Only 23% of the public believes journalists are acting in the public’s best interests. Trust in media is so low that half of Americans now believe that news organizations deliberately mislead them. It’s so bad that “authorities … have a novel idea to restore public faith in their work: They can improve trust, they say, by renouncing objectivity.” “Objective by whose standard?” asks a former executive editor of the Associated Press. If the public can’t even be trusted not to jump to the wrong conclusion because they’re too stupid for nuance, if they need things spelled out in crayon or else they won’t understand, then objectivity is like pearls before swine.
Besides, objectivity presents puzzles to the unprepared public. It doesn’t explain things, doesn’t tell a story; it is not helpful. Instead of confounding the public with open-ended mysteries, news should instruct, uplift, unify, and motivate. For much of its history the term propaganda was used as a near synonym for public relations, advertising, education and edification. To those out to save a stubborn world, often despite itself, objectivity was not always helpful because it muddled the issues, sapped the will.
Besides, when no one believes in you any more, which is pretty much the case now with the media, then the only thing left is belief in yourself, until finally there is only self-reference. “I can buy myself flowers. I can go the distance. I can save the world.” The transition from reporter to savior is a natural one for some personality types because every resource is eventually diverted to feeding oversized egos with endless evidence of their superiority to others–which they value above all. Narcissism appeals to progressives in particular. That’s why every progressive education begins by instilling alienation. “You have no father; no temple; no gods.” The world where you belong you have yet to create. We all know the song from Disney’s Hercules: “I have often dreamed of a far-off place Where a hero’s welcome would be waiting for me…”
If that far-off place seems shockingly uniform with everyone using the same talking points, centrally generated by the cultural gatekeepers, shouldn’t you be alarmed? Are you sure you’re not in Hades, Hercules? Or is Hades, like objecivity, really a matter of definition? In totalitarianisms, neither the credibility nor accuracy of the media is really unimportant. Their actual function is to suppress information, reduce the bandwidth, and semantically impoverish speech to get everyone to march to the same drummer. The idea is to reduce variance and suppress outliers. In such a system, you never know the truth but you know with precision the offical party line.
By contrast, in genuinely free societies the crowd is always somewhat out of step because the journalistic reports on which the public bases its conclusions will vary to some degree from the others as independent measurements always do. The ultimate truth may be unknown, even unknowable, but what matters is that the footholds we have carved in the rock below us are as trustworthy as we can make them in a world that remains a mystery to the end. Since journalistic honesty can never be guaranteed, increases in the information gathering power and analysis made possible by technological advances must compensate for human bias. While we may never return to the paradaisal state of media “trust” by hoovering up increasingly available signals and processing them ourselves, we can still get a good picture.
Perhaps the reason so many “conspiracy theories” turn out to be true is because the public now have the means to figure out a lot of what the MSM are incapable — or unwilling — of unearthing themselves. This proved true of the Wuhan lab leak. Open Source Intelligence beat “fact checked” MSM narratives in the matter of the origin of Covid. “The crackpot Covid theory that was dismissed by scientists – but is now the most likely scenario … is now the sober conclusion of US government agencies.”
To cite another example, it was OSI, not NORAD, that first publicly reported the China “spy” balloon. “The balloon’s first reported sighting was on February 1, 2023, when civilians on a commercial airliner spotted it. On the same day, former Billings Gazette editor Chase Doak … contacted his friend and Billings Gazette photographer Larry Mayer, and the two photographed the balloon using telephoto lenses. Mayer also sent the images to various government agencies.”
After the photographs were published in the Billings Gazette and received widespread media coverage, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Canadian Department of National Defence announced on February 2 that NORAD was aware of a high-altitude surveillance balloon believed to belong to China and had been tracking it for “several” days
And it was the late Paul Murdaugh who captured the voice of his killer on Snapchat while taking his last video at the family kennels on the night he was murdered. He caught the killer from social media. Given enough data-gathering power and crowdsourced resolution, OSI can produce surprising results. Perhaps the future of journalism lies, among other things, in such things as programmable AI filters, commercial imagery, and social media reportage. The growing network of digital data gathering works not just individuals, but institutions too. The era of the single trusted narrative may be over, but in its place will be multiple competing hypotheses in an increasingly fractious political space.