It is not “fake news” but useless news

It is fascinating to talk to my students about Social Constructivism and how it applies to international business, international relations, politics, economics, society, culture, and the environment. It is shocking for many of them, particularly when they realize that the ideas and belief systems that molded them as individuals, citizens, and consumers were shaped by the family, social, and institutional experiences encountered throughout their young lives. What impacts them even more is the realization that they may alter the reality that surrounds them by questioning the constructs that have been ingrained in their subconscious throughout their human development experiences. This is particularly important at a time when the idea of “fake news” has gained global popularity and is now part of the political rhetoric of policy and electoral contests around the world.

President Nicolás Maduro has silenced his opposition and discredited the international community accusing them of propagating “fake news” and this has worked in his favor; the outcome of this weekend’s elections are proof. Next-door Colombians are also gearing up for presidential elections in late May and “fake news” accusations remain at the epicenter of the rhetorical debates between left, center, and right wing candidates. Turkey’s president Recep Erdogan has also used the term to discredit his opposition at the local and international levels, constructing the idea of the need for a strong Executive branch that was catapulted by a recent referendum whose results will transform the Constitution and the balance of power in that nation.

What started as a domestic propaganda campaign to discredit media opposition here in the United States has now gained momentum internationally putting into question, both domestically and internationally, the role of media in democracy. In countries like Canada where national media is centralized through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), it is inevitable to question whether or not the federal government controls the content and delivery of the news that is consumed by Canadians and those that look at Canada from the outside. In countries where media and propaganda systems are controlled by the private sector, it is also inevitable to question the legitimacy of the content because at the end the message targeted to the public will be front-loaded by the agenda and the world views supported by the private stakeholder.

No matter what the option is, the consumer of news is vulnerable to the biases of the propaganda systems used by all the nations around the world. There is no real news or “fake news,” just news. The citizen, the consumer, the propaganda addict, must then use its intellect and its own constructed world views to absorb and digest the information and give it its own interpretation. The problem is when the individual is no longer able or motivated to incorporate its own interpretation and instead passively absorbs the ideas and world views propped by the media. Just like Stitch Fix chooses your clothing for you and Home Chef does the same with what you eat, Fox, NPR and all the others do it with your news.

In the past it was common to read two or three newspapers on a daily basis, and it was normal to find well-researched news programs on radio and television. Journalists and media outlets were committed to fact-finding research and professionals in the field had high ethical standards that were shaped by social and democratic values and not the market. This was the case not only in the United States but also around the world.

Today global media and its professionals are motivated by market value systems that have replaced the integrity of the profession. Media relies less and less on research and more on speculation camouflaged by invited guests and “experts” that magically predict and loosely interpret the basic facts and rumors of the day. For example, instead of thoroughly explaining to the public the degree of interdependence that exists between the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) agreement partnership and the complexity of dismantling the trade agreement that has resulted in an energy, pipeline, telecommunications, infrastructure and industrial trilateral integration, media opts to water down the information in order to simplistically argue that either the Trump administration policies on NAFTA are good or bad.

Media’s simplification of complex issues misinforms the public as in the recent cases of local and international issues such as gun control, the Trump election, the opioid crisis, trade tariffs, Iran, Russia, Afghanistan, China, and North Korea. It is dishonest to not thoroughly report to the public that turning a culture of guns into an anti-gun culture takes generations and a cultural transformation that will go beyond the four-year term of an electoral campaign. Thorough researched arguments and honest conversations by our media outlets would painfully have to explain to the American public that narcotics usage has been part of our cultural reality since the early years of nation building, and that its usage has shaped our culture and our belief systems. That the crises in Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea are the outcome of long-term twentieth century Western foreign policy and that there are no solutions to the crises because that would require the geopolitical dynamics of the international system to be turned upside down; and that China has long-term plans to challenge the United States as the superpower of the world, that we are an empire in decline, that in a capitalist global market system the countries with the most robust consumer markets will dominate the system, and that protectionist measures are the weapon of last resort.

Number of middle-class adults (million), 2015, by region and country.
The Telegraph, October 14, 2015.

Nevertheless, our private-controlled media outlets strategically deviate the public’s attention away from these realities and toward propaganda systems that instead distract and entertain the public, numbing us down day after day. Today news in the United States is, to a certain extend, useless. It is hyper-localized and fragmented, constructing ideas and world views that are completely disconnected from reality. I am astonished every morning when I listen and watch on television media from the left and the right that selectively choose the three or four important themes that we need to pay attention to on that particular day.

Content of media is a joke and one gets more insight from a comedian then a reporter or a journalist. The agenda is set for market and ideological purposes and not for purposes of informing the public. Today, where our presence is felt via our military, diplomatic efforts, consumer culture, corporations, technology, and propaganda systems (Hollywood, cable television, and pop culture) in every corder of the world, local and national media make strategic choices to construct a local America and not a global America.

Instead of informing the public about our daily impact across the world and how the world responds to our influence, media strategically fills the airwaves and broadcast frequencies with commercials, local weather, local sports and local crime news, occasionally dedicating one of two minutes to what happens not only nationally but also around the world.

In a globalized economy we should be informed about what happens in the global market system, how it affects us domestically, how the superpower preserved and maintains its power in the international system, and how its companies propagate or weaken its power across the world. But it seems that in this current era of globalization it is better not to inform the public but to distract it.

No wonder the term “fake news” has so much resonance domestically and internationally; ultimately it is another way of distracting the public. As our technology advances and our ability to communicate across the world expands, we become less and less informed. It is the reason why I tell my students to make a conscious effort to inform themselves, to dig deep into the issues that they are trying to understand so that they can better prepare themselves for professional careers that will inevitably be impacted by the dynamics of globalization. It is important to shape your own ideas and world views and not rely on the propaganda systems to shape them for you so that you may be a better informed professional, citizen, and consumer.

Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the "Glocal" effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth. These are my personal views, and they do not express those of the University of Maine System or the University of Maine.