The Bannon Fallacy

First of all, people who create mottos about how they don’t care what people think tend to be precisely the sort of people who care what other people think.

Another dead giveaway: When you repeatedly invite reporters from places such as Vanity Fair to follow you around and record your Stakhanovite disregard for the opinions of others.

Similarly, people who famously call back every reporter seeking a quote are the kind of people who love being buttered up by journalists.

.. Likewise, people who hungrily cooperate with authors looking to turn them into political celebrities are really into the idea of being political celebrities.

Staffers who take credit for their bosses’ political victories, on the record, tend not to be aloof islands of self-confidence either. People desperate to let you know that their philosophical lodestars are obscure mystics and cranks — he studied Evola and Guénon! — tend to be compensating for something.

.. If Bannon truly didn’t care about the “Opposition Party,” his term for the mainstream media, he wouldn’t have lost his job in the White House, the favor of the Mercers, and what was left of his reputation. But he just couldn’t resist talking to reporters and claiming credit for the accomplishments of others.

.. Bannon is a common character in Washington: a megalomaniac who made the mistake of believing his own bullshit.

Bannon believed he was the intellectual leader of a real grassroots movement, and all that was needed to midwife it into reality was to Astroturf as much rage and unthinking paranoia as the Mercer family’s money could buy.

.. Bannon’s self-proclaimed Leninism was mostly the kind of b.s. one spouts to rally the twentysomethings in their cubicles to churn out more ethically bankrupt clickbait fodder.

.. Lenin was a real radical who wanted to tear everything down. But his motto wasn’t “Honey badger don’t give a sh*t” — it was “The worse the better.” Both men share a theory that by exacerbating social tensions — heightening the contradictions in Marxobabble — they would emerge victorious. The biggest difference between the two men is that Lenin knew what he was doing.

.. There is a Nietzschean quality to both Bannon and the host organism he fed off. Rhetorically, Trump extols strength and power and denigrates rules and norms. But Trump’s Nietzscheanism is almost entirely in service to his own glory. He simply wants praise for its own sake. Bannon’s fetishization of strength and power and his denigration of rules and norms stems from a potted theory about how to burn it all down so he can rule the ashes.

.. He marveled at the performance art of Milo not because of any intellectual merit, but because it was transgressive, which is its own reward to the radical mind.

.. People spend too much time trying to figure out if Bannon is a bigot. Who cares? Isn’t it even more damning that he was perfectly comfortable to enlist bigots to his cause simply to leach off their passion and intensity?

.. Because Bannon consistently confuses means and ends, he was fine with forming an alliance of convenience with the alt-right when he thought it could help him.

.. Bannon likes to talk a big game about the importance of ideas, but his idea of how politics works is entirely anti-intellectual, and that’s what spelled his doom.

.. He talks a lot about the Trump agenda, and yet he’s made it his project to destroy any politician Trump actually needs if they dare stray from public sycophancy to Trump or fealty to Bannon’s dog’s-breakfast ideology.

.. He goes around the country stumping for crackpots and bigots, claiming to be the Joan of Arc of Trumpism, boasting incessantly of his courage and loyalty to Trump as evidenced by his willingness to stick with Trump during “Billy Bush Weekend.”

.. There’s just one problem: Bannon can’t stick to it. He just can’t help but boast to liberal reporters about how great and brilliant he is. He can’t resist talking smack about his rivals and denigrating the reality-show nationalist that plucked him out of relative obscurity, because despite all the impressive verbiage, Bannon can’t help but make himself the story.

Anatomy of a Moral Panic

On September 18, the British Channel 4 ran a news segment with the headline, ‘Potentially deadly bomb ingredients are ‘frequently bought together’ on Amazon.’

.. The real story in this mess is not the threat that algorithms pose to Amazon shoppers, but the threat that algorithms pose to journalism. By forcing reporters to optimize every story for clicks, not giving them time to check or contextualize their reporting, and requiring them to race to publish follow-on articles on every topic, the clickbait economics of online media encourage carelessness and drama. This is particularly true for technical topics outside the reporter’s area of expertise.

And reporters have no choice but to chase clicks. Because Google and Facebook have a duopoly on online advertising, the only measure of success in publishing is whether a story goes viral on social media. Authors are evaluated by how individual stories perform online, and face constant pressure to make them more arresting. Highly technical pieces are farmed out to junior freelancers working under strict time limits. Corrections, if they happen at all, are inserted quietly through ‘ninja edits’ after the fact.

 

There is no real penalty for making mistakes, but there is enormous pressure to frame stories in whatever way maximizes page views. Once those stories get picked up by rival news outlets, they become ineradicable. The sheer weight of copycat coverage creates the impression of legitimacy. As the old adage has it, a lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is pulling its boots on.

Earlier this year, when the Guardian published an equally ignorant (and far more harmful) scare piece about a popular secure messenger app, it took a group of security experts six months of cajoling and pressure to shame the site into amending its coverage. And the Guardian is a prestige publication, with an independent public editor. Not every story can get such editorial scrutiny on appeal, or attract the sympathetic attention of Teen Vogue.

The very machine learning systems that Channel 4’s article purports to expose are eroding online journalism’s ability to do its job.

Moral panics like this one are not just harmful to musket owners and model rocket builders. They distract and discredit journalists, making it harder to perform the essential function of serving as a check on the powerful.

The real story of machine learning is not how it promotes home bomb-making, but that it’s being deployed at scale with minimal ethical oversight, in the service of a business model that relies entirely on psychological manipulation and mass surveillance. The capacity to manipulate people at scale is being sold to the highest bidder, and has infected every aspect of civic life, including democratic elections and journalism.

Together with climate change, this algorithmic takeover of the public sphere is the biggest news story of the early 21st century.

Silicon Valley is Driving American Media, Not New York

Yes, sportswriting has moved far left. The entire media has moved far left. The media used to cater to New York, the hub for traditional liberal values. Journalists used to be obsessed with working at a New York magazine or newspaper or TV network. Now the entire industry is obsessed with going viral and how words will be received via social media. Who determines this? San Francisco/Silicon Valley, the hub for revolutionary, far-left extremism, the home base for Twitter and Facebook. Twitter and Facebook’s employee base is from the area. New York and San Francisco are distinctly different. San Francisco is driving the American media, not New York. You have young, microwaved millionaires and billionaires reshaping the American media in a way that reflects San Francisco values. This is a major story the mainstream media ignore. San Francisco hacked the media. Frisco-inspired clickbait is the real fake news.

.. Whitlock puts his finger on why today’s conservative complaint about a liberal media is different from that of ten years ago or twenty years ago. The old New York establishment Left, shaped heavily by Watergate — Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Anthony Lewis, Woodward & Bernstein — could drive the right batty but it was all driven by a noblesse oblige: a self-awareness of the power of their positions and a duty to correct the world’s injustices through exposure.

.. The old journalism saying, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” implied punching up; the more powerful you were, the more you needed scrutiny.

For Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, My Lai, all that the press needed to do was expose the wrongdoing and the public would instinctively recoil and dole out appropriate consequences.

Today’s social-media outrage-mob-driven click-bait journalism is much more about punching down, finding someone who has deviated from the range of acceptable thought and ostracizing them and enforcing the tenets of a shame culture.

It’s less about exposing the sins of the powerful than exposing the sins of the near-powerless, whether it’s those gorillas-in-the-mist reports from Red State America or gleeful exposé about the hypocrisies of religious conservatives.

The hypocrisy of a self-proclaimed environmentalist who enjoys a private jet with a massive carbon footprint never quite stirs the hearts of the media as much as a preacher’s affair.

.. No wonder their dominant attitude towards immigration, legal and illegal, is so welcoming, if they feel such contempt for the Americans who are already here.

.. most of those in journalism are driven by the impassioned belief that Republican lawmakers represent the preeminent threat to all that is good in America

.. our media today is driven primarily an ostentatious, smug progressivism

.. Of course, a good portion of what Silicon Valley develops runs on our now-ubiquitous smartphones, built by Chinese workers on 12-hour shifts that few Americans would ever tolerate for themselves. Silicon Valley’s super-elites may not be as different from those old, exploitative plutocrats as they like to think.

.. One can’t help but wonder if there is some repressed guilt coming out in the form of demonization of others:

“Silicon Valley has stopped being the place where people who can’t get jobs elsewhere go. Now it’s like the first stop on the privileged elite bus from the Ivy League—and do not even stop by Wall Street on the way,” Mr. Garcia Martinez said.

.. at least some of California’s wealthy progressives find solace in the thought that if flyover country is comparably poorer and struggling to get by, it must be because they’re morally worse people – “deplorable,”