The most provocative, fascinating, and bizarre piece I read today

The author is Ron Unz, and the topic is what the media chooses to cover or not.  His thoughts run in directions very different than mine (I favor invisible hand mechanisms to a much greater degree, for one thing), but here is the essay.

It is entitled “Our American Pravda.”  It is difficult to summarize.  Maybe some parts of this essay are totally, completely wrong, so I urge you to read it with caution.  But still I thought it was worth passing along; if nothing else you can read it as a study in how a situation can look “very guilty” even if perhaps it is not.

One excerpt is this:

These three stories—the anthrax evidence, the McCain/POW revelations, and the Sibel Edmonds charges—are the sort of major exposés that would surely be dominating the headlines of any country with a properly-functioning media. But almost no American has ever heard of them. Before the Internet broke the chokehold of our centralized flow of information, I would have remained just as ignorant myself, despite all the major newspapers and magazines I regularly read.

Am I absolutely sure that any or all of these stories are true? Certainly not, though I think they probably are, given their overwhelming weight of supporting evidence. But absent any willingness of our government or major media to properly investigate them, I cannot say more.

However, this material does conclusively establish something else, which has even greater significance. These dramatic, well-documented accounts have been ignored by our national media, rather than widely publicized. Whether this silence has been deliberate or is merely due to incompetence remains unclear, but the silence itself is proven fact.

The original pointer came from @GarethIdeas, who describes the piece as “totally fascinating.”


Unz's article seems to be chipping away at what Mencius Moldbug calls "The Cathedral."

In a democracy those who operate the levers of public opinion ultimately exercise an enormous amount of power. Popular "sensibilities" constrain government action at the boundaries. But on the margin public opinion can easily be swayed by how information is presented and filtered. The most relevant institutions in this regard are the media, universities, and think-tanks.

It's best to think of our government as democratic at 30,000 feet. But as you zoom in to more specific policy questions we effectively operate as an oligarchy controlled by "insiders" and "wonks".

Moldbug's progressive/secular cathedral that holds power in modern America is the Media, the Universities, and the Bureaucracy.

Probably way too much power given to "universities' and not enough to "lobbyists".
One thing I learned from the sequester debate is that there is a tightly integrated nexus of lobbyists, public advocacy groups and special interests that is capable of puting enormous pressure on congress to keep funding things they want funded. Eveon something as retarded as the national helium reserve got a majority of votes to continue its existence.

Lobbyists hold much less power than universities. This isn't to say that lobbyists don't influence a lot of outcomes. What power they do have they wield in a highly consistent and focused manner. But the fact remains that exercising your power frequently doesn't mean you hold a lot of it. No one would deny that the Supreme Court has an almost unimaginable amount of power in our current system. And that fact is not diminished by the fact that they exercise it very parsimoniously.

A simple algorithm to determine who holds more power in a system is to determine who would most likely win in a conflict. For example the Supreme Court holds more power than the President because they can and do overturn presidential decisions when they disagree.

Universities simply hold much more credibility than lobbyists in the eyes of democratic voters. Meaning that on an substantive issue they're highly likely to win. Particularly the more publicized the issue is the more democratic pressure will favor the university's side.

Consider a simple hypothetical: The EPA is considering raising the standard for pollutant X from its current threshold. One study is published by a group of public health researchers at Stanford claiming that the current threshold is far too high and poses a high health and environmental risk. Another study is published by a research institute that receives its funding from a group of major coal and oil companies. The study concludes that the pollutant at current levels has no effect on human health and lowering the threshold would impose high economic costs.

Which one will the vast majority of voters instinctually side with when reading that? I'm an extreme free-market right-wing nut and even I would be knee-jerk skeptical of the lobbying group. Of course very few people will ever bother to actually read and compare the two studies to evaluate their respective merits. Also everyone will immediately suspect the lobbying group's ulterior motives, but glance over the fact that academics also have motives other than truth seeking. And that manipulation of data to produce desired results to help one's career is far from unknown in higher academia.

You haven't really thought out your simple hypothetical. It doesn't really matter what "the vast majority of voters" think. First of all, the "vast majority of voters" probably won't be informed about pollutant X. Secondly, among those that are informed, the "vast majority" will again not care enough or not have a large enough stake in the matter to take any action. Among those who are informed and do care enough to take action, there is no way to directly influence policy/legislation... other than hiring a lobbyist.

I don't think we really need to even look at hypotheticals; look at reality. There has been broad scientific consensus that climate change is real and that there is an anthropogenic component to it for at least a decade. Consistent lobbying has resulted in government inaction and a partisan divide on this issue that doesn't exist with other scientific issues.

John's reply indicates the power of both the universities (in dumbing people down) and the media. From the claims that climate change is real and that there is an anthropogenic component it does not follow that the government should do anything. Such a conclusion requires many other findings, such as that the anthropogenic component is dominant (no consensus), that the harms of anthropogenic warming outweigh the benefits (there is no consensus on this, the evidence suggests the opposite), or that the costs of arresting AGW are greater than the costs of adapting to AGW (no consensus, likely adapting is cheaper), or that there exists some viable and sustainable mechanism by which anthropogenic warming could be stopped given the interests of all the global players (no evidence that such a mechanism exists).

The universities and the media have successfully inculcated the non-sequitur that "AGW exists" implies "the government must do something", when the reality is that the government "doing something" primarily involves massive income to well-connected special interest groups (such as the carbon trading boon to investment bankers, Enron, the green-energy corporate welfare train, etc...). As someone with years of experience in the natural sciences before I became an economist, the hijacking of science for the benefit of the state and its cronies represented by the AGW movement is incredibly disturbing.

Your hypothetical is missing the rather important fact that the industry study will be promoted by the expensive ad agencies in the industry's employ and the inexpensive politicians in their indirect employ. The public won't be sitting around dispassionately evaluating the scientific merits or even the implicit biases of the competing studies. They'll be "informed" about the issue in the context of the political debate, which is always simply reported as "Some say X, others say Y" with little (if any) critical analysis of the merits of the opposing claims. The public's view of the relative credibility of academics vs lobbyists has little effect in shaping public opinion on an issue like that, and even less in determining political outcomes.

What sort of ulterior motives do these academics have? if anything, you'd think they'd have rather strong competition for telling the truth, what with the tens of thousands of universities able to conduct this sort of research worldwide.

Where's the money in being a tree-hugging hippy? It's got to be less than the money in the gas/oil/coal industry. You're absolutely right that we shouldn't throw a report into question without looking at its methodology or who wrote it, but universities do seem to have much more incentive to be accurate.

Power is not one-dimensional, and there are kinds of power that don't help you win a dispute today but may help you prevail in a generation.

Modlbug? Well, of all the internet reactionaries, he does write the most words. I guess that's something.

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Agreed. TAC often has brain-jarring articles, articles that don't fit into any kind of NYT, WSJ, Economists, Atlantic, Weekly Standard outlook. You come away thinking, like Tyler, "Well I don't believe that part, but the rest? Huhn."

Just because he thinks that something is true and important, doesn't mean that other people have to agree, and other people's failure to agree does not mean that they are covering up anything.

Considering things like the Trayvon Martin story, the null hypothesis has to be that the media are just effing dumb.

Why was it dumb?

Dumb in the sense of buying any story, no matter how silly. Not dumb in the sense of missing a good "story."

Okay, you are right, stupid OR liar.

You, sir, are insulting people who are "effing dumb".

It should be pointed out that Roy Unz, the author of the piece, is the publisher of The American Conservative. If he wants coverage of these topics, why doesn't he tell his writers to go forth?

He does, and did. Unz cites his own magazine's articles repeatedly.

I come from a engineering background, where "why hasn't someone done this?" queries gets replies of "go for it and publish the results." So I guess that's why my natural response to "why won't mainstream media cover this?" is "you have a magazine, tell your writers to get on it"

Unfortunately, the AC is not part of the mainstream media; it's readership base is tiny. All he can do is publish what he wants and hopes one of the big boys notices.

I'm guessing it's because he doesn't want liability in case his own magazine mis-identifies the wrong people.

His very point is that there is a media which picks up stories from each other. Small stories in small publications end up on the front pages of big publications if they are deemed important enough. Unz publishes a journal whose stories seem to be hermetically from the major media. Perhaps he is just upset that the larger media doesn't run with any of the "big" stories he breaks.

The American Conservative is an opinion magazine. They do not employ reporters. Andrew Bacevich is their only contributor one might read (in other venues) for some measure of insight. Most of the rest are poseurs.

You didn't read teh article before commenting, did you? HEre are some quotes I pointed out in a 2012 article...

In 2008, I commissioned a major 3,000-word cover story in my magazine...

...I produced a 15,000-word cover-symposium on the scandal...

...and his 3,000-word article in TAC [the author's very own The American Conservative] presented some astonishing but very detailed claims...

...expanded her detailed charges in a 2009 TAC cover story...

12,000 Facebook likes. They get less traffic than marginalrevolution.

If the London Times covers an American scandal, don't you think it's worth mention by the New York Times?

provocative, fascinating, and bizarre

Didn't strike me as any of those things. Yes indeed different groups have their groupthink.

But the article lumps together phenomena that have very different causes behind them. The WMD and banking fraud scandals were complex issues that were debated at the time based on the info that was available; people are not that interested in Vietnam these days etc.

The final paragraph is just over-the-top conspiracy talk.

The anthrax and Edmonds things OTOH are pretty wild if true ..

In the same paragraph he slams the FBI the media for going after the wrong individuals and mentions the multi-million-dollar settlements for doing so, and then wonders why the FBI and the media won't use his own pet evidence to go after some unnamed individual...

He insists that anyone using Google for a half hour could have identified the anthrax perpetrator, but the FBI is unable to do so. Sorry, not buying it.

He opens with a discussion of Harry Dexter White. I am not sure when White was identified, but it would have come as no surprise to working politicians or their staffs in 1948 that the federal government was shot through with Soviet agents. That understanding governed public policy implemented by the Truman Administration and promoted by backbench legislators like Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon.

Problems with the accounting used at Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac were an object of attempts at legislative correction sponsored by the former President and Sen. McCain, among others. How does this qualify as an obscure story?

It is also a terribly slimy way to make a case against someone. If you mean to accuse someone of the anthrax murders, just go and do it. Do not do this sly "anyone can figure it out" nonsense. It's demeaning.

I prefer discretion in the media. That poor Atlanta security guard, Ivins, Hatfill, the kid fingered in Boston, and so on will never get their life back from all the Google hits. Unz's somewhat-modesty ("Am I absolutely sure that any or all of these stories are true? Certainly not, though I think they probably are") in omitting the name of someone he strongly suspects is laudable.

He doesn't name the people he blames for the anthrax, but he does link to an article in his magazine that does name them, though it does not conclude that they are definitely guilty.

Sibil Edmonds was apparently a low-level munchkin who worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation for all of six months. Do you think there might be some skepticism in order that she knows much of interest?

She passed a polygraph. Golly-molly.

Do you remember that great line from "Seinfeld": It's not a lie if you believe it.

She was under a federal gag order for some time. Little reason to do that unless she knew some things worth gagging.

Just out of curiousity, whose signature is on that gag order? She sued the Department of Justice in the summer of 2002 and the suit was dismissed two years later. Can the civil procedure mavens enlighten us on whether any instructions from Judge Walton issued 11 years ago would still be in effect given that her appeals were exhausted in 2006 (I think)?

I see this dame has been quite a favorite of various elements of the subcultural press - The Village Voice,, Vanity Fair. The notion that she has been ignored is difficult to credit. Among her supporters is the American Civil Liberties Union (just adding to their dubious causes, I guess).

Which other of ACLU's causes are dubious?

"Little reason to do that unless she knew some things worth gagging".

She was hired to do intelligence-related translation. Clearly any such work would include strict non-disclosure rules, which she was breaking by making these claims. There would be good reason for a gag order whether the claims were true or not. False claims can be damaging. And unsensational, but still sensitive, intelligence information could be revealed in the process.

The main problem about the article is its excessive certainty about the truth of the "real stories" that are not covered by the media. And this story was the weakest of the bunch. It is a bunch of completely unsubstantiated claims by a low-level government employee. The fact that it got a major story in the Sunday Times and a few media people now think it is a big deal does not constitute additional evidence.

Whatever you think of Wikileaks, Bradley Manning was only a private.

Excellent point. You don't have to be head honcho to cause a lot of damage (or do a lot of good, depending on your perspective).

Yes, that is true. But the point is that large portions of this story rest entirely on her word. And the level of her employment in government does speak to that. Someone at a higher level of government would be in a position to know more, may have a reputation that makes their word carry more weight, and usually has a lot to lose by making false allegations.

As a low level employee of the FBI who had already been fired, Edmonds had little to lose (and a lot to gain) by whistleblowing. It is also questionable that highly incriminating would be entrusted to her. None of this proves her wrong--she could still be correct about all of her claims. But it is good reason to take those claims with a grain of salt, and not treat it as a major bombshell story (in the absence of other evidence).

Wikileaks was not staked on Bradley Manning's credibility, since there were many thousands of clearly authentic documents released.

I remember seeing her on 60 Minutes, which I suppose counts as a major media outlet. It is possible that she isn't telling the truth and/or has nothing interesting and verifiable to say anymore?

Does your disembodied internet snark derive from the London Sunday Times three-part front-page series, Daniel Ellsberg (her revelations as “far more explosive than the Pentagon Papers”), Philip Giraldi's TAC article, or Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy's public support, a DOJ IG report finding allegations “credible” and “serious”? Or, does your anonymous certainty come from, "some dude once said something once...another time ago...CHOOOOM interception, dude!"

(I'm teasing, as Joel Madden sang in his duet with Katie Couric, "The Internet: Sinking Under a Rip Tide of Lies": making up shit is so sublime/I do it all the time)

Biggest stories ever, that would have shaken the very ground on which the American media stood, had they not been the cowardly Communists they are! Coincidentally found in... my newspaper!

What's bizarre is how he keeps referencing the length of the material he references. "500 page book" "3,000 word article" "3 part series" like the length of a text tells you anything about its value.

yes, this is the telling flaw... bloodymindedness. it's part of the paranoid style: overwhelm with tiny convincers. and soon Eisenhower is a Communist, as the billboards proclaimed in my Orange County, CA childhood--because how could it be otherwise?

It is all about power and access and laziness. And incuriosity. My solution is to stop buying. Eventually I hope some starving journalist will decide to ask obvious questions routed in a jaundiced view of those who hold power. in exchange for a meal.

People Who Do Not Share My Fixations: Lazy, in Thrall to the Powerful, Incurious

You think so? Isn't what you said just a lazy stereotype?

I'll admit to biases, and one of them is to begrudge the consumption of my time with opposing quotes from politicians, for example. How about in depth look at what they do in legislation or administrative action. There are some doing that and I'll pay to read them.

I'm not sure about all the specific stories he cited, but the broad phenomenon sure looks real to me. The prestige media in the US seems like something of an echo chamber: what stories are worthy of attention and which are not is largely determined by what the other media outlets are reporting. And so, sometimes big stories go more-or-less unreported for years, and when they come out, it's really striking that nobody chased them down earlier. (The Madoff story was like that, I think. And there were people pointing out the housing bubble and impending mortgage crisis for a couple years before it happened, but very little of that made it into the prestige media.)

I think it's easier to see this effect in the way some fairly trivial stories get amplified to becoming big stories, as far as I can tell mainly just at random. For example, the Martin/Zimmerman shooting was tragic, but probably there have been a hundred shootings with dubious self-defense claims since then, and almost nobody has heard of them. There was an ideological slant to that story's reporting (though it's not clear how well the facts of the case actually support it), but I imagine the main reason it got to be a big story was because newspaper X reporting it meant that newspaper Y felt they needed to, as well. If there'd been more news that week, none of us would have ever heard about it. And my impression is that a large fraction of the stories that show up in the news are like that. Like Paris Hilton, they're famous for being famous.

The comments seem to be missing a key thread. Americans, think that Normal Rockwell painting of a town meeting, have always operated on a common sense realism assumption. What the newspapers were saying was largely the truth. Politicians might be liars, but they are transparent liars. Voting is a rough system, but the outcomes roughly correspond to the will of the people. It is that assumption that has kept conspiracy theories, third parties and nationalists at the fringes of American political life. Our current media and elite environment has broken those trusting assumptions. Whether it is through incompetence, just the skewed worldview of that group that can't or refuses to see some things, or willful action you can't really say. But what it has done is opened Americans to a world where the truth is hidden between the lines and not in them. And that changes who we are as a people. Not for the better.

Well said, Mark. This comes to the heart of the matter for me. What will change when the national "common sense realism assumption" is shattered?

Waco? Ruby Ridge? The list goes on and on, doesn't it?

Both, in my mind, are largely the result of amazingly naive and incompetent government. I think roughly half the population chalks it up to "well, they may be horrible, but at least they are trying" at least at the time when the popular moral panic is in effect.

In that vein, how much of the media-public complex is like a record label seeking the next blockbuster/moral panic?

Maybe next time someone complains about Christians being persecuted in the Middle East I'll just say "Waco".

All those women and children burned to death for no crime other than being religious loonies: everyone expects the American Inquisition.

Who started the fire?

Metaphysically, the government. This is Waco:

Government: 1. These dangerous anti-government types are stockpiling dangerous weapons. 2. We can go in with shock and awe and have a great photo shoot and not have our asses handed to us 3. Oops (see 1).

Jesus, imagine what would have happened if the Dividians were actually what they were accused of being- revolutionaries with automatic weapons.

Mark Twain: “If you don’t read the papers, you are uninformed. If you read the papers, you are misinformed.”

Journolism, as practiced by the big pink newspapers and the lemming, libreal MSM, is ad infinitum making up stuff (distortions, exaggerations, fabrications, misdirections, omissions) ad nauseam to support the nihilistic, regressive "agenda."

Lenin's head of Pravda (truth) said, "Truth is that which serves the revolutuion." That's a problem because revolution doesn't resurrect Eden. It raises unnecessary Hell.

Fake but accurate. False but justified.

That, my children, is all you get.

please spell check or are these clever jokes ?


Are you an alimentary skool teecher?

Anyone who studies American history in depth will reach two conclusions: conspiracy theories have been around since the start of the country (and, as Hofstadter recognized, American politics has this paranoid style); a lot of crazy stuff has gone down (some of which was noticed at the time, and some of which took place totally under the radar). I can't make up my mind about whether things have gotten worse. The alternative is that we're just getting older.

"Whether this silence has been deliberate or is merely due to incompetence remains unclear"

A third possibility is that the contemporary media is a market failure. Whereas bloggers blog because they enjoy it, big media has "a responsibility to its shareholders to maximize profits" or something. Maybe nobody in the major media thought the McCain/POW story had a good target audience. It'd be bad for business to print that story.

The market is great at providing people with cheap mobile phones. Not so great at providing people with good, objective journalism.

"market failure"!?! ... you seemed to have posted on the wrong blog.

I agree, but my question is if there is a use for this stuff beyond the web? The signal to noise ratio has to be higher than mainstream media (frightening) ... do people really want to the sorting and weighting? And if they did, why aren't they online?

The market for objective truth is thin ... both supply and demand.

My abandoned academic career was based on this!

Information itself is very obviously a public good, and thus, it's a prime candidate for market failure under any interpretation.

That is, the factual content itself. Most news, even the "straight news" pieces in mainstream media, contain almost no new information and almost all contextual facts and opinion.

New information is, obviously more costly to produce than simply regurgitating existing information. And what's worse, it's almost entirely non-excludable. Why should the NY Times bear the expense (and here this could be measured in terms of litigation risk as well as reputation risk when wrong, not just in terms of expense) when the Washington Post (and everyone else) will immediately pick up the story and run with it?

Press syndicates like the AP historically provided a partial means to get around this problem (the syndicate basically made the information a club good, such that the club member papers could reap enough monetary benefit from publishing new information), but this has obviously become less true as the pace and ability to communicate has expanded.

It's not the signal to noise ratio per se, it's the fact that the media has always had more incentive to reproduce anything that looked like "signal" than to create it in the first place.

MikeDC, you make many good points, thank you. I see your point about few new information nodes, but I think the replication of the signal creates some telephone-game-like noise. I see it a lot in the economic press. I read the new research paper or the technical blog post and then I read the spin off coverage in mainstream blogs or newspaper pieces. The signal is muted or distorted by filler anecdotes or unsupported simplifications. Information in a raw form is not always digestible, but the packaging can really mess it up.


We obviously can't have you in the academe`

So, what MikeDC is saying, folks, is that the math of the incentives is already leaning towards a din of group-think such that it would only take a small nudge from anything else, conspiracy or whatever you want to call it to push it in the direction the article contends.

The market for fluff about the Kardashians (etc.) is much larger. It's also much cheaper to cover.

Unz has a lot of examples, some better than others for his point. It's hard to see Madoff as a failure of the mainstream press -- much easier to see it as a systematic failure of regulation.

Does anybody know what "yellowcake documents" he believes were forged?

The Pigford Scandal is another example of a scam that was reported for years in the conservative media before the MSM noticed:

Since that article, the MSM mostly lost interest. The government giving out $billions in fraudulent civil rights payments must not be so important.

I used to scoff at all conspiracy theories. Now I believe 'em all. It's more exciting this way.

I like that prior, but it takes up too much time, doesn't it?

Having to pull on every loose thread in pursuit of the-truth-that-the-MSM-won't-report-to-sheeple: exhausting, I would imagine.

Probably a combination of incompetence and herd-effect thinking. The entire journalistic establishment seems to operate on a paradigm of attempting to "scoop" eachother on the same story. So instead of three different channels covering three totally different stories, they are all covering the same story, repeatedly, trying to be the first one to get the tiniest new detail. And they all feel the need to cover the same story the other guys are covering for some reason, even if they came late to the game.

One would think that there would be a niche market for someone to cover "all the news that nobody else is paying attention to" , but apparently not.

So he's sort of the Noam Chomsky for the John Birch set?

Is Unz also a recognized theorist in a separate social science?

His strongest example is the near-unanimity of media support for the Iraq War. Especially in comparison to the current near-total lack of editorial opinion about Iraq's new descent into chaos. The wave of terrorism, car bombings and assassinations in Iraq are reported as if it were the usual foreign craziness -- yet the bodies could all justly be lain at the doorstep of the American taxpayer. While the nation's editorialists are demanding that we feel guilty about the failure of our states' to legalize same-sex marriage, couldn't they also ask us to feel guilty about the slaughtersome politics we left behind in Iraq?

Unz seems to miss that the very nature of a large cohesive news business is anathema to the idea of enduring incisive reporting. These are organizations that have to sell ads or subscriptions every day of the year. When they irritate those with power too much, they lose access and they are no longer one of the early receivers of the "official" leaks. The big exposé sells big for a week or so, but ongoing access sells every day. Even nonprofit news organizations treasure the "currency" of access.

Just as you can't rely on the big conglomerates to innovate in business or technology, it is folly to expect the big news organizations to be the ones to reliably upset the apple cart. The fact that he is aware of these unpopular allegations at all without getting his hands stained mimeograph blue almost belies his point. The decline of the very news behemoths that he accuses suggests that the populace just might be wiser than he thinks.

News isn't the product. Viewers and readers attention is the product, and it is sold to advertisers. This is how the money flows and the principle has been established in courts of law when legal action has been taken against poor quality journalism. Also, people want to know a reasonable fraction of what everyone else knows so that they feel reasonably informed, and they also like to know a few points on the big issues that others don't know.

Given that market structure, mainstream media has an incentive to minimise anything that hurts advertisers. They have no legal need to be accurate, and they have an incentive to make everything seem as dramatic as they credibly can. They also have an incentive to fill up their space with whatever other outlets are filling up their time with, and they will be very reluctant to publish anything that hurts the contacts they use to get their little bit of inside information on the latest story. What you see isn't a market failure, it is a market functioning exactly how you would expect.

Noam Chomsky published papers in journals explaining all this many years ago, using measures of coverage of particular issues compared to who the stories impacted. Because of his political views he was derided as a crazy left winger, but his analysis stands up regardless. When conservatives end up pointing out many of the same things, what are they derided as? Crazy conspiracy theorists?

"When conservatives end up pointing out many of the same things, what are they derided as? Crazy conspiracy theorists?"

Actually, yes.

"What you see isn’t a market failure, it is a market functioning exactly how you would expect."


Time to go watch Nova.

Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman had some interesting things to say on this topic in "Manufacturing Consent." It is a good book.

Interesting how Noam Chomsky consistently failed to apply the same standards when evaluating the "manufacturing of consent" in the universities and among the academies.

Is it even possible for a conservative/non-Marxist to get a tenure in the fields of sociology, literary criticism, arts criticism, or culture studies? Does the prevailing opinion among the academies of those fields reflect the market demands in books, novels or movies? Why should the preferences of the consumers be judged as "manufactured" while the opinions of some exclusive academic elites be upheld as truth?

You couldn't be more wrong. Chomsky regularly discusses the 'manufacturing of consent' in universities. For example, a simple Wikipedia search found this quote:

"I mean being an 'intellectual' has almost nothing to do with working with your mind; these are two different things. My suspicion is that plenty of people in the crafts, auto mechanics and so on, probably do as much or more intellectual work as people in the universities. There are plenty of areas in academia where what's called 'scholarly' work is just clerical work, and I don't think clerical work's more challenging than fixing an automobile engine—in fact, I think the opposite.... So if by 'intellectual' you mean people who are using their minds, then it's all over society"

"If by 'intellectual' you mean people who are a special class who are in the business of imposing thoughts, and framing ideas for people in power, and telling everyone what they should believe, and so on, well, yeah, that's different. These people are called 'intellectuals'—but they're really more a kind of secular priesthood, whose task is to uphold the doctrinal truths of the society. And the population should be anti-intellectual in that respect, I think that's a healthy reaction"

every generation, teen agers think they have invented sex, and intellectuals think they have discovered that the news media makes lots and lots of errors.

(students) for extra credit: Find a passage in Mencken, Twain, or Emerson demonstrating that the press hasn't changed, and that Sturgeon's law is applicable to all things at all times.

Look at the two urls below for a truly un-believable story: the giant epidemic of crack babies was a total fantasy.
The trouble with that fantasy is that it had real world consequences: 10s of thousands of mostly poor blacks got very, very long prison terms because of the Crack Crazed Destruction of our Society (contrast VP candidate G Ferraro's son - 4 months)

PPS: a year or two after the Anthrax investigation was finished (after Dr Ivins suicide ) the scientists involved in the DNA analysis published a paper in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA (PNAS).
While it looked like an ordinary scientific paper, it was at least a quasi official account of the science.
There were typos in the intro (!)
Rasko et al, PNAS, 2011, volume 108, page 5027

Yeah, that's another good place to see this effect: big stories that were widely reported and followed, and yet turned out to be complete horseshit when closely examined.

Along with "crack babies," lots of aspects of the panic about child sexual abuse was more-or-less fantasy. (Like the clams about ritual satanic sexual abuse, which would have fit perfectly into a 17th century witch trial.) The alleged wave of black church burnings during the Clinton administration was, as I recall, later shown to be the baseline rate of church burnings, and was almost always insurance-fraud arson.

The lesson with all this is that the picture of the world we get from the prestige media is not very accurate. Much of what it says is wrong, many trivial things are reported, many important things are ignored. It's spun by various people, influenced by advertisers and owners, ideologically biased, etc. Unfortunately, this doesn't make it a lot easier to figure out what important things are being ignored, or where the widely reported story is nonsense. (Sometimes you can tell it's nonsense because you can spot the errors in thinking, but often that turns on someone having a critical look at details you may not even have access to.)

Awesome article. I suspect now that the disappearance of goldman sachs, bank of America, etc. in 2008 wouldve been experienced exactly like the disappearance of enroll and tyco in 2002. They all do nothing anyway. Had kenneth lay been treasury secretary then surely they would've ginned up a massive hysteria about systemic risk and how enron is too big to fail, as it happened the actual treasury secretary was a goldman sachs asshole. Also along the lines of underreported stories is Iranian involvement in 9-11. Everyone sort of accepts that they were "involved," but I seem to be the only one on the planet who wants desperately to know how and why.

just on general commonsense principles, doesn't your BS radar go postal reading the american pravda
everyone and everything is a massive cover up, except my brave magazine....

If you read thru the american pow story , as far as i can tell, the ONLY, sole, single data is a N Vietnamese general's account in a soviet archive...
much of the rest of schanbergs piece is clearly innuendo wrapped in double talk; for instance, he imputes dark motives to Nixon for putting langauge in an agreement with the n vietnamese that an accord would be per constitutional law...sounds like legal boilerplate to me...

I mean just on general grounds, 99 times out of a 100, when someone says that they have evidence of multiple vast conspiracys...that person is wigged out

Ezra Abrams,
Even more baffling: Unz's own magazine, The American Spectator, published a thorough debunking of the POWs-left-behind narrative. How can Unz put the POW conspiracy tale on a list of important, media-missed stories when his magazine exposed it as bogus? Dan

Thank you very much for posting; your characterization of this article is apt. However, I must say I have never seen a more charitable characterization of Sen. McCarthy's investigations into Communist activities in the United States.


A key problem with Sen. McCarthy and the period is that McCarthy did in fact exaggerate the degree of communist influence beyond the facts of the day. Indeed, he exaggerated it far beyond what the publicly available facts indicated.

However, in private the U.S. government new that McCarthy wasn't as wrong as his critics claimed. The U.S. government had (by the 1950s) broken the Soviet one-time pad system used in WWII (because of mistakes made by the Soviets). The decrypts are known as Venona. Venona revealed a much wider Soviet spying effort than was publicly known.

Notably, Venona proved the guilt of the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss. A long and quite good article on this subject can be found at "Venona - Decoding Soviet Espionage in America" ( Quote

"During the early Cold War, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, every few months newspaper headlines trumpeted the exposure of yet another network of Communists who had infiltrated an American laboratory, labor union, or government agency. Americans worried that a Communist fifth column, more loyal to the Soviet Union than to the United States, had moved into their institutions. By the mid-1950s, following the trials and convictions for espionage-related crimes of Alger Hiss, a senior diplomat, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for atomic spying, there was a widespread public consensus on three points: that Soviet espionage was serious, that American Communists assisted the Soviets, and that several senior government officials had betrayed the United States. The deciphered Venona messages provide a solid factual basis for this consensus. But the government did not release the Venona decryptions to the public, and it successfully disguised the source of its information about Soviet espionage. This decision denied the public the incontestable evidence afforded by the messages of the Soviet Union's own spies. Since the information about Soviet espionage and American Communist participation derived largely from the testimony of defectors and a mass of circumstantial evidence, the public's belief in those reports rested on faith in the integrity of government security officials. These sources are inherently more ambiguous than the hard evidence of the Venona messages, and this ambiguity had unfortunate consequences for American politics and Americans' understanding of their own history"

The piece makes a pretty basic error regarding Bernie Kerik (who was nominated to be DHS Sec., not DNI). The kind of error Wikipedia ought to catch.

"The piece makes a pretty basic error regarding Bernie Kerik"

So did Giuliani, Congress, and everyone else.

Not sure why this article is thought so fascinating. It seems shallow and alarmist. We are to believe that the government and media are cooperating to deceive the public. There are many simpler explanations for what is discussed. I am no fans of news media, but these claims are preposterous.

Quite frankly, I am surprised this appealed to Tyler. Is this a Tyrone post?

Here is one important passage:

"For decades, I have closely read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and one or two other major newspapers every morning, supplemented by a wide variety of weekly or monthly opinion magazines. Their biases in certain areas had always been apparent to me. But I felt confident that by comparing and contrasting the claims of these different publications and applying some common sense, I could obtain a reasonably accurate version of reality. I was mistaken."

Actually this is very nearly an ideal strategy for obtaining an accurate version of reality. His mistake was sticking to newspapers and magazines, without going further. If he'd just slipped the blogosphere, NPR, industry reports, non-profit reports, podcasts, and think thanks in there, he would be pretty much golden.

A good information diet consists of a variety of different sources of information, balancing them against one another, but you can't rely just on newspapers and magazines. Reading a "wide variety" of just those media is rather like eating a wide variety of breads as your diet.

One thread running through this diatribe is the idea that America has a uniquely dysfunctional public discourse. Putting aside the instances where that's just manifestly wrong (France's financial sector is Exhibit A), I think there's something to this, but not what he claims. A critical aspect to all of his conspiratorial charges is that almost all the issues are political, in one way or another. And because of our insanely (and uniquely) two-polar electorate, if the two parties have ANY incentive to fall on opposite sides of an issue, you can be guaranteed that the public will stop thinking.

What were those recent data points? Most democrats wanted Guantanamo closed--until Obama failed to do it. A plurality of Republicans think Benghazi is the worst scandal of all time--and just as many don't know where Benghazi is. This is not the failure of government or the media. It's a failure of humanity.

Any evidence that there's any significant movement on public opinion about Guantanamo, or are you just making it up?

72% dems for closing 2009

67% "moderate/conservative" dems 53% "liberal" dems for keeping open


53% of dems for closing:

Not really sure where the Post article about the poll is getting its party breakdown, as the actual poll data doesn't present that information:

These sorts of questions are also sensitive to wording, so comparing across different polls can be tricky. Say "Obama's policy" and you're going to get higher dem approval, lower rep. Say "Bush's policy" and vice versa, because people are rationally ignorant and use heuristics to express opinions about things they don't know much or care much about.

Which of course just proves my original point, then when the parties weigh in ("Obama's policy") the people stop thinking.

Most democrats wanted Guantanamo closed–until Obama failed to do it

Talk about chutzpah. Democrats want it closed. Obama wants it closed. He can't close it because the Congress puts obsticals that make it impossible to close (like moving people who have to be kept locked up to prisons on US soil) as well as other serious stumbling blocks (there are people there who can't be released to their home countries because they will be tortured, and no other country wants to accept them). So most Democrats take the position it should be closed but Obama's done what he reasonably can do to get it closed (of course some say he can do more but that's a more nuanced evaluation).

Chutzpah, though, because Republicans who criticize Obama for failing to close Gitmo are the very ilk who are fighting to keep it open. This would be like Walter Mondale running against Ronald Reagan in 1984 on the platform that Reagan is pro-life yet he failed to get Roe.v.Wade overturned! At some point you have to make some nods to coherence. If you think abortion should be legal, you can't run against someone for failing to make it illegal. If you think Gitmo should be open, you can't bash someone for not closing it.

And you write this six hours after and directly below a guy posting numbers on how you are incorrect. Good job.

See 1) GiT's comment, 2) Gallup poll, and 3) WaPo polls

From Gallup:

"Democrats -- who have typically favored closing the prison in previous Gallup polling -- also do so in the current poll, but by only a slim 53% to 42% margin."

And this:

"Republicans are almost united in opposition to closing Guantanamo and moving some prisoners to U.S. prisons -- 91% are opposed."

As for the wording of the poll(s), the poll GiT cited (the Gallup one) does not use the term "Obama's policy," nor "Bush's policy." It asks about closing Guantanamo, period, and finds that indeed, Democrats do (by a slim margin) favor closing it, and indeed, Republicans overwhelmingly oppose closing it.

...which is what Boonton is getting at.

Then there are GiT's comments about the WaPo poll, about how the wording of the poll question matters, and how the WaPo article doesn't say what the wording of the question, and how the WaPo poll doesn't even seem to present numbers about views on Guantanamo by party breakdown, so we really don't know how reliable commenter mw's numbers are, and we certainly can't say much based on one poll. Look at the totality of the polls (Gallup has done several) and it's pretty clear that Boonton isn't wrong about the D/R divide on Guantanamo.

If you have other numbers, do share.

But what does "Obama's policy" here mean?

Consider my example of Reagan and abortion. What was Reagan's abortion policy in 1984? Well clearly since the SC did not overturn Roe the White House had to respect legal abortion as the law of the land. Clearly someone whose pro-choice would agree that is what the White House should do.

But what about pro-lifers who oppose abortion, what did they think of his 'policy'? Well clearly to them his policy was to be against abortion and try to overturn Roe by appointing pro-life justices, encouraging Congress to pass an amendment against abortion, and generally supporting laws and cases that challenged Roe. A pro-life person, if asked, would probably take the position that Reagan was on the right team when it came to abortion but they had not yet won the game.

Flash forward to Gitmo. Republicans loved Gitmo. They adopt an absurd view that the Constitution magically disappears off US soil so you can do things at Gitmo (torture, holding people without trial or even cause etc.) that you couldn't do inside the US at either a military or civilian prison. Democrats almost universally reject this view.

So when Obama took office there were 245 people at Gitmo, today there's about 165 (including 5 believed to be connected to 9/11). What was the status of abortion when Reagan took office? When he finished his first term? A pro-lifer, no doubt, would have said she was happy that one or two pro-life justices were appointed, that some minor restrictions on abortions got thru the courts, but more would be better.

From the point of view of Democrats, I think you'd find many are happy the concept of Gitmo as good thing is firmly rejected (and to be fair by the end of Bush many more serious Republicans were realizing that too, if McCain had won the Cheney ilk probably would not have affirmed their control over policy again). Many are happy the population is going down and the idea of adding to it seems to be off the table. Many would have wanted a better resolution to those who have been 'cleared for release' but can't be released because no country wants to take them and many would want those not cleared for release to be given a proper trial. Some might have even come to the conclusion that the situation is so f'd up that we may not be able to close it for decades.

But to what degree can you criticize Obama for this? Well if you're on the left you can be as critical as you please. A staunch pro-lifer could, likewise, bash Reagan for not doing more against abortion. A radical pro-lifer may have wanted him to ignore the law, ignore the courts etc. Many pro-lifers, though, were content he was at least on their side in spirit and leaned towards their policy. On the right you can't say anything. If you're in favor of keeping Gitmo open and participated in frustrating the policy attempt to shut it down you can't turn around and be critical that it's not shut down. Again that's like Walter Mondale running against Reagan on the grounds that he failed to overturn Roe.v.Wade

I don't know if Unz is right or wrong about these stories. And I certainly think that major media outlets miss things that don't fit their worldview (which means that I also think that major media outlets do have a worldview).

But Unz's provacateur tendencies have misled him before. His earlier claim of 50,000 deaths from Merck's Vioxx drug do not stand up to scrutiny at all:


For folks who might not know this, Derek Lowe is a PhD Organic Chemist who runs the (superb) 'In The Pipeline - Corante' blog. Like Dr. Lowe my research didn't support Ron Unz's claims.

Ron Unz tends to shoot first, ask questions... Since he is not bounded by PC orthodoxy (a good thing), sometimes he hits, sometimes he doesn't.

As far as the anthrax 'suspect' Unz insinuates - he is referring to Philip Zack. Objective accounts show he did seem to have a personal animus against Assaad, but had long ago left the Ft. Detrick environs. There is also an icky anti-Semitic angle to his candidacy for the attacks. I am sure the FBI looked at him, but almost certainly were correct in their dismissal.

Can't account for crazy but if the motive was animus against Assaad because of some workplace disputes why attack the National Enquirer, CBS and a senator's office? Why not simply kill Assaad with anthrax? Or try what the ricine chap just tried, directly try to frame Assaad.

What I usually find bad about conspiracy theories is that they fail to imagine all the possibilities. For example, maybe Zack wrote a letter to the FBI saying Assaad, who he hated, was a bad guy planning to launch bioterrorist attacks but at just about the same time some nutcase at the same lab actually did start mailing off anthrax making the attempted framing of Assaad exceptionally poor timing but a dead end in figuring out who was really behind the anthrax attacks. Sounds like a 1 in a million chance, right? But 1 in a million things happen all the fact they are roughly expected to happen once for every million things!

But maybe not that unlikely. First of all if you worked with someone you hated at a bioweapon lab and wanted to make trouble for them, doing an anonymous letter saying they were planning bioattacks is a pretty likely way to do it. After all, if you work at a supermarket and wanted to get someone in trouble wouldn't telling the boss he was stealing food be a good way to do it? Second, if you have a very tense workplace environment, it's likely people are going to react in different ways. If it was tense enough that one guy was trying to frame someone for bioterrorism it's also a bit more possible that some other guy may 'snap' and start taking the anthrax home with him to actually do attacks.

What I usually find, though, is that people pushing 'alternative' narratives to the media one want you to think outside the box but only outside the corner they occupy. Start taking an alternative position like maybe the anthrax thing is just a big coinicidence or perhaps the Waco crowd had it coming they suddenly case applauding trying to find alternatives to the narrative and suddenly get much less open to different ideas and start showing you what real intimidation looks like.

A good information diet consists of a variety of different sources of information, balancing them against one another, but you can’t rely just on newspapers and magazines. Reading a “wide variety” of just those media is rather like eating a wide variety of breads as your diet.

I think the problem here is not so much newspapers/mags versus other media but 'clusters of narrative'. It sounds a little bit like a portfolio problem. It takes time to read or listen to a media source (blog, paper, TV show etc.). That's an investment and investments have a risk of default or losses. Investments that are close to each have a correlation risk. Invest in Google and Yahoo you're running the risk that big search engine/Internet portals as a class might decline. On the other hand if you're investing in Google and a Turkish electric utility you have much more diversification.

So it seems instead of trying to read everything you should boost diversity. Read the NYT but then read a London paper rather than the Washington Post. Or even better maybe a non-English language paper!

I believe another aspect of what impairs our present media portfolio is regulatory capture, but of the media by those they are supposed to be covering truthfully. Factor in the "think tanks", which are barely-veiled mouthpieces for what the wealthiest Americans (who are also the most politically active) want their (and our) tax dollars to be spent on, and the chaos becomes a bit clearer.

Heritage, CATO, Park Foundation, and the Brookings Institute (to name but a few) publish articles and papers in an attempt to start conversations by policymakers and people in Washington as well as the media about reforming healthcare, taxes, drug laws, etc. These groups aren't conspiracy-based organizations or run on them. They have agendas and long-term goals, and they try to move the various political footballs of their respective financial backers down the field toward their ultimate goals. Because different, extremely wealthy backers have different agendas, the outcomes are uncertain because billions of dollars are spent trying to shape public discourse, thought, and consent, so a particular hobby horse gets gilded or hauled away to the scrap heap. And the only thing that can be predicted in this struggle is the wealthiest shall always remain extremely so, and the rest of us will to varying degrees be at the mercy of these two perpetually warring factions.

If you prefer simpler terms, think of it as a gentlemanly game of fisticuffs between the Koch Brothers and Warren Buffett. One says he's not paying enough in taxes, which by implication means all of his wealthy cohort aren't paying enough in taxes, and all of them should have to pay more, and the others would just as soon throw Mr. Buffett off a cliff as see their taxes raised to benefit the hoi polloi.

Speaking of the Koch brothers . . .

I find it interesting that PBS is so eager to please.

Consider how bizarre the history of the 1940s would seem if America had attacked China in retaliation for Pearl Harbor.

Of all the countries in the world he could pick, he picked one that was at war with the Japanese?

I don't know anything about most of what Unz discusses but I do know something about the Vioxx story. Rather than taking my word for it here are two Texas decisions, one out of the 14th here in Houston and the other from our supreme court, that should help you understand why the Vioxx litigation went away: and .

The Vioxx story does have something to add to the healthcare debate. For too long we've played a distorted game of Whac-a-Mole in which doctors/clinics/pharma have specialized in whacking a particular mole rather than winning the game. The point, less subtly, is that very often, particularly in the elderly, patients suffer from co-morbidities so that treating them for one thing, usually very effectively, simply means the cause of death listed on their death certificate changes; not its date. Mortality risk doesn't budge even though one or more of the co-morbidities is/are treated. Overlapping heart disease and diabetes is a perfect and notorious example.

By the way, the FDA has gotten serious about asking "is this treatment more effective at extending/improving life" instead of "does this treatment whack the mole in the upper right hand corner faster/longer than the current treatment".

Whatever the merits of the overall argument, the specific instances are unconvincing and mostly ridiculous.

Edmonds claims that Marc Grossman, our former Ambassador to Turkey (career Foreign Service Officer) was enmeshed in passing nuclear secrets and paying off the media and Congress. He did it effectively enough that Powell brought him back to DC and then when Richard Holbroke died, Hillary Clinton made him our special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Senator McCain can be criticized on many grounds but abandoning his POW colleagues?


I would say that it is more probable than not, that Ron Unz is correct about this one. We have abandoned POWs before. Apparently, Stalin had 1,000+ American POWs at the end of WWII and Korea. Eisenhower knew about it, but wasn't willing to fight WWIII to get them back.

The actual number of American POWs held by the Soviets in the 1950s is subject to dispute. All sources agree that it happened.

James Boughton, the IMF's historian, has thoroughly researched the evidence of Harry Dexter White's allegiance with the soviets and has concluded he was in fact not a spy. See, for example:
There is even an IMF working paper about it:
I guess better care should be placed by the editors and the recommender.


There is lots of evidence against White. The broad consensus is that he was a Soviet spy. See "Red White Why a Founding Father of Postwar Capitalism Spied for the Soviets"


"Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case"

Yet it really doesn't matter. Suppose tomorrow a memo from the KGB is discovered that clearly says White was feeding them information! But then suppose two years from now a classified memo from the CIA is released that says White was a double agent, working for America by feeding misinformation to the USSR! That's a huge back and forth if you're White's biographer. Does it really say much of anything about Bretton Woods?

For that matter, you can say the same thing about the anthrax mailer and nuclear weapons secrets. What these stories are saying is that someone innocent may have been falsely accused or that someone(s) got away with a crime. OK did we ever think that no innocent people were accused before? That no one got away with a crime? If tomorrow absolute proof is produced that says OJ Simpson is innocent, I would be very surprised. But it wouldn't alter the world in any serious way IMO.

That's true of most news and most history, surely. And yet, it's useful to know how much you know about what you think you know.

Intuitively, it *feels* like having more things you think you know is how you become more knowledgeable. And yet in reality, one of the most valuable kinds of knowledge is knowledge about the limits of what you know. And knowledge about blind spots--places where you don't see things, yet they exist--is very valuable. That's what Unz' piece is pointing to. Lots of important things happen and go unreported in mainstream press, lots of trivial things become big stories in their stead, and lots of what "everyone knows" from the consensus picture of reality conveyed in the mainstream press turns out to be all wrong.

He misunderstands what the news media is about. They sell ads. Think of the famous Sam Donaldson sitting white house press conference raising his hand and saying call on me, call on me, what a joke. Or why does Barbara Walters get to interview the president? People in the media want to be in the position of Sam Donaldson, Barbara Walters so the kiss up to politicians. Investigative journalism would be real hard work and few are interested in the results.

All of the posters - virtually every comment regarding the MSM- misses the biggest elephant in the room that drives perception in the west...and that is : "WHO OWNS THE MEDIA?" or "do those who own and control ALL media share a common background ? Or religion? Or The same DNA? Answer: yes---
All media - every outlet - is basically controlled by SIX (6) conglomerates that are owned by ZIONISTs who share a religion that there forbear adopted in the 9th century. They hail from east Asia in a place that no lingers exists on any modern day map, called Khazaria. Poland - southern Russia (ashkenazi Jews) these are the same folks who overthrew Nicholas---- the same folks that manipulated to countries into "giving" them a country - now called Israel - these same folks now own all media and basically own congress via AIPAC . Following this line of reason is not easy as 3 - 4 decades of "programming " the three generations of GOY has taken its toll on getting most to think outside the Zionist "prism". Read Henry Ford's "The International Jew" , Written in The 1920s--- you might think it was written today. The question all of us should be asking is "what are the ramifications of a controlled media that is owned by a defined group or "tribe" whose agenda is anything but transparent .

On the other hand, maybe some points of view _should_ be marginalized.

Visitors to this site are pretty stupid if they must be urged to read with caution.

Unfortunately, rather than any grand conspiracy, the reason why media outlets do not cover these stories is simple:

The media acts like a swarm - they do not have an individual's intelligence but rather have a hive mind intelligence. Very few of them are willing to go out on a limb, even fewer are willing to buck general trends or accepted narratives.

The exception is the constant partisan infighting/sniping between Fox/MSNBC and Republicans/Democrats, but when you dig into most of these "scandals" they are nothing more than spectacle with very little substance - all being played for a partisan audience to drum up partisan support.

Comments for this post are closed