This is an entry in a series that may or may not be completely selfish. I’ve gone back and forth over the years on how best to describe my ongoing ideological journey, or truly if it’s worth describing to you, the reader, in the first place. At the same time I have a tendency to grow weary of debates raging on Facebook and Twitter rather quickly.
And so what I’m offering (perhaps only to myself) is a brief chronicle of books I’ve been reading, enjoying, arguing with and adoring. Of course, I agree with precisely nobody on every issue, so if this were a Twitter account I’d say something like, “An entry does not constitute an endorsement.” That being said, life is just too short to read bad books and you can be sure that if I feel like I’m wasting my time reading it there’s a small chance I’ll write about it…mainly because I am selfish.
Thanks for indulging. Feel free to reach out with push-back, questions, etc.
Journalist Matt Taibbi (I promise this is the last Taibbi book I mention for a while…but man he’s good) constructs an expose of the current media landscape. As an explicit update of Noam Chomsky’s classic Manufacturing Consent, the underlying idea is that the terms of debate within media discourse, from Fox to CNN to MSNBC to the New York Times, set the terms of acceptable debate within a narrow, power-reinforcing conversation. The shift since Donald Trump’s election in 2016 has been that the goal is now explicitly to pit GOP voters against DNC voters and visa versa.
What Drew Me
Matt Taibbi is one of the few high-profile journalists on the left (along with Glen Greenwald, Aaron Maté and a few others) who were skeptical about the Russiagate narrative from the beginning. In Hate, Inc. Taibbi lays out in detail the self-serving nature of many self-serving pundits’ largely baseless accusations against Donald Trump (who may well be guilty of any number of crimes…just probably not this made-up one). Taibbi is a challenging and troublesome writer who consistently forces the reader to question tribalism and group think. In other words, he’s, in many ways, the epitome of a dogged journalist.
The most important lesson I took is that much of the issue with the way news is reported to us in the current reporting philosophy is to keep us glued to the news. If we are constantly outraged, we will stay for more. If I turn on Fox and can immediately see how terrible Nancy Pelosi is, or if I turn on CNN or MSNBC and find out that Trump is really a Russian spy or something I’ll never want to turn off my side’s intrepid reporting. Meanwhile the parts of the news that actually affect our lives (war, homelessness, health care, etc.) rarely see the light of day.
Taibbi has an entire chapter devoted to showing how the news is generally reported in the same silly way that we consume sports. Two sides, ostensibly opposed to one another, though in reality serving the same purpose, shouting at one another. Both sides will claim to be experts in literally every topic under the sun, nobody ever admitting to being uniformed or to simply not having an opinion on a particular topic.
This book was a breath of fresh air for me and can serve as a welcome corrective to the addictive and over-hyped mass-media landscape that conveniently devotes scores of time to silly conspiracy theories and rarely focuses on what the rest of us actually care about.
“Hatred is the partner of ignorance, and we in the media have become experts in selling both.
“I looked back at thirty years of deceptive episodes – from Iraq to the financial crisis of 2008 to the 2016 election of Donald Trump – and found that we in the press have increasingly used intramural hatreds to obscure larger, more damning truths. Fake controversies of increasing absurdity have been deployed over and over to keep our audiences from seeing larger problems.
“We manufactured fake dissent, to prevent real dissent.”