One of journalism’s stars explains why & how to read the news

Summary:  Today’s post is a basic primer for readers and journalists about providing news for the people of New America. To understand the product one must understand why and how it’s used. We start with the news about ISIS, then consult a great 20th C journalist for an explanation.

Daily News, 31 August 2014
Daily News, 31 August 2014.



  1. How to find the truth about the war with ISIS
  2. We have the news we want
  3. Orwell knew why and how we read the news.
  4. For More Information
  5. Another observation by George Orwell


(1) How to find the truth about ISIS

I intended for today’s post to give readers some tips about finding reliable information about the war against ISIS amidst the flow of information, disinformation, mistaken information, and nonsense.

In November the War Nerd said “Farwell” to defeated ISIS. In March we learn that “the battle for Tikrit will defeat ISIS” and, even better, “ISIS is being defeated“. Experts answered “What Comes After the Islamic State Is Defeated?” In April “ISIS suffered its worst defeat yet”. This week ISIS is on the road to Baghdad. Oddly, ISIS seems to lurch from the edge of total defeat to victory on the road to Baghdad and even on the road to Damascus.

Worse, that’s the serious news. It’s mixed with delusional statements from experts. US and UK boots on the ground could defeat ISIS in 6 months.  “America’s drones can defeat ISIS“.

This was to be my 184th post about ways we can better understand the river of news that sweeps over us each day. Some of these dissect propaganda from the Left and Right. Others examine the structural biases of the old and new media. A dozen give tips about becoming a better consumer of news.

While writing this post I realized that, as Marx said of Hegel, I was standing on my head and wondering why the world looked upside down. We have a relentlessly efficient free market system. We should presume that what they sell is what we want, with news just as with skirts and shirts.

CBS News: Walter Cronkite (1968)
Serious news for serious people in 1968.

(2)  We have the news we want

How many articles have you read since 21 May 2005 about our wars with ISIS? With al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Sunni and Arab militia in Iraq, and the tribes of Yemen? How many hours have you burned reading these? How have they influenced you? For example, have they changed your opinions, or your vote on a candidate, or the political party you habitually vote for?

The news industry has grown to immense size providing entertainment and catharsis for the politically impotent outer party. We read that our cities will flood the world really soon (no mention that the IPCC disagrees), that the Federal government plans to take over Texas, and about ISIS terrorists coming from their Mexico bases to kill us. Quite exciting, but inconsequential in terms of our behavior. The America of the Lincoln-Douglas debates is far behind us.

Slightly modified, Orwell’s class structure fits us well: the bourgeois (in the Marxist sense of the property-owning class, the 5% who own 60% of America; details here), the inner party (the leadership class), the outer party (the managers and professionals), the proles (other workers, including the underclass).

Cover of "1984"
Available at Amazon.

(3)  George Orwell understood why and how we see the news.

… Winston was listening to the telescreen. At present only music was coming out of it, but there was a possibility that at any moment there might be a special bulletin from the Ministry of Peace. The news from the African front was disquieting in the extreme. On and off he had been worrying about it all day. A Eurasian army (Oceania was at war with Eurasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia) was moving southward at terrifying speed.

The mid-day bulletin had not mentioned any definite area, but it was probable that already the mouth of the Congo was a battlefield. Brazzaville and Leopoldville were in danger. One did not have to look at the map to see what it meant. It was not merely a question of losing Central Africa: for the first time in the whole war, the territory of Oceania itself was menaced.

A violent emotion, not fear exactly but a sort of undifferentiated excitement, flared up in him, then faded again. … The telescreen was silent for a moment. Winston raised his head again. But no, they were merely changing the music.

He had the map of Africa behind his eyelids. The movement of the armies was a diagram: a black arrow tearing vertically southward, and a white arrow horizontally eastward, across the tail of the first. As though for reassurance he looked up at the imperturbable face in the portrait.  His interest flagged again. He drank another mouthful of gin, picked up the white knight and made a tentative move. Check. But it was evidently not the right move, because — Uncalled, a memory floated into his mind …

He pushed the picture out of his mind. It was a false memory. He was troubled by false memories occasionally. They did not matter so long as one knew them for what they were. Some things had happened, others had not happened. He turned back to the chessboard and picked up the white knight again. Almost in the same instant it dropped on to the board with a clatter. He had started as though a pin had run into him.

A shrill trumpet-call had pierced the air. It was the bulletin! Victory! It always meant victory when a trumpet- call preceded the news. A sort of electric drill ran through the cafe. Even the waiters had started and pricked up their ears.

The trumpet-call had let loose an enormous volume of noise. Already an excited voice was gabbling from the telescreen, but even as it started it was almost drowned by a roar of cheering from outside. The news had run round the streets like magic. He could hear just enough of what was issuing from the telescreen to realize that it had all happened, as he had foreseen; a vast seaborne armada had secretly assembled a sudden blow in the enemy’s rear, the white arrow tearing across the tail of the black. Fragments of triumphant phrases pushed themselves through the din: ’Vast strategic manoeuvre — perfect coordination — utter rout — half a million prisoners — complete demoralization — control of the whole of Africa — bring the war within measurable distance of its end victory — greatest victory in human history — victory, victory, victory!’

Under the table Winston’s feet made convulsive movements. He had not stirred from his seat, but in his mind he was running, swiftly running, he was with the crowds outside, cheering himself deaf. He looked up again at the portrait of Big Brother. The colossus that bestrode the world! The rock against which the hordes of Asia dashed themselves in vain! He thought how ten minutes ago-yes, only ten minutes — there had still been equivocation in his heart as he wondered whether the news from the front would be of victory or defeat. …

————-  Winston is a consumer of news, but not a citizen of Oceania  —————-

(4)  For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about ISIS and about information and misinformation (in the new media and the old), and especially these about the true role of the news media in New America:

  1. What if Samuel Adams tried to start the Revolution by blogging?
  2. Politics in modern America: A users guide for journalists and reformers.
  3. Events in Ferguson reveal a better way to read the news, giving you more free time!
  4. A Tale of police brutality New America: it’s just entertainment unless we act.
  5. The GOP budget shows us the New America that lies ahead.
  6. Recommended: The long slow crash of journalism. How will it affect us?

For the few who care, here are suggestions about ways to more efficiently and effectively read the news …

  1. Suggestions for your daily info diet. You are what you read!
  2. Economics can help understand events in America and the world. Here’s where to find those answers.
  3. Finding insights in the seas of information & misinformation
  4. Here’s help to see the truth through the narratives in the news: looking at the jobs numbers.

(5)  Another observation by George Orwell

Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in {XXX}, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie.

I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.

From “Looking Back on the Spanish War” (1943). This describes much of today’s reporting about events in the Middle East.



17 thoughts on “One of journalism’s stars explains why & how to read the news”

  1. Soldiers Without Maps

    So ISIS, what can we learn from ISIS?

    ROI, how much did the US spend on the Irak ops to take the territory IS has now. 1000 times more? Doesnt matter because the taxpayers pay it, not the people who benefit from it. IS is economically sustainable. Thats one thing we can learn from these savages.

  2. Soldiers Without Maps

    Editor, The thing when you oppress people for so long effectively, is that when they leash out it seems anacronistic, because it is, these are 100 year old redresses of grivances so to speak.
    What you quote was the only tongue-in-cheek part of it :)

  3. Soldiers Without Maps

    The only reason people can have other people believe IS are savages is because most people dont know what happened in the last 20 years, let alone the last 100, from any perspective.

    Democracy is of no use, if the people voting dont have agency. Democracy is very useful for the elites in the age of the 1%, there is a reason why the US loves Democracy and hates Dictatorships,
    Democracies ara as strong as the masses, and the minds of masses that cant even remember 10 years ago are just like 10 year old children.

    What do you think about that?

    1. “Democracy is of no use, if the people voting dont have agency.”

      When people believe they no longer have agency they become subjects, not citizens. It’s an nutty claim for America, which evokes contempt from people who suffer real oppression.

      Agency (from Wikipedia): In the social sciences, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.

  4. Soldiers Without Maps

    Isnt the capacity of American individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices decimated by their media and culture? By who they are, by what they desire or aspire to be, Or by any other reason?

    1. Soldier,

      “Isnt the capacity of American individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices decimated by their media and culture? By who they are, by what they desire or aspire to be, Or by any other reason?”

      By your definition the only human with agency exists as a solitary savage, with a life in “continual fear and danger of violent death, … solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The concept of agency has no meaning if your define it so that it cannot exist in society.

  5. Soldiers Without Maps

    Lets put this in a very feminist oriented perspective, isnt a young American woman conditioned to be a manipulative, shallow, idiotic, hypocritical lying slut from 8 years old onwards? Is she really free to act independently and to make her own free choices. is this a matter of principles or one of freedom, or one of benefits?

    How do you define Freedom?

    1. “isnt a young American woman conditioned to be a manipulative, shallow, idiotic, hypocritical lying slut from 8 years old onwards?”

      No. Another simple answer to simple questions. If you believe otherwise, please show your work. A demonstration of prejudice is insufficient.

  6. Walter Cronkite and Vietnam:
    Size of the News Industry:

    Blaming the victim just doesn’t work. And please spare the counter to the term “victim”. It is a meme here that is too hyperbolic in many of its uses and is not producing the results you seem to want. Or why Blog?

    There is a human desire and need to be led. Since the Savanhs, we have sought cohesion and group social structures. To day we are being led by a class and sub classes of very odd people. And now we see them openly jamming a terrible piece of global legislation like the the TPP. Who can blame the citizens for these willful, deranged movements?


    1. Breton,

      I have no idea what you are attempting to say, as you cite nothing in this post. Invoking the hoary “blaming the victim” is imo quite daft in this context.

      Denying that people have agency is among the most patronizing of actions. It is the most fundamental of human characteristics.

  7. Just as in Vietnam during that war, so it is with IS. It ultimately is up to the people of the region to decide if the want to be ruled by a group as extreme as IS. They behead people who shave their beard or wear western clothes. They behead fellow Muslims who don’t conform to their brand of religious fundamentalism. Ultimately the people themselves are going to have to decide if this is what they want. All we can do is offer to help, and hope that the people there get tired of murderous religious fanatics. But we certainly can’t try to run their societies for them. We don’t even run our own very well.

    1. Gloucon,

      “It ultimately is up to the people of the region to decide if the want to be ruled by a group as extreme as IS.”

      Oddly, that’s an extreme minority viewpoint in America today. We’re quite willing to send other people’s children to fight in other people’s civil war — even overthrow their governments.

  8. The us is playing chess, while the oponent plays checkers- the problem is the us thinks the opponen plays chess

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