PEPPER'S GHOST, OP-ED AND TRUTH
What is truth? Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri, 1871
‘What can we know?’ asked 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. ‘What do I know?’ queried 16th-century French essayist Michel de Montaigne. ‘What do I Get?’ requested 20-th century Mancunian punk/pop quartet Buzzcocks. This unlikely trio could be asking their questions of the modern Western media, speaking truth to power and demanding that power speak it back. Who’d a thunk it?
We have more ‘news’ now than all the Zulus at Rourke’s Drift could have shaken sticks at, but are we any the wiser? Greg Gutfeld, the mischievous beard-pulling Fox News pundit with his ornery crew of pundits, recently answered our imaginary inquisitors in the inimitable argot of our American cousins; we don’t know squat.
The media are not there to inform but to deform, to take news and mangle the angle, flip the script and generally bowl you a wrong ‘un. We think we are well informed because the media has sold us the Pepper’s Ghost of information, but news is no longer information. It took a figure more sinister than spectral Victorian music-hall illusion Pepper’s Ghost to tell us what we are getting; Alastair Campbell.
Now that the Transylvanian lightning has subsided at the mention of the arch-fiend’s name, how did Blair’s Rasputin enlighten us concerning the media, Campbell’s area of expertise in much the same way as Harold Shipman’s area of expertise was easing patient numbers in his surgery’s waiting-room? Campbell told us that most modern news was op-ed.
This strange little diminutive originally meant news that was printed in a broadsheet newspaper ‘opposite the editorial page’, but it may as well stand for ‘opinionated editorial’. ‘News’ can be broken down into two broad categories. Firstly, there is ‘event’ news; something happened. Then there is op-ed; someone thought something about what happened. The undeniable event is father to the child op-ed, and the father is losing control and is no longer master in his own house.
Event news – 9/11, COVID-19, Meghan Markle’s voiceover part as a Disney princess – is what happened, op-ed is what a chorus of flap-gums think about what happened, what should be done about it, whose fault it is, what the implications are, and what the editor – and the government, and the deep state – will think about what they have written. Beware. The division is not quite as simple as it seems. One of the great sleights-of-hand the media excel at is conflating event news with op-ed. There is no better lie than one which uses the truth. Something is rotten in the 4th estate.
And the moral of the story is? Watch what you read. Sift it, compare it, look for the allegiances of the writer. And certainly don’t trust the MSM. There is no sadder sight than watching commuters on London’s underground reading their free newspapers, Metro and The Evening Standard (which still makes you feel ripped off even though it is free) and thinking they are at the cutting edge of information.
The media pretends to be a mirror but it is a hall of mirrors. Each image reflects and refracts, flashing and inverting and disappearing. The phantasm of Pepper’s Ghost was created using mirrors. You must tread carefully and not believe everything you read. Journalists act like pop stars now, have done ever since we starting seeing their ugly mugs at the top of the page. And, like pop stars, they will make their mood music fit the age, zoomin’ the zeitgeist. And, as a result and to quote James Fox’s character Chas in the movie Performance, a lot of them are liars and wrigglers.
If a sports writer tells you that some of slab of lard is the best quarterback since another slab of lard, it is a victimless opinion. If a crime writer tells you that publishing the ethnic breakdown of knife assailants in London is racist, this is the opposite to a victimless opinion, because it will lead to real bodies on real mortuary slabs in real hospitals.
An informed opinion is a pearl worth all its tribe, but we are at an interesting point in media history. Whereas a journalist in the Hindu Kush to cover regional tensions had better have been to journalism school as well as knowing her basic survival techniques, what some Johnny sitting in north London thinks about Muslim/Hindu tensions can actually be done by anyone. You don’t need a press card, you just need to press enter. The apparatus of journalism – archives, access to key interviewees, Lexis-Nexis and all the rest – used to be the sole province of journalists from the guild in the same way Latin used to be spoken only by the priests and the Bible was in Latin. It needed translation for the masses. Then the masses got in on the act. The Gutenberg printing press and the internet; same shit, different century.
You know that hour a day you spend watching mindless TV? Don’t. Instead, get on the ‘net and, ooh, I don’t know, draw a line from Wuhan wet market to the Ethiopian Marxist party which provided the boss of the WHO, extend that line to Costa Rica’s national football pitch in the capital San José, then dog-leg north to chilly but wonderful Vancouver and its property market. Now head back east, and to Turin, where Chinese textile workers in that northern industrial city were allowed a break for Chinese New Year, travelling to and returning from their homes in… Wuhan!
Now, ask yourself why Chinese money is involved in all of those things. Ask questions. Don’t accept the answers you are given. Look into it yourself. Investigate and use the dissident press, which sprouts again like the many-headed hydra despite the best collusions between government and big tech to stop it.
You won’t do this at first because you won’t think it is entertainment, but you will keep doing it when you discover that it is. The media thinks, like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, that you can’t handle the truth. But you can, just not the truths you are offered.
When the facts need reporting, leave it to the experts. When someone’s opinion is given, you are also experts, or you can be. The gate is open and the National Union of Journalists can’t keep the great unwashed out of the orchard for long. If you are misinformed, the internet acts as a massive hive sub-editor, and you will find out soon enough.
Lennon: Just gimme some truth. All I want is the truth.
Lenin: No falsehood! Our strength lies in stating the truth.
Those are your battle-lines. Now, quick march!