Thursday, May 11, 2023

Caveat Emptor

"You furnish the pictures. I'll furnish the war."
-- William Randolph Hearst to Frederick Remington
    Spanish American War (possibly apocryphal)

In America, the media is driven by profit. 


Not a sense of duty. 

Not patriotism. 

And certainly not the truth. 


Like everything else in this country. 

The bigger the controversy, the bigger the conspiracy, the bigger the car crash, the bigger the fire, the bigger the rage and hate and insanity, the bigger the boobs, the bigger the jaw, well, the bigger the profit. 

If it bleeds, it leads. 

That, right there, is Trump's only talent, being the biggest, loudest, bloodiest show. 

The rest of the media will follow CNN. 

They'll give Trump whatever he wants. 

And they'll do it knowing it will be the same as last night.

They'll do it knowing that if they push Trump on America, he'll burn the country down just as they and he did last time. 

They know it. 

Like any arsonist, they'll light the fire knowing they can't control the blaze. Knowing people will die. But, that's the whole attraction, that's the thrill, that's what brings out the crowd. 

And the crowd is the payoff. 

There's an old adage in transactional analysis that goes something like: bad strokes are better than no strokes. Now, I'm not going to spend any time regurgitating freshman psychology, but basically the idea is that people allegedly prefer good interactions with others to bad, but bad interactions are better than no interaction at all. And maybe from a personal mental health standpoint that's even true, however evidence would suggest that in this age of ubiquitous 24/7 news, talk shows, and social media, society as a whole prefers bad strokes. Bad strokes and as many as they can get. 

We seek it out, those bad exchanges.

We revel in them, no matter how destructive they are to our own mental health and thus to our society. We're addicted to the drama, the show, the fight, the rage, the hate, the endless argument. 

It's validating. 

It's entertaining. 

No one goes looking for news stories about making the world a better place. 

That's why the holy men never talk about their hippy prophet's messages of peace and love, but rather shout their god's threats of violence and damnation from the pulpit and the street corners and across social media. Don't believe me? Read those signs posted in front of all those churches, never once do you see quotes from Jesus to love your neighbor, feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the poor, do unto others, give up your wealth, reserve judgement for your deity. No, it's always hell and damnation and hate.

Peace and love doesn't put asses in pews or money in the plate. 

Rage does and bad stroke are not only better than no strokes, they're a lot more profitable

Rage, hate, insanity, conspiracy, hyperbole, these are the things that drive clicks and likes and thus profit

Essentially: If it bleeds, it leads. 

Because Americans, most of them anyway, aren't interested in a media -- or a religion -- that tells them The Truth. 

Americans by and large aren't capable of managing a four-way stop let alone critical thinking. 

They don't want to be challenged. 

They want their own viewpoint reinforced.

They want to be told they are right, that they are special, exceptional, superior, and that it's everyone else who is in the wrong.

Most of all, they want to be entertained. 

Bread and Circuses while the empire burns, same as it always was.

That's Trump. 

Trump is our Nero. 

He reinforces the very worst in us. 

He tells us it's okay to be an asshole. He tells us it's okay to hate, to rape, to bully, to be violent, to steal, to be greedy, to not give a damn about anyone else, to be crass and uncouth and to gleefully fart in the elevator, to be selfish, to be ignorant, to believe in a world of paranoia and conspiracy, to take the easy way out, and to value profit above all else. 

Trump is Gordon Gecko, greed is good the ends do in fact justify the means -- which is exactly the appeal of every rich man in America. When you're a star, they let you do it. 

He tells us it's okay to fiddle while Rome burns. 

Because he's the one who lit the place on fire for his own self-aggrandizement. 

We're outraged CNN gave Trump unfettered airtime last night, with only the feeblest of resistance and a live audience of handpicked MAGAs to cheer him on and whip him into his usual red-face sweaty frenzy. 

But it wasn't any more an accident than the Great Fire which consumed Rome in 64 AD.   

It wasn't any naïve idea that Trump would act like a rational human being and a normal political candidate. 

They did it on purpose and with malice aforethought, just as Nero did. They don't care about the lives destroyed by the fire, they only see the grand palace they intend to build in its place. 

Warner Brothers Discovery (CNN's parent company) and Chris Licht (CNN's new conservative CEO) knew exactly what would happen.

Licht knew Kaitlan Collins would immediately lose control of the situation. And she did. 

Now to be fair to Collins, it's unlikely given the conditions which were specifically tailored to Donald Trump's worst tendencies that anyone could have kept Trump from doing what Trump does. But, since we're being fair, my sympathy for Collins is about a flat zero, given her extensive personal history with Trump, there's no way she didn't know exactly what she was walking into and exactly what would happen. Also, this is where I remind you that Kaitlan Collins started her career peddling hysteria, hate, and conspiracy theories for The Daily Caller. So long as I'm being fair and all. 

No, everyone at CNN and its parent company knew exactly what would happen. 

They counted on it. 

Because that was the plan all along. 

And from a profit standpoint, it was brilliant. 

Just as Elon Musk offering Tucker Carlson a show on Twitter is brilliant and something that might actually make Twitter profitable again. Maybe not so much great for democracy or ultimately the Republic itself but Musk doesn't give any more of a shit about the future of America than CNN does. 

And not caring about any future beyond profit is what we're talking about here, isn't it?

CNN got exactly what it wanted. 

Fox can only drool in jealousy and you can bet they'll offer Trump airtime on his terms just as soon as they line up advertisers. Ditto CNN, MSNBC, et al.

Now, I'm not really telling you anything that you don't already know, am I? 

But the part that gets overlooked is this: News Media, whoever they are, left, right, their politics change direction at the whim of their drive-by CEOs. Their talking heads switch conviction and allegiance with a Gumby-like flexibility Mitt Romney can only boggle at. If Elon Musk suddenly discovers he can make back his billions from liberals, Tucker Carlson will be pushing vegan diets and solar panels next week without a single backward glance or an admission that he ever believed anything else. Just like that time Glenn Beck decided he hated Donald Trump and thought he could fleece liberals out of a few bucks, then switched back to full MAGA and pretended like it never happened. 

Just like Kaitlan Collins went from The Daily Caller to liberal CNN and is now the darling of the new MAGA CNN. 

There are no heroes. 

There is only profit.

And I don't expect any better from the Press than I do from Donald Trump. They are one and the same, made for each other like a snake eating its own tail. 


Sure, but it's no different than it's always been. 

From the broadsheets of the British colonists to the yellow journalism of Hearst and Pulitzer to the content scraping blatant plagiarism of outfits like Occupy Democrats to this latest stunt by CNN, in America, the media has always been about profit first, second, and last.

(So have our politicians and our religions, but I digress)

Now, there are plenty of journalists with integrity and who hold their professionalism and convictions dear even if it costs them their livelihood -- and sometimes even their very lives. 

But the institution itself is about profit and always has been.

In America, the Press is supposed to be the watchdog of liberty, which is why it is the only private enterprise specifically given enumerated rights in the Constitution. And there are times when it is that, maybe less so now than in recent memory, but those periods of principle over profit are comparatively few and far between in the overall history of the business.

Expecting anything else is going to get you nothing but bitter disappointment. 

As always, the burden is on us. 

The Press, the politicians, the various gods and their prophets -- or profits, depending -- will not save the Republic or build a better future. 

They will not because they have no interest in any better future and never have. That better future is boring. It is war and chaos and hate and rage and hysteria that sells newspapers -- or clicks and likes and YouTube views in the modern currency. 

Or votes, for that matter.

No, that better future is on you, Citizen. 

Just as it has always been.

That's why the Constitution begins with "We the people..." not politicians, not political parties, not religion, not the Press, not corporations, but we the people

Because that's where the real power lies, if only we have the wit and the determination to use it wisely. 

If you want a better nation, be a better citizen. 

“Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism…”
-- Richard Kluger, Pulitzer Prize winning American author. 


  1. Brilliant as usual....thanks Jim.

    1. I’m still waiting for Joe Scarborough to apologize for boosting his ratings with tons of Trump promo time on his show. 😬

  2. Long ago, I wrote a column for a publisher who shall remain nameless. I wrote about local issues and was paid according to page views. Very quickly, it was apparent that controversy, heated argument, and name calling drew more readers than dry policy pieces by several orders of magnitude. I learned from it and moved on.

  3. Ed Magowan (Pensacola)May 11, 2023 at 12:37 PM

    "...wit and wisdom..." Therein lies the problem. Those qualities are found only in a shrinking portion of our fellow citizens. We might remove the arrow and stop the bleeding, but the internal damage my be terminal.

  4. If you want something to do, I recommend signing up for "chop wood, carry water" by Jessica Craven, on Substack. In addition to excellent summaries of current political events, you'll get a list of actions you can do as an engaged citizen, that can help the effort to push back against the march of fascist extremism.

    1. Indeed! Signed myself up last year.

    2. Thank you for the reco! Just signed up. :)

    3. Hey thanks, I needed that!

    4. How do I sign up? Thanks!

    5. Thank you. You always say it better.

    6. Thank you. You always say it better.

    7. We live in the age of influence. The media pervades our lives and in this country it's all about the Benjamin's.

  5. "Wit and wisdom" .... present in only a shrinking portion of our fellow citizens. We might remove the arrow and staunch the bleeding.... but will we survive the internal injuries?

  6. Excellent. Simply excellent. I know it's never going to happen, but I'd like to see the corrupt dogs muzzled. In a cage. Kept away from society.
    A girl can dream.

  7. Thank you, Jim. You have been especially eloquent this morning, and I appreciate it.

  8. Painfully, painfully accurate. I wish it wasn't so, but I'm old enough to know it is. Thank you for speaking for so many of us.

  9. Well said, Jim. The destruction of local papers, CNN, Twitter, et al... it's not by accident, it's intentional. Eliminate the sources of truth, where people go to find out what the hell is happening, and you can print your own money and convince people it's the real deal.

  10. And 'Occupy Democrats', that plagiarizing digital rag, also got its due disdain for theft of others' hard work and writing.

    More folks need to know about their leeching off erudite authors *sans* attribution.

  11. Excellent as always, Jim. This perfectly sums up my thoughts about American media.

  12. Spot on as usual. Everyone is waiting for someone to save us. That is not going to happen. We have to save ourselves by being better citizens as you always admonish us. I keep quoting Walter Kelly's Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us." This is the undeniable truth. Thank you for speaking the truth particularly when it is inconvenient. Your ability to contextualize what's happening now with our past is invaluable. Secret raise Stonekettle. Michelle RNCHPN

  13. Indeed, as it has been for thousands of years, “ Cui Bono?” Who Profits?

  14. Always an accurate assessment. Not what some want hear, but always on point. Thank you!

  15. Twenty years ago, as the rate at which this accelerated, we got rid of our television. But we didn’t stop voting, campaigning, or being political. And we still subscribe to, and read, the newspapers.

  16. Sadly spot-on and accurate, Jim. I get my news and analysis these days from yourself, Dan Rather, and Heather Cox Richardson, three seasoned and reasonable voices in a sea of cultist madness. Thumbs up for this one.

    1. Add Beau of the Fifth Column and I agree with you.

  17. Spot on Jim, as usual. Sadly true and accurate.

  18. The Don Henley song "Dirty Laundry " keeps popping into my brain.

  19. Jim, no.

    Profit is the excuse; politics is the reason. Trump isn't the ratings draw he was in 2016. (see https://www.politicususa.com/2023/05/11/cnn-trump-town-hall-ratings.html to this point.) But CNN still hosted a Trump campaign rally.

    Ever since Marx, it's become customary, on both left and right, to analyze political conduct in economic terms and for the very rich this may be valid. But, as we see time and time again, a major faction of the public acts on identity, not profit. (You've actually written about this, pointing out that your neighbors are more willing to spend money on fancy trucks and firearms than on dentistry.)

    Time was, the USA, remembering the rise of fascism, had anti-fascist media law and regulation. This was abandoned as part of the Reagan Revolution. I expect that the country club Republicans of the 1980s, much like the German conservatives of the 1920s, felt that the public would then support them, the natural rulers of society. Instead, as in the 1930s, the public swung towards fascists, while the left opposition tries to outwait the rising tide of authoritarianism. And here we are.

    (A version of this has been run on my own blog.)

  20. Spot on. Caring requires education, not just in a specific subject like civics, but in all that requires critical thinking skills. So many people go through life like drones.

  21. Spot on, as usual. It's frustrating that we live in a country where people like to go on endlessly about their "rights," without ever once acknowledging their corresponding responsibilities. "If you want a better nation, be a better citizen." Indeed.

  22. Share those who speak the truth. Every American should be reading Heather Cox Richardson’s daily Letters from an American.

  23. It is up to we the people. Based on the attitudes of people that I interact with, I don't know if "we" are up to the task.

  24. On point, well-written, important, and true. Also sad. Thank you so much for your work.

  25. 👏👏👏 Full stop.

  26. Couldn't stomach the thought of watching the TFG (That Fucking Guy) orgy on CNN, so thanks for taking the bullet for those of us with TFG induced Traumatic Stress Disorder (there's nothing Post about it)

    1. I’m the same way. Can’t stand hearing his voice and refuse to watch anything he does.

  27. Applause. Thanks.

  28. As I was reading this the Don Henley song Dirty Laundry was playing in my head. Once again Jim on point.

  29. Now "Dirty Laundry" by Don Henley is in my head. He knew.

    1. Listen to the song Vicarious by Tool. Check the lyrics.

  30. Dead on target as usual, Jim. Profoundly sad as well since I'm not sure that we the people can get our acts together enough to stop this nonsense.

  31. Pretty much on point Jim, but I think you read Elon Musk almost 180 deg. off what his motives are. Profit is only to further the Mission Goals and not an end in and of itself. If making money were his goals; then SpaceX and Tesla would be the worst directions, and he has clearly said so.

  32. This reminds me of what J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about the Hobbits stay at Rivendell early in The Lord of the Rings: “Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”
    Sadly true.
    I am working to make my life and all the lives around me that I can impact to be ones that are soon told about. "How's things today?" "Fine, going good. You?" "Same". It's a long uphill battle that will never be finished.

    1. Oops, that was actually Bilbo and the Dwarves when they were in Rivendell in The Hobbit. Carry on.

  33. I wonder when the fickle American media consumer will tire and move on to the next train wreck . . . maybe Santos or DeSanctimonious will take T-Runp's place . . . .

  34. As you say Jim, the appeal of every rich man in America is that, seemingly, he can do whatever he wants.
    That's why it's called "Fuck you money" it means you don't have consider anyone else. It resolves the mismatch between the freedom myths of the dim white right and their reality. The one where they do in fact have to defer to somebody.
    Real freedom means stepping on people without consequence.

    Our media, and our entertainment industry (it's a spectrum) have parallels to the American fast food industry. It exists for profit. It cuts corners. It is satisfies a craving but delivers little of what you need. And a lot of shit that you really should not be ingesting
    But maybe the most important parallel is the dynamic between producer and consumer.
    The industry will claim that it's only giving people what they want. They know what they’re producing is crap. But it’s easy to make, easy to sell crap
    Of course they are changing tastes and cravings through marketing (Why else do it?) and they sell their shit cheap. What people want can be changed. They count on it.
    Their customers could force a change by going elsewhere but damn those greasy salty/sweet fries sure are tasty , I been eating them since I was a boy.
    And this is so easy.
    So we grow fatter, stupider and meaner.
    Mined for all of our worst tendencies by assholes in pursuit of their fuck you money

  35. Jim... once again you nailed it !
    Like you, I'm afraid of how the corporate media is going to excuse giving him access to their platforms because " he's the candidate... how do we NOT cover him !"
    That's bull... they need to be screaming from the rooftops what a moral degenerate he is, like some of the MS-NBC folks were last night.
    I hope that there are enough honest & credible journalists to help us save democracy...

  36. I just re-read "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". The current cast is not as depraved and violent as the Nazis, but the Republican "establishment" is quite comparable to the German elites in the 1930's. They still think they can harvest Trump's voters without fully embracing his pathology. He is mesmerizing the base again and neatly detaching it from the party while keeping the name and vanishing reputation.
    Our hope is that he cannot assemble an electoral college victory again. Biden is too old for this kind of knife fight, but Democrats are offering nobody with more energy and fresh policy. It will be a dangerous election again.

  37. I know I called him the Doroto Nero, and I know I said he'd be playing a fiddle on the banks of the Potomac as he watches the world burn.

  38. I was dismayed and depressed when I read your piece yesterday... I thought about your words all night. This is probably the first time I so totally do not agree with you. You have a point but I feel you miss the point. thank you for keeping me sharp and I as always await more good words from you in the future.

  39. Brilliant and so sadly true. It's always about the greed.

  40. Should be "jealousy" ...otherwise brilliant. Love the reference to ouroboros.

  41. The demise of local state and national civic participation has taken the rational out of politics and broadcasting. Watching is not participating. Worshiping biionaires in the media does not address the vast economic disparity in the US and world wide.

    How can you participate?
    Actively volunteer. Join and fund causes, but also act. Be physically present to build community.

    After covid I am trying hard to build great public education groups to work together. To reach out and build together. One of our greatest untapped resources are so many retirees who ignore their civic obligations to give back. Reach out to them for participation and having a voice in community.
    Reach across generations.
    What school and college clubs can reach across generations and include people of all ages?

  42. And as of today (May 12) irony has gone off the rails yet again with submoronic blowhard Anderson Cooper defending CNN by yammering that everyone needs to 'get out of their silos,' the irony being that, as a gay man, Cooper (along with every other LGBTQ citizen) would be among the first to get chucked into a Trumpian concentration camp.

  43. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. You lost me. To whom, exactly, do you refer?

  44. Thanks Jim. As insightful (and somewhat depressing) as always. Keep fighting the good fight, I'll do my part.

  45. I keep up on the news but I rarely listen to the right -wing nutters. I will read their words, but listening to their voices drives me up a wall. And I truly dislike the whole rage-gasm thing.

  46. "If you want a better nation, be a better citizen."

    We're a very self-centered nation of people who think they are Christians. It looks good on paper - I wrote a check, I gave a thumbs up on a posting, I give my thoughts and prayers, etc. but when someone actually has do SOMETHING to help someone... as the saying goes, if you want to know the true nature of a person, ask them to tolerate a minor inconvenience to protect the life of a stranger. So, let's throw some ginned up bullshit back at those asking, throw it loudly and often as to drown out the ask, and make those asking seem like the rude, crude and ignorant beings for DARING to ask for help.

    My grandparents immigrated from Serbia in 1908. They made a life for themselves outside of Pittsburgh, PA. My Grandmother would return to Serbia every year or so, and on going, would sew money into the hem of her clothes to ensure that the communities back in Serbia would receive the donations. She knew some of the people, but her goal was to support everyone, whether she knew them or not.

    Today, it feels like we're just country of self-absorbed, self-important assholes. Aspirational Kardashians, one and all.

    We're never going to have a better country because we don't have a fucking clue how to be better citizens and how to treat one and other.

  47. Right on, Jim! Over the years I have had to explain as simply as I can what you propose AND it scared the daylights out of the majority of them. Basically, they just didn't want to take the blame that would accrue to them if they did take the responsibility of being a better citizen. They were damn sure they would get the blame "if the whole thing burned down." Yup. These are the folks who also had a helluva time being responsible for their own lives let alone the existence of a nation.


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