During the otherwise uneventful lame duck stage, seismic changes are striking the media ecosystem and the intelligence community. They are inter-related, with the deep state operatives feeding BS to the media in an effort to delegitimize the incoming Trump administration. The over-arching narrative is that "Russia hacked the election," a meaningless phrase if altering vote tallies is not involved, but a phrase intended to muddy the waters about how legitimate of a President the next one will be.
This media-spook coordination came to a head with the publication of risible "intelligence reports" that were not verified or even seriously looked into. Any idiot could tell that it was pure BS, but good ol' BuzzFeed and CNN both ran it into mainstream coverage, where it became a fake news story du jour.
Trump savaged both of them during a press conference, and praised those who did not run with it. That's the interesting thing here: only some organizations went with it, and others refrained. Usually the media behaves as a monolith when it comes to trying to delegitimize Trump -- hosting pundits who act aghast when Trump brags about the size of his hands, hounding him to release his tax returns, etc.
When there is variation in their behavior, it reveals fault-lines within the media world that might otherwise not strike us. That may tell us what will rise and what will fall during the Trump era.
Notably, Fox and MSNBC did not take part in the charade. While Fox has been doing worse than historically, it is not in free-fall and is still the leader in cable news. On the liberal side, MSNBC is on the ascent, while CNN is dying. This has been going on for a long time, with cable news fueling the rise of networks with emotional approaches (Fox, MSNBC), and extinguishing those with informational approaches (CNN).
This was covered in an earlier post, although I would amend the term "ego validation," for what is provided by the emotional networks, to "tribal validation". They are about pushing your emotional buttons about group or tribal superiority over rival groups or tribes, not individual superiority over other individuals.
What's surprising is not that CNN acted one way and Fox / MSNBC another way -- it's that BuzzFeed joined CNN. BuzzFeed makes no pretensions to seriousness, whereas CNN stakes its brand value on seriousness. Why is a purveyor of clickbait trash in league with a network that goes out of its way to portray its anchors as sober figures with lofty values?
It is because BuzzFeed, like CNN and unlike Fox / MSNBC, takes an informational rather than emotional approach to its content and its audience. Its clickbait invariably takes the form of factoids, or listicles cataloging a bunch of things. They are meant to add to the knowledge, if it can be called that, of the audience, rather than to push emotional buttons as strongly as possible to validate their sense of tribal superiority.
And if you look at the target audiences of CNN and BuzzFeed, they are more egocentric and atomized than those of Fox and MSNBC, who derive their superiority from group-level affiliations (liberal tribe, conservative tribe).
CNN is a propaganda outlet, acting as a Ministry of Information to spread Establishment narratives. It offers its consumers a sense of individual superiority over individuals for being more in-the-know than others, regardless of group or tribal membership.
BuzzFeed makes no pretense at crafting grand narratives from its information, but its factoids and listicles do make it a lower pop-cultural form of Ministry of Information. How in-the-know are you about Things Only '90s Kids Appreciate about Disney Movies? Or, 9 Floral Prints to Rock This Summer? Or, 17 Positions to Try for Mind-Blowing Orgasms? Etc. You compete against other individuals over who is more in-the-know on these topics, rather than your tribe vs. some other tribe. (We'll cover tribal clickbait in a bit.)
The fact that CNN and BuzzFeed jumped on this story, while Fox and MSNBC avoided it, means that it acted as a novelty-value factoid (for BuzzFeed's clickbait audience) or as a factoid that belongs to a larger narrative about how Trump is compromised by being a puppet of Russia (for CNN's propaganda audience).
MSNBC is not primarily a propaganda outlet -- in the sense of constructing informational narratives -- so they can avoid this piece of BS. MSNBC is about validating the tribal superiority of liberals, and that doesn't require publishing this particular fake news item. They have many other ways to push the emotional buttons of liberals, without publishing obvious BS, whereas CNN almost has to run with a factoid like this since it fits in with their informational approach, constructing a propaganda narrative about Trump being compromised due to something Russian.
Notice that it was BuzzFeed and not Huffington Post that served in the trash role. But then Huffington Post is like a clickbait form of MSNBC, not of CNN. It is geared toward validating the tribal superiority of liberals, and its listicles are about 8 Ethically Problematic Things Trump Said This Week on Twitter, or 11 Environmental Problems That Will Get Worse Under Republican Rule, and so on. It is more clickbait-y than MSNBC, hence all of the gossip / sex position / foodie novelty items on HuffPo that do not clog the arteries of MSNBC.
Like MSNBC, HuffPo could avoid this obvious BS and cheerlead for liberals in many other ways.
This differing behavior among the mass media who are all anti-Trump, has led us to a model of the media landscape based on two dimensions, aside from the liberal-conservative dimension:
First, is the approach informational or emotional? This dichotomy was already studied in the earlier post linked to before. Informational approaches appeal to egocentric audiences, while emotional approaches appeal to tribal audiences. Interest in information and egocentric focus characterizes the autistic or systemizing end of Baron-Cohen's spectrum, while resonance with emotions and tribal focus characterizes the empathetic end.
Second, are the items in the output linked and ordered into a larger whole, or are they intended to be mostly disconnected factoids with no hierarchical structure? This is how general or specific their vision is. CNN arranges its factoids into a larger propaganda narrative, while BuzzFeed makes no connections or grand narratives across its myriad listicles. Fox and MSNBC take many examples of why conservatives or liberals are superior and weave them into a larger narrative about tribal superiority, whereas the output at HuffPo is more like one damned reason after another for why we're better, and not as grand and mythological in its pretensions.
The nature of clickbait will be explored in another post.
Looking forward, we see that the main casualties will fall on the left column of that matrix, those whose approach is informational. If your whole appeal is making your audience more in-the-know, and what you told them is revealed to be pure BS, there goes your credibility.
There is no corresponding factor of credibility among the emotional-tribal outlets. They're judged by how good they are at whipping up their tribe through daily pep rallies.
Even within the informational side, those that are specific / clickbait will withstand the fallout from fake news better than those that are general / narrative. In the hyper-specific model, any given factoid isn't closely connected to any other, whereas in the general propaganda narrative model, one piece of the whole being infected raises the possibility that the whole damn thing is infected.
Especially if the source of infection is an unreliable or fake source, as in the latest case. Any idiot can string together a listicle for BuzzFeed, so no one assumes that if one item is proven wrong, the same author has produced other listicles that could be similarly compromised. In a propaganda outlet, one unreliable source has probably informed numerous items within an entire narrative, making the audience more likely to turn skeptical toward the whole story when just one piece is proven to be BS.
So, sites like BuzzFeed will prove more robust than CNN at being accepted by the public and influencing their worldview and behavior. Fortunately for us, BuzzFeed has no larger narrative that it is pushing, so it getting more attention than CNN is still a win for us in the information war.
What, if anything, will fill the vacuum left by CNN? There is no conservative or moderate version of CNN to expand its territory in that quadrant of the matrix. Fox and MSNBC are qualitatively different in being tribal and emotional, not presenting facts to inform people about what's going on in important topics. BuzzFeed and HuffPo are clickbait, not meant to string items together into a larger coherent story about current events.
For the short term, we will enter a truly post-factual era, where most "news" is opinion-based cheerleading for the audience's tribe.
Perhaps after some time, an entirely new organization will fill the void left by CNN -- informational in approach, and ordering its items into general stories rather than clickbait. It would be more moderate, and would have to be more populist and nationalist than CNN, since CNN's shattered credibility stemmed from it being so stubbornly elitist and globalist (publishing pure BS from the elitist-globalist CIA), during a re-alignment toward populism and nationalism.
The individuals who staff this new organization may come from existing outlets that practice other modes of journalism, where they feel uncomfortable ginning up emotional energy or writing listicles. They just want to report on what's going on in important matters, and doing so in a more coherent narrative form than thematically related tweets. Somewhere that Michael Tracey would fit in.
Getting there, the most important policies to pursue are busting up the media monopoly, which would not only deal the coup de grace to CNN, but would prevent the re-formation of another in its place. Only a mega-giant in the communications sector can take on the role of Ministry of Information.
Even if there were a thousand little wannabe CNNs, they would have to compete over audiences and have to distinguish themselves from one another. Some would be less propagandistic on issue X, others would be more honest on issue Y. Some would cover issues that were being censored by the others for propaganda reasons.
That's the worst-case scenario, which is still a quantum leap beyond where we are now, and does not take a sophisticated complex solution -- just sledgehammer the media monopolies.