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For example: let's suppose that I am a conspiracy theorist and commentator, my job is to report what goes on in the world of politics, social media, and give my opinions.

Is it self-defeating to tell my followers: “you shouldn't believe or trust anything the media tells you because all they tell you are lies”

Or am I just being bias?

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    No, as long as you are careful enough to qualify "the media" so as not to include yourself. E.g. "the left wing media", Fox News anchors do it all the time.
    – Conifold
    Nov 11 '20 at 23:25
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    I think this is more a question of rhetoric than philosophy. Telling people not to believe others -- particularly large groups -- is not very effective rhetorically, because it's just an assertion. More effective statements are things like "I've never known a story about something I knew about personally to be accurate, so they can't be trusted." (Note that if any large proportion of what they is untrustworthy, they are untrustworthy.)
    – Mary
    Nov 12 '20 at 0:39
  • Mary's probably right; this probably isn't really a philosophical question. I think it falls more under political science. Unfortunately, there aren't many polisci forums where you'll get straight answers. So do your own research, compare different sources, and remember - experience can indeed be the best teacher. Nov 12 '20 at 5:25
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Journalism and journalistic ethics is an interesting topic for philosophy, one that should be considered more. The propagandist attitudes of Hitler's & Stalin's regimes assumed that control of news was an essential function of the power of the state. That gave rise to samizdat media and literature, illegal radio stations and so on. Against a background of tightly controlled mainstream media, for instance in France & the UK & their widespread censorship before WW2, this made sense. But, there is always a 'black economy' of media, where censorship occurs. That has frequently included outrageous fakes like the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, as well as greats of literature & reportage like The Gulag Archipelago - the original Encyclopedie in France was banned by the Church I think three times, but that undermined the Church more than that project. The DPRK still follows such a propagandist approach, they are really hostile to cross-border radio transmissions (cited as cause of recent military action against South Korea). It's notable that while there are some gains for a government (inc Church) in tight media control, there are also costs to trust and percieved integrity.

It's good to look at the early history of mass-media. Historian Niall Ferguson makes the fascinating case for a parallel between the early days of the printing press & and our early days of the internet. Early pamphleteering helped create the witch panics of the 17th century, and helped fuel religious disputes related to the 30 years war, long before contributing to the enlightenment. We can relate this to a need for critical thinking and education to become much more widespread, & an iteration of that now. Citizen journalism presents a powerful challenge to the old model of a kind of 'guild' of journalists, initiated into emergent cultural niceties long before being able to see their words race around the world.

Journalism has always had to balance sensationalising and embellishing, with integrity and perceptions of authenticity. Increasingly I'd say - perhaps all along- it is individual journalists, especially as commentators, who count more than platforms, on contentious issues.

Chris Hedges is a fascinating case, he quit the New York Times where he led the Middle East desk, after getting a written warning for speaking out about the invasion of Iraq. His team won the Pulitzer for their post 9/11 coverage of terrorism. And he was arrested for refusing to be controlled by the US system of embedding war zone journalists with military units, & limiting where they go. He went on then to write longform about some of the most serious issues facing us today. So, he represents to me both the strengths and weaknesses of our system of journalism, the endless compromises of the work, which he frequently refused, but also the vocation, sense of mission, and the moral compass of a great journalist. He speaks on the death of journalism here.

The perception of a news source will be defined by it's reaction to critical moments in news. Like Wikileaks was able to lead on various stories and generate that profile, but was then manipulated into a partisan position on the Clinton-Trump election, that greatly undermined them. This kind of infrequent high-stakes testing is exactly what integrity is all about, and why human culture has developed 'detective' skills for evaluating integrity. I would argue this is a big part of why elections tend to focus on personalities rather than policies too. It is notable that Al Jazeera is (arguably) the first uncensored news outlet in the Arab world starting in 1996, which can be related to politics more widely there (and a parallel drawn to the situation in Europe, of the much earlier era this de facto emerged there).

Alex Jones basically started a witch hunt against the parents of children that died in the Sandy Hooke school shooting, and was succesfully sued for it. David Icke recently got kicked off Twitter for saying covid is a conspiracy, as well as 5G, all after a long era of dressing up antisemitism by talking about lizard-people. Sargon of Akkad & PewDiePie got demonetised on Youtube. These are emergent boundaries in our modern media environment, cases of people going too far for our emerging consensus. A great deal of contention happens around this, and the difference in stance between Twitter, who censored many of Trump's Tweets, and Facebook which did not, is notable. It's not a democracy. And at some random point, the governments of major markets for these companies will weigh in. Pizzagate motivated an armed assault, and there comes a point where freedom of speech must be balanced against the need for rule of law, when people call for violence.

Some topics are uncontentious, like weather forecasts (though I can assure you market gardeners who they have more consequence attached, keenly scrutinise & tabulate who's forecasts have been most reliable). Many topics are matters of opinion, like whether we should have invaded Iraq - and we really rely on specialist knowledge, powerful arguments, and knowing a commentator has a moeal compass, to get the best advice there. Inbetween, it's a lot about who has journalists where, Reuters & the BBC have people everywhere, and rely on trust on prestige to sell that on, though it could be argued as a result they have to be timid about how they interpret the events - you can see BBC controversies here, and the much shorter list of Reuters criticisms here

Saying “you shouldn't believe or trust anything the media tells" is made ludicrous by the weather forecast example. It makes it look like a motivated statement: listen to me, don't listen to them. And in practice people know that, and make distinctions - an earthquake in Turkey won't get the same scrutiny & critique as who won the election in the USA. What is easily falsfied, whether an event happened & the number of dead, is different to what is not easily falsified, eg 'the media's hostility stopped Jeremy Corbyn getting elected in the UK'.

I'd say journalism is a vocation, in flourishing societies. It's a net-benefit to have accurate reporting of facts & events, and especially around contentious topics & events sources with prestige & integrity who have reported accurately before will have disproportionate influence. There are contending forces, press-baron hegemonies, state medias, online platforms & their focus on 'engagement' regardless of social costs. A Pew Research Centre study suggests even on mobiles, people very much want long-form journalism, and there is evidence some long-form journalism is highly shareable on Twitter.

I am inclined to see it as an ecology, with different scales, and types of process & events. I would say in critical moments, when we doubt givernments & leaders, & major corporations/platforms, journalists with a history of integrity will win-out over conspiracy theorists like Icke who always go for predictably easy answers. Historically with the printing press we all had to become critucal readers & news consumers. With the internet we perhaps all have to become critical writers & news producers - and that might involve some major chaos while the norms & peer pressures evolve. Fundamentally, that, is on you. What do you think? That's the only real answer.

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  • You wrote, "I'd say journalism is a vocation" and "I am inclined to see it as an ecology." So is journalism a combination of vocation and ecology, or is it somewhere in between, like vocology? Personally, I'd say it's more of a vocation - paid propaganda. Nov 12 '20 at 3:17
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    Also, you focus on the usual villains - the Nazis, Alex Jones and David Icke while apparently promoting Facebook and Chris Hedges as heroes. Seriously? The Germans were latecomers to propaganda. Jones and Icke are propagandists who are despised by most credible conspiracy theorists. And, thank you, but I really don't like the idea of letting Facebook and Google tell me what I should believe about the coronavirus or anything else. "I earned my PhD with Facebook!" Nov 12 '20 at 3:20
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    @DavidBlomstrom: Your comments make me think you did not even read the post, which actually is quite balanced and critical of (some forms of) journalism as well as censorship. Also, this is not a platform for distributing personal convictions or rants.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Nov 12 '20 at 8:16
  • @Philip - Actually, I read the entire post, including the novel ending: "What do you think? That's the only real answer." That should be designated the default answer to every question on this forum, don't you agree? As for your comment about rants, I've seen enough of your BS. I'm keeping a screenshot of this "discussion" for my records. Nov 12 '20 at 11:47
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    @DavidBlomstrom: "credible conspiracy theorists" 😂
    – CriglCragl
    Nov 12 '20 at 15:41
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You shouldn't believe or trust anything the media tells you because all they tell you are lies.

No one hates the media more than me, and I speak from experience. I've run for public office and have been variously lied to, lied about, unfairly insulted and snubbed by the media.

However, the statement you posted isn't true. The media have to tell the truth sometimes. If they didn't no one would trust them.

The secret is to broadcast just enough truth to make people trust you, then weave your magic through a combination of "lies of omission," deception and occasional blatant lies.

By "media," I'm including books, by the way.

The media can actually be a wonderful source of information. You just have to analyze what they say very carefully, compare accounts from different sources, and use a little logic to try and figure out what's true.

Incidentally, I'm finishing up a book titled "Conspiracy Science," and I quote from a variety of media. My goals are often to point out media lies and deception, but there are also a lot of factual quotes.

For example, if a media rat (to use a more polite term than they deserve) says there was a terrorist attack on 9/11, he's speaking the truth. Something big did happen on 9/11. And if a media rat says he worked in government that's probably a truthful statement - and a very revealing one, because government is about as trustworthy as the media.

One final note. You mentioned conspiracy theory. As you probably know, the media are waging a fierce war against conspiracy theory, and just about any article or book you read about that specific topic is going to be packed with lies. Believe it or not, I still haven't found a really good book about the topic, aside from books about specific conspiracies.


Edited to add a note about philosophical references...

A good place to start is the article "Is Journalism Anti-Philosophical"

Wow, who knew that Wittgenstein and Nietzsche were so contemptible of "journalism"?

In fact, philosophy, like science, has been heavily infiltrated by propagandists. Check out the book Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate. Some of the contributors are more journalist than philosopher. In fact, the more honest ones don't even claim to be philosophers.

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  • Public experience = public office? You don't bring any philosophical references to the party.
    – CriglCragl
    Nov 12 '20 at 2:54
  • Thanks for pointing out my typo. I fixed it. Nov 12 '20 at 2:57
  • By the way, where are YOUR philosophical references? Nov 12 '20 at 2:58
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    @DavidBlomstrom: Judging from your comments on your source, you have either not read it or deliberately misinterpreted. Your only source is quite clear about what makes good journalism and how the Wittgenstein and Nietzsche quotes are in line with people who falsely claim there was anything like "the media", from a time long past. Coming from an MA in political philosophy, the interview is actually quite insightful and balanced. Something I cannot say about your baseless, biased, opinionated post.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Nov 12 '20 at 8:21
  • @Philip - Thanks for your usual, so predictable rant. Nov 12 '20 at 11:49

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