5 Stars — Totally Brilliant
Let me begin with my 7-Star regard for Matt Taibbi — he is one of just three authors who have TWO books in my top 50 cosmic life-changing books lecture, the others are Will Durant and Edgar Morin and that is Nobel-level company. His two are Griftopia and The Divide.
There are three take-aways:
1. The media is no longer fact-based nor seeking to be of universal value. It is fear-based and seeks to profit from a chosen demographic (i.e. it aligns with one of the two parties and then focuses on a narrow demographic it can “own” within that alignment) to which it will lie with impunity so as to keep the eyeballs on and the clicks going.
2. The media is no longer dominated by blue collar “beat” reporters who talk to people and seek to both discover and to educate, and who are fired when they get it very wrong; the media today is part of the coastal elites, the “upper” class, eschews research for demagoguery, and is never fired for being wrong — about JFK, 9/11, WMD, or most recently — an entire chapter — RussiaGate.
3. Donald Trump has succeeded in leveraging the media because he has been using the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) playbook for audience engagement, has been playing the media for fools, and they never caught on in part because their audiences have grown and their profits restored because of him.
Here are some of the points and a few quotes that I marked for inclusion in this summary review:
He was inspired long ago by the book Manufacturing Consent, and was for a time going to call this book Manufacturing Discontent.
Partisan politics is a con — the two parties are really one, and they are, as he documents in Griftopia, not here, totally melded with financial crime.
The media is anti-intellectual and anti-values
QUOTE (6): There will come a time, guaranteed, when Americans pine for a powerful neither-party-aligned news network, to help make sense of things.
He’s learned that there is a great deal of deception baked into every aspect of American life, and the media is not the truth-teller or sense-maker one should hope for — it is instead stocked with C- brains devoted to groupthink. This resonates with me because the secret intelligence community is the same — the A levels and most B-levels leave within five years, they cannot stand the toxic repressive bureaucracy that focuses on budget building vice mission.
He identifies three revolutions that have changed how we get news:
- Explosion of conservative talk radio
- Introduction of twenty-four-hour cable news stations
- Development of the Internet
He says that the media sells anger and its primary focus is ensuring you come back again and again while remaining isolated from reality and one another.
He subtly but without equivocation points out two fake aspects of the news today: first, that the two “sides” are, as in wrestling, playing at being opposites, they are not actually; and second, their “arguments” are narrowly confined to allowable topics such as should we or should we not invade Iraq, and NOT allowed to discuss either the lies being told by either side, or the consequences of our misbehavior (millions killed, trillions spent).
QUOTE (21): We manufactured fake dissent, to prevent real dissent.
He spends a chapter on the absurdities and insanities of the media “beauty contest” (for politicians) and how irrelevant the media is to most of the country.
Ten Rules of Hate (buy the book, this is chapter 2):
- There are only two ideas
- The two ideas are in permanent conflict
- Hate people, not institutions
- Everything is someone else’s fault
- Nothing is everyone’s fault
- Root (cheer), don’t think
- No switching teams
- The other side is literally Hitler
- In the fight against Hitler, everything is permitted
- Feel superior
QUOTE (65): Non-voters are the single biggest factor in American political life, and their swelling numbers are, just like the Trump phenomenon, a profound indictment of our system.
Chapter 3, The Church of Averageness, but throughout the book as well, is both articulate and ruthlessly demeaning of all the posers who are generally script kiddies and intellectual lightweights with many — many — personal flaws covered up by the theatrics of the business.
QUOTE (78): If you go back and look, you’ll find many of America’s highest-profile media figures are not only wrong very frequently, but absurdly so.
QUOTE (84): We don’t cover child labor, white-collar crime, environmental crises involving nuclear or agricultural waste, military contracting corruption (the Pentagon by now cannot account for over six trillion dollars in spending), corporate tax evasion and dozens of other topics.
I would observe that the same is true of the US secret intelligence community. They cover (actually they invent and instigate) the two red dots below, and ignore everything else — and even if they did not, they are incompetent at multi-lingual open source research, hate humans who are not either “cleared” or taking money to commit treason, and process less than 1% of what they collect.
Heaven forbid we should ask the media — or the intelligence community that is supposed to be in the business of decision-support — to do holistic analytics and true cost economics, what that looks like is below:
Matt Taibbi makes it clear that most journalists are lazy and when pressed, will “just make shit up” (91).
QUOTE (93): We also systematically removed issue politics from races and gradually degraded the office, training voters to think of presidential candidates as boooks who would do whatever reporters asked of them.
On page 99 the author makes it clear that Obama failed to live up to his promises and did some spectacularly heineous things while in office — while the author is forceful throughout the book about his view that President Donald Trump is one step up the evolution chain from a slug, his disdain is at least non-partisan.
Chapter 5 focuses on pollsters and my primary take-away is that the system is so rigged that people don’t vote as they should because they have been indoctrinated to think that their vote will not count if they don’t go with one of the “approved” or “electable” candidates. #UNRIG, which I started, outlines 12 specific things shown below that would make both the media and the pollsters largely irrelevant to American democracy done right.
Chapter 6 outlines the invisible primary among donors and leaders of the two-party tyranny that excludes 70% of all voters from meaningful participation, and is excellent. Jeb Bush was the pre-selected winner for the Republicans, Donald Trump is an indictment of just how wrong the donors and leaders can be. The times they are a changing.
Chapter 7, “How the News Media Stole from Pro Wrestling” is really more about how Donald Trump shlonged the media and turned them all — from both sides of the two party system — into his unwitting allies. This is the heart of the book and is alone worth the time and cost of acquiring the book. This chapter is a hoot, and I am surprised that Matt Taibbi does not recognize the combination that Donald Trump has mastered: audience engagement skills, and business skills. On the latter point, let me just insert this quote from Team of Vipers (132), the words are those of Jack Welch as he was leaving the White House from a meeting with President Donald Trump:
“They can say what they want about him, but I don’t know if any president has been more prepared to sit in that room and talk business. It was like talking to a peer, not a politician. Hell of a meeting.”
It is disconcerting to me to have Matt Taibbi be so very good at what he does, in contrast to most of the media, and yet miss the core value of Donald Trump to the country.
Chapter 8 focuses on the news as a consumer product that will kill you if you keep eating it. The media sells identity and “safe spaces” in the sense of spaces that do not require thinking or questioning one’s deeply-rooted biases.
Chapter 9 discusses scare tactics but is intellectually flawed. The author has not read Herbert Marcuse’s “Represssive Tolerance” and really appears to believe that it is important to tolerate all forms of deviancy. This chapter ends with a powerful insight: whereas in the past we used external threats to manufacture consent, today we are turning ourselves against ourselves, demonizing all of the demographics, becoming our own worst enemy.
Chapter 10 discusses leaks and loopholes and should be used in journalism classes everywhere. Bottom line: if you did not find the source, if the source comes to you, there is a con in the leak.
Chapter 11 explains why the media is now indistinguishable in class and bias from the elites that are looting the public.
QUOTE (187): The irony of 2016 is that it was the ultimate example of what happens when political leaders stop listening to the voters. They’d been turning them out for a generation, sticking them with the costs of pointless wars and dramatic economic changes like vast wealth transfers caused by a succession of exploding financial bubbles. Ordinary people were told, not asked, how to deal with things like the NAFTA-sped export of the manufacturing economy. Finally, voters hit back with a monster surprise.
QUOTE (187): The media was supposed to help society self-correct by shining a light on the myopia that led to all of this. But reporters spent so long trying to buddy up to politicians that by 2016, they were all in the tent together, equally blind. Whis is why it won’t be a shock if they repeat the error. You can’t fix what you can’t see.
Chapter 12 is very short, and talks about how we turned news into sports, with the bottom line being that we took out all the facts and turned it into a game intended to keep the audience engaged, not educated.
Chapter 13, “Turn It Off,” may be a genuflection to Jerry Mander (In the Absence of the Sacred and also Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television). and is a very compelling discussion of the toxicity of what we have now and the author comes to the point with the following:
QUOTE (205): There is a terror of letting audiences think for themselves that we’ve never seen before. This is a profound expression of political instability at the top of our society. [sentences switched in order]
Chapter 14 is a case study of the lies and the liars that led us into Iraq.
Chapter 15 does the same for RussiaGate.
QUOTE (256): We’ve become side-choosers, obliterating the concept of the press as an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact from fiction.
Precisely. The same is true of the intelligence community, and the academy, of non-profits and governments. Keep the money moving, never mind the facts.
The below preface to my book ELECTION 2008: Lipstick on the Pig, and the graphic which follows, are an extension of what Matt Taibbi is telling us.
And add these two:
America hit bottom under Obama, who may be indictable for leading the use of the CIA and the FBI and NSA against candidate Trump. How far we get on our back back to America the Beautiful remains to be seen.
Here is my recent lecture on the top 50 cosmic books and the best of the 0ther 2000 across 26 serious non-fiction topics: