Without trust in media, democracy is doomed
© Getty Images

The 2016 presidential election drew to the fore a systemic problem in our society: media bias.

Since WikiLeaks opened the floodgate of revelations pointing at an unprecedented degree of coordination between the left-leaning media and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump tweets: 'Trump Russia story is a hoax' Path to 60 narrows for Trump pick Overnight Cybersecurity: New questions for House Intel chair over WH visit | Cyber war debate heats up | Firm finds security flaws in 'panic buttons' MORE’s campaign, the president-elect surmised the public opinion of the press as “disgusting media” serviced by “dishonest human beings. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The “other side” went as far as to level a number of hacking accusations against Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation. These were promptly dismissed by the Russian authorities as false. As a source put it to me: “We are the victims here, having lost an unimpeded access to sources of high value information pertaining to U.S. national security.” 

 

Experts remind us that media bias has actually been the norm in America history. Even the American Revolution was sparked, among other things, by an intensely biased or partisan media. Pamphleteers like Sam Adams fought English-sympathetic newspapers by sensationalizing the early conflict in his writings.

Those evoking this lesson in history insist that media bias has been, remains, and will always be “the order of things.” It also stresses the importance of media in the mobilization of political movement for collective action — just as we witnessed during this presidential election season.

Proponents of the liberal media like us to think that the information they disseminate is informed by the surrounding reality and has been crafted by those who serve the people by means of journalism. Reality does inform the inquisitive mind of a journalist — but it’s his or her interpretation of reality that’s being questioned. 

Today, information is one of the world’s highest priced strategic commodities; media connects the source to audiences across the globe. Most of those in the trade are all but rational actors making rational choices on the how and why of their craft, such as when to present the information they harvest from reality. The finished product engenders a pronounced universe of diffuse influences, most of which are controlled by nation-states and non-state actors seeking to deliberately employ media-transmitted information against tailored target audiences for specific ends.

This particular dimension in information craftsmanship was revealed when, in Bahrain, the defendant in a terrorism-related case testified that his organization, the Al Basta terror group, was selected by Iranian and Lebanese (Hezbollah) officials to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to individuals in Europe and America in exchange for biased coverage in the media and conference speeches (the Kingdom of Bahrain, home to the U.S. 5th fleet, has been at the center of human rights violations allegations).

The testimony allegedly implicates European and American media personalities and human rights defenders with access to media resources and individuals in the highest echelons of power, and reveals the ambiguity associated with foreign nation-states acquiring access to information and media personalities aiming at advancing their own agendas, projecting their own interests on target audiences.

For decades now it has been a well-established practice by interests foreign and domestic to identify the sources of informational influence that contribute to advancement of their own values and collective interest, providing them with tangible advantages in ongoing competition for minds and loyalties of their target audiences. Media personalities on the payroll of foreign domestic interests become operators utilizing their professional skill and access; they “navigate” along the information’s conceptual contours, leveraging public awareness to their master’s goals without revealing their identities and motives whenever possible. When it suits their needs, they deliberately mislead their audiences over prolonged periods of time by creating floods of “fake news stories.” Perceptual anomalies or biases are oftentimes the direct result of such craftsmanship.

This election season exposed the convergence of like-minded information and media activists attempting to generate and maintain an information asymmetry — to deny the public access to information, and its honest interpretation and analysis. Inescapably, Internet-based social networks were used to counter the information asymmetry perpetuated by the elite media.

Hence, comments made by President-elect Donald J. Trump about the state of journalism and the role of media in the United States must be regarded as an acknowledgement of the power and centrality of ideas in pursuit of freedom and democracy. Exposure and removal of undue influences on domestic media resources by actors foreign and domestic must be a continuous, integral and fundamentally central activity in restoring public confidence in media and media personalities. 

 

Vlad Remmer conducts content development, research and analysis of open source intelligence pertaining to political violence movements, domestic terrorism, economic targeting, and energy security for clients foreign and domestic. He spent 14 years in different levels of management in the airspace and defense industries in the U.S., and worked inCuba as technical adviser while studying linguistics. He also volunteered at the law school at the Academy of Social Education, the first privately owned university in Kazan, Russian Federation.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.