“We created an echo chamber. They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say. In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this….The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience is being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
Thus spake a certain Ben Rhodes, literary dabbler and Don DeLillo wannabe, in a stunning interview-essay by David Samuels in the New York Times last May. Rhodes was describing the sale of the Iran nuclear deal to America’s body politic, fed by media ignoramuses who dutifully repeated the echoes of the administration’s stable of putatively independent experts. But the “echo chamber” principle applies just as well to anything that the Establishment media wants to sell to the public. The trouble with echo chambers, of course, is that positive feedback can blow the roof off. That is what is happening in American politics right now.
There is no news cycle. There is no national debate. There’s no Ed Murrow, no Walter Cronkite, no figure of authority from whom the public can learn the facts with a reasonable degree of trust. We have had so many iterations of lies, cover-up, cover-up malfunction, new lies, new cover-up and new cover-up malfunction that the experts are in information overload. What is going on in the head of an ordinary voter with a passing interest in politics and ten or fifteen minutes a day to devote to news?
The answer is: Almost anything you might imagine. Sixty-two percent of Americans get at least some of their news via social media according to a Pew Research survey and the proportion is growing fast. Facebook and other social media allow individuals to customize their news consumption on the basis of recommendations and re-posting by friends, and news consumers increasingly depend on their networks rather than the media.
That’s how Steve Bannon’s Breitbart news organization, with its edgy mix of salacious gossip and right-wing politics, morphed almost overnight into a major media player. That’s why the Drudge Report got 1.47 billion page views in July. There is no way of knowing what Americans believe. Only one in nine Americans believes that Hillary Clinton is “honest and trustworthy.” They don’t trust the media’s cover-up of her misdeeds, and the cover-up of the cover-up of the cover-up.
Do they believe what the National Enquirer put at the top of its website, namely that Hillary had her “bagman” arrange lesbian trysts? Do they believe she called Muslims “sand N—ers“? Do they believe that the Clintons are responsible for 46 unsolved homicides? Or do they just believe that Bill and Hillary made $250 million by peddling influence, used a private email server to hide their self-dealing at the State Department, and lied until their faces turned blue when caught?
There’s no way to tell what people think. It’s impossible for most Americans to form a judgment with which they feel comfortable, because they do not have sources of information they can trust. Fox News is in a civil war between the pro- and anti-Trump Republicans. The other networks are with Hillary. The major media outlets have lost credibility. Only 32% of Americans said they had “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the news media in a September Gallup poll survey. That’s the lowest level in history, and should be no surprise: the major media has to spin a new cover-up every couple of days, before it is finished putting the previous set of lies to bed.
That’s why Americans don’t simply watch the nightly news and go to bed. They read the rumors on the Internet and circulate them to their friends. They create networks of people they trust in the hope of obtaining an accurate account of what is happening around them.
That’s why I’m still calling this election for Donald J. Trump. The polls are meaningless. Perceptions are morphing as rapidly as the new-model Terminator in the molten steel vat at the end of the movie. The election will be won and lost a dozen times between now and Election Day. And when Americans finally go into the voting booth, they will not be able to think of any reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton–only reasons to vote against Donald Trump. There are far more compelling reasons to vote against Clinton. And that’s how the election will go.