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Wolves in Sheep's Cover? On the Era of Blogs and Post-Truth, and the Media Wolves in Sheep's Cover? On the Era of Blogs and Post-Truth, and the Media
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-07-11 07:36:01
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Wolves in Sheep’s Cover?
On the Era of Blogs and Post-Truth, and the Media:
Getting if off one’s Chest: A Personal Reflection

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What follows is a personal reflection that attempts to avoid becoming a narcissistic self-serving exercise. Although the particular persons and events described in it shall remain anonymous throughout, the reader can rest assured that they are not fabricated or fictitious. In any case the identity of those persons, or the historical documentation of those events would not be in any way relevant to the overall theoretical purpose of the narration aiming at uncovering the truth, unmasking so to speak, the superficial shabby times we unfortunately live in.

There was a time, not so long ago, when it was taken for granted that the task of any honest media outlet was that of presenting the unvarnished facts and uncovering the truth. Anything outside of that noble task did not seem to deserve the designation of “news;” it belonged within the world of gossip of the tabloids and scandal sheets. That is no longer the case. Today we have a veritable shameless invention and presentations of what has been designed “alternate facts” claiming to be the truth. One hears of “fake news” which in espionage circle is designated as disinformation.

And the truth shall make you free, said the apostle John. The Nazi minister of propaganda  Goebbels, on the other hand, said that if you tell a lie often enough it will eventually be accepted as the truth. One would wish that, to sound the alarm, a Pinocchio nose would appear on the face of those who so think and act, but alas, that happens in fairy tales for children. In the cynical world we live in, lying unashamedly has somehow become the new normal.

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The abysmal reality is that we no longer live in the world of honorable media (be it liberal or conservative as the case may be) but in the world of blogs and dishonorable journalism, of the ilk of The National Inquirer harassing honest journalists or politicians. This is a world where the destructions of reputations, the practice of slander, libel and character assassination is no longer considered shameful or dishonorable. A world where winning by any means is the Machiavellian principle. Giambattista Vico said that a society estranged from shame, is a sure sign of a society or civilization in rapid decline, caught in mass psychosis, unaware of its impending doom, and he said a mouthful.

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We now live in a world where the success of a publication, of an article, of a book, is measured by how many clicks or downloads it receives and how much money it makes, or how much influence it buys.

Admittedly, this description may appear a bit too general, abstract and ethereal. So, let’s put some flesh on the bones of this intriguing political-psychological phenomenon going on, as we speak, in what has already been dubbed by some philosophers as the era of post-truth. It is a phenomenon related to academia and publishing houses but basically going on in the world of journalism and media, specifically blogging.

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More and more prevalent nowadays are blogs which wish to pass as magazines. That is to say, they gather articles on a particular subject or theme and put it all together under an attractive heading after they have put together a managing board with fancy honorary titles and regular contributors. It begins to look and sound like a magazine, but it is a ruse.

A bona fide on-line magazine would have a technical staff that would take care of editing and scheduling and themes and contributions and correspondence with readers and contributors. It would encourage extra-normal activities and foment a dialogue on any issue, all devoid of bias. In other words, an on-line magazine has all the characteristics of a regular magazine sold in bookstores, except that it not distributed physically, is read on the internet and it is distributed in cyberspace. There are many such magazines nowadays, one of them being Ovi magazine which has been around for more than decade now.

As with regular hard copy magazines, some of those on-line publications are very good, some are mediocre, and some are awful. Invariably, the good ones are those which respect the facts and search for the truth, even when they identify themselves as magazines of opinions and present contrasting interpretations on a particular issue. It is in fact, their respect for intellectual integrity that makes them good, not so much the perfection of  format and editing. The bad ones tend to be biased and prone to promote a particular point of view, propaganda-like, even when stylistically and formally well written. That is to say, the good ones make an effort to shy away from becoming tools of a political ideology, or any other form of propaganda. In that respect they resemble the reliable classical journalism of old.

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And now let me supply an example of the phenomenon, presented as a hypothetical in the third person but a true story nevertheless.  A certain individual who shall here be called Mr. Anonymous, prefers to express his/her views on the internet, having his contributions posted promptly while they are still relevant to current events.

Mr. A. is invited to contribute to an attractive blog which he mistakes for a magazine exploring issues and opinions. Its impressive list of contributors, mostly academics and scholars, seem to have sterling credentials. They deal intelligently with a vast array of geo-political issues worldwide and they are located in every corner of the globe. It appears international, cosmopolitan, innovative (it uses the latest cyberspace techniques), stimulating, promoting discussion and a vast variety of points of view. The description of its platform is also impressive: dedicated to the unbiased pursuit of truth no matter where it leads, embracing no point of view but willing to discuss them all.

Mr. A. begins to contribute to the blog on a daily basis and carries this on for a couple of years and his/her contributions seem to be well appreciated by its editor who even proposes at one point to gather all his/her contribution into an e-book to be presented to the readers. Mr. A. proposes to write a daily column on a prominent political figure in a satirical mode. That too gets approved and implemented enthusiastically and so it goes for several months.

While this is going on Mr. A. begins to notice that of all the academics and prominent contributors, two stand out. In the first place they are both founding members of the blog-magazine. One is a co-chair Honoris Causa, and the other is a Vice chairman (one of 7). One is an American teaching political science and publishing in both English and Russian, Russian born, the other is an Italian with a Jewish background teaching the same subject and publishing in English and Italian.

Mr. A. becomes increasingly aware that both are promoting a notion that contrasts with his/her own position on current geo-political currents. They both appear to be sympathetic to the ultra-nationalism and exceptionalism and populism of both Putin and Trump. They in fact believe that American hegemony is over and done with and that the Russian connection is an overblown fake news story concocted to revive a new cold war. One of them writes a book on the subject and promotes it in the blog. Mr. A. believes that a profitable exchange of ideas and an intellectual dialogue will soon ensue to the overall benefit of the publication and its readers.

However, after a while Mr. A. is told by the editor that his/her daily satirical column is to be suspended. How and why that decision was arrived at is never clearly explained. He is merely informed that he is not making the daily quota of clicks, that his contributions emphasize fake news event such as the Russians’ meddling in the US elections, and its satire shows little respect for the dignity of the politician in question. This was a great surprise; a complete turn around on the initial enthusiasm and praise for Mr. A’s work and its overall quality. Mr. A. begins to feel like a used and discarded object no longer meeting the publications aims and expectations.

Even the regular contributions begin to be neglected or ignored. At that point Mr. A. decides that he ought no longer be associated with the publication and asks the editor to delete his name from the editorial board. The editor promptly complies without asking for the request’s rationale, but he does not stop there. He goes further and proceeds to delete all the hundreds of writings that have appeared under Mr. A.’s name. He has practically vanished from the scene in thin air; as if he had never existed in the life of the publication.

At this point of the phenomenon, which I suspect is becoming more and more common in the world of blogs, misinformation and alternate reality, Mr. A. ponders carefully the significance of what has just transpired and begins to suspect that what has happened at a mere journalistic level in some way reflects what nowadays seems to happen also at the geo-political level: those who dare oppose the official policy line are liable to be disposed of; they are simply fired, or perhaps unceremoniously discarded, discretely or indiscreetly as the case may be; so much for dialogue, exchange of opinions and ideas, freedom of speech and democratic procedures as advertised in their platform.

Welcome to the era of alternate facts and post-truth. As Cicero aptly put it some two thousand years ago: o tempora, o mores!  

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Check Dr Emanuel Paparella's EBOOKS
Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
& Europe Beyond the Euro
You can download them for FREE HERE!
 
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