When Truth Died and Greed Won

An uneasy silence has fallen upon the land in the wake of the US election. The unexpected has happened (again!) after those lazy, non-voting Brits screwed it up on the other side of the pond four months earlier. Following the gnashing of teeth and the spewing of sour grapes among the young and disconnected, accompanied by a mild rebound of a stock market running on irrational fear and greed, and after some populist after-shocks in Italy and France, the world is nervously waiting to see whether it has been visited upon by a demagogue, a messiah or a con-man, and whether the economy is due for a course correction after two generations of globalization.

What gave rise to these developments? The first thing that comes to mind is that somewhere along the way truth died and greed won. Truth has been steadily devalued over the last thirty-five years to the point where it has ceased to be our moral currency. Greed has won out, greed that doesn’t reside only in the hated 1% but is a disease that has infected even the lowly garbage collector who believes that he will one day become a millionaire. The new climate is one where might is right, where the slick message scores over the honest gaff, where the ruling elite is corrupt and popularly perceived to be sorely in need of punishment, where the cowboy who rides in from the outside and shoots up the town is returning to cult-hero status, where positioning has transplanted admission, and where achievement is measured in celebrity status and money.

Truth has been dying for some time now, since the early ’80’s, when liberal democracy was trumped by Thatcher-Reagan neo-liberalism, and “make money at any cost” became the global operating mantra. Matters came to a head during this last US election. Both parties and both candidates contributed to truth’s final death-blow. Both candidates campaigned as upholders of the truth and yet were exposed as liars, several times, and nobody cared because truth was dead. False news channels kept mushrooming everywhere, announcing contradictory polls and dishing out well-concealed personal dirt on the candidates. Russian spy-games of the James Bond era entered the fray, adding a cinematic touch. After awhile, truth-telling had to be set aside, for no one knew what the truth was any more, and the choice boiled down to: “If this system is so screwed up, I need a change, any change, at any cost.” Enter the President-Elect, the man of the honest gaff, the dealmaker, the admitter to locker room talk that elites normally try to keep concealed, the holder-to-task of corrupt media and corporations; yet he is also a moneyed celebrity, and we wonder whether his image as the maverick cowboy bent on cleaning up Dodge is mere artful positioning? We shall see, for we have chosen him in desperation now that truth is dead and greed has won.

So what will the post-truth era look like? I see media companies being less belligerent and more co-operative for their own sakes, given that their financial positions are now weaker; thus their integrity and relevance will diminish further—journalistic sycophancy will be on the rise. If fringe media replace them, then they too will have to ensure that their message is not subverted in order to gain corporate funding or political patronage. I see more “deals” taking place behind the scenes; the existing, visible ones will be left to wither on the vine. Social Media will become the dominant advertising platform, and the dissemination of filtered news will be governed by an algorithm. The real truth will become even harder to find on the internet, even though the Net will also be the place where you will find sincere nuggets by those caring to bare all, risking censure. When “leaks” about the establishment take place (and there will be more of those!) the noise will be so deafening on social media and on the street that people will tune out, for emotion would have crowded out judgment providing impetus to the new ruling elite to carry on unfazed. Elite? I thought that was an obsolete word? Didn’t we vote in an elite-bashing cowboy? Nonsense. We just replaced one elite with an unproven one comprised of several novice gunslingers.

But all is not lost. In this post-truth era, I see an increasingly vigilant role for citizens who are concerned with the public conscience, who are essentially the public conscience, who are committed to uncovering the truth, and who are willing to stand out from the crowd by distilling the issues down to their essence so that even the unwashed get the message. This is not the time to retreat into a cave and wait out the next four years. Much would be lost if the new steamroller is left do its work unchecked over this period. This is the time to channel the steamroller to do as much good as it can while its propulsion lasts. A populist leader needs the cheers of the crowd; boos will make him unhappy and force him to rethink his strategy. And we need to boo and cheer in equal measure when appropriate so that he gets the message, even if it has to be limited to tweets in the Twitterverse where he spends a lot of his time.

Thus, as the new administration girds up its loins and heads off into unchartered waters in the new year, I hope that Americans and the rest of the sane world will be alongside, encouraging when warranted, opposing when necessary, holding to task when promises fizzle into thin air, and most of all, becoming engaged like never before in the flawed but crash-tested political process that keeps western democracies from slipping back into the abyss, an abyss that looms closer now that truth is dead and greed has won.

Citizen Journalism vs. Traditional Journalism – which should we trust?

I have been following this ongoing debate as to whether free journalistic content on the Internet and real•time amateur photos uploaded from the world’s flashpoints will outpace traditional journalism. No, say the traditionalists: our investigative journalists go deep and cover many viewpoints. Wrong, say the citizen journalists: our information is current and we have no profit motive behind it. We are impartial, counter the traditionalists. You are paid by advertisers, so you have to be politically correct, say the rebels. Our personnel risk their lives in the world’s hotspots and many of us have died in the line of duty, say the traditionalists. We are in the line of fire, says a rebel, poking his head out of a bombed•out building to snap the latest atrocity on his iPhone and upload it for the world’s viewing pleasure (or horror).

I am not sure who is right. Certainly, Internet 2.0 has provided for an instantaneous dialogue between writers and readers and we are not satisfied any longer with just the bare presentation of facts, arguments, propaganda and lies. And the very static “letters to the editor,” – that is, the traditionalists’ old fashioned attempt to stimulate audience participation – pales under the online world’s “like” and “comment” buttons that accompany most e•journal pieces these days. “Going viral” happens faster on the Internet than in traditional media. The fact that most traditionalists have embraced the Internet to issue e•versions of their paper editions means that they don’t want to be left behind. To make matters worse for the old guard, the recent telephone bugging scandals of the traditionalists have not endeared them to readers. Traditional content providers are out to sell advertizing – we all know that – so mass appeal is where their interests lie and the citizen journalists are left to cover the niches. Therefore, one could argue, how comprehensive is traditional journalism if it is shaped by a powerful sponsor with vested interests?

Not getting paid for citizen journalism, while this indicates purity of intention, could also include poorly written pieces and content emanating from those with undisguised axes to grind. But we have also heard of “right wing” or “left wing” newspapers in the traditional space. On the other hand, traditionalists are lifers and insist that their journalists are immersed in their subject, and provide accuracy, structure, responsibility and voice, while citizen journalists are scattered in their presentation and may quickly get bored and move onto other pursuits once they have had their fill of saving the world or exposing its underbelly.

I too have dabbled in citizen journalism and like the fact that I do not have to pay obeisance to an uncaring editor who may edit, alter, or reject my submission because it is not to his liking or displeases his sponsors. It has allowed me to view the world and comment on its idiosyncrasies while maintaining a paid career elsewhere. I do not entertain ads on my website or blog for the privilege of being free of interference. I have thus managed to escape the moniker of “jaded journalist” or “corporate lackey.”

I am not sure which side is better for both have pros and cons. I am grateful that Internet 2.0 has allowed many of us who care, to share our views with the world without relying on the narrow portal of traditional journalism to showcase us. It has also given the reader a wider spectrum of opinion to consider and a bigger headache in sorting out the wheat from the chaff.