Off subject as usual for me I know. Inspired by the recent NYC ISIS bombing I’m submitting an addendum/embellishment to the Statue of Liberty poem (ironically composed by a Jewish gal).
      “Give us your misguided and ignorant jetsam from failed Muslim countries and regions….” Well, it’s a start.

      12/12/17 9:22 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...



      You are right. We have enough domestic white trailertrash terrorists.

      12/12/17 11:45 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Bauer- I think the MSM likes of reliable mix of domestic and imported killers. Thanks for picking up on my concern.

      12/12/17 1:48 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      I know that has to be sarcasm…. Pretty sure your Not condoning that racist horseshit…. Are you?


      A lot of different ways to say something without bringing race into it.


      12/12/17 7:31 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...



      Roy Moore and Donald Trump would beg to differ.

      12/12/17 8:36 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Mitch Islam isn’t a “race”. It is a stupid and vile belief system. Oh, same with Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism. all religions. They are all toxic and all believers in a single male deity are a threat to the continuance of the species. We need something completely different. The old thinking is killing us now. I don’t know what is in store but I know nothing around today works.

      12/12/17 11:11 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Roy Moore can now pursue his new career as a high school substitute teacher.

      12/12/17 11:11 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      I was speaking of this…

      “Rich Bauer on December 12, 2017 at 11:45 said:
      You are right. We have enough domestic white trailertrash terrorists. ”


      You have clearly answered why the State Department has so many issues.
      You claim to be black and work for State.
      And you take that preconceived BS to work?… Then wonder Why State is disfunctional and being defunded????

      But… Look… Bauer… You have attempted/ managed to “change the narrative”… Now its Trump and Moore that are racist… Not you.

      Such horseshit.


      12/12/17 11:42 PM | Comment Link

    • Lisa said...


      Per, “Is it possible for journalism to snap back?”

      …sadly, “no”, I think. Once you’ve jumped the shark, there’s no going back.

      People are affixed to their PDA’s, and must have easy and sensation fodder to forward (next to their artfully-created dinner-platings and cats.) There will be no cutting of the umbilicus for them.

      That the outrage that masquerades as media today has been palatable for this long tells you that the people are getting the pap they can digest.

      What has been revealed is the hypocrisy and bigotry underlying the “Good Guy” mask of many professed liberals. It is cold comfort that at least it is visible.

      12/16/17 7:22 PM | Comment Link

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