2017

The trouble with ‘news porn’

The trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. – Hannah Arendt, 20th-century German historian and philosopher

There’s an organization out there that purports to be dedicated to exposing media biases. It calls it itself Project Veritas, which is, to put it kindly, a misnomer. Veritas in Latin means truth. Project Veritas, however, begins by operating on a falsehood. It obfuscates and dissembles by having its agents, when engaging others, lie about who they really are and what they represent. Its mission, according to its website, is to create “a growing and uncontainable firestorm of press coverage.” In other words, not to inform but to inflame and wreak havoc in our civic discourse.

Project Veritas calls its agents “journalists,” but professional journalists do not act with subterfuge. Whether with small-town media such as the Courant or with big-time media such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, professionals are up front about themselves and their mission. Their reports are verifiable and evidence-based, not doctored to fit a prescribed narrative.

Recently, Project Veritas itself made the headlines when one of its agents, Jaime Phillips, tried to scam the Washington Post. Phillips’ goal was to embarrass the Post by getting its employees to offer evidence the Post is not to be trusted as an independent, objective medium but, rather, dedicated to undermining conservatives, especially Donald Trump and Judge Moore in Alabama.

Except that the Post, being the solid professional news organization that it is, didn’t fall for it. It turned the table on the conspirators because of its adherence to strict journalistic standards and practices. It fact checks. It researches to get to the truth of a situation. Like every legitimate news organization, it explores every avenue to get the story right.

Outlets such as Project Veritas don’t adhere to professional standards and practices because they aren’t interested in truth. Their intent is to snooker the gullible by advancing a preconceived agenda to prove something without merit. Facts be damned. It is as Arendt suggests: With Project Veritas, it’s “the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide,” the reason its agents conceal their identities.

And it works.

Grownups know that the world is populated with charlatans and scammers. Wise, discerning grownups approach groups such as Project Veritas with skepticism. The foolish don’t and swallow the goop. To paraphrase Mark Twain in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, only a bunch of “prejudiced chuckleheads” can’t see that one group like Project Veritas is “spinning the truth while t’other one lies.”

Having lived under the iron rule of Nazi Germany, Arendt knew a thing or two about despotism. “Only the mob and the elite,” she wrote, “can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself. The masses have to be won by propaganda.”

There is a clear delineation between legitimate reporting and opinionating and that of propagandizing. Merriam-Webster defines propaganda as “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.”

But the term propaganda seems insufficient to encompass what Project Veritas and its brethren put out. A more precise term is necessary. Perhaps pornography or, better yet, news porn.

According to Merriam-Webster, pornography is “the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.”

That gets to the nub of it. The reason the gullible swallow goop that the wise reject is that they need a “quick emotional reaction.” Porn gives such a rush.

“The discovery of truth,” Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.”

The problem, then, is not so much salacious groups such as Project Veritas exist, but that they’re taken seriously and given credibility by closed-minded people who have convinced themselves of something that no amount of evidence to the contrary can change.

You Might Also Like