The Medium is not the Light, but the Prism

We get it wrong again

Pedantically speaking, it is wrong to hate the Media

Yeah- It is very fashionable to hate “the Media.” The Right does it, a lot of people on the Left do too. President Trump has several times now called the “fake” News media: “The Enemy of the People.” Stephen Bannon, Trump’s no-so-crypto neo-Fascist Chief advisor called [the entire] the Media “the opposition Party.” And predictably, countless members of the echo chamber set repeated the line and agreed, most notably, and unfortunately, the journal of late sesquipedalian William F. Buckley Jr. When the proper liberals on the Left jumped at chance to take the bait and called Trump’s comments reminiscent of Mao and Stalin, Rightist authors sprung the trap and called these comments “hypocritical.” The predominant knee-jerk sentiment on the Right these days is summed up as “F — k the Media.”

If I knew the emoji for “hitting myself in the head with a brick,” I would use it right now. Because ALL these people who talk about the media like this are wrong. Oddly enough, Donald Trump, the least literate of the commentators linked above, issued the statement which was probably closest to being accurate. He said the “Fake News Media” not just the media. Not the “mainstream media,” either, though that term is also consistently used incorrectly. But FAKE NEWS Media. But even this is not fully correct. Declaring the Media to be an opposition Party is like saying your computer is the opposition Party. Declaring the news media, even if it is the fake news media, to be the Enemy of the People is the same as declaring the paper part of the Newspaper (the thing that the words are written upon) to be the enemy of the People- as in “This paper stock is the enemy of the people.”

A medium is something through which something else travels. It is NOT the thing which is traveling. Humans move about through the fluid medium of the air, specifically, the molecules of Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen and all the other particles which are suspended in that medium. Fish exist in a medium of water. Light travels through various media before it reaches our eyes. The messages of the recently departed are conveyed to a medium, who then conveys those messages to us. This blog is hosted at the aptly named medium.com, though medium dot com is only the vehicle for transmission of my ideas. The medium usually has an influence on the thing itself- it can bend or slow it. But one thing is for sure- the medium is never the thing which the medium is carrying.

The news is not, therefore, properly speaking, the media. The news is conveyed by the media. Just like the Prism shown at the top is not the light or the spectrum- the light travels through the medium to create the spectrum, but the prism is the medium through which it travels, is bent and separated out by wavelengths. The media would be the television or the physical newspaper or the computer screen. To hate the media then is to hate the thing you use to hear the news or read the news. But it is not the news itself.

Now- I know people will claim there is the “correct” definition of the word and then there is the common usage. “Oh, The New Haberdasher, you are being overly pedantic!” some will say (as if this is bad, somehow). “We all know what he means when he incorrectly uses the term, and isn’t the point of communication to convey ideas? If he has done that, then what’s the point of writing a long post about it?” I know it, and after reading an article about hypocrisy, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit to using the word like this fairly regularly as well, as a kind of shorthand for what I mean. But- that said- this sort of stupefying, and “calling things by their wrong names” and disassociation with Truth as a real thing is one of the reasons why Trump is President in the first place. I have played my part in that, as does each and every person who uses the term unthinkingly for this sort of “Yeah, we all know what he means” shorthand. But I digress.

It is correct to say that Trump thinks the “presentation of facts which are either inconvenient for me, or damning to me, or make it more difficult for me to present the message that I want people to hear,” is the actual enemy of the people. In this case, it is the presentation of those facts which our President and the Rightist cheerleaders which apologize for him object to. Perhaps it is the facts themselves. In this case, Trump and his Squad (some of whom happen to also work in the media of news presentation, just on the correct side, i.e. Pro-Trump side) should say that they hate the news stories that are being written about them. Or perhaps they mean that “Opinions which are contrary to the Official Line are the enemy of the People.” All those would be more unwieldy than saying “The Media is the enemy”, but a more accurate representation of what they are actually saying.

But they can’t just come out and say these things, because these kind of comments would, at the very least, put them at odds with the norms of free expression of thought that we claim to cherish in this country. Our news consumption habits in this country, riddled as they are with confirmation bias, suggest that most of us do not actually cherish free expression, but nonetheless, we still claim to support that, and anyone who sets themselves at odds with that norm, in particular, opens themselves up to all sorts of really nasty charges, some of which are being leveled at Trump for his statements. Which is why Trump made sure to underscore that he REALLY said “FAKE news media” instead of just plain “News reports that are critical of me.” Though that is what he really means, he can’t just come out and SAY that…

But see- the thing is, we all KNOW that this is what Trump, and Rightist attackers of so called “MSM” means when they say that the Media is the Enemy. Trump calls polls that suggest that vast majorities do not agree with him “Fake News”. He calls the news papers and cable tv stations “The enemy of the People” when they do not fawn over him for all things. Right-wing commentators have been doing this very same thing for years. They know what they are doing, Trump knows what he is doing, and we do too. But he can’t come out and say that, because he doesn’t want to be hit with the “authoritarian” critique. So he miscommunicates, deliberately, and so do those folks who repeat his words. The goal is to deceive- it is not merely an error. So much for the “common usage” objection.

Maybe- Trump is actually correct in his use of the term. Not only is the paper or the light or the air the media through which news travels, but news is also propagated by actual people. Someone has to amplify the information, and therefore also serves in the function of “media”. Perhaps he actually opposes NBC as an “outlet” of news, or CNN, the corporation, and their actual editorial staff as an outlet of news. It is entirely possible, because these folks are regularly named in his diatribes against the “media”, while he never- to my knowledge- seems to criticize Fox, EIB, The Blaze, Breitbart or InfoWars. (I don’t have to point out that this group of news sources is arguably as widely consumed as so-called “mainstream” media- the only difference is the political ideology, not the size, of the audience.)

This would make some more sense. I have always said that when I become Dictator, the first people I will go after is those who make profit off of propagating information, corporate presses being at the top of that list. But this is me, a private citizen indulging one of my own authoritarian fantasies. As such, it is costless for me to say this. It is not costless for the President of the United States to take this line, because whether he likes it or not, the United States is not a privately-held business. He is supposed to be a democrat (small “d”, as in supporter of democracy and democratic institutions.) And last I checked, there was no prior restraint in this country. He may be able to sue entities which deliberately and maliciously slander his brand, but as of now, individual politicians have no such right. Once more, I digress:

We all know what he means when he says “The Media”. But we will do ourselves a favor to remember that the media is not what he is really after, unless his goal is actually to shut down the means of transmitting information. Newspapers are not the problem. What is in those newspapers is the problem for him and the Right. Just like the Prism is not the Light, the Media is not the news. And we would do ourselves a real favor to get it right, say what we ACTUALLY mean, and be wary of those who are deliberately trying to deceive us about what they are really up to.

I don’t mean we should turn Trump off when he starts meandering between bragging about imagined success and attacking people for perceived personal slights. I do mean that we should take him to task because he is acting like a self-serving cynical little crybaby. He wants to spend his next four years masturbating for an audience, and he wants us to spend the next four years extolling his brilliance and his exceptional form. It is important that we, as citizens interrupt him as often as we possibly can, especially when he does his job wrong.

It is for the benefit of the country that we have a President that is a competent and enlightened governor. Sadly, our current President lacks those qualities. I believe he can learn, but only if we separate him from his wicked and mendacious advisors and teach him how to be a part of a society once more. It starts with correct, honest, and respectful communication between governor and governed. He has to get at least that right, and we should not rest until he does.