As we enter a new year, one thing we can say for certain about the old year is that it was truly breath-taking in terms of unexpected political and geopolitical changes. There was the Brexit vote, a result that the British government and much of the media did just about everything they could to prevent, and were genuinely shocked at the outcome. Then there was the defeat of Mrs Clinton at the hands of Mr Trump, and once again the elites neither saw it coming, nor seemed to know how to react once reality set in.
But behind these seismic shifts in the political and geopolitical landscape, an even bigger story has been brewing. For the mainstream media (MSM), 2016 was an Emperor’s New Clothes year – a year when many of the biggest newspapers and TV outlets were exposed as being not only hopelessly wrong, but in many cases simply stenographers and mouthpieces for the global elite. However, far from learning any good lessons from the experience, it seems that their response has been to double down on the same strategy, as if doubling down on failed policies ever succeeded in producing anything other than more failure.
And so in the wake of the victory of Mr Trump, those same organisations who had been so absurdly biased in their pre-election coverage, and who have been seen to be, how shall we put it – economical with the actualité – on a number of issues, hit back by creating the notion of “fake news” and “fake news sites”, and the assertion that we are now in a “post-truth” society.
Now as it happens, I agree with the notion that there is a lot of “fake news” out there. The rise of the internet and social media has brought with it a plethora of sites that aren’t exactly diligent in their fact checking, along with others that deliberately mislead. But it is crucial to understand that it is not they who are the problem. Rather, the problem is that the MSM itself has become a purveyor of “fake news”, to such an extent that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to believe anything they tell us.
One of the most instructive things that you can do to see this in action is to go online and watch one of the State Department’s daily briefings. These events are attended by a number of journalists, representing not just US media, but organisations from around the world. I have watched footage from these events many times, and the striking thing is that only two journalists – Matt Lee from Associated Press and RT’s Gayane Chichakayan – ever ask anything remotely challenging, while the rest generally just sit there like scribes, dutifully scribbling down the line that the spokesman or spokeswoman feeds them, before going off to report their version of events without further question.
Implicitly assuming that the Government line is axiomatically the truth ought to raise the hairs on the back of the neck of all but the most naïve. Governments do not, as a general rule, have a great track record of doing good and speaking truth at all times. The relationship of Government and media ought not to be the relationship of teachers to scribes – “We’ll teach you what is going on, and you go and then tell the people” – but rather one of seeking the truth and speaking the truth to power – that is, calling Government and officials to account, especially when those in power are abusing their position.
Unfortunately, the MSM have not only been failing to do this for quite some time, but have ended up simply repackaging Government’s propaganda. Into vacuum they have left, a multitude of alternative news sites have emerged to do the job that the MSM should be doing, and the reaction has been barely concealed, and often quite unhinged, fury. For example, the Washington Post ran an article back in November where they referenced a group of “anonymous experts” called PropOrNot, who had gathered a list of 200 websites that were “disseminating Russian propaganda.” Reading through their list is a somewhat hilarious exercise, especially as it includes (irony alert) ex-KGB agents such as former congressman, Ron Paul, the Catholic libertarian, Lew Rockwell, former US Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under Ronald Regan, Paul Craig Roberts, and David Stockman, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, again under Ronald Regan.
If ever there was a “fake news” story – and an absurd one at that –, this was it, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was published from the same paper that ran more than 140 front page stories promoting the Iraq war, many of which carried the “fake news” that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of Weapons of Mass Destruction. In fact in a review carried out by the paper over a year after the invasion, Karen DeYoung, the paper’s former assistant managing editor commented that, “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power.” So much for a free press.
So this is where we’re at: The MSM, which should be speaking the truth to power and asking questions of Government, appears to be so entrenched within the camp of the globalist elites that it has no intention of holding anyone to account (although that rule has apparently been suspended for the duration of the Trump presidency). In response to this, a plethora of alternative media and news sites have appeared, some of which are doing their best to tell the truth, others of which are not. But the result is confusion, and it is now more difficult than ever to know who and what to believe.
Doesn’t it sound rather like this:
“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter” (Isaiah 59: 14).
Truth has indeed stumbled in the public squares, as those who should be holding those in power to account have often turned out to be in cahoots with them. The vacuum they have created is being filled by a number of alternatives, and the result is a lot of noise, with uprightness hardly getting a look in. And even if it does rear its head, we have become so used to “fake news” that we have no idea whether to accept the truth as genuine or not.
None of this should surprise us. I wrote last year about how Hegelian Dialecticism had destroyed the notion of absolute truth, replacing it instead with a market place of competing narratives, vying with each other for supremacy. This was deliberate, and the ramifications are enormous for every sphere of life, as Francis Schaeffer well described:
“Today not only in philosophy but in politics, government, and individual morality, our generation sees solutions in terms of synthesis and not absolutes. When this happens, truth, as people have always thought of truth, has died.”
Truth has indeed died, in the media of course but also, as Schaeffer points out, throughout society. And the underlying reason why this has happened is because as a culture we decided to abandon the idea of objective truth in favour of subjectivism. Why should it then surprise us to see the confusion this was bound to bring confronting us on every side?
Is this then a post-truth society? In a sense, yes it is, but it is also a pre-truth society too. On the one hand it is post-truth because we are coming out the other end of that catastrophic experiment called Post-Modernism, where everyone was supposed to utter those cynical words of Pilate – “What is Truth?” – and where we couldn’t possibly say that there were any right and wrong answers. And now, lo and behold, we find that there was something called truth after all, only having rejected it we have no idea where to find it or what it looks like.
And so it is also a pre-truth society. Humans simply cannot live in a world without absolutes and the uncertainties that they bring for any great length of time, and so as our culture continues to unravel, more and more people will come to abandon the Post-Modern goo they have been sold, and look for truth and certainty.
We are therefore entering a transition period, but it is highly unlikely to be either smooth or swift. When people who have abandoned objectivity for subjectivity start groping around for truth and certainty, they are highly likely to grab at more falsehoods. These may well be falsehoods dressed up as truth, as opposed to Post-Modern relativistic falsehoods, but they will be falsehoods none the less.
For Christians the job is two-fold. On the primary level, we must keep drawing people to The Truth (capital T) both by our words and by consistent, upright living. And secondly, we must seek truth in the public squares; speak truth in the public squares; and pray for truth to stumble no longer in the public squares, but that the God of truth (Isaiah 65:16) will in his grace cause uprightness to enter once more.