Who am I? Why am I here?
If you, dear reader, happen to be d’un certain âge, you know what I did just there, channeling Vice-Admiral James Stockdale, the running mate of Ross Perot in 1992. So you can rightly deduce already that I am of the generation that uses a cellphone for calling more than for selfies.
… And that’s the one tidbit I will divulge about myself and not much else. My life exists within the intersection of some tiny occupational and avocational subsets. If I told you how I make my living or what I do for kicks, Google will bring you to my doorstep in a couple of clicks. And I can’t afford that, because the folks who sign my paycheck have no patience for my interest in … well, in the things that brought you to Mark Tokarski’s Piece of Mindful blog. And so I cloak my identity behind a pen name, hiding not so much from you, but from my employers.
Mark has very graciously invited me to join the team of thinkers and writers that contribute to his blog. I do not have the Web presence of Tyrone and Daddie and Straight, and so I thought it best to introduce myself by answering the question that is sometimes put to commenters: How did you find your way to this website?
The answer begins with the Pausbezoek …
Back in May of 1985, Pope John Paul II decided to make an official visit to the Netherlands, long considered one of the loyalest provinces of the Roman Church. His visit turned out to be one of the most awkward episodes of his papacy. I watched the reports on ABC News of the massive protests and angry mobs that greeted him stop after stop, with stone-throwing hooligans dogging his every appearance.
(By the bye, the whole rock-chucking business puzzled me …. The Dutch way would be to put sugar in the Popemobile’s gas tank. Make up kooky songs lampooning the Vicar of Christ. String a wire across the parade route and scalp any convertible-riding cardinals in his entourage. But throwing stones? That’s for hill folk …)
I watched these protests anxiously. Not because I cared a fig about the Pope, but because I was planning myself to take a tour through Europe in a couple of months, spending half my time in Holland. I would be alone with just a backpack and a Eurail pass. Would I be safe? Or would roving gangs of Dutch thugs threaten me with brickbats? Might I be thronged by chanting mobs of Lowland progressives, denouncing an intruder from Reaganite America?
When I finally arrived in the Netherlands, one of the first things I asked the friends I was staying with was their opinion of the Pausbezoek, the Papal Visit. My friends didn’t think there was much to say. But what about the huge protests? The massive demonstrations? The verdomde stones?!?
They asked: What do you mean? It was the opposite. The Pope came … and hardly anyone showed up. Not even crickets. Maybe there were a few protesters in Utrecht. (But, eh, Utrecht—what do you expect?). Otherwise, the embarrassment was squarely on the Pope for being such a lousy draw.
I didn’t argue. But I knew what I had seen on television. My friends had to be wrong. After all, how could they know what happened elsewhere in the Netherlands? Holland’s a big country, right? (Well, actually, it’s a small country, and smaller still after a hard rain.) Back home, I can’t say with certainty what happened in the next town over. So although they were smart people and well-read, on this matter my friends were just misinformed, I concluded, and I was justified to be on my guard as I headed on towards Rotterdam.
After all … Why would Peter Jennings have lied to me???
(As it turns out, the worst thing that happened to me in all of Europe was that a puny pot-dealer in Amsterdam shoved me in the back for the impoliteness of ignoring him. I encountered far more serious threats immediately upon my return to the States.)
Less than a year later, in the spring of 1986, I was helping to organize a pro-life march in a famously pro-choice city. (And please, commenters, this blog is not the place to debate the abortion issue: I am not now advocating, but just giving context.) My assignment was to notify local news outlets in hopes of getting coverage. Truth be told, there was nothing to cover. About two dozen people showed up to amble peaceably down the sidewalk for a couple of miles. It was a non-event, the tree that fell in the forest with no one to hear it.
EXCEPT … for the one local news crew that bothered to cover it. However, the weekend producer at that station must have been a sympathetic Irish Catholic. When I watched the eleven o’clock news, I was stunned: clever camera angles and florid reportage made our motley crew seem like a million-man march. Everything said and shown was technically true … but the net result was a deception!
Then I thought back to what I had seen on TV exactly a year before, the reports from the Netherlands about the Pausbezoek. Could it be? Had my Dutch friends been right all along? Was the frightening footage more fiction than fact?
A colleague had videotaped the local news report on our pro-life march, and I watched it again. There I was, walking down Massachusetts Avenue, looking like one in a myriad (instead of the one in a score that I actually was).
It was as clear as day. I was my own firsthand witness: the news could be faked. And that night, I was the fake news. And I wondered … What couldn’t the media accomplish, I wondered, if they added a little more active dishonesty to the mix?
I would find out a few years later at my former job. It was a one-of-a-kind position in the country, and so I became the go-to guy that news outlets would call from time to time for an expert opinion. I learned quickly: a journalist never slows down for the facts. If they have a pre-conceived notion of any sort, you cannot deter them. At one point I taped an interview with a cable news network (let the reader understand). I didn’t say what the reporter thought I should. But that was no problem for him. He simply taped himself asking different questions from the ones I had answered and cropped my responses to fit. When the piece aired, I was magically voicing the very opinion that he wanted me to provide!
(Without giving away too much: almost every news outlet I encountered wanted me to lend credence to their belief that they, the national news media, have been eroding the distinctiveness of American dialects. There is, however, no data to support this self-important opinion.)
I complained bitterly to my boss. He told me, “For any news story that I know from my own direct experience, I have never seen the media tell it correctly.” Subsequent events, including a small book tour, corroborated his sentiment.
I learned quickly that there are two kinds of newspeople. First, there are the incurious pretty faces that spout whatever the press kit tells them to say. Then there are the “hard-hitting” journalistas who bend all creation to align with their agenda. I spent an hour and a half taping an interview with a public-broadcasting personality. She pressed me long and hard to procure for herself my expert vindication in the face of her critics. I couldn’t do it: the facts didn’t support her. No bother! The bits and pieces of our conversation got sewn together in post-production to air as fifteen minutes that made her sound like the expert and me like a dullard.
Another time I appeared on an evening news program. The producer set it up as a remote interview—like I was someplace far, far away, connected to the anchors through the miracle of satellite linkup. In fact, I was in the same studio as the rest of the news team, sitting twenty feet to their right. I had to be coached to look into the camera throughout the interview and fight like hell the natural urge to turn my head to speak directly at the person addressing me. It was a charade: fakery for fakery’s sake. There was no benefit whatsoever in the deception. (Subsequently, an instance of something similar with Ashley Banfield and Nancy Grace has caught the attention of media critics.)
And so again I wondered … If a reputable news source is willing to practice deceit when there is absolutely nothing to be gained by it, what would they be willing to do when there is actually something at stake, financially or politically?
With my own direct experiences in mind of being made into fake news, I began to consume mainstream media differently. The siege at Waco, the war in Bosnia, the 1993 WTC bombing, … my acceptance of the official narrative became provisional only. Once I opened my mind to the possibility of intentional deceit within the Fourth Estate, I began to spot traces of it regularly.
And that’s what eventually led me to the Piece of Mindful blog. Of all the Truther inquiries I have ever inputted into a search engine, the one that I searched on the most is this phrase: “the news is fake.” Most of the sites that come up, I now realize, are misdirection or limited hangouts. But once, and once only, on about page nine of the results, an entry from POM came up. And I have been hanging out here ever since.
If, by some long shot, you are still with me, there are two conclusions I would like to draw from my experiences.
The first is unlikely to shock any visitor to this website: much of the news is fictitious. And by “the news” I mean the mainstream sources (ABC-CBS-NBC-PBS …), not just the alternative websites. This is not conjecture, conspiracy theory, or a circumstantial argument. This is eyewitness, firsthand observation from the guy who was made into fake news by the alphabet outlets.
The second point is more subtle: one creative editor can produce as much fakery as a troupe of actors. I am seeing lately in Truther forums a Manichaean tendency to declare that everything, everywhere in the news is pure fiction. There are no shades of gray; just the black and white of pure fiction or pure history. In any news report you see, some say, everyone is an actor or a CGI cartoon or just an imaginary character.
This is NOT how I encountered fake news. In my experience, the facts were not so much fabricated as subverted. Something real happened, and that something was nipped and tucked and massaged and reframed to present something else that didn’t happen. I am real. My expertise is real. My interviews were real and the words that came out of my mouth were real. No one synthesized my voice or digitalized my image. But the net effect of the presentations was often to convey a meaning other than the one I actually expressed. This is the power of a clever editor to fake the news.
One finds often on Truther websites the Latin dictum: Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. (Untrue in a single thing, untrue in all things.) This is, of course, a legal (i.e. procedural) doctrine. It is not a statement of logic. Indeed, in and of itself this dictum is a logical fallacy. A single typo, after all, does not obviate the truth of an entire book. Likewise, the fact that the Powers-That-Be falsify the historical record on many points does not entail that the whole record is fictional. Some facts are fabricated, no doubt; but many more have likely been subverted through editing for the purpose of societal conditioning.
Did World War II happen? My friends in the Netherlands, who lived through the hongerwinter of 1944-45—the winter of starvation when the German occupiers claimed all the food for themselves—they know that the war was real. They still suffer the lingering effects of that hungry winter in their troubled digestive tracts. The fakery of much World War II propaganda does not entail that no battles were fought, no atrocities were committed, and no prisoners were taken. Indeed, it strikes me as entirely plausible that psychopaths like Winston Churchill would glibly play draughts with human pieces across the checkerboard of the planet, caring little for the real blood that was really spilt. I would make similar points about the Vietnam War, ISIS, NASA, and many other Truther topics.
This worldview is perhaps a little more complicated than some current trends in conspiracy theorizing. It requires a more tiring and delicate mental balancing act between provisional acceptance and provisional rejection of events in the media. It is, however, true to my personal experience, and true also to my understanding of falsifiability in science. If we are too quick to label everything as whole-cloth fiction, we fall into a circular pattern of reasoning in which all evidence soon becomes moot. At that point, conspiratorial thinking becomes dogma instead of theory, and we lose any hope of awakening our fellow-citizens here in the Matrix.
But waking up people is what I hope to do. That is who I am, and that is why I am here at Piece of Mindful.