A must-read (or must-listen): A heated debate on whether the mainstream media is trustworthy

December 12, 2022 • 11:30 am

Unless you subscribe to Matt Taibbi’s Substack site, you probably won’t be able to read this debate, but a kind reader gave me a month’s subscription. And there I found this great debate on whether the mainstream media, or MSM, is trustworthy. However, I have since foun it publicly available on Youtube, and have put the debate below the screenshot (try clicking on it):

Click on “Watch on YouTube” to listen. In fact, the new printed version leaves some stuff out, so if you have time, listening is better:


The question is not explained with all its terms well defined (“what do we mean by mainstream media”? and “what do we mean by trust—complete trust?”).

But itt’s a good lineup. On the “don’t trust” side we have Matt Taibbi himself as well as Douglas Murray, author and editor at The Spectator.  On the “trust” side is author Malcolm Gladwell and New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg.  A preliminary vote showed people pretty evenly divided on the question, but at the end a hefty number had moved into the “don’t trust” column.  This goes along with what I thought: compared to the bulldogs of Taibbi and Murray, Gladwell and Goldberg seemed timorous and defensive.

Things get pretty hot during the debate, with Murray getting his teeth deep into Gladwell’s tuchas, and sometimes accusing the Canadian journalist of lying or distortion. In the end, Taibbi and Gladwell make the case that much of the MSM, including venues like the NYT and the Washington Post, have an ideological slant to their news that makes their reporting unreliable.

The debate was 90 minutes long, but before I saw the video online I printed it out and read it. And I read the whole thing, something I wouldn’t often do. If you don’t want to read this long debate, then listen to it, for this is one issue that I think is very important. And it’s entertaining, too. I’ll give you just two quotes that I hope will whet your appetite.

Taibbi on why the media is biased:

We’re not supposed to thumb the scale. Our job is just to call things as we see them and leave the rest up to you. But we don’t do that now. The story is no longer the boss. Instead we sell narrative in a dysfunctional new business model. Once the commercial strategy of the news business was to go for the whole audience, a TV news broadcast was aired at dinner time, and it was designed to be watched by the entire family. Everyone from your crazy right wing uncle to the sulking lefty teenager in the corner. This system had flaws, but making an effort to talk to everybody had benefits. For one thing it inspired trust. Gallop polls twice, twice showed Walter Cronkite to be the most trusted person in all of America. That would never happen with a news reader today. With the arrival of the internet, some outlets found that instead of going after the whole audience, it made more financial sense to pick one demographic and try to dominate it.

How do you do that? That’s easy. You just pick an audience and feed it news you know they’ll like. Instead of starting with a story and following the facts, you start with what pleases your audience and work backward to the story. This process started with Fox, but really now everybody does it. From CNN to OAN to the Washington Post, nearly all media organizations are in the same demographic hunting business. According to a Pew Center survey from a few years ago, 93% of Fox’s audience votes Republican. In an exactly mirroring phenomenon, 95% of the MSNBC audience votes democratic. The New York Times readers are 91% Democrats. Left or right, most commercial audiences in America anyway are politically homogenous. This bifurcated system is fundamentally untrustworthy. When you decide in advance to forego half of your potential audience to cater to the other half you’re choosing in advance which facts to emphasize and which to downplay based on considerations other than truth or newsworthiness.

This is not journalism. This is political entertainment, and it’s therefore fundamentally unreliable with editors now more concerned with retaining audience than getting things right. Lots of guardrails have been thrown out. Silent edits have become common. Serious accusations are made without calling people for comment. Reporters get too cozy with politicians and report things either without attribution or source to unnamed people familiar with the matter. Like scientists, journalists should be able to reproduce each other’s work in the lab. With too many anonymous sources, this is impossible. We just get a lot of stuff wrong. Now, in the Trump years, an extraordinary number of bombshells went sideways. From the pee tape, to the Alpha server story, to speculation that Trump was a Russian spy recruited before disco started, to false reports of Russians hacking of Vermont utility, we’ve accumulated piles of these wrong stories. Now, I’m no fan of Donald Trump. I wrote a book about the guy called Insane Clown President, but these stories offend me. A good journalist should always be ashamed of error. And it bothers me to see so many of my colleagues not ashamed. News media shouldn’t have a side. It should

Murray chomps on Gladwell’s tuchas:

Rudyard Griffiths: Hold on Matt, let’s bring Douglas in on this. I just want to hear his voice.

Malcolm Gladwell: Doug is speechless.

Douglas Murray: I’m never speechless. It’s not a problem I suffer from. I can’t sit here and listen to Malcolm Gladwell talking about fact checking and the importance of it. Not to get too mean, Malcolm, I read your book, David and Goliath, the chapter on Northern Ireland is more filled with inaccuracies than any other chapter in a nonfiction book I have read. It is having written a, not very well selling, but widely acclaimed book on Northern Island myself, my book on Northern Ireland didn’t sell anywhere near as much as yours did Malcolm. But, mine was filled with facts. And your chapter on Northern Ireland was so filled with inaccuracies, Irish historians ripped it apart. Would that you had a fact checker Malcolm, would that you did your own research. But anyway, let me get back to another point.

Malcolm Gladwell: You do have, I must say you do a very good job of it, but you must say you do have a tendency to accuse those who disagree with your opinion.

Douglas Murray: No no no, It’s not disagreement. You didn’t know that the provisional IRA were responsible for 60% of the deaths and the troubles. There were basic things you just didn’t know. Malcolm, I’m sorry. It’s not my fault, it’s yours and your fact checkers.

Malcolm Gladwell: I didn’t know the function of this debate was to rehash the accuracy of a chapter in a book I wrote. . .

The results taken from the YouTube site:

The audience voted on this resolution prior to hearing the debate. 48% voted in favour of the resolution, while 52% voted against the resolution.

At the end of the debate, another poll was conducted. 67% voted in favour of the motion, while 33% voted against it, representing a 39% vote gain for the PRO side.

I think you’ll agree that the victors deserved their victory.

Weatherman’s snowfall meltdown

February 6, 2021 • 2:45 pm

UPDATE: This is a very good hoax, but it’s not real, as a commenter notes. I wuz had!

Here we have a real-life example of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.” A weatherman, forced to stand in shirtsleeves in the snow, bridles at having to suffer for the sake of a live weather shot. And then he questions his whole life, saying that he didn’t spend $120,000 on an education to be made into a performing snow-monkey.

Alligator in viral photograph is stuffed

May 24, 2019 • 4:25 pm

by Greg Mayer

A photograph of an alligator on the back of an inflatable alligator is making the rounds of a variety of news media.

An alligator supposedly sunning itself on an inflatable alligator in Miami-Dade Co., Florida.

This is a stuffed alligator. The splayed legs, open mouth, and curled tail are typical of the poses used for souvenir stuffed alligators, and atypical of the way a live alligator would pose, especially atop a floating object. The body and tail are overstuffed, and do not look at all like a live alligator. The posterior half of the tail hovers above the float, and the coup de grace is that both visible limbs are sticking out stiffly, perpendicular to the body, and casting shadows on the float. As Monty Python would have put it, this is an ex-alligator.

Note in the enlargement below the shadow, and how you can see a spot of sunlight reaching the float behind the crook of the knee.

Enlargement of hind leg.

A surprising number of news outlets have fallen for this. I first saw it on the Amazon Alexa Home Spying Device, and a quick search found the story on UPI, ClickOrlando, Miami New Times, WTSP Tampa-St. Pete, and WPLG Miami.

In which I visit Woke Left websites

April 9, 2019 • 1:00 pm

It’s really time I stopped looking at HuffPost, as my friends tell me repeatedly. But I still like to look at Woke Left websites, just like I look at conservative and centrist or center-Left websites: just to see what’s going on.

I’ve managed to break the habit of looking at Salon, though, spending a bit of time there today, I was appalled to see how mindlessly authoritarian it has become: it’s almost a caricature of Authoritarian rhetoric. One example: I saw the movie Green Book on the plane to Europe, and thought it was pretty damn good, though I was of course aware that the family of the black protagonist Don Shirley objected to its factual inaccuracies. But it was a movieand not a biography. Liberties were and are taken in movies like this.

Salon‘s objection, though, was the familiar one that Green Book was a “white savior movie.” That I don’t quite get, as it’s a movie in which a black man weans a white man from his racism, and a white man helps a black man come out of his shell. If there was any saving, it was mutual. But I prefer to think of it as the story of two very different men finding their common humanity. The story was absorbing, new to me, pretty much if not wholly true, and the acting was superb. Andit by no means whitewashed the racism of the South in the early Sixties.

But if you read Salon‘s house critic’s review of the movie, you’re thrust into a world where the quality of a work of art depends entirely on whether it corresponds to the critic’s intersectionalist ideology. Here, for instance, is the end of (t.v.) critic Melanie McFarland’s splenetic review of Green Book:

It’s much simpler, however, to spit-shine escapist Social Progress tales drawn from a mythologized version of history. These reassure mainstream white audiences of how far we’ve come as a nation despite the headlines about a spike in hate crimes, the rising white nationalist presence within law enforcement and in politics, racially motivated mass shootings and widening wealth gaps between whites and non-white minority groups.

None of this is to say that Farrelly has no right to direct “Green Book” or that Vallelonga should not have told his father’s story. But it would have helped, perhaps, if someone from within Shirley’s family circle had been consulted, if only to prevent “Green Book” from being a story about a white man’s flirtation with racism by way of witnessing a black man’s strained effort to survive and succeed in spite of it.

So in this way “Green Book” transforms racism into something that, you know, really makes you think, something terrible happening to other people, something that’s really too bad, instead of an ever-present structure in America from which people either specifically or unwittingly benefit. Racism is awful, but it doesn’t force Tony to risk anything aside from punching out a few people threatening the guy who’s paying him.

And that’s soothing. It sells the idea that as long as a person doesn’t behave like a violent criminal from Sundown Town, Alabama, when confronted with a person whose skin is darker than theirs, that’s enough. The passage of time will take care of the rest, assisted by a few take-out meals and road trips along the way.

“Green Book” is a manual for an outdated mode of thinking, in other words, and a mode of moviemaking that needed to end yesterday. But we’ll take 2019. That would be a fine time for fresh start.

The underlying theme of this vitriol is that racism in America hasn’t gotten any better since 1962—a palpably ridiculous claim, but one that makes me realize why people objected to Steven Pinker’s last two books on progress—and that making racism personal elides the fact that it’s a structural, endemic, and omnipresent feature of America. Unfortunately for McFarland, we’ve made a lot of strides in the last 57 years, and although racism still pollutes America, the purpose of the movie was to tell the story of two men embedded in a time when bigotry was an unquestioned feature of the American South. It is the story of two men, not a polemic about the racism of modern day America, which is what McFarland wanted. She reviewed the movie not as it was, but in comparison to the movie she would have made, which would be the equivalent of art under Stalin.

But I fulminate. I liked the movie. I will not be going back to Salon any time soon.

If you want to see a calm refutation of all these criticisms of Green Book, including the erroneous claims of Shirley’s family, watch this video.

On a happier note, HuffPost continues to go down the tubes, at least judging from its analytics seen here. Viewership seems to have dropped about 50% just since October:




In comparison, The New York Times, flawed as it is but still not fully Woke, is holding pretty steady over that period:

It will be a happy day for me when HuffPost closes up shop.


Media goes into paroxysms of joy and fury

October 9, 2016 • 9:30 am

by Grania

Depending on what side of the fence you are on this election cycle, you probably read at least one of the following sites from time to time, if only because your friends and family on Facebook keep posting links to one or the other.

This is not a claim that either Breitbart or Huffington Post are serious news outlets. But they are well read by the electorate. The only point I am trying to make is that these sources wouldn’t know “fair and balanced” if it bit them in the ass.

It is interesting to compare the two if only to see how they covered the two scandals over the weekend: Trump’s p*ssygate and Clinton’s Speechgate.

Surprisingly enough, Breitbart appears to be offering a slightly more balanced coverage. (Who’da thunk?)



Breitbart hates Hillary Clinton and loves Donald Trump. But they have at a glance covered both stories, even if delving into the comments means wading through spittle-flecked invective and delusional conspiracy theories.

In contrast, Huffington Post has gone into a full-blown orgy on Trump. To read anything about Clinton you have to scroll way down the page. Way, way, way down the page. Past article after article on Trump.


Pretty much every single one of those disjointed phrases links to a separate article on Trump.

Keep scrolling down the front page and you get more articles on Trump (there are more than in this screengrab).


And then finally, scrolling and scrolling and scrolling down – about four fifths of the way down; you finally get the news on Clinton. It’s worth going over to HuffPo just to see how far down the front page you have to go just to get to this story.


This is located about one fifth from the bottom of the page. If her opponent was anyone else, the Wikileaks revelation would be recognised as pretty serious stuff. If you were relying on the HuffPo for your news, you could be forgiven for missing this story completely as it is virtually buried under a pile of Trump stories. This coverage is anything but fair and balanced.

Finally an aside on HuffPo (and others’) reference to Trump’s “lewd” remarks; Russell Blackford makes an important point.




Breaking News: Jesus now in Texas

July 16, 2015 • 8:00 am

by Grania

On the side of a cow trailer.

My only comment on this is: how does this become a news item at all? It’s not like even the news team believes it to be real, whether or not they may profess to be Real Christians™ themselves.

Even they are basically yukking it up at the imaginings of an emotionally compromised individual and her family who are lapping up every bit of attention they can get.

It’s kind of the 21st century equivalent of the old Victorian era freak show.

Yes, some people will get a warm and fuzzy message out of it; although you could get a message out of Harry Potter too without anyone feeling the pressing need to call the local press and share the good news.

Mostly, it’s a tawdry peep show for people to point and roll their eyeballs at, and I guess the media will keep reporting on it while people keep gawping and laughing.


Hat-tip: Joyce

Jeffrey Tayler’s Salon Sunday Secular Sermon

June 8, 2015 • 1:20 pm

by Grania Spingies

Don’t miss the weekly S4  homily by Brother Tayler over at Salon. This week he examined the pained and faintly hostile treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali by Jon Stewart and contrasts it with Stewart’s rather fawning enthusiasm for Reza Aslan revisionist version of reality.

You should read it just for the pleasure of sentences like this:

Stewart, so inquisitorial toward Hirsi Ali, let Aslan ejaculate this postmodern flapdoodle with impunity, and convivially wiped up after him with blather about non-religious causes for violence in the Middle East.

Taylor ponders the same thing that has been debated in this website from time to time: why self-professing liberal leftists are so quick to condemn and distance themselves from the ideas of a brave woman who left Islam and opposes its treatment by extremist, politicized adherents of Muslim women and the majority of peaceful followers of Muslim.

It is a puzzle. Why do people prefer the words of a smiling man who tells them that extremists don’t have anything to do with Islam over the words of an intelligent woman who says that the problem is complicated and the solution may require multiple avenues of discussion and reform? In short: are liberals afraid of the It’s Complicated button?  Or do liberals just tend towards the See No Evil position by default and champion anyone who tells then there is nothing to see here, move along?

BBC hosts debate on whether and where the Dalai Lama will reincarnate

March 25, 2015 • 9:25 am

What the bloody hell is up with the BBC? Reader Steve (with the side comment “fookin idjits!”) called my attention to a discussion on the BBC News site in which four people debate whether and where the present Dalai Lama will reincarnate. That’s like the Beeb having a serious debate on whether Xenu stored preserved humans in volcanoes before blowing them up with hydrogen bombs, and whether Paul Haggis is still afflicted with thetans.

This is all because the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso—in exile in India—has affirmed that he will refuse to reincarnate in Tibet, and therefore may be the last Dalai Lama. In response, the Chinese government has insisted that the 15th and next Dalai Lama will indeed reincarnate in Tibet.

This is all hilarious stuff, but also shows that the common assertion that Gyatso is down with science is completely bogus.  He believes in reincarnation, for crying out loud!

Anyway, here are a few inadvertently rib-tickling excerpts from the BBC debate.

Chonpen Tsering: Reincarnation process must not be manipulated

Chonpen Tsering is the Dalai Lama’s representative in northern Europe.

“The lamas – the senior religious figures – are able to determine firstly whether they are reborn, and if they are going to be reborn, where they’ll be reborn.

“The present carnation, the present Dalai Lama, can decide. The rebirth is his choice.


Jia Xiudong: Dalai Lama is playing a political game

Jia Xiudong is senior research fellow at the China Institute of international studies in Beijing.

“I believe that the tradition will be maintained [and] the Dalai Lama will be reincarnated.

“There’s a role for the current Dalai Lama to play for the reincarnation, but I believe he should not exaggerate that role.

“For example, he just cannot stop the tradition individually.

“It is tradition passed from centuries ago.


Robert Barnett: China wants a ‘tame’ lama

Robert Barnett is director of the Modern Tibet Studies Programme at Columbia University in New York.

“I think we have to look at all of this as negotiating moves on both sides. So the Dalai Lama is making these speculative, philosophical statements about, ‘I might be coming back, I might not. I might come back as a woman.’

“This is his normal method as a Buddhist teacher of the kind that he is to make people think. But it’s also a negotiating move with the Chinese to expose them to the kind of ridicule that they’ve put themselves in now by claiming to be able to arbitrate on matters like religion and reincarnation.

“This Dalai Lama has been so effective as a religious leader, even more so than as a political leader, that there’s going to be huge force among his followers for him to come back. So it’s quite likely that it’s going to happen.”


Jamyang Norbu: Dalai Lama must reincarnate for the sake of Tibet’s future

Tibetan writer and activist Jamyang Norbu fell out of favour with the present Dalai Lama when he criticised his “softly softly” approach to China.

“He doesn’t have much of a choice. The lama’s reincarnating is a political institution.

“It’ll have to be the choice of the Tibetan government in exile and of the people.

“China will have their candidate up and running, and you can be 100% sure that they will.

“They’ll just pick some Tibetan kid who looks cute enough and they’ll put him up there and they’ll say, ‘This is the Dalai Lama.’

“If we don’t have our own candidate from the general Tibetan Buddhist world, then they win by proxy.


And my own addition:

Professor Ceiling Cat: This is all insane.

I’ve been to Tibet, and it’s sad to see the systematic dismantling of Tibetan culture by the Han Chinese. When I visited monasteries, monks would furtively ask me if I could give them a picture of the Dalai Lama (Gyatso), as those pictures are forbidden.

That said, if you know about the old Buddhist theocracy in Tibet, it was by no means a paradise. Further, Tibetan Buddhism is just as rife with superstition and delusion as any other faith. It is romanticized in the West, but that’s largely because the religion is being suppressed by the Chinese government.

One of those superstitions is reincarnation, and here it’s being used in a political chess game between Tibetan Buddists, the Dalai Lama, and the Chinese government. There is, of course, no way to prove that any child born, whether he be in Tibet, India, or elsewhere, is a reincarnated Dalai Lama, though Buddhists do have some “tests” (seeing, for instance, if a kid recognize objects belonging to the last Dalai Lama).

I can’t resolve this problem, but I can add two things. First, the Dalai Lama is given undue respect. He’s the Pope of Buddhism, and though he’s pretty friendly to science, still believes in superstitions like reincarnation and karma. But in general he does follow the physician’s dictum: “First do no harm.” Second, the BBC is crazy to host a debate like this. They can write an article about the fracas, and give the different opinions, but they needn’t have people taking reincarnation seriously. If they do, they could at least write a disclaimer: “Note: There is no reliable evidence for a human soul, nor for the fact that it can leave the body of a dead person and install itself into a child.”