Why has the press become a useful idiot in the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s reality-TV show? The easy answer is that it is easy. It’s easy on two levels: (1) It is intellectually easy. And, (2) it is safe. Both are terribly seductive to the profit-making motive.
Why has the press become a useful idiot in the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s reality-TV show? The easy answer is that it is easy.Tweet
Anybody who wants to make a profit will look at what everybody else is doing that is profitable and produce a version of that. You’d be an idiot not to, right? Innovation and brave independent maverick be damned, if you want to make a profit. We should remember Prospect Theory’s formulation of decision making.
Value is equal to the utility of a decision as weighed against the probability of the potential outcomes of the decisions… Hunh?Prospect Theory (Wikipedia — Hey! It was easy!)
What the formula says is that a person takes a look at a pending decision and then makes an estimate on two things: (1) the utility or usefulness of that choice and (2) the probability that the outcome of the decision will be useful. It isn’t an easy thing to describe or quantify, but it is easily intuited. We won’t be going into the reasons why. We have before.
The $1,000.00 Question
It is easier to conceive of if an example is used. The classic example that Tversky and Kahneman use is the $1,000.00 question. It goes like this:
Some very nice and not suspicious at all person walks up to you and shows you $1,000.00! This very nice and not suspicious at all person says I will give you this $1,000.00, but you have to make one of these two choices:
- You take the money, and you have a 50% chance of getting $1,000.00 more! Or,
- you take the money, and you have a 100% chance of getting $500.00 more!
Which do you take? The thousands of times this question has been tested in many different variations on literally tens of thousands of individuals, it comes out roughly as choice 1 taken by 25% of the respondents and choice 2 by 75% of the respondents.
The reasoning is that people avoid risk if they have a sure thing as a clear choice. The $500.00 is a sure thing. It is a 100% chance of gaining the $500.00 in addition to the $1,000.00. So, why risk getting only $1,000.00 when you can get $1,500.00? The risk of possibly getting $2,000.00 is not worth it. $1,500.00 is good enough. Right?
The $2,000.00 Question
Compare that to this prospect (also by Tversky and Kahneman):
Some very nice and not suspicious at all person walks up to you and shows you $2,000.00! This very nice and not suspicious at all person says I will give you this $2,000.00, but you have to make one of these two choices:
- You take the money and a 50% chance of losing $1,000.00 dollars.
- Or, you take the money and a 100% chance of losing $500.00 dollars.
Which do you take? Again, over the thousands of iterations of this question asked of tens of thousands of respondents, 75% chooses choice 1 and 25% chooses choice 2. Hunh?
The reasoning is that when faced with a sure loss, people become more willing to take a risk. Losing $500.00 is a real bummer. Crap. Who wants to do that? But having a 50% chance to walk away with $2,000.00 is pretty darn good. Leaving with $1,000.00 or $2,000.00 is a risk worth taking when the alternative of leaving with $1,500.00.
The joke is that both prospects are mathematically the same. In both you have a 50% chance of leaving with $1,000.00 and a 100% chance of leaving with $1,500.00. The difference is that in the first prospect, you get money above and beyond the $1,000.00. In the second prospect, you lose money in both choices.
The $2,000.00 Question for the Press
The same is true for the press. Participating in the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s reality-TV show is the sure path to profits… as the Ol’ Pussy Grabber gleefully pointed out during the election.
In the same way that taking the second choice in prospect 2, taking a 100% chance to lose $500.00 and walk away $1,500.00 richer. The disappointment of losing $500.00 of that $2,000.00 cannot be outweighed by getting $1,500.00. In fact, you don’t even get to $1,500.00. The disappointment of losing $500.00 just stops your thinking. You refuse to think about it more, especially when you have a chance at a gain.
The Human Brain is Lazy
The human brain evolved to be lazy. Our brains use 20% of our body’s energy but makes up about 2% of our body’s mass! Of course, we evolved to conserve that energy. So, when something seems like a sure loser, an inevitable disappointment, we write it off and quit thinking about it. Why would you after you conclude that it is a sure loser? It would be a waste of that precious energy.
The Ratings Bonanza Question
If you are a producer or editor or reporter or news executive, you look at the prospect of adhering to both-sideism and treating the Ol’ Pussy Grabber as if he were normal and calling him a liar and a traitor and the Repubes threats to our democracy, which side do you come down on? You come down on the side that is less risk and surer benefit. It is as if you were faced with this prospect:
A very nice and not at all suspicious person tells you that you will be given a ratings bonanza, but before this very nice and not at all suspicious person gives you this ratings bonanza you must chose between these two prospects:
- You have a 50% chance of doubling the ratings bonanza if you criticize the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and the Repubes.
- Or you have a 100% chance of getting the bonanza increased again by half if you cover the Ol’ Pussy Grabber as if he and the Repubes were normal.
You’d be an idiot to take choice 1, amirite? Am I right or amirite? I’m right, right? That’s the way it seems to your average person working in media today.
The Press Makes a Choice
So, when Mueller delivered the goods: the Ol’ Pussy Grabber not only benefited from Russian interference, he openly sought it and did not attempt to prevent it as he should have by law and by patriotism; he sought to curry favor with Putin for permission to build a building in Moscow worth billions and lied to cover up the project during the election; and when the interference was investigated and his building deal was threatened with exposure, he sought to exert “undue influence” on the investigation and witnesses and otherwise stop, slow, or hinder the investigation. When his obstruction was threatened with investigation, he sought to falsify the public record to indicate that he hadn’t!
Had the press not chosen the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s reality-TV ratings bonanza, which is delivered through dazzling performances by everyone on the sound stage, especially Mueller, we would all be being bombarded 24/7 during the news cycle by all of this outrageous criminal treasonous conduct. But, that is a risk, isn’t it? Mueller did not sit John Dean-like binding us all in his spell as he detailed the criminality of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s corruption. Instead, we are treated to coverage of the show itself. It was a flop, a dud, failure. It bombed.
The news is reporting the tweets and other social media reactions. It is reporting on the ratings. It is reporting on the people involved. It might as well be criticizing Mueller’s choice in ties and side of his head he parts his hair on.
When the press first reported that Reagan was making up his own facts by calling ketchup a vegetable, they were stung by accusations of liberal bias and accepted the straw man deal with the devil that you either reported the deliberate lies and distortions with the same level of seriousness as more accurate claims, or you were LIBERAL BIASED!!1! And, we’ve been on the road to being the United Fucking States of Fucking Stupid ever since.
Here read The Atlantic article yourself.
The Press Has Adopted Trump’s Reality-Show Standards
The reaction to the special counsel’s testimony shows how deeply the president has conditioned the media to treat political events like reality television.
Adam Sewer Friday 26 July 2019
On Wednesday, Robert Mueller testified to the House Judiciary Committee that the president of the United States sought and benefited from Russian interference during the 2016 campaign, and that he attempted to deflect culpability from Russia while lying to the public about his hidden attempts to secure a construction project in Moscow. After winning the election, Mueller testified, the president lied to the special prosecutor, directed subordinates to falsify records, and attempted to exert “undue influence” on law enforcement in order to protect himself and his allies.
In any other administration, in any other time, a special prosecutor, former FBI director, and decorated Marine testifying that the president of the United States was an unprosecuted felon who encouraged and then benefited from an attack on American democracy in pursuit of personal and political gain would bring the country to a grinding halt. But the American political press found Mueller insufficiently dazzling.
The New York Times declared, in language Trump could have written himself, “Mueller’s Performance Was a Departure From His Much-Fabled Stamina.” The Washington Post announced, “On Mueller’s Final Day on the National Stage, a Halting, Faltering Performance,” and, in a separate piece, dubbed Mueller a “weary old man.” Conservative outlets, fond of reciting the president’s grandiose self-assessments of his health and intelligence, openly speculated that Mueller was unwell.
Numerous political reporters insisted, in their defense, that it was the Democrats who foolishly put their hopes in Mueller, who scheduled a public hearing months after the report’s release and expected some kind of dramatic testimony to reshape the narrative and bolster public support for impeachment. This was indeed a foolish strategy, but insisting that this somehow justifies the media’s focus on optics rather than substance, or that the press is not shaping public opinion on this matter, is circular. The Democratic leadership is too weak and cowed to confront Trump forcefully, but those journalists defending the fixation on “optics” are effectively lecturing Democrats for failing to manipulate them as capably as the president does. Indeed, on Thursday, Schiff, who successfully got Mueller to testify to Trump’s wrongdoing, all but gave up on impeachment, saying the only way Trump is leaving office is by being voted out.