146. The cauldron (VI)
I used to work as a journalist for a time, so let me tell you what is wrong with journalism: everything. There are some romantics, I used to be one, who think that journalism was okay twenty or thirty years ago; no, it was always fucked up. Daniel Defoe, writing in A Journal of the Plague Year in the 1700s, noted that the great plague of 1665 took place before newspapers existed to spread nonsense; from the very beginning, people who had lived before the advent of newspapers knew the press was nonsense: it has always been this way.
Hunter S. Thompson observed that the only parts of a newspaper a person could trust were the stock reports and the horse racing results. This is true; it is true because newspapers started as a way to convey stocks reports to people arguing in coffee shops. The news stories—what we now think of as the core of the media—were just wrapping to flesh out the paper that contained the stock reports. The modern media is an anomaly because it carries on as if the stories are the point of the exercise, but stock and sports results now come via the Internet.
The media carries on as industrialised gossip. Now, gossip has its uses. In the old days, it was useful to a man if his wife went to the village and picked up gossip; perhaps so-and-so was about to sell land, or the tax-collector was about. Humans are an intensely social species; we have a need, even men, to hear news of people. Industrial gossip serves the purpose of being a neutral mediator; in a big city, gossip can help to bind strangers together. Yet it is still gossip and, unlike the old village gossip, it is misleading, since it contains little true information.
As a type, even if a man, a journalist is a gossipy woman; hyper-socialised, status-conscious—obsessed with popularity. Today, many are actual girls, particularly in the trade press, looking to snag a high-status husband via interview. A journalist has no fixed principles: they are anything, so long as it is high status. Their relationship with the mob is symbiotic; they rile the mob and cultivate what it perceives as high status, while also being trapped by what they perceive the mob wants. They are terrified of being “odd” or “peculiar”. They are usually alcoholics or drug addicts because they tell many lies, and people often drink or take drugs to deal with maintaining a world of lies. Journalists will befriend people to get a story, appearing kind and considerate, and then destroy the subject’s life with the story—this kind of behaviour goes with alcoholism, since it involves lies and shame.
Their job is to attract as many readers as possible by telling a story that uses facts while also being entertaining and not libellous. What many people do not realise is that this gives a journalist huge scope for invention. “The facts” do not speak for themselves; simply by writing “according to” instead of “he said”, a journalist can create the impression, in a perfectly legal way, that you are a liar—there are dozens of tricks like this. It is normal, for example, for journalists to say to an interviewee: “Can I have you say that?” The press literally puts words into people’s mouths—they also blackmail with ease, and worse.
Journalists are now mostly trained at higher education institutions: what used to be a trade, like carpentry, has become a “profession”; some say this has led to a decline in “old-fashioned” reporting, but the old-fashioned reporters—the few that are left—are more ruthless and unpleasant than the softer “professionals”. The difference is that that they are less ideological and more pragmatic, but this just makes them more cunning and vicious. So when confronted by a journalist, young or old, the answer is simple: do him a favour, and put him out of his misery—shoot on sight.